Onstage, you'll need two or three amps, a Medusa-like tangle of cables, a switching system, and some way to blend the disparate tones to taste. In the studio, things get even wackier. Add multiple microphone setups, even more amp and guitar choices, a cornucopia of signal-processing options, and sheets upon sheets of track listings and recording notes. As a studio rat, I absolutely adore the creative possibilities offered by layering, but the logistics of moving amps and mics around often replaces inspiration with fatigue.
Not anymore. In a marvelous convergence of real-world smarts and technological gymnastics, DigiTech's GNX1 ($499) encapsulates the art of tone layering into a single box. With a few button pushes you can select two different amp models and cabinets, tweak EQ and gain stages for each setup, configure a global effects chain, and even tune the resonance of the speaker cabinets. The real fun begins after you've dialed in two killer rigs. Using the GNX1's Warp knob, you can blend the characteristics of each setup to construct what DigiTech calls a HyperModel. For example, if one of your sounds is based on a high-gain Marshall, and the other is Vox-esque, you could Warp the two timbres into, say, an 80 percent Marshall/20 percent Vox mix. The operation is a brilliantly simplified version of what big-time studio engineers do when they record several amps onto different tracks, and then adjust the individual channel faders until the tonal blend kicks ass.
Of course, the GNX1 won't let you go totally Queen or Radiohead because the unit is limited to layering two amp sounds. But guitarists with home studios can always record another HyperModel on a different track and construct a stereo spread comprising four different amps. Is that cool or what?
Of course, all the GNX1's tonal firepower is worthless if the amp models suck. They don't. While DigiTech doesn't claim the GNX1 produces exact timbral emulations of various amps (the manual uses a "based on. . ." caveat), the characteristics of each model are damn close to the real deals.
The Fender-style simulations are tough, steely, and blues approved. You get the midrange punch and attitude that made those amps classics, as well as the gain control to push tones into that beatific torture zone of crying sustain and spanky grit.
Marshall- and Hiwatt-inspired tones are slamming. The full-on overdrive and distortion timbres can be dialed in to evoke flavors reminiscent of classic Who and AC/DC, '80s shred, or modern rap-metal. The Vox-style model doesn't deliver the shimmering, upper-partial-harmonic sting of a well-maintained AC30, but the emulation has plenty of signature Vox chime. For ultra-high-gain dosage, the Mesa/Boogie-like simulations absolutely rage. You can go for scooped mids, blistering highs, and/or insane sustain -- whatever strikes fear into weak hearts.
On a more subtle, though no less important note, DigiTech was wonderfully restrained in engineering the base sounds of the GNX1's models. The amp simulations don't jump out as over-hyped -- there's no sense of "enhanced reality" or aggressively boosted low or high frequencies. Basically, you get a fairly accurate foundational tone -- where you go from there is up to you. This may seem like a minute point, but some modeling devices start you out from a place you don't want to be, and you have to subtract elements to get a groovy tone. I prefer the non-hyped approach, where I get to mess stuff up, so the GNX1 was a comfortable fit for me.
Most of the unit's factory presets (which marry tweaked models with effects) are about what you'd expect -- wing-ding wizardry to impress potential buyers in the store. Having said that, I stumbled across some surprises -- such as Hybrid and WarpMe -- that fit perfectly into a mix.
The User Interface
For all its power, the GNX1 is a no-brainer box when it comes to working the magic. The critical ops are given dedicated buttons, switches, and knobs, and a front-panel effects matrix ensures that negotiating parameter adjustments is as easy as scrolling through channel options on a digital cable-TV system.
During a product "Jury Box" for Rumble (GP's youth guitar and bass mag), I tossed the GNX1 to Unloco guitarist Brian Arthur and bassist Victor Escareno, and both players were rocking -- sans manual -- in less than ten minutes. Each player selected amps, messed with cabinet configurations, tweaked gain stages and EQ, and constructed HyperModels after only a brief explanation of the GNX1 concept. Robertson was especially jazzed after dialing in an emulation of a multi-amp sound he used for his band's debut album, Healing, and he felt the GNX1 would make it easier for him to reproduce his layered "studio" tones onstage.
But whether you're a pro, weekend warrior, or rank amateur, the GNX1's intuitive, well-labeled interface successfully avoids tossing you into operational frustrations that tank creative juices. While it's always a good idea to read instructions, you'll only need the GNX1 manual to get hip to the unit's three modes (performance, preset, and FX), confirm save functions, assign expression-pedal parameters (you can control up to three parameters in real time), change MIDI mapping, assign the two available LFOs, familarize yourself with effects-parameter minutia, and access the Jam-A-Long, Learn-A-Lick, and Rhythm Trainer features.
Out in the scary world of club gigs, the GNX1 performed like a star. The tough-as-a-Chevy-truck casing survived my spastic stompings -- as well as an accidental trip down a flight of stairs (tip: always check that your pedal bag is snapped shut before bending over to grab your guitar case) and a collison with a rolling bass cabinet.
For a singer/songwriter gig, I plugged my Guild X-160 into the GNX1 and routed a mono output directly to the mixer. The small room had wood floors and windows along an entire side wall -- a deadly combination of reflective surfaces that can make your amp sound thin and sharp. Even through less-than-excellent P.A. speakers, however, the GNX1's British 4x12 cabinet emulation produced enough girth and low-mid emphasis to keep the people in the rear seats rocking. During the set, I switched between the unit's British combo (for clean sounds), British stack (for overdrive), and Fuzz (for E-Bow bits and silly solos) models, and the all-important vibe factor was terrific. And thanks to a decent monitor mix, I didn't miss my amp.
While in the studio producing the band Mudbath (mudbathband.com), I plugged the GNX1 into a Joe Meek SC-2 compressor, and then directly into a Mackie 32*8 console. Using a '78 Gibson Heritage Les Paul Standard, a Fender Strat, and an Epiphone ES-335, the unit delivered everything from buzzy, laser-beam riffs, big-ass stack sass, cutting clean tones, and lo-fi spittle. Every tone was constructed on the fly, and within 60 seconds. We did approximately six guitar tracks per song, with a vastly different tone for each track, and the GNX1 served up each and every one. I didn't plug in a single amp, or move a single mic to produce the demo's guitar sounds.
I dig classic amps. I dig new amps. And I also embrace modeling. My belief has always been that the more tones available, the more creative options. The GNX1 provides a plethora of extremely groovy timbral colors and it lets you warp those colors into a blissful mixture of attitude and individuality. Short of owning a multitrack deck, a good selection of mics, a bunch of amps and cabinets, and a rack of effects, you can't touch the sound-sculpting power this little box offers. In a word -- brilliant.
DigiTech GNX1 Features: 15 amp models 8 speaker cabinet emulations Acoustic guitar simulation 24 effects (11 simultaneously available) 48 factory/48 user presets 24-bit A/D/A converters Rhythm Trainer and Phrase Trainer Mac/PC editor/librarian software Expression pedal.