Jack White on stage getting way too
close to his pedals!

Typical pedalboard with Tonebone
Hot British top and center.

The Voco-Loco uses the same studio
preamp circuit as the PreMax.

With a Voco-Loco you can now rock out
with the best of them!

Voco-Loco™ Development

A short time ago while developing modules for the Workhorse 500 series rack, we came up with the idea of creating a module that would enable the studio engineer to add guitar type effects to a pre-recorded track. You could, for instance, add a fuzz pedal to a snare drum, wah-wah to a kick, an overdrive to a vocal track to add texture or even add a fuzz-tone to a bass guitar. This device became the EXTC and today is used by many of the world's top engineers including Joe Chiccarelli (Alanis Morissette), Vance Powell (Jack White), Ryan Hewitt (Red Hot Chilli Peppers) and Joe Barresi (Tool). Soon afterwards, we created a stand-alone version called the EXTC-SA.

This got us thinking... what if we could give a lead vocalist the same kind of power to enhance a live performance? In other words, with so many guitar pedals now available, it would be cool to enable the vocalist to add special effects to his vocals by simply hitting a footswitch the same way a guitarist does. What about sax or trumpet players... or even harmonica? Could they also participate in some of the fun and excitement that guitarists seem to enjoy?

The result is the Voco-Loco... a crazy tool for vocals, sax, trumpet, harp... who knows where this crazy invention will end up being used.

Using guitar effects

To understand the logic behind the Voco-Loco, you have to begin by understanding the logic behind a guitarist's pedalboard. You will discover, although using pedals on a guitar, voice or instrument is similar, each needs to be addressed slightly different.

For the most part, a guitarist generally switches between a dry signal and effects. In other words, they will rarely combine a clean sound with a distortion pedal – you replace one with the other. More sophisticated pedalboards will incorporate a couple of loops whereby the guitarist may have two or three pedals in one loop to set up a rhythm tone by combining a chorus, overdrive and reverb and then set up a second loop for soloing using a distortion, flanger and delay. A vocalist or saxophonist on the other hand will usually blend an effect like a reverb or delay to the original sound. Here, the sound is not replaced, but enhanced or colored to suit. On some occasions, you may use a completely wet effect to create a unique sound.

Where the two worlds collide is preparing for the effect. In other words, because the Voco-Loco is in fact an effects loop controller, you can preset your effects for a given song and then instantly activate the loop when needed. Because the Voco-Loco lets you incorporate any type of pedal or effects device into the signal chain, you are not limited to a given set of tones, but free to create... like a studio engineer, only this time, do it live. Most importantly, you can create unique effects in the studio and bring them with you for the live show.

Establishing the feature set

The challenge with the design begins with sending a mic signal into the pedals. This in itself presents a number of challenges. The first being a quality front end. With the Voco-Loco you are no longer using the preamp in the mixing console. Instead, you are using the preamp that is built into the Voco-Loco. Knowing full well that the Voco-Loco will be used on major stages, quality sound had to be first and foremost.

The Voco-Loco employs a state-of-the-art studio mic preamp - the same front-end that is used in the Radial PreComp and PreMax 500 series studio modules. In other words, you are getting a high performance studio preamp inside a pedal that is able to handle all signal levels without distortion or artifact. Next, we developed a non-radiating charge pump to deliver phantom power for those who want to use a condenser mic on stage. Next in line is the EQ. We chose to keep this nice and simple with separate high and low frequency shelving controls that are both warm and musical. This lets you add a touch of bass to fatten up the bottom-end or accentuate the upper harmonics with extra sizzle or air.

The mic preamp then feeds the effects loop. This features standard ¼" guitar jacks to connect to the pedal chain and the loop is transformer isolated to help eliminate hum and buzz caused by ground loops. Separate send & receive controls help optimize signal-to-noise and reduce distortion. As guitar pedals are designed to be used with 12" guitar amp speakers, a tone control has been added to enable you to adjust the return signal path to suit. Finally, a mix control lets you blend the wet effects signal with the original dry signal so that you can bring in as much of the effect as you desire.

Enhancing the performance

Using the Voco-Loco may at first be foreign, but after a few days you will quickly come to grips with how to best approach effects to deliver a seamless professional show. In fact we did the same thing, and this led to adding a second footswitch.

Say you are a sax player. Normally, you are sending a clean (dry) signal to the PA for a particular song, you decide to add some echo to your signal. This is done by preparing the echo when the effects loop is turned off and then at the precise moment, you merely stomp on the right-hand footswitch to activate. In this case you are mixing the dry signal with the wet echo.

After the song, you bypass the effects to speak with the audience while cuing up different pedals for the next effect. For the next song, you want to add distortion and chorus to your sax to create an effect like an electric guitar. In this case, you do not want any of the dry signal - only the full wet effect. The second left-hand footswitch bypasses the wet-dry mix and delivers a 100% wet effect when activated. You instantly turn into Jimmy Hendrix!

Who knows what weird and wonderful effects you will create? One thing is for sure... with a Voco-Loco on your pedalboard, you will stand out from the crowd!