Several manufacturers have flirted with the idea of a cartridge-based pedal that can change personality based on the different cartridges available (most infamously, the aborted Console Project by Devi Ever), but so far none of these attempts has gained popularity. Reputable and adventurous builder Cooper FX is now giving this format a shot with a pedal called Arcades, a multi-effect platform inspired by vintage video game consoles.
The idea has its merits, because the majority of the cost of a pedal is tied to its hardware: knobs, switches, case, etc. – not to mention the time spend soldering them all together. In this optic, a cartridge system allows pedal lovers to get a brand new effect at a much lower price, since they don’t have to pay again for those components. On the other hand, having a pedal with two cartridges is not like having two pedals, because you can’t play them at the some time nor plug them into each other, and it’s less than ideal for live situations, in which tiny cartridges get easily lost.
But Cooper FX is a creator of creative effects that find their ideal use in a studio or sound design situation, so in this optic the format seems to make more sense and has a higher probability of success.
Check out what this pedal can do with the current available cartridges.
I’m not one to talk about myself and the things I do, but I feel as though this project needs to be discussed. Its something I’ve wrangled with for years, and has really been a trip trying to get this thing into your hands. Heres the story of Arcades.
The first pedal I designed was called the AARP, back in 2015. Can’t believe it was that long ago. It was a project based on the Spin semiconductors FV1, a digital chip that has been used in all my subsequent designs. The neat thing about this chip is that it can be programmed with an external EEPROM, or memory device. The second I realized that a pedal’s personality could be swapped in and out easily just by removing and replacing these EEPROMs, I became obsessed with the idea of making a video game like cartridge system for pedals. Not to say that it hasn’t been tried/done before, it has been done. But still, I had an idea for this pedal and I wanted to carry it out. Fast forward a year or so, in between college classes I was able to whip up an early prototype. You can watch the real piece of garbage I had whipped up in action here:
I quickly realized I didn’t have the skills to carry out that project and give it the justice I really wanted to….so it was scrapped. Then other projects came up, things happened and it pretty quickly got pushed to the wayside.
Over the interim years, I gained a few new skills here and there, just from working on new pedals, or from advice/wisdom shared by smart pedal builders like Ryan from Dr. Scientist, and Joel from Chase Bliss. With the things that they taught me and some other things I learned for myself, I had a good base to confidently blow off the dust off of Arcades and take another stab at it.
The design was the easy part. The hard part was to follow. Lets rewind really quick. In 2019 I started contracting out manufacturing to a Chinese PCB fab/assembly house. They do great work and were highly recommended by some great folks in the pedal world. I did a run of Outwards with this company, and everything worked out great. Once I had Arcades completed, I immediately sent over the design files and materials to this manufacturer, sent all that stuff directly to Wuhan (yeah).
Wuhan is city that I never paid much attention to, and frankly didn’t know anything about. That changed pretty quickly. Late in December, I think the 31st, I got an email from the manufacturer that there would be delays for the Arcades design, due to a “pneumonia like” outbreak in their city. Months and months passed with no movement, but finally things started to trickle into my workshop as China’s manufacturing giant reopened. Still, some things would be unavoidable, and as a result there are a few shortcomings with this release. I was hoping to have more Cards available, but I could not get the factory to take on a new order in time for the release, which was already delayed by 3+ months at this point.
That’s not all. The coronavirus would hit this project one more time. In January I began scheduling a trip to Paris to shoot a promotional video with Andrew from Ambient Endeavors. We were going to shoot some footage of this pedal being played in Passage Brady, a 19th century arcade. We landed March 10th, with Corona virus on our minds, but not overly so…I remember feeling like the virus sounded so distant at the time. We got some footage the first two days, even some footage in the old arcade. But then the travel ban on the whole EU was announced. We abandoned our Airbnb at 3 in the morning, took a cab to a train station (that wouldn’t be opened for a few hours), eventually boarded a train to London, and we flew out of there, to arrive in Newark, then finally back home to Minneapolis. That was a close call. Andrew has been a real champ in trying to salvage what we had planned, but still the disappointment of not being able to finish that project was to say the least, a bummer.
Anyways. That’s the story of the Arcades. Its been a real uphill battle, but I’m very proud of it and am real excited to have it out in the world. I have four cards, 32 different effects, already designed for this and available, in limited quantities, for release. I have four more cards well under way, including the ever so trendy granular stuff, reverse delays, Generation loss, and synth cards.
I hope this project can continue to grow with offerings from other companies who use this FV1 chip and are familiar with its ins and outs. Additionally, I hope to team up with some pedal influencers to release their own signature effects packages. When I first started this pedal, what excited me most was the infinite possibilities. That is still the most excited aspect of this project and I hope to be able to make this platform infinite, as I set out to do when I started dreaming of this pedal so long ago.