Pittsburgh Modular Patch Box

An easy way to process guitar using a modular synth
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Guitarists who want to incorporate synth modules into their rig have a new option: The Pittsburgh Modular Patch Box is, essentially, a 42HP Eurorack frame in a stompbox format, but with a high-headroom input preamp, a buffered output, and true bypass switching.

On its own, the Patch Box enclosure ($349) provides power for up to 6 skiff-friendly modules. The first of the company’s planned system configurations is the Patch Box FX1 ($1,239), which includes 18 Nazca Audio braided patch cables, the Analog Replicator BBD delay, the resonant state-variable Filter, the LFO2, and the Crush “signal decimator”—a useful setup for processing guitar. I also used the enclosure with other modules from Pittsburgh Modular as well as Dwarfcraft’s Hax, BDSM, and Great Destroyer.

The steel enclosure feels very sturdy, with rubber feet to keep it from sliding around the floor. Inside is a bus board that offers ±12V and +5V, which is powered from the included external supply. The module-packed review unit weighed 5.7lbs, and the system comes with a one-year warranty.

The enclosure has a single 1/4" input and output, and two expression pedal jacks. You can use the input preamp’s Drive knob to add distortion to the guitar’s signal before it hits the modules, but without overdriving them. In addition to the three footswitches—Bypass, Switch 1, and Switch 2—the enclosure has a row of mini-jack patch points: Two signals split from the main guitar input, one from each expression pedal, three jacks for Switch 1 and for Switch 2, a mult, and the output jack.

The switched jacks allow you to have additional signal paths that can be punched in and out with the corresponding footswitches. However, you can use each switch to select between two destinations: For example, if you plug your source signal into the middle of the three Switch 1 jacks, that signal is normalized through the left jack when Switch 1 is off (the light is out). Hit Switch 1 and the source signal is now present at the right jack (and the left jack is disabled). I used this to send an expression pedal to the delay’s Mix CV when Switch 1 was off, then send it to the Filter’s Frequency CV when Switch 1 was on.

The only patching issue was when I sent the LFO’s square or pulse wave to a Switch input: Even with it switched out of the circuit, I could still hear it clicking at the output.

The online manual provides several patch examples, though an experienced modular user can get up and running without it. Before opening the manual, I easily created my first patch—an autowah using the filter and the Detect module’s envelope, followed by the delay.

If you’re the type of person who will stick with one killer patch and tweak it with expression pedals, using the Patch Box from the floor works great (as long as you’re careful not to get your feet caught in the cables). But if you want hands-on control of your effects, a la Nels Cline, you’ll want the Patch Box on a stand or table nearby while manipulating the expression pedals with your feet. But no matter where you place it, you can easily integrate the Patch Box with your other guitar pedals, not to mention any other modular synth gear you have.

With its guitar-friendly features, the Patch Box enclosure makes for a very useful and affordable Eurorack case, whether you are new to modular synthesizers or an old pro.