MGR/Andy Akridge 03/10/2006

DigiTech RP50 : MGR/Andy Akridge's user review

« DigiTech RP50 Modeling Guitar Processor »
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I've been playing the guitar casually for about 15 years. During that time, I've been in a few bands in various capacities (lead guitar, rhythm guitar, singer, bassist or combinations thereof). During this time, I have never had much in the way of money to steer towards satisfying a guitarist's inherent gearlust and usually relied on others to provide the heavy duty equipment, such as power amps, mics, etc. Ultimately, my true interest lies more in songwriting and recording, inspired by the King of All Guitar Effects (U2's The Edge) and U2's frequent producer, Brian Eno, who in addition to his own early work with Roxy Music and later solo abstract, super-processed, ambience-heavy compositions, has also worked with David Bowie, the Talking Heads, Jane Siberry and a number of other of my favorite artists. I have always had that passion to create (you either have it or you don't, and those who have it know how playing, composing, recording, and mixing is addictive as any drug!), but it always seemed like there was something that was a greater priority (though these things never brought the sheer joy of making original music). Thus, I have always been diverted from spending the time, energy and money necessary to seriously pursue this goal. However, when facing a series of back surgeries last year, I reevaluated my priorities in life and realized that if I don't start "now", there may never be a "now". So I unpacked my Fender Strat, a small Crate practice amp, some effects pedals and started playing again. I invested some money in Sony's ACID Music Studio software for composing and recording (both affordable, easy to use, and capable of producing a decent quality composition - at least, for purely personal enjoyment.) As I threw myself into recording and mixing, I realized that my meager stock of equipment was limiting the range of tones I needed to produce the type of music I want to make. I needed something that both suited my tight budget (a wife and 3 kids don't leave much for purchasing ripe gear!) and was compatible with my virtual studio setup while providing as many sonic options as possible. Thus, my purchase of the DigiTech RP50 Modeling Guitar Processor.

I had briefly experimented with the Line 6 Pod which I managed to purchase relatively cheaply in a local music store's clearance sale (the unit was scuffed up a bit, but otherwise fine). I loved the flexibility it provided. Unfortunately, I ran into compatibility problems between it and my recording setup which could not be easily or cheaply resolved. I began looking for alternatives that would allow a direct input into the Line In of my computer's sound card. A local music store (Rutland's) had a variety of guitar processors in stock, but most were out of my price range. However, at $69.95, the RP50 caught my eye. It possessed a fair number of effects plus a number of amp models, a built-in tuner and drum machine.

The RP50 has a lot of features that allow the user to create a massive range of sounds. It has 80 separate presets (though only 40 of them are programmable; the other 40 are static factory presets). Some people will always want more, of course, but this should cover most, if not all, a guitarist's basic needs. With this unit, I have the ability to create combinations of sounds that range from simple amplified, unprocessed tones to ultra-fuzzy, crunchy, or stratospheric ambience. When I record, I tend to use a LOT of guitar overlays and ethereal backing tracks to create as deep a nd subtle a feel as possible. This unit is an excellent starting point to achieving those desired sounds (though to truly complete the equation, I also use a lot of plug-ins and digital editing on the computer). For the sake of completeness, the effects available in this unit are: volume level, pick-up/wah effects (it can simulate humbuckers or single coils as well as automating three seperate wah effects), a compressor, 12 separate amp modelers with 9 separate settings (except the acoustic modeler which has a single setting), a noise gate with two separate modes, a basic 3 channel EQ, a host of modulating-type effects (chorus, flanger, phaser, tremelo, bender, Leslie, harmonizer, pitch shifter, detuner, and a few others), three different delays (digital, analog, and pong), and a slew of different reverb effects. The box has two pedals which allow you to cycle through the presets quickly just by holding the pedal down. Programming a preset is extremely easy (though this is due in large part to the very basic nature of the individual effects). Simply put, for my purposes, I have found the RP50 to be an excellent source of creativity and production.

In answering the question "What don't I like about this unit", let me first qualify this answer by saying that I love this unit, despite it lacking a number of different parameters for its effects that a more expensive unit would possess. There are definitely some obvious limitations, so - to use a painting analogy - it is rather like painting with broad strokes rather than, oh, say, the precision of impressionism. In a similar vein, as far as I can tell, there isn't a signal "chain" as such. It looks like all the effects are applied concurrently rather than consecutively. There are times, for example, when I would like to have my flanged signal echoed, or conversely, I'd like to have my echoes flanged. There isn't any obvious way in the unit itself to priorities or order these signals. Regarding the physical construction, the unit is plastic and, while I think it would probably be okay to use on stage, I don't know that I'd feel comfortable without some kind of backup (especially given the style of guitar that I play which tends to rely heavily on effects and processing to achieve a unique sound - what can I say? I'm a very much a product of the Edge/Robert Fripp/Jonny Greenwood/etc. school of guitar work). For my purposes doing pure recording while sitting at a desk, this isn't a problem, but the ability to stomp on a pedal in the heat of a performance without it breaking is worth a few extra bucks, to be sure.

First, this is not a physically large unit - if I had to guess, I'd say it's about 6"x5". As mentioned above, the RP50 is plastic, though it looks pretty sturdy. My kids have gotten ahold of it on occasion and it is no worse for the wear. It has two pedals for cycling through the presets and a small, red LED to display information. It also has 6 buttons on its face: two for cycling up/down the various effects, another two for cycling up/down the settings on those effects, another button to store those settings to a preset number, and another button to toggle the built in drum machine (the other buttons cycle through drum tracks and tempos). There's a tuner built into this unit, too, but I haven't actually used it, preferring my old Fender AG6 automatic tuner out of sheer force of habit. The RP50 is powered either by 6 AA batteries, but it also comes with a power adapter, which is what I use. There is a single input and output jack in the back, as well as the socket for the power adapter and a port for a DigiTech expression pedal. Like the tuner, I haven't used this particular function so I cannot speak with any authority about it except to say that it is there. Unless I'm mistaken, there is a similar unit from DigiTech - the RP70 - that has an expression pedal built into the device itself, which can really help add to a dynamic performance, I'm sure. For the sake of completeness, the effects available in this unit are: volume level, pick-up/wah effects (it can simulate humbuckers or single coils as well as automating three seperate wah effects), a compressor, 12 separate amp modelers with 9 separate settings (except the acoustic modeler which has a single setting), a noise gate with two separate modes, a basic 3 channel EQ, a host of modulating-type effects (chorus, flanger, phaser, tremelo, bender, Leslie, harmonizer, pitch shifter, detuner, and a few others), three different delays (digital, analog, and pong), and a slew of different reverb effects. The box has two pedals which allow you to cycle through the presets quickly just by holding the pedal down. Programming a preset is extremely easy (though this is due in large part to the very basic nature of the individual effects.) Overall, relative to the price, this is a very decent unit.

Bottom line: This is a very good product if you don't have a lot of money to spend on the higher end units but want a fair degree of flexibility and diversity in tone. It has its limitations to be sure, but it has served my purpose for home recording quite well. I wouldn't stake my performance at a gig on it, not because of the sound quality (which is very good), but because it is plastic and might get smooshed by an overly enthusiastic player. If you want something NOW but only have a limited budget, ths is the unit for you.

This review was originally published on http://www.musicgearreview.com