For the last few years, guitarist Andy Alt has been chipping away at a new kind of electric guitar pickup that allows a player to add a separate low end signal to the two lowest strings. A Little Thunder has been designed as a humbucker replacement and is reported to take only 5 minutes to install, without harming your precious guitar in the process. At the press of a button, git-fiddlers can bring a touch of funky bottom to a solo picking performance, making it a good fit for dark metal gods with hands too small for a 7 or 8 string shred machine or sonic scientists on the lookout for a new six-string laboratory for wacky riff-offs with the band's bass player.
Alt, who has been Steve Vai's online marketing director for the last four and a half years and co-founded GuitarTV.com with the legendary space guitarist, told us that players don't lose humbucking capabilities when A Little Thunder is installed "as a single-coil-sized humbucker is there to do that job."
Behind that sits a specially-wound two pole pickup positioned under the guitar's lowest two strings. This special pickup sends its signal through some onboard digital signal processing, a Fast Fourier Transform algorithm and some secret Thunder sauce before being converted back to analog and sent on its way towards the amp's input jack. All in near real time. If desired, the bass end wallop can even be routed to a different amp than the straight humbucking output.
"Because there are two signals, they come through as a stereo signal that can either go to a guitar amp and a bass amp (when an in-expensive Stereo Y-cable is used) or just a guitar amp with the stereo cable," explained Alt. "When a typical mono cable is used, it's 100 percent guitar signal and does not engage the bass portion, saving battery life if someone just wants to play regular guitar. We're complete with R&D but have been making some last minute tweaks so I don't have a final specs, but the 'mini-sized' humbucker guitar pickup itself will be 8k DC resistance and the DSP is processing at 3x the normal sample rate of conventional octave pedals."
A Little Thunder has been designed to be installed without the need to physically modify a guitar, replace brick batteries or mess around with MIDI. The system's rechargeable battery is juiced up via USB, and an on/off switch determines whether to bring on the thunder or leave well alone. The player can select one or two of the lowest strings on the host electric guitar to come under the influence of the note-lowering wizardry, with one or two octaves below the "natural" note being available, while still allowing all six strings to sing normally. There's also a polyphonic mode and a low note priority feature where the system only picks up and applies the bass effect to the lowest note being played.
As you can see from the pitch video at the end, players who have tested the pre-production prototype report that the tracking is spot on, with any latency virtually undetectable. Alt currently has buttons on his test guitar to activate the system, but says that market-ready units will feature switches and controls on the pickup itself.
A Little Thunder launched yesterday on Kickstarter for the final push to production. Backers will need to pledge at least US$199 to get in on the action, but more adventurous types can pitch for a 1987 Ibanez RG550 prototype autographed by Steve Vai or guitar lessons from top players. If all goes to plan, delivery to most backers will start early next year.
You can see players like Dweezil Zappa, Jeff Kollman, Adam Levy, Jonny Two Bags and Barry Zweig in various states of excitement in the Kickstarter pitch video below (those of a sensitive nature should be advised that the language does get a tad colorful at times).