In May my Traynor YCV50 bit the dust, leaving me having to fork out for a new amp. After much faffing about on the internet I decided on one of the new Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister 36 heads and the 112 cab. One of the reasons was that the amp had midi support for channel switching, power soak, reverb and FX loop, the reason for which will become clear later in this rant. But this rant is not about the amp, it’s about an old acquaintance of mine, the Boss GT8, no a unit I’ve never loved much, but I have a feeling that is about to change.
When my girlfriend first bought me the GT8 I was running it into a Marshall 30w combo, and then a year or so later into the Traynor. All I ever had was fizz fizz fizz, no definition and a heap of tone suck. Everything sounded awful. I found making patches time consuming, hard and ultimately unfulfilling. However, coaxed into the prospect of a full midi setup I broke it out again when the Tubemeister arrived, and I’m pretty glad I did.
As much as I love pedals (and I do!), I get fed up having to stomp them. I find them limiting in the way that I’m going to want to dial in a slow delay, bit of chorus and compressor for the verse of one song only to them have to change amp channels, engage overdrive, cut chorus and delay for the chorus. It’s too much faffing. At home fine, but jamming and gigging, no! I will never get a smooth change over. There are solutions like the loopmasters and the awesome Moen GEC9 for example, but these all have one draw back for me over multi FX – I can’t change my settings for each pedal, I can only toggle them. For most situations this is fine, but when you bring a midi controlled amp into the equation there has to be a better solution.
Enter the ageing GT8.
I won’t go into all the detail on setting the GT8 up properly as that has been documented well many times, but I’ll explain how I have the unit working for me in an exceptionally well way.
To start with I’m using the four cable method (guitar > GT8 input, GT8 send > amp input, amp send > GT8 return > GT8 out to amp return). One vital thing on the GT8 is getting all the levels right so the unit doesn’t clip. To do this I used a true bypass looper between the guitar and the amp, so the GT8 was in the loop. I then toggled the GT8 in and out, adjusting the send level until I had unity gain. Then, plugging the other cables in I used the amps FX loop toggle to balance the units return level and the output level so that there was no change in volume when the GT8 was bypassed or used. Once this had been done I could hear absolutely zero change in tone or volume regardless if the GT8 was in use or not. In a blind test I could not have told the difference. Whatever has been said before (that’s including by me) about the GT8 sucking tone is simply untrue, at least when it is setup properly. I was using the line/phones output setting rather than a combo or stack etc. As both the GT8 and the Tubemesiter use OMNI mode for the midi there was no setup required there, just a 5 pin midi cable between the GT8 midi out and the amps midi input.
Next thing to do was set a master patch that had a bunch of defaults that could be used each time I created a new patch. This was pretty easy, just turned the preamp off and set the FX order to include the loop (the Tubemeisters preamp) and order the FX. The GT8 is great for the fact that you can specify exactly where each feature comes in the chain. I also created defaults for the master patch for everything I’m going to use regularly, analog delay setup to match the master tempo on the quarter notes, compressor leveled correctly, etc etc etc. The CTRL pedal is also setup to put the unit in manual mode so FX can be toggled on and off whenever, and tuner come on when you press the number button of the patch you are already on. Pretty much a copy of my existing board ready to be tweaked and used. I also made some ‘pristine’ patches, which puts the loop first in the chain so the signal goes straight from the GT8 input to the send into the amps input (through the analogue to digital converter and the digital to analogue again admittedly). These ‘pristine patches also turn off the amps FX loop, so the GT8 is bypassed completely after the preamp. Worth having just incase I want to use the GT8 as a midi controller only at any point. Now every time I create a new patch I can recall these master settings and have a patch ready to go in seconds. This is a really good solution for me, as I have a combined FX board, midi controller, and amp controller at the touch of a button. There is no beating the convenience of a digital mutli FX processor and the warmth of tube preamp. The only thing it falls down on is the drives as the digital tubescreamer sounds nowhere near as good as my OCD or Bad Monkey (don’t own a TS9 to compare it with!), but with the drive down and level up they are passable.
I honestly think there is less tone loss this way than having a big old board of pedals, and all the patch cables hooking them up. There is nothing sterile about the unit, in this config it sounds warm and most of the FX sound good, some truly decent. There is none of the joy in creating a new patch that there is in this as there is acquiring and collecting normal pedals, and most the FX are inferior to their stompbox equivalents, but for the convenience, the portability and the ease of use I think that this is outweighed massively, not to mention the amount of money saved. If I were to record there is no way I would choose this as my setup but for rehearsing and gigging it’s very powerful indeed.