As the boutique guitar pedal scene expands, we begin to see inventive builders push the limits beyond the typical overdrive, fuzz, distortion, modulation and time-based effects that have been put out over and over again.
It even opens up for other types of pedals to be created…such as pedals that don’t actually make sounds themselves, yet offer sophisticated control and syncing capabilities with the inventive boutique pedals that we already own.
This is the gap that is filled by Molten Voltage, the world’s leading (and most inventive) MIDI foot pedal control company. We spent some time getting to know these peculiar devices in this interview with the wizard of Oz himself, Bill Wardlow.
For readers who aren’t yet familiar with Molten Voltage, how would you describe your products…especially to someone who is not very familiar with MIDI electronic applications?
Molten Voltage has two goals – to simplify your pedalboard, and extend the capabilities of your existing gear. Simplifying your pedalboard is done using MIDI, which is a system that lets music electronics talk to each other. It’s been around for over 30 years, but in the last few years guitarists have finally embraced it. A lot of this has to do with manufacturers finally putting out gear that can call up presets and sync tempos using MIDI.
Molten Voltage pedalboard MIDI Devices connect the dots between stompboxes. For example, Tempode (our MIDI Clock Generator) lets you tap in a tempo, then outputs a synchronized MIDI Clock signal which means you can make over 60 effects sync (check out the list on this page). The huge advantage of using MIDI Clock to sync everything is that you only need to press one button to sync your entire pedalboard. Tempode also stores and recalls the tempo for 128 different programs.
For older pedals that have a ¼” tap jack, we make CTL-Sync, which takes in MIDI Clock and switches 2 different outputs in sync with it. There are about 30 other pedals that can sync to MIDI Clock using CTL-Sync. Of course MIDI also lets you call up presets on pedals. Playing electric guitar is a lot simpler if you only need to press one button to control all your pedals! Our Master Control sends out MIDI Program Changes to call up presets. A lot of pedals don’t use MIDI, but you can still switch them on and off with a MIDI Effect Switcher like NODE.
The whole idea is to streamline and simplify your rig. We go out of our way to make MIDI gear that’s super-simple to use. You can be up and running with our devices without opening a manual. We also make devices that extend the capabilities of your existing gear, most notably the Digitech Whammy. Molten MIDI turns the Whammy into a step sequencer and lets you open up all sorts of cool and creative possibilities.
The MIDI guitar products from Molten Voltage have been catching on with experimental electric guitarists, and seems to be a reflection of the musical times. The possibilities with MIDI are starting to catch on with guitarists and manufacturers alike, beyond its use in switching system applications. Why do you think this shift is happening in recent years?
I think the shift towards MIDI is due to a few factors. First, MIDI was created in 1983, so I think part of the reason is that people who grew up using MIDI and understand its potential are now manufacturing pedals.
The general public is also getting much more comfortable using technology thanks to smartphones. There used to be a sharp line between the people who used MIDI gear and those who didn’t. Basically you had to be an engineer to understand the manuals on older MIDI gear. These days, MIDI gear is way simpler to use, and people who used to be intimidated by technology now realize that they can easily use MIDI.
Finally, once Strymon made the TimeLine and Mobius MIDI-controllable and started crushing the competition, other manufacturers realized they’d better up their game and give the players what they want. I know there were other companies making MIDI gear before that, but Strymon’s success really seems to have blown the lid off and prompted other manufacturers to follow suit.
Can you give us a breakdown of the various MIDI devices that you created under the Molten Voltage product line?
Sure, there are two categories.
First, there are controllers that expand or enhance the sound of other effects. These include Molten MIDI which turn the Digitech Whammy in to a step sequencer. When Guitar World said “The Digitech Whammy pedal is one of the coolest stomp boxes ever, but Molten Voltage has figured out a way to make it even cooler” it was a great shot in the arm and really put MV on the map.
Since then, I’ve created Delaytion and MIDI Delaytion which make the MXR Carbon Copy and Malekko Ekko delays tap tempo and programmable. Both versions let you store modulation rate and depth and offer 3 different tap ratios. MIDI Delaytion also syncs to MIDI Clock.
I also make OZ, the Strymon TimeLine LOOPER Controller. OZ transforms the TimeLine Delay into a full-featured, high-fidelity, state-of-the-art LOOPER by unlocking its hidden MIDI-only LOOPER features. These include Reverse, Half-Speed / Double-Speed, Undo, and Redo. OZ also allows soft-switch, single-touch record/playback, external Loop Level control, and automatic Dry Looper recording.
While I enjoy designing controllers for other products, I also developed a line of pedals that integrates MIDI into pedalboards in really useful and simple ways. The devices are modular, which allows guitarists to build systems based on their specific needs.
So far, we’ve released:
- Master Control – MIDI pedalboard Clock and Brain which turns on and off effects, selects presets, and synchronizes time-based pedals. Master Control sends Program Change messages, MIDI Clock data, and also stores the tempo associated with 128 programs. Tape Op Magazine gave it a great review, saying “Master Control is a simple and intuitive interface that all of us started using effortlessly in about ten seconds of trial.”
- Tempode – MIDI Clock Injector which gives you tap tempo control over pedals that sync to MIDI Clock. Tempode can work as a stand-alone pedal, or if you already have a MIDI controller like the Voodoo Lab Ground Control or GigRig G2, Tempode makes a terrific add-on to provide MIDI Clock functionality.
- SIMI – (“See Me”) Modular MIDI pedalboard display which features 16 large bright red alphanumeric LEDs. SIMI is really simple to use, just send a MIDI program change, and SIMI displays your custom message. SIMI works with any MIDI controller.
- NODE – 4-Loop MIDI pedalBoard switcher that stores the bypass status of four (4) isolated effect loops and recalls them in response to a MIDI Program Change.
- MIDI SPLITTY – Pedalboard MIDI splitter and repeater which is designed to amplify, buffer, and repeat MIDI signals for extended cable runs and pedalboards with multiple MIDI devices.
- OSMOSIS – MIDI mapper and filter which responds to MIDI program changes by sending out up to 5 additional program changes as well as 16 control change or note on messages all on separate MIDI channels. Osmosis can also actively filter various types of incoming MIDI data, re-map expression controllers, and rectify running status data. Osmosis works with any MIDI controller.
- CTL-Sync – Classis Effects Synchronizer that connects to the CTL or tap switch input jack of classic effects and switches in sync with MIDI clock at one of nine (9) musical ratios. CTL-SYNC synchronizes classic effects from BOSS, EHX, JHS, Visual Sound, and many others. Check out the list here.
- CV-Sync – Control Voltage Synchronizer connects to the CV input jack of classic drum machines, vintage keyboards, and modular synth gear, then sends 0-5 volt DC pulses in sync with MIDI clock at one of nine (9) musical ratios.
- SIXY – Line 6 Tempo Controller / Synchronizer which syncs compatible Line 6 and Behringer effects to MIDI clock at one of nine (9) musical ratios. SIXY also includes a tap button to send tap tempo information when no MIDI clock is present.
Let’s get to the good stuff, and hear some sonic possibilities with using your devices! Can you provide some examples of some popular artists using Molten Voltage gear, songs they’re featured on and your thoughts on how the artist tapped into the capabilities of Molten Voltage devices? (I’m particularly interested in how Radiohead uses your devices here, feel free to go into detail, provide audio samples, videos, etc.)
As a long-time Radiohead fan, I was thrilled when guitarist Ed O’Brien started using OZ and Molten MIDI on his PedalBoard. I actually caught them on their first US tour when they opened for Belly in St. Petersburg, Florida! The King of Gear website says that Ed uses Molten MIDI on Feral (from King of Limbs) and 15 Step. Rumor has it that they’re in the studio right now, so I’m hoping to hear even more Molten magic this time around!
The strange thing about making MIDI gear is that most of our devices don’t make sounds on their own, instead they automate your rig and let you concentrate on making music instead of tap dancing. We’ve sold thousands of pedals to players from practically every country in the world, but most work quietly in the background to make the lives of guitarists easier.
That said…Vernon Reid, Bob Weir, Nels Cline, Kryz Reid, Henry Kaiser, Steve Vai, and countless others own our devices.
Do you have any photos of these artists’ pedalboards, or other artists with impressive pedalboard setups, with Molten Voltage devices on them?
Here’s a link to a video of Ed O’Brien’s latest pedalboard with OZ and Molten MIDI:
Here is a picture of Ed with the board.
My favorite pictures are usually from individual players who “get it” and have transformed their boards into streamlined machines using our products, like this one from Maxwell Caplin. It’s beautiful.
Or this one, from David Garcia, with Tempode (the older blue version) syncing up his whole board.
This pedalboard is used by Matthew Vincenty of the band UnderSea.
Digging deeper, what are some of the most interesting or unusual musical applications have you heard guitarists use Molten Voltage MIDI products to achieve? (feel free to provide audio samples, videos, etc.)
One fun thing was when Molten MIDI 2 came out players quickly discovered that you could use it to play the sound in Map of the Problematique by Muse. Here’s a video example:
Here’s a video from AXE Magazine in Italy where dude really puts Molten MIDI through its paces:
Is there a secret feature or tonal capability of one of your products, which most people aren’t aware of, that you could divulge to us and wet our appetite for some musical exploration with your devices?
Well my first pedal, TOGGLE, never got the love I thought it deserved. It switches dynamically or rhythmically between effects and can even swing!
On this video you can hear some of the possibilities:
Most people familiar with Molten Voltage are familiar with the Whammy pedal applications, but can you tell us a bit about the syncing possibilities with looping devices and other time-based effects?
Syncing a delay to an LFO-controlled filter is a common application. I can’t tell you how many players buy Tempode just to sync their Strymon TimeLine and Mobius pedals. Tap tempo is the beginning, but once you start to sync multiple pedals, the possibilities go up exponentially.
Pigtronix also just came out with a new Echolution that syncs up the delay modulation and delay time to MIDI Clock which is really slick as well.
Like I said, there are a huge number of pedals that can all be synced together and the range of sounds that are now available is at an all-time high.
There are also a bunch of Looper pedals that can sync to MIDI Clock now, including the Pigtronix Infinity, TC Electronic Flashback X4, EHX 45000 and 2800, Boomerang III, and the Looperlative LP2. Having your Looper in sync with your phaser, delay, or auto-wah is just king size!
You can also use MIDI Clock to sync up recording software. Most computer-based DAW gear can be set to “slave” to an external clock, so you can control recording, tempo, everything from an external MIDI controller. Instead of sitting in front of the computer, you can spend your time playing guitar.
For playing live, MIDI Clock is also used to sync up lighting effects.
Perhaps you can give us a glimpse into how you, the founder, make music with your own creations. Have you recorded anything using Molten Voltage devices that you can share with us?
The one thing I miss is recording whole songs. MV takes up all my free time.
That said, all the guitar work on the demo vids is mine. The Molten MIDI 5 video is a good example:
Your grandfather was apparently a pioneer in digital controls. Can you tell us a bit about his legacy, and how it inspired you to where you are today?
My grandfather, George Devol, invented the first digital programmable robot called the Unimate back in 1954. He also started the world’s first robotics company, Unimation in 1956. He’s known as the Grandfather of Robotics and was inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 2011.
Grandpa advised and mentored me from childhood until just a few years ago when he passed away at age 99. The most important thing he taught me was that you can teach yourself anything if you have determination and persistence.
His skills were entirely self-taught and he was always at least 10 years ahead of his time. He instilled in me an unshakable sense of self-reliance and confidence, while always demanding creativity and originality. He was always true to himself and I try to be too. So when people told me seven years ago that MIDI guitar effects had been tried and rejected and that they would never catch on, I followed my own plan and built MIDI devices anyway.
What is the legacy you want to leave behind?
I don’t want to leave anything behind – I want Molten Voltage to become the world-leader in MIDI pedalboard Devices!
Having creative and talented artists make music using Molten Voltage devices is truly rewarding, and if my gear helps make them better players, that’s all the legacy I need.
Thank you for your time, Bill. Is there anything else Six String Soul readers should know about Molten Voltage? Any upcoming news to look out for?
Big Muff MIDI is a programmable, MIDI-controlled EHX Big Muff. I use an existing Big Muff Pi, including the original circuit board, and make it programmable so you can store 128 presets. It’s as if you can magically turn the knobs by sending it a MIDI Program Change. You can get a huge range of sounds out the Big Muff Pi, so it’s an ideal pedal to mod and automate.
I’ve also got the next generation Molten MIDI on my bench right now. I wish I could give you details, but all I can say is that it is really groundbreaking and takes it to a whole new level.