[2010-06-23 – I’ve just added a clip on youtube, including screen shots of the settings.]
[2010-02-28 – New clips for low gain and whammy pedal!]
Let me say up front that as a guitarist I’m not particularly for or against multi-effects units and amplifier modelling.
I won’t argue with you that individual pedals and real valves and real amps sound great. They can be physically modified to sound more to your liking. They also take up a lot of real estate, introduce fun (but expensive and time-consuming) distractions about buffering and true bypass, need to be miked up properly for recording, and really should be played Loud.
On the other hand, modellers sometimes don’t sometimes sound entirely like the pedal or amp they purport to model (or at least my version of it). And some present such a barrage of amplifier and speaker combinations (and then choice of microphones and placement) that it’s difficult to resist the temptation to tweak endlessly in search of a slightly better sound, rather than, say, play guitar.
But on my budget I’m never going to have access to so many real amplifiers and pedals in one room at one time. And late at night in my small, not-entirely-soundproof studio, a great modeller is the bee’s knees.
So what I’d really like is a realistic-sounding modeller with some flexibility in pedal placement. For instance, I like using a compressor into a distortion pedal into a big clean amp. It’s amazing how many modellers won’t actually let me do that. *
Well, the RP500 at least lets me do that. But what originally caught my eye about Digitech’s current line of multi-effects were some of the choices of amps and pedals they model:
- Fane 4×12 speaker cabinet? First time I’ve noticed that on a modeller.
- Hiwatt amp? Great.
- Boss CS-2 and Dynacomp? Interesting.
- EH Electric Mistress? Really.
- Univibe? I wonder if they got it right.
- Boss CE-2, Big Muff, Whammy? Umm..
It seemed to me there was a pretty good chance that some of the guys at Digitech were David Gilmour fans. It’s no secret I am too (particularly of his post-Wall tones), so I was keen to give it a try.
Then I noticed Digitech also modelled the TC Electronic SCF, which is a chorus pedal I’ve been trying to get my hands on for a while. I understand Don Felder has been using one over the last twenty years, and his recordings sound heavenly. So when I came across an RP500 that was significantly cheaper than an SCF, I thought it was worth a shot.
There are three main guitar sounds I used a lot on the upcoming album, and they’re typically the first ones I find myself trying out on an effects unit. As a reference for these examples I used David Gilmour’s most recent Live In Gdansk release, which I choose to believe is a fairly honest recording of a great-sounding rig.
1. “Clean” – A big clean Fender sort of sound, specifically for the neck pickup of a strat.
It took me a bit of searching, but I ended up combining a Fender Twin Reverb amp with a Fane 4×12 cabinet. The Hiwatt amp sounds too thin to my ears, and Gilmour generally bypasses his Hiwatt preamp anyway, replacing it with, for instance, a Fender-like Alembic preamp.) The RP500 doesn’t sound too bad here, with a hint of EQ, delay, reverb and stereo chorus to taste, although I wish the compression had a slightly more-squished attack. This patch makes a good foundation for adding distortion pedals later.
(Compare tone with Shine On You Crazy Diamond intro, from Live in Gdansk.)
Guitar: Fender Strat EMG SA neck pickup -> EMG SPC at 5
RP500: Digitech compressor -> ’65 Blackface Twin amp -> Fane 4×12 speakers -> EQ -> TC SCF Chorus 15% wet -> Modulated delay 380ms -> Twin Spring reverb
2. “Drive” – For solos using a strat neck pickup.
This one was a little harder to come by. I was specifically looking for a good overdrive or distortion pedal to add to the clean patch, perhaps close to a BK Butler Tube Driver. There are 3 varieties of tube screamer on the RP500, and all sound similarly too warm and middy for my use. (There’s probably a reason so many people make a living out of modifying real-life tube screamer pedals.) The RP1000 has more potentially-useful models than the RP500, but the Redline distortion seems to do the job, albeit with both the High and Low EQ controls just about maxed out.
(Compare tone with Shine On You Crazy Diamond second solo, from Live in Gdansk.)
Guitar: Fender Strat EMG SA neck pickup -> EMG SPC at 5
RP500: Digitech compressor -> Redline distortion -> ’65 Blackface Twin amp -> Fane 4×12 speakers -> EQ -> TC SCF Chorus 15% wet -> Modulated delay 380ms -> Twin Spring reverb
3. “Lead” – For solos using a strat bridge pickup.
This is a tricky one. The Big Muff is typically the obvious choice, but to achieve the right Gilmour flavour, the signal has to be boosted before the muff. That might be done in real life with a fairly-clean Tube Driver, but it’s also acceptable to use a compressor as a boost by turning up the volume. Which is exactly what I did here. And with very little coaxing, this is the tone that fell out.
(Compare tone with On An Island second solo, from Live In Gdansk.)
Guitar: Fender Stat Hot Noiseless bridge pickup
RP500: Digitech compressor -> Big Pi distortion -> ’65 Blackface Twin amp -> Fane 4×12 speakers -> EQ -> TC SCF Chorus 15% wet -> Modulated delay 380ms -> Twin Spring reverb
(It’s worth noting that the Demeter Fuzzulator model sounds pretty good here too.)
4. “Univibe” – Thrown in for good measure.
Not as lush and watery as real ones I’ve heard, but heaps better than the overly-throbby Line 6 version.[audio:http://www.bencraven.com/blogposts/20100221_digitech_rp500/rp500_univibe.mp3]
Guitar: Fender Strat Hot Noiseless bridge pickup
RP500: CS compressor -> ’65 Blackface Twin amp -> Fane 4×12 speakers -> EQ -> Unovibe -> Modulated delay 380ms -> Twin Spring reverb
So in summary, the RP500 is promising:
- I haven’t completely made my mind up about the compressors, but I’m warming to the Boss CS-2 model.
- There could be a greater variety of overdrive pedals, which might already exist on the RP1000.
- The modulations sound pretty good. The Boss CE-2 is warm, the TC SCF seems very useable, and the EH Electric Mistress sounds acceptable enough for me to use instead of the real deal.
I could see myself recording with it on the next album, but not exclusively. I’m still keen to get my hands on the RP1000 to try out the extra stompboxes..
* (Unless I add my own compressor up-front, but then I might as well use the rest of my pedals up-front too – which may well be the ultimate soluition.)
[2010-02-28 – Updated!]
5. “Low Gain”
I think I’ve solved my low gain dilemna, and that’s by using the MXR Distortion pedal model (up front into a clean amp). Which really shouldn’t be a huge stretch of the imagination, given that Pete Cornish reportedly used the MXR as the basis of his SS-2 and SS-3 pedal designs. The following clip starts out clean, and then the distortion kicks in.[audio:http://www.bencraven.com/blogposts/20100221_digitech_rp500/rp500_mxr.mp3]
Guitar: Fender Strat, Bill Lawrence L-280S neck pickup, L-290s bridge pickup
RP500: CS compressor -> MX Distortion 30% Dist -> ’65 Blackface Twin amp -> Fane 4×12 speakers -> EQ -> TC Chorus -> Modulated delay 400ms -> EMT Plate reverb
I think the Whammy pedal really needs to be approached as an instrument in its own right. It takes a bit of practice to achieve smooth pedal action, and the pitch-shift effect seems works best on the top two strings, so notes should be carefully selected. The pedal artifacts would be less noticeable within the context of a full mix. I don’t know if the real Whammy pedal sounds better because I don’t have one, but it’s nice to expect that this model should be able to replicate fairly accurately a similar digital pedal from 16-or-so years ago. One drawback of the RP500 is that the Whammy is treated as a modulation pedal, so it’s not possible to, say, add chorus after the amp as well.
(Compare tone with The Blue solo, from Live in Gdansk.)
Guitar: Fender Strat Hot Noiseless brige pickup
RP500: CS compressor -> Whammy -> Redline distortion -> ’65 Blackface Twin amp -> Fane 4×12 speakers -> EQ -> Modulated delay 400ms -> EMT Plate reverb