Beginners Guitar Pedal Review: Zoom G1Xon Multi-Effects Processor with Expression Pedal

Okay so another in my series of beginners pedal reviews. This is really the pedal that got me into guitar effects. I bought it with some Christmas money and had no idea what I was getting myself into. It remains the most essential piece of guitar equipment that I own due to its massive power and tonal versatility. So I’m reviewing the version of this pedal WITH the expression pedal. They also make a version of the pedal without the expression pedal, but if you’re looking to buy, I highly recommend investing in the version with the expression pedal. It adds so much functionality and possibilities to what you can do with the pedal. So the pedal looks like this:

Image result for zoom g1xon

image credit: Music-Blvd.com

Upfront Statement: I am not getting paid to say any of this, nor am I receiving any gifts. I am simply issuing a fair review to get the information out there.

Baseline (still not going for that pun): If you’re a beginner in the world of guitar effects, the Zoom G1Xon is perfect for you. Its current firmware has 100 effects and it supports 100 patches which can have up to 5 effects each. The possibilities are endless. Given that it retails for about $70 and likely (though I haven’t done the math) has thousands of dollars worth of effects on it, this is a fantastic starting point. You can go from wacked-out, funky effects-heavy patches to crisp clean vintage patches with the touch of a footswitch. Plus it comes fully loaded with patches so you don’t have to worry about having to fill up the space yourself.

Cons: Before I get to the many many good things about the G1Xon, I should note a few of its limitations or shortcomings. I’ll go on for ages about all the possibilities this pedal gives you, so it’s only fair that I tell you some issues with it.

  1. Made of plastic: While this is only really a concern for players that are going to be in rough gigging environments, it is fundamentally less sturdy than pedals made of metal. This has not been an issue for me, as I’ve been using it in a studio environment, and it is built well, but as I said, for gigging environments, I’m unsure how it would hold up to that kind of wear and tear.
  2. Single stereo output: While it’s a nice feature that the G1Xon has a stereo output, to take full advantage of that you need a specific type of cable or cable splitter. This seems easy enough, but when I went through the process of finding the right cable/splitter, it took me 3 times to get the right one (hint, make sure the cable/splitter specifically says it splits a stereo signal into left and right mono signals. There are a ton of different splitters). Obviously it’s not a huge flaw, but it would have been better with left and right outputs.
  3. Noisy/doesn’t always play nice with others: On the topic of your effects line, the G1Xon can create a bit of noise and hum especially when paired with other pedals. For example, putting my Jim Dunlop Cry Baby Wah pedal after the G1Xon created a ton of noise, while putting the Wah pedal before the G1Xon was fine. This is not a widespread problem. I’m NOT saying “this pedal will make your lineup noisy,” because that’s not true. But in some combinations it will be a bit fussy. The handy thing, though, is it has both a Noise Gate and Noise Suppressor so for noisy patches you can just throw that in the mix and it calms it right down.
  4. Clipping: This is something that only happens in a few specific situations, but it’s worth mentioning. It seems that when the G1Xon’s internal volume is set to 100 or above (it goes to 120), on certain effects, with certain parameters, you’ll get a nasty kind of clipping distortion. I found this out when using a patch that utilized Chorus, DuoPhaser, and a Wah pedal. All of them were set to max depth, and no matter what amp, speaker or headphone I was playing them out of, there was like I said a pretty ugly clipping noise (clipping, if you don’t know, is essentially the distortion sound you get when the volume exceeds the amp or pre-amp’s maximum capacity, think of when someone speaks too loudly and too closely into a microphone and you get that overdrive/distortion sound). Now this was an easy fix as once I figured out why it was doing this, I just turned the internal volume down and everything was fine. Still, though, not an ideal situation.

Pros: So before I start talking about the specifics of the G1Xon, I’d like to give you an overview of why I think this pedal is so special.

  1. Maximum versatility: I’ll demonstrate this later, but for now, chew on some numbers. I ran the most basic factorials to find out how many possible combinations of effects this pedal was capable of. I won’t bore you by taking you through the math, but the number I came back with was over 75 million combinations. And that’s just taking into account that there are 100 effects, 100 patches, and 5 effects per patch. Dizzying right? That’s not even taking into account how you can change an entire patch’s sound with the expression pedal, or how much you can change with the parameters of any given effect (which range from 3 to 9, and probably average about 5). For all practical purposes, there are infinite effects combinations that this pedal is capable of, which means you can deliver a soft, warm vintage tone, then go to a spaced out trippy tone, then come in with a balls to the walls metal tone, before hitting your audience with an effects-heavy robotic sound, all to circle back to calm acoustic sound. It’s honestly amazing what this thing’s capable of.
  2. LCD screen/intuitive controls: So you’ve got all these possibilities, which is great, but it doesn’t count for anything if you can’t access them easily. This is where I’ve found the G1Xon to be incredibly superior to other multi-effects pedals. The LCD screen makes it easy to show what parameters you’re adjusting, what patch you’re on, and what effects you’re using. The menu layout is superb, with an intuitive rolling knob and enter button. While it might be difficult on other Multi-Effects Pedals to, say, change the depth of your chorus for a patch you created for a specific song, with the G1Xon, all you have to do is remember that you named that patch “AstroTurf” (for some reason), go to it on the menu, select “chorus,” then select “depth,” and finally adjust to your desired amount. I’ve looked into a lot of different multi-effects pedals, and played a few different ones, this is by far the easiest way to access your saved patches and tones, and the easiest way to create new patches and tones.
  3. Aux-in jack/headphone access: The auxiliary-in jack allows you to connect your smartphone, mp3 player, or computer to play anything you want through the Zoom G1Xon. The sound will come through completely unaltered by any effects, and it allows you to jam along with your favorite songs. While I mentioned the Stereo-out as a potential limiting factor, where it comes in handy is when you’re playing into headphones, which this pedal allows you to do because of its built-in preamp. You don’t even need to run it through your amp, just get a headphone adapter for a 1/4″ jack and play to yourself without disturbing anyone, and while taking full advantage of the stereo sound.
  4. Expression Pedal: This is the reason to pay the extra money to get the version with the expression pedal. Not only does it give you 3 different wah pedals and 2 pitch shifter/whammy pedals, it’s assignable to almost any parameter of any effect. For example, there’s a brilliant patch that I’ll show you later that comes preloaded that mimics Jimi Hendrix’s sound, specifically (in my opinion) his sound from Woodstock. The patch was already fantastic, but I assigned the expression pedal to the speed of The Vibe (an effect that’s a little hard to explain, but if you search for Uni-Vibe, you’ll find it) and it gave me complete control of that patch. I can now go for a slow oscillation (think of oscillation as being like a wave, it’s what you get with tremolo, phaser, and other mod effects) in parts where I want more clarity to a quick oscillation when I want something to be accented. There’s a million and one ways you can use the expression pedal, and the fact that you can use it for more than just the pedal effects gives you endless possibilities like taking a patch from completely clean to heavy distortion with the flick of the pedal.
  5. Price: I believe this is the cheapest true multi-effects processor on the market, but it does not act like that. It’s certainly cheaper than it’s direct competitors from DigiTech and Vox, but it does not sound like a cheap pedal. For the $70 price tag you get an almost infinite array of sounds and effects. You actually get more effects than you do with the DigiTech pedal since their latest firmware update which took it from 75 effects and amp sims to 100. By the way that’s another plus, you get free firmware updates which do not mess up your patches but give you more and more effects as they roll out the firmware. For the money you’re spending, there is not a better pedal on the market.

The Sounds: Okay now that we’ve gone over the general pros and cons of this pedal we can get into the sounds you can get from this beast. Obviously I can’t take you through every possibility this pedal can give you. As I stated before, there’s over 75 million possible combinations. However, you can look at all the different effects they currently carry on the online manual here (though I’m not sure what firmware that is for so it might be missing a few effects). So what I’ll do instead is show you my favorite effect from each of the 6 groups of effects and then I’ll show you 2 patches that I created and 2 patches that came pre-loaded.

1.) Auto-Wah: So let’s start off with the Dynamics/Filter Category, where my favorite solo effect (meaning it’s my favorite when I have to use it on its own) is the Auto-Wah. The Auto-Wah gives you a funky clear wah sound with the ability to control the resonance (which is more or less the clarity of the wah sound) as well as controlling the sensitivity which can also be put in reverse to give you a different wah sound. It’s actually one of two auto-wahs on the G1Xon, and while I like this one better for clean playing, the other one, labeled Cry, does some amazing things when you combine it with distortion. I have the sensitivity dialed up to about 8 in this clip, i believe with the resonance around 8 as well. Let’s take a listen.

As you can see very funky effect, but it’s also very versatile with the parameters in place. If you don’t know much about Auto-Wahs they’re meant to make the same sound as a traditional way pedal, but instead of having to control the wah sound with your foot, you control it with your playing dynamics, or how hard you hit on the strings. This is where the sensitivity comes into play. Set to low sensitivity, you have to hit this strings very hard to produce the wah sound, whereas set to high sensitivity like in this clip, basically everything trips the wah sound.

2.) DuoPhase: Now let’s move on to the Mod/SFX Category, where my favorite solo effect, and possibly my favorite effect in the pedal, is the DuoPhase. The DuoPhase is an 8 stage phaser, and while I’m not nearly knowledgeable enough to tell you the difference between a typical 4 stage and 8 stage phaser, I can look it up for you. So from what I can gleam from this wikipedia article, and don’t quote me on this because this is a little too technical to be in my wheelhouse, is that a traditional 8 stage phaser will essentially have a greater effect on the sound because as opposed to a 4 stage phaser which will produce 2 “notches” (basically areas of feedback where the dry or clean signal interferes with the wet or altered signal), an 8 stage phaser produces 4 notches, giving it a richer and fuller sound. That’s all very technical and like I said very much out of my wheelhouse but that’s the best I can describe it. Now, I can explain a little more based on what I see on the screen for this effect, which again is a huge help, basically it seems like the DuoPhase, true to its name, runs two phasers at once. You can actually choose whether to run them in serial mode (one after the other), parallel mode (both at the same time), or in stereo mode (one in the left channel and one in the right). What I can do better than explain, however, is show you what the 8-stage phaser sounds like. Which I’ll do here:

There’s also some great Chorus effects in this category as well as a few flangers which are always fun, but like I said the DuoPhase is my favorite.

3.) Great Muff: Moving on to one of the more fun groupings of effects, the Overdrive/Distortion group, I’m going to show you the Great Muff, which, true to its name, is a Muff Distortion. Muff Distortion was pioneered by Electro-Harmonix, which still produces some fantastic Muff pedals. What distinguishes the Muff from other types of distortion like overdrive, fuzz, or plain distortion is its ultra-high gain sound, as well as it’s incredible sustain. The muff is known for giving artists prolonged sustain while producing a very unique distortion sound. Of course the best way I can describe it is to show it to you:

As you can hear, this produces a sound that would be optimal for soloing and riff playing (for guitarists better than myself), due to the sustain it gives you and the unique and overwhelming distortion.

4.) Filter Delay: From the Delay/Reverb Category, my personal favorite is the Filter Delay, which leaves your original signal unchanged, but modulates the feedback or repeats on the delay with a filter. I’m a sucker for filters so this was an easy choice for me. You can really do some fun things with this effect, especially when combined with other effects. Take a listen and notice how you get the clean signal coming through with modulated repeats:

5.) Mono Pitch Pedal: From the Pedal category, my favorite is a bit of a shocker given how much I love wah pedals, and this pedal has 3 great wah pedals, but I’ve really grown to love the Mono Pitch Pedal, or PDLMnPit as it’s referred to in the menu. This imitates the DigiTech Whammy pedal, and while its tone isn’t quite what you’d get from the Whammy pedal, it still gives you incredible versatility, with octave bends, stepping up an octave on a run without a hesitiation, playing sounds higher than your guitar could normally produce. This particular pedal is monophonic, meaning it’s meant for one note at a time, so you might hear some tonal grey areas when I do more than that, but there’s also a pitch pedal that is polyphonic (multiple notes), on the G1Xon. I’ll show you what I’m talking about here:

6.) Deluxe-R: From the Amp and Cab Simulators, I’ve chose the Deluxe-R for it’s rich, bluesy tone with slight overdrive. This simulates a Fender 1965 Deluxe Reverb Amp, which is a classic in the guitar world, and from what I can tell it does so pretty well. This is going to be a bit more nuanced than the other ones, but take into account the clean tone you’ve heard in previous clips like the Pitch Pedal or Filter Delay, and stack that up against this tone:

Patches: Obviously, again, I can’t take you through all of the patches I have to give you the true scope of what this pedal is capable of, but I chose a few that I think illustrate this pedal’s versatility:

1.) Spacey: This is a patch I created which uses Mod Reverb, Tape Echo, Chorus, and the Tone City Amp Sim to give a spacey kind of ambient vibe:

2.) inFormant: Another patch I created, this one is really wild and effects heavy as you’ll see, and with the help of some filters almost creates a vocal formant sound. It’s using Noise Gate, Filter Cycle, M-Filter, Fuzz Smile, and DuoPhase:

3.) MS Stack: Now for a more vintage tone that was one of the pre-loaded patches on the G1Xon, this uses Noise Gate, MS Crunch amp, Parametric EQ, and 160 Compression:

4.) Jimi: This is probably my favorite patch, and it’s one that came pre-loaded. It mimics Jimi Hendrix’s signature sound, especially, in my opinion, from his Woodstock performance. Truly incredible how close they were able to get to his sound. It uses Noise Gate, Fuzz Smile, The Vibe, Tape Echo, and Marshall 1959 amp sim:

So if those four don’t show you the range of this pedal, I don’t know what will.

Bonuses: As if all of that functionality wasn’t enough, the G1Xon also comes with a fully functional which records on the patch you’re playing on, and doesn’t change the pre-recorded loop when you switch patches. In addition to that, it has a bank of 68 drum beats to play along to, of course with tempos that vary by the BPM you put in. It has a master BPM that is capable of syncing the oscillation of effects like phaser and tremolo to the BPM you’re playing at. The G1Xon also boasts an easy-to-use Chromatic Tuner which is capable of tuning to alternate tunings just as well as it tunes to standard. And finally, while there is a model specifically for bass, which is obviously recommended for bassists over the guitar model, I’ve found that most of the effects on the G1Xon work perfectly well with bass (and even with vocals but that’s another story).

Takeaway: The Zoom G1Xon’s versatility, superior tone, and competitive pricing make it a must have for beginners in the world of guitar effects. This is a great way to introduce yourself to effects, get a pedal that will give you more versatility than you can dream of, and not break the bank doing it. It’s intuitive design makes it easy to use and for only $70, you’re saving thousands of dollars on the effects it gives. This pedal transformed my guitar playing and took my recording to the next level. I highly recommend it.

Beginners Guitar/Bass Pedal Review: DigiTech Dirty Robot

So this is a new thing that I want to start doing and I figured this is as good a platform as any for it. Lately I’ve been getting into guitar/bass effects pedals in a big way. I’m going to start reviewing them here as well as posting some soundbites from them to showcase their abilities. I’ll only be reviewing pedals that I own, because as I’ve learned over the past few months,  it takes a while to get to know each pedal’s individual range, characteristics, and pros and cons. Now, I know there are a lot of pedal reviews out there, so I’m going to angle this towards beginners and explain some of the stuff that I may not have known going into owning each pedal. I’m also not going to rate any of the pedals or features on any scale like 1-5 stars, or 0-10 scale, partially because the pedals I have, I love and so you’d see a lot of high ratings, and partially because I want this to be about you learning as much as you can about each pedal before you decide to make a purchase. I don’t believe star ratings are the best way to do that. It may take longer to read a review like mine, but I promise I will do my best to give you the information you need to make an informed purchase.

So that being said, I’m going to start with DigiTech’s Dirty Robot Synth Pedal for Guitar and Bass. It looks like this:

digitech_dirty_robot_large

Image Credit: DigiTech by Harman

Upfront Statement: I am not being paid by anyone to post this review, nor have I or am I planning to receive any gifts because of it. I am reviewing purely to put my opinion on this pedal out there.

Baseline (not going for the pun there): The Dirty Robot packs in a powerful synth engine along with a vocoder-style vocal formant filter into a small, well built stompbox that won’t destroy your checking account. If you’re looking for that “next step” in tone, that guitarist or bassist “it factor,” this may be what you’re looking for.

Notes: It should be noted that not only does the Dirty Robot work for Bass Guitar, it was designed to work seamlessly with both bass and six string guitars. I’ve used it in recording for both bass and guitar. While I will mostly be coming at this review from the standpoint of a guitarist, bassists should know that this pedal covers them in an excellent way. Also, I am recording directly through the Dirty Robot to a Behringer U-Phoria UMC204HD audio interface, so there will never be any other modifications to the soundbites I record, nor will there be any equalization alteration that may come from going through an amp. What you here is my Ibanez Artcore guitar, and in some soundbites my Dean bass guitar, being only altered by the Dirty Robot. Also, I’m playing with the “Mix” all the way up, so that you can hear the Dirty Robot at its most powerful, but the mix knob allows you to go from “heavy synth” to “synth backed by guitar” to “guitar backed by synth” and everything in between. You can even set the mix so there’s no synth sound, although I’m not entirely sure why you’d do that, but hey, you’re smarter than me.

Price: One DigiTech’s website, it’s listed at $187, however you can typically find it new on Amazon or eBay for around $150 with more savings if you’re willing to get a floor model or other like new model.

Overview (I will go into more detail about most of these points so if you’re looking just for detail and explanation, you can skip this part): The DigiTech Dirty Robot is built like a f#@king tank. Its chassis (case) is made of a very durable metal, as are all the knobs and the footswitch. Of the pedals I own, it’s by far the one that’s built to last. I’ve been using the Dirty Robot in a studio setting, but I have complete confidence that you could take it into some really rugged gigging conditions and it would hardly even show cosmetic wear. It’s true bypass, which I know gets floated around a lot, but it’s an incredibly handy feature. If you’re not really sure what that means, it gives you the ability to turn the Dirty Robot on and off with the flick of a footswitch, but specifically in the off position, not only is there zero signal interference or loss, you don’t even need the pedal to be powered for the signal to pass through. True bypass makes it incredibly easy to kick on the Dirty Robot when you need it, without having to worry about it screwing up your tone when it’s off. Stereo ins and outs give you a range of possibilities as far as how to integrate it into your pedal system. It’s true stereo, too, which means you could theoretically have two instrument inputs and it would keep them separate for unique output sounds. This is just one of the many possibilities, obviously, you could also have a dry signal in one input and a distorted signal in another, then put one input into an effects loop while keeping the other unaltered. It has three concentric knobs, which means they’re stacked so you really get two knobs in one location, which is incredibly handy for reasons we’ll get into. The fourth knob is a free flowing 360-degree Drift knob that allows you to combine octave, sub, and square wave voicings to really get the most out of the pedal. The Dirty Robot also features a “Mod Wheel” vibrato function when you use the footswitch in its momentary capacity, which I’ll show you a little later. This allows for some great textures to the synth voicing. To cap it off, what makes this pedal truly transcendent is the ability to switch between voicings. Voice one gives you a more classic, 80’s style synth sound, while voice two is a vocal formant filter with variable range, which means it emulates a vocoder or talk box, going from a throaty growl to a robotic “yeah” or “eye” with sensitivity based on your playing dynamics and the sensitivity knob. So. That was quite an earful… or eyeful, I guess. Let’s break it down and I’ll do my best to show you why this pedal has become my personal favorite over the last two months I’ve gotten to know it.

Features

1.) VOICE 1 (CLASSIC SYNTH): The classic synth voice in its own right, with all the available controls (technically 7 controls in 4 knobs), makes this pedal worth the roughly $150 price tag (which is small compared to other synth pedals, though I know it’s still a lot for many of you reading this). While I’m not selling you this pedal, and I’m certainly not getting paid to talk about it, what I would like to do is show you why that $150 investment is well worth the money. It has already found its way into several songs that I’m recording for a future album release, and undeniably makes those songs better and more interesting. Money is hard to come by for me, so it was a big decision to get this pedal (which, full disclosure, I got from a DigiTech Authorized Dealer as a “like new” item for $115). I don’t have the money to be buying pedals that are only good for one thing and one thing only, which is why you’ll see in my later reviews, I trend towards multi-effects pedals. The Dirty Robot essentially is a multi-effects pedal, and even just focusing on Voice 1, I’ll show you why:

1a.) Varying Synth Sounds with the Start/Stop knob: One of the coolest features on the Dirty robot is the concentric (stacked) Start and Stop knob. As I alluded to earlier, this knob is biggest reason the Dirty Robot has the range and variability that it boasts. In voice 1, which is what we’re talking about right now, the start/stop knob dictates the frequencies at which the filter sweep starts and stops. The reason the concentric (stacked) knobs are so helpful here, is that you can automatically see what direction the filter sweep is going and how broad of a range it has, instead of having to look between two knobs to figure that out.

This may be hard to understand from the written word, so I’m going to give you a clip of what it sounds like first when the start knob is set to the lowest it can go and the stop knob is set to the highest it can go (the time knob which controls how long the sweep lasts for will be set to max, and the sensitivity will be set to noon or straight up/half way):

As you can hear, the sweep is very distinctive and starts off at a low frequency, rising to a high, more distinctly synth frequency at the end. So this is showing you the full frequency range of the filter sweep while making that sweep as slow as it can possibly be. I’ve used this in recording for bass guitar so that a simple repetition of one note tuns into a sweeping bass synth, and for my friends on the bass guitar, I’ll show you what that sounds like here. The start/stop knob is in the exact same position it was for the last clip, I’ve just turned the sensitivity to its lowest setting, all the way to the left, so that it’s harder to trigger the filter sweep:

That’s playing, obviously, a very pedestrian bassline, where I’m repeating one note for each sweep, two notes in the whole clip, but the Dirty Robot turns that from boring bass-as-usual to a kind of otherworldly sweeping bass synth. It’s incredible what you can do with this device on bass guitar. I know I’m not doing bassists justice because I’m mainly a guitarist, but you can see there that as I noted earlier, it works seamlessly with bass. It’s not a pedal that just happens to work with bass, it was designed so that you can plug in a bass without changing any of the settings and pick up where you left off. Also, because it’s true stereo, if you’re a band on a budget and want to use the dirty robot for guitar and bass at the same time, you can do that. You can plug bass into one input and guitar into another and then maybe slap some reverb or delay on the guitar and play the bass as is and those two signals will be completely separate from each other, meaning you don’t have to buy two of these to use in one song (although hey, the more the merrier).

Okay so now that I’ve shown you some bass, and the low to high sweep, I’ll show you what it sounds like with the start knob at the highest frequency and the stop knob at the lowest frequency (with the same time/sensitivity settings), so that you’re getting exactly the same sweep just reversed from going low to high to going high to low:

So you can hear the versatility just in those two sound clips, just flipping the settings on one knob of one voice. I would show you all the unique sounds you can come up with just by altering the start/stop knob in various ways, but I’m going to stop myself before I get carried away. But the main thing to note is that the Start/Stop knobs give you versatility in voice 1, from the classic synth tones of the high-frequency range, to the swelling bass tones of the low-frequency range there’s a world of possibilities there.

1b.) Varying synth sounds with the Time/Sensitivity Knob: Another concentric (stacked) knob that adds a huge variation to what you can do with this pedal. The most obvious changes come with the Time function, which changes how many seconds/milliseconds it takes for the filter sweep to go from “Start” to “Stop.” But there’s a beautiful nuance with the Sensitivity function. If you’re familiar with auto-wahs, it’s the same concept, it uses your playing dynamics to start the filter sweep. On the far left, low end of the sensitivity knob, you have to hit the strings really hard to start that sweep, on the far right, high end of the sensitivity knob, it becomes so sensitive that even residual vibrations can trigger the sweep.

I’ll show you what I’m talking about, because an audio track is worth a million words (inflation), starting with variations to the time knob. Now, by setting the start/stop knobs as far apart as possible and putting the time to as low as possible you get some seriously funky laser-gun/Paul McCartney-Wonderful-Christmastime sounds, but those can border on the cheesy, so for this track I’m keeping the time to the lowest setting, but I’m bringing the “stop” knob up to about noon so it’s not such a drastic sweep in such a little time, but you still get that kind of space-age ray-gun vibe:

Maybe not the most subtle sound, but I’m sure you can see in the difference between that and the previous two soundbites how much range and versatility the time function gives you. Those previous two clips with both set to maximum sweep time, so I don’t need to show you that again, and this is the extreme on the other end, but I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t show you something in between those two. So here I’ll set the time to about noon, and leave the start knob at highest frequency/far right while turning the stop knob to about 10 o’clock, so just left of mid-frequency/noon:

1c.) Give life to your tone with your own natural playing dynamics with the Sensitivity knob:

I’ve mentioned the sensitivity knob before, and explained what it does, and I’m not gonna spend a whole lot more time on it here, but I do want to talk about its capabilities in voice one fora second. When the sensitivity is low, and you’re hitting the strings softly, not triggering the filter sweep, the Dirty Robot will give you the tone you select as your Stop frequency (at least that’s what I’ve been able to ascertain). Another cool feature is that it’s not an all-or-nothing feature. It’s not like it either starts the sweep or it doesn’t. At times when I’m playing with the sensitivity on low, and hitting the strings with medium power, it will give me a shorter sweep that starts at about the middle of the start/stop range. That’s pretty f#@king sweet if you ask me. I’ve tried several auto-wahs and none of them have that capability. What this does is gives you the ability to just play, and the sensitivity will pick up the sweep along with your natural playing dynamics. It’s an incredibly advanced and nuanced knob, which I don’t know that I can show you as well as I can tell you, but as with most parameters on the Dirty Robot, this is a feature that has the power to completely transform the tone you get from the pedal just by the subtle tweak of a knob.

2.) VOICE 2 (VOCODER STYLE VOCAL FORMANT FILTER): Voice 2 is where I think you really get a boom for your buck. If you’re not familiar with what a vocal formant filter is, think auto-wah, or cry-baby wah pedals for that matter, but instead of just being able to make that “wah” sound that they’re named after, they can make a whole range of vowel sounds. They’re similar to a vocoder or talk box, although admittedly not quite as versatile as they don’t have the ability to mimic what you’re doing with your voice, but I tend to think they’re more usable because you don’t have to use a microphone or hassle with the long tube of a talk box. This is where DigiTech really outdid themselves, because they could have created a wonderful synth pedal with just voice 1, but they went the extra mile to give you something you would normally pay hundreds of dollars for on its own. That’s not an exaggeration. Vocal Formant filters are not very common. The most common one I’ve seen online is the Stereo Talking Machine by Electro-Harmonix, which retails for about $220 by itself. EHX also has a Vocal Formant expression pedal for about $100, but it doesn’t have near the versatility of either the Dirty Robot or the Talking Machine. Now, I’m not knocking EHX here, they make what look like some incredible pedals, but the main reason I chose to buy the Dirty Robot was that I was interested in vocal formant filters and also interested in synth emulators. So my choice was to spend upwards of $400, which I didn’t have, getting each of those individually, or spending $115-150 and getting both in the same package. It was really a no brainer from there. The Dirty Robot is a steal for all the effects power that you’re getting in one pedal.

2a.) Vocal Formant Range: The Dirty Robot boasts an impressive range of at least 8 distinct vowel sounds (with the character of those vowel sounds changing as you move the “start” knob. It achieves this through the start/stop knob, which in voice two becomes the range selector for the vocal formant filter. The start knob changes between four different vowel sounds, and the stop knob gives you the ability to reverse the vowel sound to create essentially a new one when you turn it past the noon position. For this I’m going to give you one sound bite where I go through all the vocal formant sounds. Some of them are more distinct than others, but they all bring a unique characteristic to the Dirty Robot. So what I’ll do in this soundbite is go left to right on the “start” knob, and for each vowel sound, i’ll show you the initial sound, and then immediately following, the reversed sound. It should go something like this (and these are approximations so give me a little leeway): way -> yow -> yeah -> eye -> oo-aa -> aa-oo -> ow-uh -> oo

As you can see, some of them “like yeah/eye are more distinct and some of them are more subtle. This gives you a huge range of possibilities with this voice. Because you don’t always want your vocal formant filter to be incredibly distinct, sometimes you’re looking for that kind of indescribable throaty growl, which is what the last two give you. And like I said, these are all one placement of the filter. There is a range for how “yeah” sounds, just like there is a range for how all of these sound. Up front, it’s a very obvious feature, but they manage to pack it with nuance which is what I think guitarists and bassists alike will love.

2b.) Adjusting the time for the vocal formant filter to match your playing: For that last clip I had the time at almost 3 o’clock, but just like in voice 1 how time can completely change the sound of the filter sweep, it can greatly impact how the vocal formant filter sounds, and you can use that to your advantage when you know how fast or slow you want to play. For example, you might consider a low time setting if you want to solo and you want that vowel sound to be pronounced with every note you play (which would also require high sensitivity), or if you’re playing a slower song with sweeping power chords, you might want to extend that vocal formant time so it covers the whole note you’re playing. Now, the Dirty Robot does not have a tap tempo feature for time, so you will end up approximating the time a bit, but I’ve found that the time knob is incredibly intuitive and easy to manipulate based on the situation. So for this audio clip I have it on the “yeah” voicing because that’s my personal favorite, and since you’ve already heard what it can sound like at 3 o’clock, I’ll set it first to 9 o’clock, not quite all the way down but close, and then to a nice mid range at noon.

2c.) Let your playing dynamics do the work on the vocal formant: As with voice one, the sensitivity knob is an incredibly nuanced function on voice 2. The kicker on voice 2, however, and this is a huge part of why I love the pedal, is that when the vocal formant filter isn’t being triggered, you get straight up, classic higher-frequency synth sounds. The reason I love this feature so much is it allows you to pick softly for a synth sound, and then when you really want to take things up to the next level, you pick harder to get that vowel sound out of it. There’s a million and one applications for this, and like I said in the last part I think I can explain it better than I can show it, but it gives you the range to make every note you play a vocal note, or just a select bunch of notes. And as an added bonus, if you turn the sensitivity to its lowest setting, you get a classic synth tone without any sweep, which can also be helpful.

3.) Features for Both Voices

3a.) Add character to your sound with the drift, mix, and mod knobs: Some of the more nuanced knobs on this pedal are the 360-degree drift knob, and the mix and mod knobs. The mix is the most straightforward: it controls how much original guitar or bass signal is in the output. You can go from having all original signal and no synth sound, to all synth sound and no original signal, which is what I’ve been using here. I tend to prefer the mix to either be at noon or full blast, because I’ve never been one for subtlety, but as I’ve mentioned earlier, dialing it back to maybe 9 or 10 o’clock gives you a great subtle sound of a synthesizer kind of “following” your guitar work. So for people who have listened to the clips here and said “I like that, but that’s way over the top for my music,” no worries! DigiTech has you covered. Introduce just a little bit of synth or vocal formant to your guitar signal and get that subtle “it factor” you might be looking for. The mod knob is more nuanced, and isn’t something that I could demonstrate very well on audio, but according to Digitech it adds a Chorus effect to the output. It’s subtle, but it can make a big difference. The way I think of this is that it affects how “thick” your synth sound is. with the chorus off, you get a thinner, more delicate sound, but with it turned to its max position, as it is in all of the above clips, it adds a punch to your sound while giving it that slight chorus waver on held notes. Finally the drift knob has the potential to drastically alter your sound, although admittedly it’s the knob I know least about so you might not want to quote me specifically on what it does. My understanding, though, is that it varies the waveform of your signal with three positions: Square Wave, Octave, and Sub. because it’s a 360-degree knob, you can use one of those, or any combination of two of them. While I can’t say I know exactly what a square wave is, I can tell you that it gives you a more traditional synth sound. The features I really love, however, are the Octave and Sub positions. If you’re familiar with Octave pedals, this basically does the same thing, which means again, you’re getting more boom for your buck. If you’re not familiar with Octave pedals, they do what they say, which is add a sound one octave below the sound you’re playing, and usually they have the capability of adding a sub-octave which is two octaves below what you’re playing. So if you’re playing guitar, this can have the effect of a bass guitar playing right along with every note you play, even ones that bass guitars wouldn’t be able to play. I’ve had the Drift knob set right between the Octave and Sub knobs for today, except for the bass clip which was set to square wave, which means I’m getting one octave below and two octaves below. I find that this really fills out the sound of the Dirty Robot, making it a more complete pedal that fills up space, but again, if you want something thinner and more subtle, they have the square wave for you which will give you that thinner tone.

3b.) Momentary Vibrato Function: This is another one of the coolest functions on the dirty robot, and something that I’ll show in in my last audio clip. This feature kicks in a strong vibrato (altering the pitch of the synth sound up and down in a wave) when you hold the footswitch. So not only does the footswitch serve as an excellent and easy to use on/off switch, it also allows you to take your synth sound up a notch, emulating the “mod wheel” that is found on most keyboard style synthesizers. For this clip I’ll play without the vibrato at first in the “yeah” voicing of voice 2, and then I’ll kick in the vibrato so you can clearly hear the difference:

So just another awesome piece of ammunition that comes with the Dirty Robot Pedal.

Bottom Line: You are not going to be able to find a pedal that does the things the Dirty Robot can do for the money. It’s a high-performance variable synth engine, a vocoder style vocal formant filter, with octave, chorus, and vibrato effects built into an incredibly well built and well designed unit. And it doesn’t hurt that it looks f#@king awesome. Doesn’t take up much space on your pedalboard and allows you to introduce sounds you can’t even approximate without spending at least $400-500. If you’re an adventurous guitarist or bassist, I would recommend marking this as a “high priority.”

My Top 5 Favorite Albums

Wow so I haven’t even thought about writing on here for a while, so I figured I’d do a quick list to get me back in the swing of things. I’ve just been so laser-focused on recording music that it didn’t occur to me to stop and pursue some of my other passions (aka writing) as well. Like I said this is more about easing back into the groove of writing than it is about having anything meaningful to say; lists are good for that kind of thing. But hopefully once I get my feet wet I’ll be able to do some political writing.

So here they are, a snapshot of an always in-flux list that I keep in my head. My 5 favorite albums of all time and why they sit where they sit:

5.) Live From Chicago by Steve Miller Band

Rarely do I find a live album that is more influential in my life than studio albums, but this is an absolute masterpiece capped off with the perfection of the 14 minute and 41 second jam fest that is “Fly Like an Eagle.” I was lucky enough to see the Steve Miller Band a few weeks ago in Nashville, TN in the famous Ryman Auditorium, former home of The Grand Ole Opry. First of all, the opening band, Marty Smith and the Superlatives were some of the most talented musicians I’ve ever seen, but then Steve Miller came on and managed to top that performance. Hit after hit, jam after jam, joker after midnight toker, it was easily one of the top 5 concerts I’ve ever seen (that’s out of at least 30 mind you). This album captures everything that made that night so special, and since Miller doesn’t change his set much, the show I saw bore a kean resemblance to Live From Chicago. The biggest differences are that “Fly Like an Eagle” is actually better on this album, containing a more blistering guitar solo, and incredible freestyle-feel rap verse; and that “The Joker” was better in person because he brought out Marty Smith and the Superlatives to play it with him. Overall this is just a fantastic album that shows a criminally underrated artist at his pique.

4.) American Beauty/American Psycho by Fall Out Boy

While I’m not thrilled by the title or the title track because of the careless use of the word “psycho,” this is, though not an easy choice, my favorite Fall Out Boy album, and so one of my favorite albums. If you had told me at the beginning of their infamous hiatus that they would not only come back, but come back arguably better than before, I would have cussed you out and asked why you’re trying to make me miserable. If you had told me after Save Rock and Roll that their next album would top that one, I would tell you I’d have to hear it to believe it. And I did hear it, and damned if I don’t believe it. Much like with MCR, I love all of Fall Out Boy’s albums. Folie a Deux is a special piece of nostalgia, and at the time of its release was my favorite album of all time. Cork Tree and Infinity are both modern classics that each molded the genre of Pop-punk by their sheer magnitude. Save Rock and Roll sees a departure in style, but features some of their best all-around songwriting, and Take This to Your Grave will always be one of the great albums to come out of that first wave of pop-punk. But Beauty is my personal favorite, if only because of how jam-packed it is with near-perfect songs. “Jet Pack Blues” is an artistic creation that I think many don’t think them capable of; “Fourth of July” is an excellently penned and produced emotional anthem; “Novacane” is a down and dirty howler; “Twin Skeletons” might be their most ambitious work to date. The only song I give under 4 out of 5 stars to is the title track, which is a little messy and mashed up, but even then as the weak point of the album it’s an incredibly strong weak point, earning about a 3 stars from me. This is the album that can do no wrong. I don’t know if there were songs left on the cutting room floor or not, but they packed this with their best material and left no room for filler. It still amazes me how many of my favorite Fall Out Boy songs are on this album.

3.) Wild World by Bastille

When I started getting really into Bastille beyond just “Pompeii,” after I saw them live at Summerfest, I was absolutely amazed by the quality of songwriting on Bad Blood. Dan Smith is absolutely a once in a generation songwriter, with incredible skills at vocals, production, and composition to go along with it. Before I could elevate them to the pantheon of my favorite bands, however, I needed to see if they could do it again. Dear God did they ever. They not only repeated the artistic success of their debut album, they did what I thought was impossible and surpassed it. Wild World feels like a concept album, with themes of the chaos of politics and social injustice running throughout it. While it’s an electronic album to be sure, boasting tons of fat synth pads and leads, it’s also an incredibly organic album. It works because it reflects some of our biggest fears in life. For me personally, it touches on many: “Snakes” artfully discusses anxiety and self-medication, “Power” speaks to the very nature of vulnerability and relationships, “The Currents” is a say-what-we’re-all-thinking anthem about politics in the time of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage, and “Good Grief” is almost maddeningly eloquent in its dissection of loss and grief. There may be albums ahead of this one on my list, but I would say that this album easily contains some of the best songwriting I’ve ever heard in my life. As a musician, the completeness of Bastille’s songwriting prowess is absolutely inspiring. This is an album for the ages.

2.) Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix

My appreciation for the fullness of Hendrix’s work is relatively new but it is profound. How to pick one album out of a legacy of greatness the likes of which I firmly believe no other artist has surpassed or can surpass. Hendrix released three studio albums while he was alive and they were each all time greats. His greatest hits albums are masterpieces in their own right. Live at Berkeley showcases the dynamic force he was on stage, and his virtuosic improvisational skills. Woodstock is rock history in album form like nothing else. Are You Experienced? is one of the greatest debut albums of all time. And the list goes on. No other artist even comes close to the spectacular collection of post-career (and in Hendrix’s case, unfortunately, posthumous) releases that Hendrix’s library boasts. But I settled on Electric Ladyland because of a riff in little old song called “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return).” Even before I came to really understand the perfection of Hendrix’s work and presence, before I was inspired by him as a performer and musician, I was inspired by the intro riff to “Voodoo Chile.” It’s one of those riffs like “Back in Black” that drove me (in part) to want to play guitar in the first place. I was always in awe of the seemingly effortless guitar work in “Voodoo Chile,” and it is still something of a holy grail of songs to me. Combine that with the fact that this album also boasts one of my all time favorite songs in “All Along the Watchtower,” plus a bevy of hits from “Crosstown Traffic” to “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” to the soulful brilliance of “Burning of the Midnight Lamp,” and you’ve got possibly the best album ever created. This album does more than showcase Hendrix’s brilliance, it embodies it. Hendrix fills up this album in a way only he could, and you feel like he’s transmitting a bit of his soul to you with every track. Absolutely fantastic album.

1.) Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys by My Chemical Romance

Danger Days has been my absolute favorite album since I first heard it, Christmas Day of 2010 upon receiving it as a gift. I love all MCR’s albums, but this one is just an absolute standout to me. I really credit it for changing my life in a way. Before this album I listened to a lot of really dark music that cemented me in the dark places I was, because whenever I heard happy music it made me want to throw up. This was the first album I had ever heard that inspired something positive in me and still felt real and gritty and emotional. I started writing a trilogy of books inspired by this album in the week following. That was a project that I worked on for about 4 years, completing two of the three books, and getting about 50 pages into the third (about 400 8.5″ x 11″ pages single spaced, all in all). While I never was able to bring it all home and finish the third book, the creative process of writing it was something that will always stay with me, and I’m still proud of the work I did on that project, even though it will likely never see the light of day. Danger Days inspired all of that. It inspired some of the best creative writing I have ever done in my life. I would listen through this album while writing to keep the creativity coming and it always delivered. There’s just something at its core that reaches me in a way that no other album ever has, and I doubt any other album will. It’s hard to tangibly describe why this album means so much to me, but there has never been a moment since I heard it that it’s come even close to being surpassed as my favorite album of all time.