In search of a new multi-effects stompbox

A Bit of History

[If you’re only interested in the “quest”, then jump directly to the next chapter!]

When the Nerdville name first appeared in mid-2010, it was a proof of concept: take a small electronic-music setup, put it into the backseat of your car together with a performer, and then drive around and play it, all the while streaming audio and video to the internet.

The original Nerdville setup
The original Nerdville setup

But where did that small setup come from? The first Nerdville setup consisted of a few toys I had acquired over the course of time. The Boss DD20, used in one of its delay modes (mostly the one with a slight chorus), was obtained after I had moved my entire performance setup into the computer in preparation for the Y2k6loopfest. What I wanted to retain was a really small setup to quickly setup, plug a guitar in, and retain a long delay and some processing. The setup back then consisted of the DD20 and the Zoom G2.1u, which we’ll revisit in a second, and was also featured at the very y2k6loopfest’s kybermusik event.

When the Korg KP3 Kaoss Pad came out, I already had (and liked) the KP1 and KP2 variants, so this was a no-brainer to get – and I also got the Kaossilator. The T-Resonator was bought because with all the analogue stuff gone from my setup, I found a need for a true analogue filter. The Stereo Memoryman with Hazari was obtained because there’s simply only a handful of delay or loop effects which offer true varispeed, and the SMM is one of them (and has a few other nice properties as well). Finally, the OD2…where did that come from? I believe a guitarist once gave that to me to play organ synth sounds through it and told me to keep it because it was his least favourite distortion pedal anyway…I discovered that it worked nicely if you sent a signal through the first channel of the T-Resonator, then through the OD2, then through the T-Resonator’s second channel (see below).

The Evolution…

Frenze Nerdville Setup
Frenze Nerdville Setup

This setup, while nowhere near as powerful as the computer-based setup used e.g. on Wie groß ist die Luft? oder during the MoinSound Studio Sessions, was a lot of fun – and it was a lot more intuitive, as it didn’t require to study pages after pages of user interface mapping descriptions. When I got invited to perform at the 2011 Firenze Loop Festival (which was at a time when I had already left behind the loops and free improvisation etc. in favour of the #secretalbum project), I decided to play there using a somewhat expanded Nerdville setup.

Yes, there’s two synthesizers (which we’ll ignore for now), but there’s also a new box at the right side (performer view): while the old setup had a lot going in the delay/loop realm, there wasn’t really a proper multi-effect for your pitch-shifting, reverb and whatnot demands. Enter the Line6 M9. I got this more or less briefly before the festival because I believed it was able to fill that spot – and it did. Plus, if all else fails, it also can give you three delays plus a powerful looper.

The setup including the M9 was also the basis for the next steps, bound to happen some 2 years later: first, the setup got revived, with the synths removed and the Kaossilator returning. Then, to give me more multi-effects power, the T-Resonator/OD2 chain got replaced by the aforementioned Zoom G2.1u. And finally, as if I didn’t have enough powerful delays already, a digitech PDS-8000 was added. Then, I found that the T-Resonator/OD2 combo left a space, and so it returned as well.

The Status Quo

So, here’s the setup: three delay-oriented effects (SMM, DD20, PDS8000). One stompbox-style multi-effect (with integrated looper) in form of the M9. Another “phrasesampler with intuitive effects” in form of the KP3. A one trick pony with the T-Resonator/OD2 chain. All in all, devices with lots of knobs and a very intuitive user interface. So I decided to throw out the G2.1u. Which leaves me with only one proper multi-effects device, complemented mainly by delays, loops, and a filter with distortion. I need another multi effect.

The Quest

So, I need a thingie that fulfils the following hard requirements:

  1. Stompbox or tabletop form factor,
  2. Not too large (up to M9 acceptable, better more like DD20),
  3. Can be powered from PSU,
  4. Multi-effects (i.e. more than one effect at once, and reasonable choice of effect types),
  5. Variety (i.e. not a second M9).

And of course, it shouldn’t cost a fortune.

What does the market have to offer? A quick look at the typical online thingies narrowed it down to three options: The Zoom G3, the ElectroHarmonix Tone Tattoo, and the EH Epitome. Or maybe something else altogether?

Let’s have a brief look at the alternatives:

Zoom G3

Ever since they started, Zoom have tried to move into the area of respected manufacturers in the music gear industry. Their relative lack of arriving there still makes their 1201 rack effect one of the greatest bang-for-the-buck devices, and for mobile handheld recorders, they have managed to establish themselves with the H2 and H4 and since then moved into more professional territory with the highly interesting H6 (which is actually on my own shortlist).

The G3, at first sight, looks like a affordable hit at the Line6 M9 – and it’s even considerably smaller than the M9 and even the G2.1u. You get three interface screens, plus bypass switch and three softknobs, but you can actually run up to six effects at once! There’s some amp modelers, there’s lots of standard and not so standard effects (e.g. a “flavor of a Z.Vex Seek Wah”), but mostly in the more standard range. You even get another looper (albeit a very basic one). And at €144, it’s really affordable.

EH Tone Tattoo

At €219, this one is already a tad more expensive. There’s however an eyecatcher in the product description, and that’s “analog”. Effects you get are distortion (Metal Muff), Chorus (Neo Clone) and Delay (Memory Toy), and in a fixed distortion->chorus->delay order. There’s a total of nine big knobs (as with the G3), plus some switches, and one footswitch per effect. Yes, having an analogue delay (with varispeed) is cool, and it’s also a nice distortion (with gate), but does this offer enough flexibility?

EH Epitome

At €339, the most expensive of the three (yup, that’s the price of two G3s and about 40 nose flutes!), so what do you get here? A Micro POG polyphonic guitar synth, plus a Stereo Electric Mistress chorus/flanger, and finally a Holy Grail reverb (with a delay option) – and roughly with the same user interface. For me, I really don’t see why I would use a POG right now, and with that, I really would pay a lot for a functionality that is not mine, so to speak.

In Summary…

If I had to decide this very moment, it would be the G3. But then again, there might be fantastic alternatives I’m not even aware of! So if you know one, could you tell me? You know where to find me

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