A quick clip of the Digitech Grunge pedal

October 10, 2010

This is a quick clip I recorded of the Digitech Grunge. The much-maligned pedal actually sounds nice in my opinion! I have the gain too high here, it’s a bit over-compressed. It has a lot of treble available, maybe into a darker setup that could be useful but in this case I overcompensated and had the treble set a bit low. It gets pretty shrill if you turn it up too far, the potentiometer is quite sensitive. I’ll edge it up a touch for the next clip… Carefully.

Obviously just a quickie to try to demonstrate that, holy crap, Digitech isn’t awful?!!? It looks like I will finally have the full lineup of these guys pretty soon. Right now I’ve got plugged in, in order, the Bad Monkey, Screamin’ Blues, Hot Head, and Grunge. Death Metal is in the works. I want to note that the chain of pedals does NOT have a noticeable noise floor, either to my ear or to my DAW’s input. So despite the fact that they are all buffered pedals, the buffers are good and aren’t mucking up the sound. Also, they seem to be capable of operating at high signal levels without issue, which is good for anyone who wants to do sound design stuff with inexpensive pedals since you’ll encounter some approaching-line-level signals sometimes with synth racks and such.

To reiterate, these pedals do. not. suck. I will try to prove that with clips. They are definitely not “holy-grail-of-tone” pedals, but they are pretty substantially underrated in my opinion (even if some of them are essentially copies of another major manufacturer’s design – BOSS, basically – with a different EQ setup).

Some further (final?) thoughts on SpringAge, and also I got another cheapo Digitech pedal. Score!

October 5, 2010

Alright, so what more can I say about SpringAge before I actually have to condense my thoughts and put them forward in a review? Well, a comment on its versatility as a reverb for more general use, and a couple more comments on how it stacks up to some other commercial verbs I’ve had experience with.

I’ve found a lot of applications for this in situations I would not normally use spring reverb. At the moment I am loving the sound with a couple high gain (analog pedal distortion) sounds. I normally would never want to use spring reverb with high-gain, it just conventionally doesn’t sound “right” to me. But by rolling down the “Boingy” control and using both EQ bands in “shelving” mode to sort of narrow down the frequencies of the reverb, it retains a lot of the nice character of a spring reverb for guitar without being so abrasive on high-gain the transients. The cool thing is that the same patch works really well for transitioning from low to high gain sounds, and with the lower gain stuff, digging in to the strings actually does still give some nice drippy sound. I suppose the compression and distortion of the higher gain sounds helps to sort of suppress the transients in the first place so there’s not as much signal difference to hit it hard with and get that “boing” sound going on in the first place.

For more conventional usage it’s just dead simple and extremely flexible. With the much less compressed cleaner tone, you still get some nice classic spring sound and feel (if you’re a fan of spring reverb, you know what I mean; if not, think of it as somewhat similar to an algorithmic reverb with a particularly interesting pre-delay behavior due to the way that springs that are already providing reverb sound when you feed more, high intensity signal into them).

For direct comparison, it’s definitely more flexible than Softube’s reverb. Softube’s reverb has a very nice sound to it, though. Going from memory I recall it being a stand-out effect. It is a cool, sophisticated, very old-school inspired model that gives you an interesting sound. I don’t think that SpringAge replaces Softube’s Spring Reverb plugin. It’s still got a really cool sound of its own. Someone at KVR described it as “lo-fi,” and I think that’s pretty fair, it does have a very vintage sound to it. Of the two of them, SpringAge is way more flexible, and with judicious usage of the parameters you’ve got control of you can get it to sound pretty close to that more vintage spring tank sound (picking the right reverb model to start with, then adjusting the immediate parameters to taste, then fooling with the preamp and the EQ to tune the sound). So while SpringAge does have the sound qualities and flexibility to get within the Softube reverb’s sound, you can’t really get Softube’s spring reverb to not sound like it does. Still, in its arena, if you are going for that more “lo-fi” classic Accutronics 3-spring tank, the Softube Reverb may sound better. Like many Softube products, it doesn’t reach for a lot of features, it just does one thing, and does it well. Still, that SpringAge can get up in its face pretty well and bring a lot of the same nice sound qualities is a nice compliment for SpringAge, I think.

The other Accutronics simulator, GSi Type4, Ineed to spend more time with to really feel it out on its own. However, I can comment on it compared to SpringAge, having spent some time putting them head to head. Type4 didn’t “wow” me at first the way that SpringAge did, but there is still a lot going on under the hood with it and I think it deserves focused attention to grasp what it brings to the table. GSi is not a joke of a company by ANY means – they are small and their products are affordable, but they are competitive in sound quality. My initial impression, though, is that SpringAge sounds… better, really, than Type4. Type4 has its own sound, but it is more in direct competition, sonically, with SpringAge – it’s got range, it can do vintage or modern sounds thanks to the parameters it focuses on, it’s got control over the highs and the lows. It is good. But…  Anywhere SpringAge and Type4 overlap, sonically, SpringAge sounds better to my ears. There are places Type4 goes that SpringAge doesn’t, but there are places they share, and those shared places are more in SpringAge’s corner. Luckily for GSi there is lots of space where they aren’t overlapping and as such Type4 remains a good, useful tool that isn’t deprecated by the newer and more sophisticated SpringAge, but direct comparisons on “overlapping” sounds do not flatter Type4 over SpringAge.

Try them all yourself, of course, they all have good demo periods and you can get a sense of it all pretty easily. None of them have technical problems, so it really comes down to subjective impressions of the sound, and how much you value the specific tool set that each offers. You will need an iLok for Softube, though, so take that into consideration.

Next up:

Digitech Bad Monkey

It’s just a really nice overdrive pedal. It’s highly affordable and does a cool trick. It’s somewhat related to the Tubescreamer, but far less so than the Digitech Screamin’ Blues is related to the BOSS BD-2. The neatest thing about the Tubescreamer-like (but not exactly) Bad Monkey is probably the active Bass control. It’s a separate part of the circuit, not a conventional tone stack, and in my opinion shows off the smart engineers behind Digitech’s products. One of the things that makes the Tubescreamer kind of divisive even though it’s a highly usable and popular pedal is the fact that it has a really substantial midrange push and a fairly sharp roll-off in the bass frequencies. The active bass control on this pedal, though, lets you dial the low frequencies in much more than a conventional Tubescreamer. Its actual distortion character – the nature of its clipping – is good, not super exceptional really but good and therefore useful. It has enough gain on tap to work as an overdrive on its own, and it even has the unsophisticated but “workable” Mixer output to save the day if you end up blowing up your amp or something. The fact that it’s a highly affordable pedal is just icing on the cake.

Anyway, I’ll have more to say about it later on. I’m writing the Screamin’ Blues review right now. I think that the more of these that I write about, the more I “get” what Digitech is going for with the product line.

I’m back, baby! Hardware I’ve got recently, and plans for the immediate future!

September 1, 2010

Got a few things coming!

First, from the Harmony Central Effects Forum’s own resident psychedelic madman Robopimp, a MOSFET boost pedal with his “OPM” artwork on top:

The gourd was not included in the purchase. 😦

Second, a pair of Wamplers that I’ll be reviewing. I have very high expectations based on my experiences with the Plextortion, Super Plextortion, and Triple Recstortion (which was a limited run, now he has the Triple Wreck to do the same tones and also a neat high-gain fuzz thing)- I’m very interested to see if these pedals pull it off as well as those ones do.

1. The new Black ’65 Overdrive, aimed at getting classic Fender clean and overdriven tones. No COSM here

2. A Plexidrive, a pedal I get asked about pretty often because I reviewed the Plextortion and Super Plextortion and people seem to want to know how this one compares. Well, I couldn’t tell them before, but now I’ll be able to.

So what else is new? Well, I’ve got a Digitech Hot Head Distortion

Pretty cool pedal, similar but not identical to some dirts in the Ibanez Soundtank distortion family. Digitech has cool pedal designers working for them. I’ve used this pedal before, and I don’t have anything else in my collection that has a similar sound. It’s less fizzy than a DS-1, in no small part thanks to the separate High and Low EQ controls that let you dial in the tone better than a stock DS-1’s tone knob.

I parted with my old Bad Monkey on good terms, and this is another quality pedal in the series. In fact, I think the Bad Monkey, the Hot Head Distortion, and the Screamin’ Blues (all pedals in the same series, along with the less awesome Death Metal and one-trick pony Grunge) are all three good pedals. They’re not particularly high tech, they don’t have the most transparent buffers around, but their buffers aren’t bad and can handle a line level signal without clipping like crazy (unlike, for example, Danelectro’s pedals) and their sturdy construction helps to ensure that they’ll keep making noises you like for as long as you own ’em. I think all three of the above mentioned pedals have b-stock units on sale at Zzounds right now, though the Bad Monkey only has one b-stock available. It’s been my experience that Zzounds’ b-stock products are every bit as good as anything you’ll buy new. I’ve owned several b-stock pedals, processors, and even some speakers from Zzounds and I’ve never had any issues at all (and if you do, their customer service has been great in my experience).

If you’re looking for a dirt pedal, you could do a lot worse than this, and it’s on sale cheap. I’ll be doing a more thorough review of it for FrugalGuitarist very soon, possibly published as early as next Monday. I’ll also be reviewing the …

Digitech Screamin Blues!

That’s right, another cheap dirt pedal. Hey, even though I’ve got some good OD pedals that I love dearly, I don’t have any BD-2 overdrives! Interesting to me is that it is basically a clone of the Boss BD-2, except instead of a Tone knob it has a Low and High EQ knob. That changes a lot about the sound, but it still has the same fundamental character of the Boss BD-2 and that makes it a very nice sounding low-gain overdrive for a very good price. I got it for $44ish from Zzounds. A BD-2 with more powerful tone shaping for less money. You’re not guaranteed to prefer it to the BD-2, by any means, but it is an excellent option if you find yourself a fan of the sound but without the extra money for the BD-2… Or if you want to try something that’s a bit of a different take on the same flavor.

You know… I mentioned the Bad Monkey I had earlier. I sold it about a year ago, and now I miss it, because I kind of feel like it ought to be in the little family of Digitech’s inexpensive analog pedals I’m putting together here. I might have to pick one up, to fill in the gap. They make an excellent trio. They even have rudimentary, separate cabinet simulated outputs for going direct to the board. They’re not going to knock your socks off with their authenticity but it’s a pretty cool feature that even works when the pedal is bypassed. If disaster strikes at a gig, it could save the day.

I also picked up another pedal not long ago when my wife and I were visiting family in central AR from my hut down in extreme southern AR. Of course I stopped in at my favorite music stores. Mostly the idea was to pick up strings; none of my guitars have had a string change in over a year now, and while I’ve grown to quite like the sound and feel of “worn in” strings, there’s a difference between “worn in” and “worn out” that a few of them are reeeally starting to show. Since returning I’ve started the process of re-stringing them, and also reconditioning the rosewood fretboards, some of which very badly needed it. I’m lucky there aren’t cracks.

Anyway, while I was poking around, I noticed that one of the shops had an MXR Zakk Wylde signature OD. I had my buddy the shop-keeper throw it in with $60 worth of strings for a pretty steep discount, came to about $85 total. Here’s a shiny picture of a new one; mine shows stage wear but is in perfect electrical shape.

I’m not really a fan of Zakk Wylde or anything, but a well made signature pedal for less than $30 was kind of a no-brainer.

Electronically, it’s basically a modded Boss SD-1. That was Zakk Wylde’s pedal of choice and when he got an offer for a signature pedal, seems they decided to basically start there and tweak a bit then put his signature and a premium on the result. My ears (and a few glimpses of the schematic) tell me it differs primarily in the tone shaping itself, with more highs and a much lower cutoff point in its frequency curve compared to the classic TS-1 or the SD-1. I mean, there’s basically a diode’s difference between the SD-1 and the TS-1 to begin with… Anyway, it’s a really nice sounding pedal. Not complicated or difficult to work with, plays nice with any of my amps or amp sims and sounds better (to my ears) than a tubescreamer or an SD-1 through a clean channel, too. The extended frequency range does mean that upper harmonics make it through pretty well, good for the squealies that the dude has made his career with, but also perhaps more noise-prone as a result too.

Reviews generally suggest that people feel this pedal’s place is in front of an amp that’s already overdriving. Kick it in, and the amp hits eleven, or something. I don’t know, in my opinion there isn’t a dirt pedal made that won’t do that job as long as it has a gain knob and a tone knob or better. I guess if you really want to sound like Zakk Wylde you could copy his rig and with this get the exact sound he drunkenly plays live with. Well, that’s fine, not for me – I brought it back to where we’re staying and plugged my customized Japanese strat into it. With singles it is really, really responsive and lively, characteristics you can expect from any well-made TS variant (look, I’ve owned a lot of overdrives, right, there are differences that matter in some ways but at the end of the day a dirt pedal either works musically or it doesn’t, and this one is definitely based on a thoroughly proved “working” circuit). You can set it up at a little under half its gain and get a pretty good range of dirt by just playing lightly or digging in; you can crank it for a much more saturated sound. Since it lets more lows through by default, you’ll probably want to keep your tone control set no lower than the midpoint or else you run the risk of squaring out your lower notes, sounds really bad with chords. I spent a little time getting to know it and it wasn’t long before I had it figured out for use by itself or kicking the crap out of another dirt pedal or overdriving amp. It works well like that. It’s simple and reliable, much like the circuit that inspired it, but again with a cool thing of its own thanks to the wider frequency response.

I kind of don’t like comparing pedals to amps unless they were specifically made to emulate this or that from the get-go, but if I were asked to, I’d say that if the stock Boss SD-1 sounds kind of like an old Marshall running into a 4×12 cab, restricting the frequency response somewhat and giving it a tighter low end, then the Zakk Wylde signature OD sounds more like a Bassman in a big open-backed combo. More frequencies present, for better or worse, and a different take on what is otherwise the same sound.

Anyway – I dig it, cool pedal, looks alright too. I like the bullseye motif a lot more on a little box than I do on a big guitar. I wouldn’t recommend it at new prices since it really isn’t all that different from the more affordable SD-1, but if you can pick up a used one for a good price, as far as I can tell the construction is great – the stage wear evident on mine along with its perfect electrical condition attest to that – and it has some cool mojo with its sound thanks to the extended frequency range.

I also got an ISP Decimator G-String noise reduction pedal. Strictly a utility purchase, it does the job exceptionally well. I can run ludicrous amounts of gain without any noise – and then click it all off, and still have perfect sustain. Really remarkable trick, though at $230 it is pricey for a noise management tool.

Tomorrow, some words on SOFTWARE!

That’s right, I’m bringing this blog off life support and kicking it in to full gear. I’ve got some cool stuff to post about, so stay tuned, and thanks as always to my readers for keeping the traffic going even during the long, silent stretches where I lack the inspiration or means to write.

On Hardware Modelers

February 26, 2009

Before I speak directly on the topic at hand, I dislike the distinction between so-called hardware modelers and software modelers. Hardware units are in fact specialized DSP computers built into enclosures which are designed for ruggedness and integrated I/O and control. While they give the appearance of being “hardware,” it’s important to remember that in fact the actual signal processing that is running on all of the floor-based modelers is nothing more than software written in a language that the DSP can process efficiently. In fact, some DSPs (like the SHARC processors used by Line6 and Fractal Audio) can be programmed in C++, which allows them to be easily ported to a traditional software environment (aka a computer). Even if other floor units aren’t programmed in C++ or other higher level languages, they are still running software, specialized for execution on the processors in the floor box. Everything in digital modeling is software, it’s just a question of whether its operating environment is a discrete unit or a computer. Advantages of the former (discrete unit) include absolutely 100% known hardware, which improves the ability to efficiently streamline the code since the conditions under which it will be operating are perfectly standardized, and integrated DSP processors and other components which are usually designed specifically for audio and hence which have “low latency” as a goal from the ground up. To get a computer to the same level of latency and ease of connectivity requires a significantly higher investment, and software working in a computer has to be programmed robustly in order to ensure that it operates as flawlessly as possible across a virtually unlimited number of hardware configurations. Read the rest of this entry »