If you're looking to divebomb and squeal like Steve Vai or Joe Satriani, but your vintage guitar doesn't have a vibrato system, you could avoid losing chunks of tonewood by installing a top mount system like the FRX from Floyd Rose. But switching from hardtail to whammy will still involve slamming your axe on the maintenance table for a while. Sydney, Australia-based Fomofx says that its Virtual Jeff can be installed in just 30 seconds on just about any guitar, and easily removed when not needed.
The Virtual Jeff is not a mechanical vibrato system, but an electronic one. Players use it like a traditional whammy bar, but digital pitch control is used to massage the output for pitch-perfect, error-free shimmers, dips, dives and squeals. It can be retrofitted to almost any guitar, including acoustics and basses. "As long as it has a pickup (or any kind of analog signal output), you're in business," say its creators. Players could even have several instruments "Jeff-ready" for quick swap-outs from one to another.
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Details on what makes the Virtual Jeff tick are a bit thin on the ground, but we can tell you that the device is cabled to a floor control box about the size of a stomp. Signals from pickups on a host guitar are registered, combined with data from the whammy bar unit, and everything is run through a digital processor and then the digitally whammified sound is output – all in real time.
"Virtual Jeff is a 'high precision' pitch controller," Peter Walker of Fomofx told Gizmag. "This, at first, seems technically trivial, but a simple analysis of what 'high precision' means in this context shows that it's quite a challenge. Consider the most extreme setting Jeff has – one octave up and two octaves down. That's 36 semitones of pitch change spread over 25 degrees of arm/bar travel in each direction (bar up and down). When you let go of the bar, it has to 'return to center' – exactly to center. Even a very small error on returning to center means the instrument would be many cents out of tune (1 cent = 1/100th of a semitone). For any mechanism, this isn't easy to achieve night after night, at different temperatures, without changes from wear and tear and/or constant realignment by the user. Virtual Jeff conquers this problem with a novel mechanism, the subject of one of our patents."
As it's a digital system, it doesn't alter string tension. "Because it's electronic, it's not attached to the strings in any way," said Walker. "So no tuning issues. Ever."
Eight pitch presets are available, ranging from one semitone to two octaves down and one semitone to one octave up, and the player can switch modes using a footswitch to emulate traditional mechanical systems like the Bigsby or Floyd Rose.
"There are four pitch settings for Mode A and another four for Mode B," explained Walker. "Some of these settings are emulations of conventional mechanical whammy's like the Bigsby, Strat or Floyd Rose systems, but others provide pitch changes which would be impossible on a mechanical system – like an octave up (the strings would break long before you reached an octave). The player uses the Mode foot switch to swap between A and B, so Virtual Jeff is two user-customized whammy's in one box. Swapping modes is seamless and can be done on-the-fly."
Pricing and availability will be announced at NAMM later this month. In the meantime, you can see it in action in the video below.