Hi, my name is Steve Lascos and Blackaddr Audio is the culmination of over 20 years of building and designing guitar gear. In 1994 I picked up a guitar for the first time, and only a few short months later I picked up a soldering iron for the first time. I’ve been building and modding guitars, pedals and gear ever since.
Over those 20+ years, I’ve done custom work for many musicians in the Hamilton, Ontario area, ranging from pickup cavity shielding to custom designed boutique pedals to building Franken-Strats.
However, my focus has shifted in the past few years as digital modelling has really come in to its own. What started out for me as some VST synths covering keyboard parts in my old bands Pink Floyd set, has completely taken over my bass and guitar rigs. In fact with the digital modelling available today, the same hardware can be used for both bass and guitar rigs (even at the same time).
The launch of the www.blackaddr.com website in 2016 represents my desire to share and discuss this exciting technology that is making quite an impact in the industry. Digital modelling of effects and amps has become a mainstay in studios everywhere due to the leaps and bounds in quality and the flexibility that it offers. More recently, the robustness and reliability of software based modelling has reached the point where it can even be used for professional live performances.
If you want to know a little more about this history of Blackaddr Audio and me, read on at your own peril!
They say necessity is the mother of invention and that certainly has been true with me.
I picked up a soldering iron 3 months after picking up my first guitar because I wanted to rock out…and that means I needed a distortion pedal! And in 1994, a distortion pedal was going to cost you about $150 CAD. Minimum wage was $6.70. I was 14 and didn’t even earn minimum wage, I just had a paper route and cash from mowing lawns. No sir, I certainly could not afford any $150 pedals. Around that time a friend of mine had taken a grade 9 course on how to read circuit schematics and solder. He had built a Fuzzface on a breadboard for about $10 in parts from the local Radio Shack. He taught me what he knew and I soon built my own Fuzz Face for $25 (mine had a plastic enclosure, an on/off switch, and a circuit board I drew and etched by hand). Over the next few years I built a few more basic pedals including overdrives and boosters.
Fast-forward ten years and in 2004 I graduated with an Engineering degree from the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at McMaster University, Hamilton and soon had a job as a Digital ASIC Designer at Gennum Corporation, a company that made digital video and audio processors.
Using this faster, repeatable method, I started doing more custom pedals and projects for other musicians in my area, though the PCB drilling and enclosure drilling and finishing was very labour intensive.
So now I was officially hauling a laptop bag and audio interface to rehearsal each week along with my MIDI keyboard and still had to carry my whole bass rig (amp, 2×10 cab and a pedalboard). Wow. I learned pretty quickly I hate hauling gear.
Unfortunately, just as we were hitting our stride, differences in aspirations arose (as they always do) and the band split up.
By the end of 2013 however, I was back in another band as the bassist. This time it was a full 5-piece beer band playing Alternative and Hard Rock tunes. Compared to Kings in Trust, this was more laid back, and a lot more focused on just playing music, having fun, and trying new things. Not much use for keyboards here, so the software rig stayed at home for a while. Five guys, drinking, and rocking their brains out in a small rehearsal space had me starting to worry about my custom built pedalboard I was bringing every week.
Several of the pedals were custom built pedals that if damaged or spilled on, I’d be pretty disappointed. I was also getting concerned about possible theft issues with gigs so I hauled out that laptop again, built up a digital software modelling rig with all the bass effects and amps I needed, and mounted it in a small rack case.
I didn’t even need my real bass amp or cab most of the time because we always used a PA and headphone monitors for rehearsal. Having everything contained in a single rack case made setting up and tearing down super quick, and was a lot less to carry each week.
In January of 2015, the rhythm guitarist and the lead guitarist announced they were leaving. Yup, both of them, at the same time. One had a baby on the way, the other was trying to grow their own small business. So now we were left with a drummer, a bassist and a singer, and no guitarists. In order to keep things going, the singer picked up the slack by playing a bit of guitar, though as a singer first, this was not ideal.
Now there are lots of great power-trio bands out there. In those cases, the frontman is usually as good a guitarist as they are a singer, and many of those bands still need a 4th guy when they play live. Around this same time a new British band called Royal Blood (Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher) was really starting to make waves. As a two-piece, Mike was wowing crowds by playing both bass, and guitar parts, solely on a bass with the help of an octave-up pitch shifter all the while putting out top-notch vocals. And when they played live, there was still only two guys. Well, if they’ve only got two guys, and we’ve got three, surely we can play some Royal Blood tunes! I added a NanoPOG to my rig to split my bass signal into bass and guitar, and send them separately to my audio interface. From there, they went through separate digital bass and guitar rigs.
Mike Kerr uses a tuner pedal to occasionally ‘mute’ his guitar bass rig to create the dynamics between the bass and guitar sounds. I quickly realized very complicated digital guitar and bass rigs could be controlled more effectively using MIDI which would allow enormous flexibility to add a rhythm guitar on top of the bass in order to play many songs that would normally require another musician. There is a lot of amazing music written where the bass and rhythm guitar are playing the same thing. And I’m not just talking about the obvious 1990s grunge. Led Zeppelin’s driving sound came from Jon Paul Jones and Jimmy Page each playing the same riff together. Black Dog and The Ocean are perfect examples. So, I built up a rudimentary MIDI foot controller and we were on our way!
As we started adding more complex arrangements and effects to our setlist, I needed more and more control and flexibility out of my MIDI foot controller. I started looking for something available on the market that would do everything I needed but I just couldn’t find it. So, I spent nearly two years designing, redesigning, tweaking and testing the hell out of what became the Blackaddr Audio microMIDI.
With features like a graphic display, setlist building and programming via Android, stomp switches and knobs (very rare on a foot controller) as well as an external jack for an expression pedal, I finally had the control I needed and it was simpler to use then a real pedalboard full of pedals.
After a number of local musicians expressed interest in purchasing a microMIDI I manufactured and assembled a small batch of units and got great positive feedback.
I suddenly realized that there was a lot of interest out there in software based digital gear, running on everything from laptops to tablets and even smartphones. Products like Amplitube, Guitar Rig and BIAS were developing huge user bases. A lot of people want to learn how to transform that from a bedroom rig to something they can gig with.
At that point, I decided to start www.blackaddr.com and begin blogging and writing about how exciting it is to be a virtual gear head.
Finally, a big Thank You to all the people who supported me and encouraged me through all the hard work to get this started.