Begged, Borrowed or Stolen #2 – Digitech Trio

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Digitech TRIO

Overview

In this months installment we look at the new Digitech TRIO pedal (w/DigiTech FS3X Footswitch). The TRIO, is designed to be a compositional aid for songwriters to help realize their ideas in a trio ensemble (guitar, plus MIDI bass and drums). The technology is powered by Band-in-a-Box software which has until now has never been availible in a guitar pedal. Before we dive into the review let’s take a look at specifications.

It offers seven genres with a total of 12 styles within each to choose from. The TRIO can learn up to three different song parts. Control wise we have an adjustable tempo control as well as double and half time tempo modes, controls for the bass  and drum levels. Output options include single standard amp out, split mixer and amp options as well as a headphone jack with dedicated level control. Digitech openly admits that if you want ‘Hands-Free Control’ then you’ll need to purchase a DigiTech FS3X Footswitch (you’ll need this from my experience). It also needs a dedicated power supply that is included.

Pedal Review

Aesthetically the pedal looks very cool, with plenty of LEDs to clearly see it’s functions. There are a couple of ways to hook this pedal up but the set-up with a mixer (for the drums and bass) takes a bit of time so I imagine most guitarists will hook it up the front of their amp. For a direct amp set-up I recommend a seriously clean tone as the bass and kick will easily cause your amp to distort. Personally I ran the MIDI into the flat EQ setting of my Yamaha THR10 and the guitar to an Orange Tiny Terror and it sounded much better.

In terms of controls  thankfully the main foot switch operates similar to most loopers so it should feel very intuitive loop users. Without the external foot switch it’s a massive pain to dial in your arrangement, buy it, seriously.

Time signatures are limited to 4/4 and 3/4 although you can get a faux 6/8, and 2/4 but adjusting your playing. Whilst some composers will find this limiting most singer/songwriters won’t find this a problem. The pedal requires a simple chord progression, played without any complex rhythms, sadly no riffs as it isn’t capable of tracking them. Ignoring this advice leads to massively misinterpreted tempo and chord problems, especially with semi-quavers. And in addition to this it can cause crazy bass lines that sounds like a bunch of constant fills. This is actually one of my criticisms of the unit even when played cleanly the bass parts can be a little fill heavy when you just want a simple pattern, if it was a real player you’d end up having words.

The overall sample sounds of the drums and bass are pretty good quality and generally fit the stylistics well although I  found myself regularly just turning off the bass. The MIDI fretless bass on the jazz setting isn’t to my taste and to be fair it’s a difficult sound to synthesis. The suggested styles are often amusing so I suggest running through the options before you relegate it to pedal draw. I often found myself return to certain patterns as I found that suited the way I composed.

There is a good selection of genres, although sadly no metal, which I suspect is down to the need for chordal input. The ability to design different sections is great and you can pick again from any genre so you can some interesting fusion section changes to play over. This isn’t very accessible from the unit alone sadly.

The ability to add genre based guitar effects is useful for quick composition although you cannot adjust them. The pedal can’t save a number of tracks so once you’ve finished writing with it you still need to record the track if you want to remember it.

Due the need to quantize rhythms you play, the pedal it is best suited to naturally more quantized music which can leave the blues, RnB and jazz settings lacking groove and sounding a little sterile. If you’re are looking for a live performance pedal look elsewhere or join a band.

Conclusion

Even though I have tried this pedal several times over the period of a month I’m still torn on my opinion of it. I think this device is bound by a sense of ‘technological determinism’ i.e you are musically restricted by what it can do. As a result I imagine composers and songwriters that write within its limitations (in either 4/4 or 3/4 with simple harmony in one or more of the available genres and don’t feel confident writing for drummers and bassist) will find this tool extremely useful.

Combining this device and manual with its detailed description each stylistics arrangement (and some basic music theory) help you learn to compose. Anyone working outside of these limitations would probably be better served by purchasing a decent level DAW and writing the parts into the MIDI grids themselves.

This is the first version of this pedal and I can see this technology being blended with a standard looper like Digitechs own JamMan to allow for a live set of loops on top of the midi backing. It should be called the be called the Digitech QUARTET and I should be the one road test first if your reading Digitech. Also the ability to recall tracks could open this pedal out to live performers which could be interesting or even an editor to export the midi into a DAW for recording. It will be interesting to see where this technology goes next.

Has anyone else tried it? What did you think. Next review will be the vintage Little Big Muff I’ve had knocking around.

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One thought on “Begged, Borrowed or Stolen #2 – Digitech Trio

  1. Pingback: App Review #1 – Music Memos (iOS) | Antony Cull Music

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