Virtual Jeff – Digital Whammy Bar System

  • 2015

  • Product
    Sport and Lifestyle

Designed By:

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Virtual Jeff is the electronic successor to mechanical vibrato systems (a.k.a. ‘whammy bars’) used for expressive pitch effects on guitar. Its unique mechanism uses a sensor tied to a microprocessor for digital pitch control.
This breaks new ground: whammy bars traditionally rely on levers and heavy springs to crudely alter string tension/pitch. Virtual Jeff does it electronically.
Its whammy unit is sleek and tough, with superior ergonomics. Deft mechanical design provides extraordinary precision. Digital processing makes novices sound like pros.
Virtual Jeff imparts no mechanical stress to instruments or strings so it can be easily fitted to electric and acoustic guitars, an exciting new field for whammy use.

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  • Mechanical whammy bars have solid metal parts and heavy-duty springs. Robustness in construction is essential; they have to vary the string tension (about 81Kgs/180lbs for a guitar) to produce pitch change. Constantly changing that tension imposes great stress not only on strings, but the bridge, nut, neck and body of the guitar. Top-flight players have their guitars fettled constantly to cope with these issues. It's not cheap, nor a realistic solution for lesser mortals. Virtual Jeff doesn't change string tension to alter pitch. It does it electronically, so there's no stress to any parts of the guitar. This means it can even be used on acoustic guitars, which are inherently more fragile than electrics.

  • Many players stop using a whammy bar for a simple reason: they detune the guitar. Whammy use stretches strings, makes them slip on the tuning pegs or stick in the nut or bridge. All noticeably affect tuning. Another aspect of conventional designs is also at fault: string tension must be balanced against spring resistance to hold the whammy in its 'rest' position. Any imbalance translates to a tuning error. This equilibrium isn't easy to achieve or maintain, in the face of wear, spring aging, temperature et al. None of the improvements over 80 years of whammy design solve these problems completely. Virtual Jeff doesn't have to. They exist only in the mechanical world. Tuning problems are a thing of the past.

  • Whammy use is a skill that isn't quick to perfect. Like Roger Federer's backhand, it just looks easy. The difficulty comes in making 'tuneful' pitch changes. While the frets on a guitar ensure that each note is correctly tuned, this isn't true of a violin (no frets) or a whammy (ditto). A whammy must be used very precisely to bend the pitch exactly to another note. Twenty years of practice helps. Virtual Jeff converts whammy movement to digital data. Its processor 'massages' that data so the pitch you reach at the end of the move is perfectly in tune. Maestros of the whammy were the inspiration for the product. They make whammy 'tunefulness' look easy. Virtual Jeff means everyone else can too.

  • One aspect of whammy mechanics is critical: their ability to “return-to-centre” (RTC) with high precision. If the mechanism can't achieve this repeatedly, tuning issues will be a constant annoyance. Unsurprisingly, mechanical whammies of all stripes suffer from this failing. Virtual Jeff has an inventive break-thru in its RTC mechanics. Sophisticated CAD was used to design an RTC method which enforces a precise centre position. It won't change over the product lifetime. It's also inherently reliable and easy to manufacture.

    Virtual Jeff's mechanism sports a sensor integrated in a novel way to detect whammy movements with high resolution and linearity. This provides a wealth of digital data to the on-board processor, where innovative processing occurs - a new concept for a whammy. The data is 'massaged' to produce features like: predictable pitch changes ('tunefulness'); non-linear sensitivity to create an intuitive 'feel' for the user; multiple modes, which can emulate traditional mechanical forebears; very large pitch changes, impossible (mechanically) without breaking the strings. This feature set is only feasible with digital data, from an electronic whammy… like Virtual Jeff.

    Most mechanical whammy systems are installed during guitar manufacturing. The springs and pivots are mounted internally. An early whammy, the Bigsby, is mounted externally, but has limited pitch control and numerous tuning issues. Virtual Jeff is designed to be retro-fitted to almost any guitar. A simple mounting platform is added to the target instrument. Users can have several guitars 'Jeff-ready', so it can be swapped quickly from one to the other. The body shape and arm profile of Virtual Jeff underwent extensive refinement to ensure compatibility with the widest range of guitars and superior ergonomics in use. The construction method and materials were chosen to meet the rigours of constant live performance.

    Virtual Jeff doesn't need to be 'muscled' like a mechanical whammy. It's not fighting strong string and spring tensions. Strength isn't needed any longer. Guitar playing is often an exercise in high-speed resource management. Both hands are already busy enough. Virtual Jeff offers relief from whammy arm-wrestling. Players can use novel whammy techniques - like fingertip control. Its design is ideal for 'on-the-fly' use - and more musically expressive as a result. It's likely new whammy techniques will inspire new music. They have before. Even whammy 'tricks' - like holding the whammy fully down (or up) while playing - are easy for players of any gender, build or age. Virtual Jeff… one size fits all.