A drummer at your feet? It’s either a sadomasochist’s dream or an innovative pedal. By Peter Hodgson
The BeatBuddy is one of those ideas that are so obvious and logical that either nobody had thought of it before, or technology had to catch up to the vision before it could become a reality. Whatever the case, it’s here now: the first drum machine in a guitar pedal, giving you hands‑free control of your beat while you’re rocking out, be it onstage or at home. The project was initially funded via an IndieGoGo campaign, which reached its target of $30,000 within the first 30 minutes and went on to be utterly huge. Initially only available online, the BeatBuddy is now distributed in Australia by Innovative Music – the local home of Kemper and Carl Martin pedals – and there isn’t a better group of folks to bring this particular pedal to Aussie players.
LET’S NOT BEAT AROUND THE BUSH
The BeatBuddy is a MIDI-based drum machine built into a pedal housing. It’s a full stereo unit with 24‑bit sound and a full-colour LCD screen, and there’s an optional additional footswitch for hands‑free song selection, tap tempo, accent hits, beat drops and more. The unit comes with an SD card loaded with ten drum sets and over 200 song styles with multiple unique fills per song, and you can edit or create drum tracks on your computer before transferring them to the pedal.
The interface is very simple. There’s a footswitch, three knobs for Volume, Drum Set and Tempo, plus up/down/left/right direction keys with an OK/Tap Tempo button in the centre. Everything else is handled by the small multi-colour display screen, which gives you information about which song is selected, which section of the song is currently playing, the tempo in beats per minute (BPM), the time signature, volume level and currently selected drum kit. On the right side of the unit, you’ll find left and right inputs for passing a signal through the pedal (say, sending your guitar processor to a PA via the BeatBuddy) and an external footswitch jack, along with a volume thumbwheel for a headphone mix. On the other side are the left and right outputs, a mini headphone jack and a MIDI sync jack. Across the top are the nine-volt power supply input jack, SD card slot and USB jack. Add the external control pedal and you have the ability to add accent hits and drum breaks, plus foot control of tap tempo and hands-free scrolling through songs.
A ROBOT WITH A HUMAN FEEL
Once your songs are in the pedal, the BeatBuddy does more than simply play your file back like an audio player or backing track. Between the pedal itself and the additional footswitch, you can start a beat, add a fill or three, go from verse to chorus, add a cymbal crash or tom hit whenever you want it, plus much, much more. You’re not just playing along with prerecorded backing tracks – you actually interact with it to trigger performance changes, bringing a sense of life and excitement to your performance even if you’re just one musician onstage. Have you seen how nuts the general public goes when they see someone like Ed Sheeran using a loop pedal with an acoustic guitar? Well imagine doing that, but also having a drummer at your feet as you improvise a whole bed of loops against a full drum performance that you can control at will.
The stock beats are not quantised, so they have the natural feel of the drummers who originally played them, with the benefit of very well‑recorded drumkit samples to send them through. This is huge, because nothing takes you out of a real musical moment faster than too much perfection. The BeatBuddy keeps that distinctly human element intact.
The interface is very intuitive, and in no time, you’ll find yourself improvising and interacting with the pedal like it’s always been a part of you. The only downside is that you can’t create new beats within the pedal itself – however, you can make them in other software and import them into the BeatBuddy. Sonically, the kits sound great. And the screen gives you a clear display of the progress of the bar currently playing, so it’s really hard to lose your place.
ONE MAN BAND
When testing the BeatBuddy, I fired up my Les Paul equipped with the A Little Thunder neck pickup, a device invented by Andy Alt that generates a bass-like signal from the bottom three strings of a guitar, and sends it to a separate amp. Using my DAW interface, I sent a regular guitar signal to one channel, a simulated bass signal to another, processed them both through different amps in IK Multimedia Amplitube 4 and sent the BeatBuddy’s stereo outs into a stereo track with my favourite drum bus effects – a big, warm, ‘70s-style drum sound. I became an instant power trio and an unholy riffing machine – if I had a looper pedal and didn’t suck as a singer, I would have been able to take things even further.
THE BOTTOM LINE
And that’s really what makes the BeatBuddy so much fun: it’s not just a passive sound source for you to play along to, it’s an interactive one for you to play along with. Whether you’re a solo performer, a guitar teacher or you just want to have a more satisfying musical experience around the house, it’s a great tool for inspiring new musical explorations.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• Total control of the rhythm
• No programming necessary
• Samples of professional drummers
• Built-in algorithm that’s always on beat
• Stores over 3,000,000 songs
• Great sounds
• Feels very reliable
• Very interactive
• Can’t program drums within the pedal
• Sounds best with its own sound system, not a guitar amp
Ph: (03) 9540 0658