|Headquarters||Rosemont, New Jersey, United States|
|Products||Electronic musical effects|
Musitronics, often shortened to Mu-tron, was a manufacturer of electronic musical effects active in the 1970s. Their product line focused on filtering and processing effects derived from synthesizer components. Among their most well-known products were the Mu-tron III envelope filter, and the Bi-phase.
The Musitronics Corporation of Rosemont, New Jersey was formed in 1972 by Mike Beigel in an attempt to salvage an aborted synthesizer project. Beigel had initially been tapped to design a synthesizer for Guild Guitars. After Guild President Alfred Dronge was killed in a plane crash in 1970, the company made the decision to shut down their electronic division to focus strictly on guitars, abruptly pulling the plug on Beigel’s synthesizer. Subsequently, Beigel teamed up with Guild’s former chief engineer, Aaron Newman, to form Musitronics. They decided to extract sections from the synthesizer and see if they could make a new stand-alone audio effect out of it. The result was first called the Auto Wah, and then marketed as the Mu-tron III. Synthesizer inventor Bob Moog's affidavit helped get the patent. The Mu-tron III became quite popular thanks in part to Stevie Wonder's use and endorsement of the pedal.
The company offered traditional effects such as simple phase shifters, flangers, and foot-operated wah pedals as well.
In 1978 Musitronics was sold to ARP (a synthesizer company that was in the process of imploding financially with a guitar synth called the Avatar) on a royalty basis, but they folded before the original owners of Musitronics could ever collect any money. Musitronics became Gizmo Incorporated and continued to try their hand at products, but it ended when Aaron Newman suffered a heart attack.
Aaron Newman had approached Mike Beigel with the idea of developing a product based on the synthesizer project. So Beigel began working on the idea of making a product to generate synthesizer-like sounds without actually using a synthesizer. Extracting elements from one of his Guild prototypes called the Timbre Generator, Beigel came up with the Mu-tron III, the first stand-alone envelope-controlled filter that could be used for any number of electric instruments. Beigel said he chose the envelope-controlled filter over other synthesizer elements, such as ring modulation, because it sounded more musical; it was a more general effect that would lend itself to a variety of applications, and it was easy to use.
The Mu-tron III was an instant success, earning endorsements from jazz/fusion guitarist Larry Coryell, as well as Stevie Wonder, who used it on his Clavinet for the song "Higher Ground." The pedal found favor with an eclectic variety of musicians playing in many diverse genres. Bootsy Collins used the Mu-tron III on his bass with Parliament/Funkadelic and Jerry Garcia made the Mu-tron III part of his signature lead guitar sound with the Grateful Dead.
Beigel was successfully granted a patent for the circuitry of the Mu-tron III. Musitronics licensed the Mu-tron III circuitry to a few different companies in the seventies – the Univox Funky Filter and Monacor Effectmatic are notable examples.
The original Mu-tron III ran on 18V, using two 9V batteries; this gave it a wider dynamic range and more headroom. There was also the optional PS-1 power supply, with later versions featuring built-in AC power supplies. The Mu-tron III also used opto-isolators to control the filter, which was novel for the time. This same method would also be used for the Mu-tron Phasor II and Bi-Phase. The state variable filter in the Mu-tron III allowed for low-pass, bandpass, and high-pass filter response, which could be triggered from low to high or vice versa. When ARP Instruments bought Musitronics in ‘79, they made the Mu-tron line for about a year before going out of business, and the Mu-tron III was no more. With the advent of the stompbox revival of the nineties, the Mu-tron III became one of the big-ticket items for collectors and players alike. There was a reissue of sorts – the HAZ Mu-tron III+, but inventor Mike Beigel says this is not an authorized version and the circuit is not exactly the same.
In early 1995, however, Beigel did lend his expertise to Electro-Harmonix, creating an update of his original design, the Electro-Harmonix Q-Tron. Three other pedals, the Mini Q-Tron, Micro Q-Tron and Q-Tron+, are available from EHX as well, who now also offer the Bi-Filter, a modern version of Beigel Sound Lab's Envelope Controlled Filter, made in 1979.
Phaser effects were common in the 1970s, but the Mu-tron Biphase combined two phase shifting circuits to create, according to the company, "super-deep phasing, or stereo phasing, or synchronized phasing of separate instruments." The unit could be connected to an optional rocking foot pedal so that the effect could be operated in the manner of a Wah-wah pedal. Lee "Scratch" Perry used a prototype Bi-phase unit in his dub productions. The effect can be heard in the intro to Porno Creep on Korn's album Life is Peachy and all throughout the Smashing Pumpkins' second album Siamese Dream.
Mu-tron's original phasor using transconductance amps. A simpler design than the Bi-phase, it included only rate and depth controls. The Phasor II introduced additional functionality brought over from the Bi-phase.
Dan Armstrong effects
Between 1976-1978 Musitronics manufactured a series of modular, plug-in effects for Dan Armstrong amplifiers. These included the Green Ringer, an octave effect, the Yellow Humper, a frequency booster designed for bass guitar, the Purple Peaker, a similar boost effect for electric guitar, and the Orange Squeezer, a signal compressor.
Mu-tron Octave Divider
Produced an octave above and below the input signal. Utitlized the same circuit as the "Green Ringer".
A "bucket brigade" flanger which offered extensive control of effect parameters.
Mu-tron Vol-Wah Pedal
A dual volume and wah foot-operated rocking pedal.
An effects device developed by Lol Creme and Kevin Godley of 10cc, manufactured by an offshoot of Musitronics called Gizmotronics. The device used motor-driven plastic wheels to produce infinitely sustained notes on a guitar. The device was problematic, and Gizmotronics entered bankruptcy before very many had been produced.
- 365 Guitars, Amps & Effects You Must Play: The Most Sublime, Bizarre and Outrageous Gear Ever - Dave Hunter. p. 182.
- The Guitar Player Book: 40 Years of Interviews, Gear, and Lessons from the World's Most Celebrated Guitar Magazine. p. 233.
- Contemporary Keyboard
- Guitar Effects Pedals: The Practical Handbook - Dave Hunter. p. 42.
- Guitar Effects Pedals: The Practical Handbook - Dave Hunter. p. 80.
- Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae - Michael Veal. p. 153.
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