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If music were to accompany Marc Gallo's (B.S. '92) career, it would probably sound like a vintage '59 Les Paul guitar through a Marshall JCM 800 amp.
As the founder and CEO of Long Island, N.Y.-based Studio Devil, this NYIT grad is pioneering what audio engineers could have never imagined in the early 20th century when designing the first vacuum tubes. Using his custom-designed computer algorithms to replicate the harmonic frequencies of tube amps used by professional guitarists, Gallo is bringing the familiar sounds of rock 'n' roll to computers and mobile devices everywhere.
It's a career that began at NYIT-Manhattan, where the Queens, N.Y., native spent hours in the electronics lab at 1855 Broadway. After winning a New York City competition in grade school in which he designed a version of Pac-Man for the Commodore Pet computer, Gallo's original plan was to design video games. Throughout high school, he enrolled in computer programming courses. And while software design came easy to him, it was the physical world of computer science that caught his curiosity.
"I really wanted to learn what was going on inside the hardware," he says. He looked for a college that would allow him to combine his two passions: computer technology and the sound of electric guitars.
He found it at NYIT. While pursuing a degree in electrical engineering and computer science, he also worked as a lab technician and teacher's aide responsible for maintaining power supplies, oscilloscopes, generators, and voltage meters. The experience provided him with access to technology he could not afford himself, and he began writing code that emulated guitar amplification using a computer sound card.
"I would come in with tube circuits and stay late," says Gallo. "I used the lab equipment to measure circuits I was building at home. It taught me a lot about how tube amps work."
Inside the electronics lab, he met NYIT senior technician Steve Giordano. The two formed a quick friendship that has lasted more than two decades.
"Marc was a brilliant student," recalls Giordano, who is still working with students at NYIT-Manhattan. "He was a musician, and we immediately hit it off."
"The first thing Steve asked me was 'Are you in a band?'" says Gallo. "I guess my long hair at the time was a giveaway." So, too, was Gallo's bone-white Charvel Model 5 guitar that he had on hand to test his audio experiments.
For decades, guitar amplifiers have fallen into two categories: tube and solid state. Gallo chose to focus on the former, which are known for warm, rich tones that occur when the circuits of the vacuum tubes are overdriven and pushed beyond what a power supply can produce, "clipping" the signal to produce a distorted sound. Solid state amps, by comparison, use transistors to produce a cleaner, "colder" sound at high levels without distortion. The debate over which amp is better is the Coke/Pepsi argument of the professional guitar world.
Today, thanks to audio engineers like Gallo, there are new options—such as your iPhone or computer.
Using algorithms that grew out of those early experiments at 1855 Broadway and a special connector that allows an electric guitar to be plugged directly into a computer or mobile device, Gallo created a new way for musicians to replicate that classic tube sound.
"In 2004, I started coding a lot of ideas," says Gallo. "I saw a trend in which computers were getting powerful enough, and you could do tube emulation in real time. The algorithms I designed were much better than the others I saw."
A year later, he launched Studio Devil and presented his technology to Cakewalk, a developer of audio solutions and subsidiary of Roland, a major instrument manufacturer.
"They were floored and immediately licensed it," says Gallo. In addition to bundling his emulation algorithms with the company's SONAR software suite, Cakewalk made the software available for download.
"The first week, it had over 15,000 downloads," says Gallo. "I was overwhelmed."
Another piece of his software, called Virtual Guitar Amp, was bundled with a computer sound card in 2008. It wasn't long until Sony Music was calling Gallo to license his software for their ACID Music Studio software suite. To date, more than 100,000 copies of both Cakewalk's and Sony's software with his algorithms have been sold.
The best compliment Gallo hears is when guitarists don't even know they are playing through an emulated tube amp. "When they try it, they're hooked," he says. "An amp should sound like an amp, and the discerning player can tell."
In January 2011, Studio Devil released its own software, Guitar Amp, for Apple iOS devices. Even before he could begin marketing the product, Gallo says users downloaded the app from iTunes dozens of times each day. To date, more than 30,000 musicians have registered at studiodevil.com to get updates and learn about his company's other products.
"I've already made money back on development," says Gallo. "It has grown way beyond what I envisioned."
Gallo now holds two patents for his tube amp algorithms and recently completed his doctorate. His dissertation topic was—not surprisingly—on vacuum tube modeling.
Throughout his successes, he still remembers the role his NYIT education, and Steve Giordano, played in his career.
"If it wasn't for NYIT, and the encouragement of people like Steve, I'm not sure all of this success would have happened," says Gallo.