Fender G-DEC

If the term “band-in-a-box” brings up images of cheesy lounge acts with canned backup, Fender has something new that could change the way you feel about playing along with electronic accompaniment. The G-DEC—which stands for Guitar Digital Entertainment Center—is a combination modeling amp and drum machine that offers lots of cool features aimed at making learning or practice fun for players of all levels. The G-DEC provides a thick assortment of preset rhythm covering blues, country, jazz, rock, reggae, and funk, and you can store an additional 50 “grooves” that you create. You can also jam along to your favorite songs by connecting a CD or mp3 player to the amp’s rear-panel RCA inputs. The G-DEC even makes decoding tricky guitar parts easier, thanks to its built-in phrase sampler, which allows you to record up to 14 seconds of music that can be played at full or half speed (more on this later). And, thanks to the extra q" input on the back, you and a friend or teacher can play tho
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Hands On
The G-DEC’s illuminated interface is easy to use. In fact, though the concise manual is helpful for certain operations, it’s possible to get up and running on the G-DEC without even looking at the instructions. To hear what this amp can do, simply switch it on, turn the chrome data wheel until a groove you want to hear appears in the LCD, press the Start-Stop button, and start jamming. (Of course, you might want to get your ax in tune first by pressing the Tuner button and heeding the flat/sharp/center indications presented in the display).

In Start-Stop Drums mode, each subsequent click of the data wheel activates a new rhythm pattern, and, once you’ve found a groove you like, it’s easy to make adjustments. For example, to change the key, tempo, or rhythm pattern-—or adjust the levels of the bass and/or drums—simply press the Drums key until you’ve selected the target parameter, then use the chrome data wheel to alter the sound. The same procedure is used to adjust the amps and effects—just press the appropriate button to enter the edit zone. Here’s a cool trick: By holding down the Amp, Drums, or FX key, you can use the data wheel to scroll through the parameter selections in both directions, which is more convenient than having to push those buttons over and over to get where you want to go.

Due to the fact that an onboard General MIDI synthesizer generates the G-DEC’s rhythm sounds, you’re pretty much stuck with the electronic timbres of the bass, drums, and keyboard accompaniment. That’s not a huge deal—after all, the G-DEC is intended for practice, not recording. But those generic rhythm tones do get a little tiring after a while. The MIDI jacks make it possible to, among other things, connect to a computer to play General MIDI files through the G-DEC (which exponentially expands the accompaniment options), but the sounds will always be, well, General MIDI.

Sonic Surfing
The G-DEC’s editing system is basic, but it does provide a sturdy array of user-adjustable parameters. Take for instance, Tape Delay, which not only lets you vary the Level, Delay Time, and Feedback (number of repeats), but also Flutter (simulates the slight pitch-bending of a real tape delay) and Brightness. On the amp selections, you not only get Gain, Volume, Bass, Middle, and Treble, but also Compression, Timbre (simulates the tonal effect of different cabinets and EQ curves), and five Noise Gate options. Pretty cool! With 17 amp models to choose from (which actually breaks down to three or four progressively higher-gain versions of Blackface, British, Dynatouch, Modern, and Tweed—plus one flavor of acoustic), you’re covered for just about any tone that your style demands, from clean to super sustain.

Effects-wise, the G-DEC is well equipped, offering a good variety of delays, reverbs, and modulation effects. I particularly liked the Tape and Reverse delays, the watery-sounding Vibratone, and the dramatic Triangle Flange. You also get Overdrive and Fuzz (with Octave-Fuzz, Fuzz-Delay, and Fuzz-Wah options), Pitch Shift, and some weirdo effects including Alienator (also offered with delay), Ring Modulation Delay, Resolver, and Autoswell. All of the effects offer five adjustable parameters.

The G-DEC totally changes the notion of what a practice amp is all about, thanks particularly to its built-in Phrase Sampler, which is super easy to use. I simply connected my CD player to the Aux inputs, paused it at the beginning of the part I wanted to record, and simultaneously pressed the CD’s “play” button and the G-DEC’s “record” key (it’s the one with a solid dot). A bar display noted the length of the sample as it moved toward its 14 second limit (you can stop recording at any time by hitting the square key), and when done, I pressed the triangle key to play back the part. The sonic quality was very good, except when using the half speed function (accessed in the Aux menu) where some audio degradation was noticeable. This G-DEC function proved ultra handy for practicing parts for a friend’s demo, and if needed, I could have used the G-DEC for a low-volume rehearsal—sweet!

Come and Get It
Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, you’ll find a lot to like about the G-DEC. This ingenious, all-in-one package is practically guaranteed to make you grab your guitar and play more—reason enough to take one home—and with its enticingly low price, just about anyone can find the headroom in their budget for one. There’s nothing quite like the G-DEC. Like a Superman of practice combos, it’s an amp, it’s a drum machine, it’s a sampler—and it gets an Editors’ Pick Award.