Digitech RP1 Guitar Multi-Effects
Our man from the valleys discovers how RP1 owners do it on the floor...
The Digitech RP1 hides both digital and analogue guitar effects behind its pedal-board style exterior, for the best of both worlds, and adds MIDI into the bargain. John Harris finds out how RP1 owners do it on the floor...
Combining traditional digital studio effects with a guitar preamplifier and speaker simulator, the RP1 takes a hybrid analogue/digital approach to guitar effects. Analogue circuitry provides compression, distortion, graphic equalisation and noise gating, while digital circuitry takes care of the delay, modulation and reverb effects. As with many such units, the list of on-board effects includes some sub-divisions of what some people might consider single effect groups, and may also include things like mixing and effects loop control, but if the latter two are included, the RP1 offers 17 distinct groups of effects, by my calculations, which is still pretty impressive.
As a guitarist who's not yet been convinced by digital overdrive and compression, the RP1's analogue aspect interested me immediately, and I was eager to sample the 150 soundpatches (75 presets and 75 duplicates which may be overwritten by the user).
Once the input and output level controls have been set to match the guitar and amplification or mixing system to which the RP1 is connected, there should be no need to touch them — any level differences between sounds may be included as part of an effects program. The outputs are located on the back panel of the unit and, as the RP1 has stereo outputs which will run balanced or unbalanced, you could be running it into a mixing console, a stereo power amp and speakers or a Marshall stack! If you're connecting the outputs to a guitar amp, you should choose a clean sound with the tone controls at neutral to obtain the best results, though you may need to experiment a little to obtain the best subjective sound with your setup.
As you'd expect from a unit of this calibre, a speaker simulator output is available to facilitate a 'miked-up' guitar sound direct into the mixing desk. The RP1 goes further than most by providing a choice of four preset speaker simulator outputs and five more you can set up yourself, enabling the unit to emulate a variety of stack and combo types. The five user speaker simulator programs include a 6-band graphic equaliser with frequency centres for each band at 100Hz, 160Hz, 400Hz, 1 kHz, 2.5kHz and 6.3kHz, giving a 12dB boost or cut; these cover the guitar range quite effectively. A boost of a few decibels at 100Hz worked really well with my Boogie, which is fitted with a 12-inch speaker, adding warmth and depth to the sound. The simulator output is global and will therefore affect the output equalisation for all the sound patches.
The RP1 has a single mono input plus an additional mono effects loop, which means you can patch in one of your favourite effects. Both mono and stereo outputs are available, and for recording purposes, you can simply connect the two outputs to the desk line inputs.
The RP1's 150 effects patches range from 'Silk Stockings' to 'Just Squeeze It' (obviously programmed by men!). The first 75 are programmable, so you shouldn't run out of memory space too quickly. However, you can save and recall data to a sequencer using SysEx dumps if required.
The RP1 has its own menu architecture which it's best to imagine as a listing of options available to you, but it's also very easy to just set up and play using the original sound patches, which are excellent. For the more ambitious, the RP1 provides access to some fairly serious depths of editing. The modes of operation are:
Performance mode is used to select and recall patches, a patch being defined as a configuration of effects and their parameter settings, and a user name. Patches can be recalled using the program increment/decrement switches when editing, or via the foot switches for gigs.
This all seems quite straightforward but is complicated by the dual operating modes of Performance and patch Sets. Looking at the physical layout of the RP1, we see two rows of six large switches. The bottom row of switches is labelled 1-5 with the sixth being an effect bypass switch, but they are also individually labelled 'Patch' 1-5 (bypass is left out). The top row of six switches is numbered 6, 7, 8, 9 and zero, with the last of the six having a dual function as program (or Set of programs) recall. The other switches in this row also serve a dual function as individual effect on/off switches, and are consequently labelled — from left to right — compression, distortion, modulation, delay and reverb. It actually sounds more complicated than it is and the manual could usefully expand this section with a simplified guide using diagrams.
All the switches have easily visible red LEDs above them, which illuminate when they're in operation. For instance when the 'Silk Stockings' patch is recalled, the red LEDs on the top row above the compression, distortion and reverb switches illuminate because these are used in the patch configuration. These effects can then be individually switched in and out when necessary. Not only is this eminently practical but easy to spot quickly in a gigging situation. Effects that are not part of the program (in this example modulation and delay) are dead switches so you can't accidentally turn them on either — another nice practical touch. Meanwhile, the bottom row of switches can be used to recall patch numbers 1-5 with one touch of the toe, a quicker method than using the program switch and individual number method — hence this mode of operation is called Five Patch Mode! It follows that 10 Patch Mode allows you to use all 10 numbered switches for patch recall, but in order to access this mode you have to enter the Utility page.
If you're a little more adventurous with the RP1, you can take advantage of the patch recall Sets I mentioned a moment ago. A 'Set' is a series of patches assigned to switches in the order that you want them to appear; there are ten sets available. Once you have entered the set number of your choice using the appropriate footswitches, the bottom row of switches will recall the patches in that set. What Digitech fail to make clear in the manual at this stage is that you can assign any program number to a patch switch in the set. For example, you may have a song that uses patches 21, five, and 70 in that order; these can be assigned to Set 1, switches 1, 2 and 3 for quick recall. Every time you play that song, you just recall Set 1 — what could be simpler? It would have been a nice touch if the Sets could have been given titles — as it is, only the individual patches can be named.
In addition to the above, the switches can be assigned to control on and off switching of individual effects, which would be useful in 10 Patch Mode where the top row are assigned to patch recall instead of their usual effects on/off status. A useful addition to the effects switching available is the Repeat Hold function — for freezing a delayed phrase and playing over the top of it as it repeats.
Patch recall is pretty fast, but one thing to watch is extreme changes in effects when, for example, moving from a patch with a lot of reverb decay to one with none, mid-song. This can sound very unnatural, as the echo or reverb will suddenly be cut off rather than decaying naturally. It's better to cut the decay time down on the next program you move to rather than get rid of it altogether, or find a point in the music where the decay has died enough to give you a smooth change of program.
In total, there are 11 algorithms (effect configurations) available for editing in the RP1, and all of these already contain the analogue effects of Compression, Distortion, Equalisation, Noise Gate and Speaker Simulator. In fact the configurations all begin with Compression followed by Distortion, Equalisation and then Noise Gate. After that, it's down to choosing an algorithm which provides the digital effects you want. Algorithm 1, for example, just adds the Speaker Simulator to the tail end of the others, whereas algorithm 5 gives you the maximum 10 effects:
- Compression (analogue)
- Distortion (analogue)
- Equalisation (analogue)
- Noise Gate
- Short Reverb
- Digital Mixer
- Speaker Simulator
You can't actually make up your own configurations, but the presets are well thought out and any of the effects within an algorithm — digital or analogue — can be edited or turned off. In addition to the 10 possible digital effects, there's also a mixer to control the amount of dry and wet signal routed to the stereo outputs, plus effects panning for such things as Multitap Delay. The digital effects are:
- Modulation Delay
- Four Tap Delay
- Ultimate Reverb
- Reverb 1 (short)
- Reverb 2 (long)
- Reverse Reverb
- Gated Reverb.
Ultimate Reverb is Digitech's name for the reverb with the most complex set of parameters — 11 in all. It gives an impressive amount of variation in sound but uses up so much processing power that you can't use it in combination with any of the delay or modulation effects. Combinations of simple reverb with modulation can be used and you still retain control of pre-delay, modest equalisation and decay time.
Certainly one of the RP1's most useful parameters for live performance is master volume which is programmable and is vital for matching levels between patches. Solo patches, for instance, invariably need to be louder than rhythm ones, while distorted rhythm never cuts through as much as clean guitar. Pre-programming levels and fine-tuning EQ for each patch at rehearsals certainly makes gigging easier — we all know how difficult it is to play when levels aren't right! And editing is straightforward on the RP1, especially if you've already had experience of multi-effects units. It's often simpler to start with a sound that's similar to the one you want and carry on from there, especially if you're new to these things.
Edited patches can be compared against the originals, and when you're satisfied, stored in any of the first 75 memory locations under a new title if you wish. One practical consideration when programming the RP1 is to remember that you have level controls for the amount of signal triggering each effect as well as a digital mixer at the end of the chain. These also contribute to the overall eventual balance and composition of the sound, and the manual's rather small editing section doesn't really guide the inexperienced user. For example, if you have a configuration of Chorus, Delay and Reverb, once you've chorused the guitar signal you then get a choice of sending dry signal, chorused signal or both to the delay. The reverb in turn can be fed with varying amounts of the dry, chorused, delayed signal, or a combination of all three. Whatever you choose to do with this impressively flexible setup can be finally fed to the stereo output using the digital mixer.
"The actual amount of gain in the overdrive is governed by the 'Distortion Balls' parameter."
I can't go further without mentioning the pre-amp, which sounded superb through my combo. The compression can really fatten up a thin sound and increase sustain if you want that really over the top effect. Used subtly with some graphic equalisation, chorus and delay, it sounded really effective and didn't lose that warmth of sound as digital units have a tendency to do. The seven-band graphic EQ made my Strat sound really sweet with some bass boost and a little cut at 1 kHz — I was impressed! The distortion section, which can be the downfall of many multi-effects units,is surprisingly good and is capable of a wide range of sounds. The four distortion presets are Rock Tube; Metal Tube; Overdrive; and Heavy Sustain, the latter being ideal for those languorous guitar breaks with the odd widdly-widdly run. The actual amount of gain in the overdrive is governed by the 'Distortion Balls' parameter and this can take the sound from a rich, creamy sustain on the verge of feedback, to a raunchy rhythm overdrive. Through a studio setup with the outputs taken directly to a desk's line inputs, the overdrive sound is not quite as impressive but is certainly usable. This would suggest that if the unit has a weak link, it may be in the speaker simulation section.
Negative points on the RP1 are relatively few, though I feel the manual could have been a little more sympathetic towards hi-tech newcomers. It would also have been sensible to include a mode which bypassed the analogue section and speaker simulator, to facilitate using the RP1 as a general-purpose studio effects unit.
With the upsurge in the use of MIDI devices on stage, the capabilities of this unit in that direction for external device control will also be appealing to the modern guitarist, while the studio or session player will find the RP1 both versatile and portable; although the idea of combining analogue distortion with digital effects is not new, the RP1 provides by far the most versatile overdrive sound I've heard from this style of processor. Clean and semi-distorted sounds also come up trumps, and serious guitar players will certainly be impressed by both the sound of the effects and the versatility of programming and mixing. The digital effects offer few surprises, in that they are representative of what you'd expect to find on any good studio multieffects processor, but in combination with the guitar preamp, they can be used to create a vast range of musically useful sounds.
Digitech RP1 £549 including VAT.
John Hornby Skewes, (Contact Details).
Review by John Harris
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