Monday, November 5, 2007

Effecting change

As a sequel to the amp retrospective, I've decided to go through all the noteworthy multi-effect units that I've encountered over the years

These were the first two multi-effect units I ever owned. This was way back in the day, when Zoom still had a name for themselves. They were dirt cheap back then, pretty much the cheapest thing on the market. They were neither particularly tweakable nor did they sound very good, but I guess looking back, they were a decent introduction into the world of effects. They were sure as heck cheaper than buying a whole bunch of individual analog pedals, and they at least gave me an idea of what different effects sounded like. Although, with the stuff available on the market these days, I can't honestly say I'd recommend them to anybody anymore. Not that I really would have back then either...

These were my first real introduction to the realm of multi-effect units. Back then, Boss was pretty much THE name in multi-effect processors. I started out with a GT-3, but then my curiosity got the better of me and I quickly "upgraded" to a GT-5. These units were pretty darn flexible in the effects department. I can't say I cared very much for the direct output and "amp simulation" features, especially in light of the Pod series that stormed the scene shortly after I was playing around with these, but for everything else they were fantastic. Typical of Boss, they were built like a tank. Plus, they even had some fancy features that I still don't see as being common place on the market. What stood out the most for me was the intelligent pitch shifter/harmonizer. Pitch shifters are pretty standard fare these days but you could program the harmonizer for the exact intervals that you wished it to harmonize each note to. I expected nothing less from Boss, and to this day I'm still curious to see how a GT-8 sounds, having had a generally good experience with these units.

Ah the beloved VG-88. I really wish I didn't have to sell this one of. It truly was the most innovative and unique effects unit I've ever laid my hands on. Suffice to say, to get real mileage out of it you needed to use a hexaphonic VG compatible pickup with it. After doing my research I decided to go with the Graphtech GHOST piezo hexaphonic pickup system. I promptly ordered the parts and got a luthier to do the installation on my EBMM Luke. One thing I really hated about the whole setup was the 13-pin cable. The connectors on the the guitar were rather flimsy, and since I was playing out with this back then they took quite a beating on stage. After they crapped out on me twice, I lost faith in the reliability of the whole idea and sold off both the guitar and the VG-88. I suppose it was somewhat fortuitous because shortly after that the VG-99 was announced...

One thing most people don't know about the VG-88 is it doesn't actually work through pitch to MIDI conversion. It actually process each string separately, so rather than having a mono signal, you have six signals being processed in parallel. This allowed the VG-88 to do effects that conventional units could only dream of. Pitch shifting individual strings was possible, making alternate tunings at switch of a patch a reality. It also did guitar/pickup modelling, allowing you to make that hexaphonic signal sound like pretty much any guitar you could think of, and some you couldn't even imagine. I personally feel the guitar modelling left a lot to desire, but I don't think that's where the strength of the VG system really was. It's real magic, was in being able to make your guitar sound completely NOT like a guitar.. and that was something that intrigued me greatly.

Because there was no pitch to MIDI conversion involved that meant that all the problems of "tracking" that pitch to MIDI conversion presents were not applicable. There was none of that false triggering of notes or lag in the conversion nonsense. All conventional guitar techniques as well, like pick slides, could be used without causing a sonic fart. The VG system is something I've been keeping my eye on for quite some time. I just wish they'd update the 13-pin system, I'm sure in this day and age something like a Cat-5 cable could be used to send the necessary output from the guitar to the unit, much like the Variax or the Gibson HD.6X-Pro. Until that happens though I just don't see myself jumping back into the VG system again.

The GI-20 and the XV-2020 reprsent the alternative way to approach the hexaphonix pickup system. Unlike the VG-88, the GI-20 is actually a pitch to MIDI converter. That is, your guitar signal is converted into MIDI messages, and this is used to control and outboard synth unit, in this case, the XV-2020. Unlike the VG-88, you really need to clean up your technique to make these units work for you. Sloppy playing tends to drive the GI-20 a bit mad, which makes it far less useful unless you're say, John McLaughlin. Still, it's more or less the ultimate head turner to strum a chord and have everyone looking for the keyboard that's making the piano sound.

When I had my rack rig, it seemed to make sense to go rackmount all the way, and so after shopping around for a rackmount effects unit I went with the G-major. I didn't really feel like I needed the raw power and flexibility of it's big brother, the G-Force. And while the Rocktron stuff looked appealing, the G-major just seemed like the right blend of quality and price point. Plus, it was a T.C. Electronics unit. Unfortunately, the rotary dials on it were rather crap. They died on me twice, and the power supply decided to quite on me once too. Forum posts tended to reveal that these suffered from reliability issues, and when I decided to abandon the whole rack idea, I can't say I was too sorry to see this go. It did sound pretty good, to my ear at least, and it was pretty darn flexible for my purposes (can't imagine ever needing the flexibility of the G-Force or an Eventide), but this is one of those units which you really need two of. One to plug-and-pray, and the other to have in the repair shop.

I've managed to dig up a couple of clips I did with some of these units to give you an idea of the more... interesting things they were capable of.

VG-88 and PSA1 (EBMM Steve Lukather)

Ryu's Theme from Street Fighter II - This one has heaps of MIDI stuff as well so it's hard to tell what's what I guess :

Little samba piece

Roland GI-20 and XV-2020

Ethnic intro


Heroic Decepticon said...

Oh, the Ryu theme. Last time I listened to it, it stayed in my head for weeks. This time, I'm leaving well enough alone.

Adam Quek said...

You know you want it!