The search for new gear can be fraught with difficulty but when it comes to finding the next addition to your pedalboard, the German online retail giant Thomann has unveiled a very clever online app that lets you audition stompboxes via a web browser.
Thomann's Stompenberg FX platform allows you to control real stompboxes, adjust parameters and test out sounds before making a purchase. There are three ways in which you can do this, the Play mode being the most basic.
Simply visit the Stompenberg FX page, bring up a pedal you are interested in, say a Catalinbread Topanga spring reverb, and then play a prerecorded loop through the pedal, adjusting the parameters to see how the pedal responds.
The Play mode's prerecorded loops can be in many different styles to suit your playing. Alternatively, Rec mode allows you to create your own loops, upload them, and use that as the source audio as you twist dials and appraise the pedal's response.
In anyone's book that is pretty cool, but Live mode takes the Rec mode idea one step further, allowing you to effectively play a stompbox that is sitting somewhere in Germany and then, with low latency, you can hear it coming out of your amp's speakers at any volume you wish.
Now, you might need a reamping device for that – especially if you want to play at high volumes – but they are as cheap as chips.
As for the user interface, how the pedal appears on your browser is exactly how the its enclosure is arranged in real life. The dials are in the same positions, as are footswitches and sliders, and all are operational. Thomann even says the LEDs are matched to make the experience as life-like as possible.
In a sense, though, it's not really life-like; the pedals you are playing through are real, simply being controlled remotely.
To do this, Thomann takes the switches, dials and enclosure off the pedals before measuring them to see how they operate – if, say, they are linear or logarithmic – and then replaces the switches and dials with digital versions.
The pedals are then rehoused to ensure they are properly shielded. Check them out in the pics above – all are as they should be except the ribbon cables where the pots and switches would be are hooking it up to the internet.
As for how many pedals will be involved in the Stompenberg FX app, Thomann says user participation is key. Right now there are 185.
Of course, Stompenberg FX might not take all the agony out of choosing a new fuzz or overdrive pedal – there is no cure for option paralysis in an age of abundant choice – but at least you can make an informed decision, and have a little fun as you do so.
See Thomann for more details.