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Second Impressions on the Digitech RP360/360XP

Digitech has officially released the RP360/RP360XP, and it’s an interesting box. A few highlights:
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Bigger, Louder, Deeper: The Mackie Th15A Thump

Mackie TH15A on left, Peavey KB2 on right.  One of these things is not like the other...

Mackie TH15A on left, Peavey KB2 on right. Click on the photo for a bigger and wider image.

I was given a Mackie Thump TH15A powered speaker this Christmas, and I’ve replaced my Peavey KB2 with it in my rig.

The Mackie is louder, deeper, and lighter-weight than the Peavey. The Mackie has 400 watts divided between the woofer, which is a 15″ compared to the Peavey’s 10″, and the tweeter, which in the Peavey is integrated into the woofer; the Peavey’s output is in the neighborhood of 50 watts. In other words, the Mackie has a bigger pile of watts pushing the speakers, and the bigger woofer and horn together move lots more air at both the low and high ends of the frequency spectrum. (Of course, that’s not critically important to most harmonica players, who are playing an instrument that mostly occupies the mid-to-high-frequency spectrum; in other words, the Peavey coupled with an amp modeler like the Digitech RP has plenty of power and range for a traditional player. But when you use multiple instruments in loops that occupy a much wider range of frequencies, as I do, you need every bit of frequency range you can get.) At 29 pounds the Mackie is about five pounds lighter than the Peavey (34 pounds); either is easily carried in one hand.

The Mackie only has one XLR input (plus an XLR thru), as opposed to the Peavey’s one XLR and two 1/4″ inputs. The lack of 1/4″ inputs on the Mackie was a momentary problem for me, particularly because I was giving the Peavey a mono 1/4″ feed from the Digitech JamMan Stereo looper, which is the last device in my FX chain, and which possesses no XLR outs. Then I remembered that I had a battery-powered active direct box on the shelf. The solution was to run a 1/4″ mono output from the JamMan Stereo, whose own mixer combines the outputs from my voice and instruments, to the direct box, and then run an XLR cable from the direct box to the Mackie.

The Mackie includes a nice EQ with high, low, and middle bands, and the center frequency for the midrange band is movable. The Mackie also includes a rotary volume control on the back panel, which is very useful, though not conveniently placed for access during performance. These are minimal controls, but important ones, and their presence is welcome. The Mackie seems to make more self-noise than the Peavey, which is audible mainly when using the speaker at lower volumes; at higher volumes it just sounds big and loud, with a lot of low-end information that the Peavey just can’t produce.

The Peavey has a signficant advantage in terms of I/O options, though; counting the FX return, the Peavey has 5 inputs (channels 1-3, the FX return, and the Monitor input), as well as an FX send, a monitor send, and a balanced line out. The Peavey even has a headphone output, which is very useful for apartment-dwellers who’d like to be able to practice their instruments without offending the neighbors. For all these reasons, if you’ve got lots of inputs, you may want to stick with a keyboard amp. On the other hand…

I mentioned above that the Mackie weighs significantly less than the Peavey, and to me this is a very strong argument for the powered speaker: the power-to-weight-ratios and power-to-price ratios are both much better. (One might argue that Mackie’s main intention with the lightweight plastic cabinet was to keep the price of the Thump down–i.e., lower price at the cost of quality. Plastic is of course less durable than wood, but it is certainly lighter, and this cabinet feels substantial, so if Mackie saved some manufacturing costs and passed the savings on to me, I’m satisfied with the deal.) The Mackie’s 400 watts just blows the Peavey’s 50 watts away, with much less distortion at high volumes and an extended frequency range. The Mackie retails at $350 new, while the Peavey retails for about $260 new; but that extra $100 buys a whole lot of power in a lightweight package. Anyway, mine was purchased used at about $250 including shipping and a one-year warranty, which is not a unique deal, and that puts the Mackie in direct price competition with the KB2.

As of now, I suggest that players who want lots of loud with their amp modeler and don’t need more than one input should seriously consider a powered speaker. A powered speaker has all sorts of uses, from amping a single instrument to functioning as all or half of a self-powered PA, and it’s got a very high loudness-to-dollar ratio. Keep in mind that if you want more than one input, you’re going to need a mixer, and if the output from the mixer to the speaker doesn’t have an XLR connector, you’re going to need a direct box to make the connection. I’m using a 4-input mono mixer from Nady that cost $25 new, and a direct box that cost around $35. I’m purposely avoiding a stereo setup at the moment, but if I wanted one I’d need to add a stereo mixer for starters, preferably one with XLR outs.

I’ll post some clips of this setup soon.

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What a Difference a Mic Makes, Part II

I published samples recently of a set of blues licks played with three different mics–the Shure 545SD, Audix Fireball, and Bottle o’ Blues–through my Digitech RP500 with a patch of mine that models a Gibson GA-40 amp and cabinet. The clear conclusion I came to in that post was that a traditional blues mic–the kind that comes in a bullet shape–is tops for blues, whether you’re playing through an amp or an amp modeler.

I promised in that post to publish more samples, because amped blues isn’t the only thing you might want to play on a harmonica. (It’s not the only thing I want to play, that’s for sure.) In this post I provide samples of three different RP500 patches–one with a rotary speaker model, one with a TC Electronics chorus model, and one that combines the TC chorus with a long delay–used with each of three different mics: the Audix Fireball, the Shure 545SD (with Bulletizer by Greg Heumann), and the Bottle o’ Blues (which aced the blues test, as noted above). The samples were recorded live with my Zoom H4 positioned a foot in front of my Peavey KB2 amp. No modifications were made to the recordings, other than to normalize the various samples to the same volume level.
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Got Pitch (shifting)?

Harmonica players tend to play traditional roots-based styles (like blues) with traditional equipment, and lots of harmonica players have never tried out the sorts of FX that guitarists have been using with great success for a long, long time. We’re going to talk about one of those FX in this post, the one that I think EVERY harp player should try (right after they’ve picked up a decent delay or reverb pedal): a pitch shifter.
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What a Difference a Mic Makes, Part 1

I get a lot of requests to make patches sound tougher and more distorted. (Nobody ever says “make something that sounds angelic.” I do it anyway.) Anyway, I realized recently that I’ve been focused on making the patches in the RP tougher, and I haven’t thought much about the mic.
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Checking out the new amp models in the RP500

I’ve been working on new sounds for the Digitech RP500–no surprise there–and I’m having a lot of fun with the Gibson GA40 and Digitech Blues amp models, neither of which are available on the RP355 and down.

The GA40 amp model is a raw-throated kind of amp model. It hollers, with a touch of screech in the tone. The matching 1×12 cab model adds a lot to the general sense of raw blues shouting. In fact, I’m using this cab model with other amp models now when I need more screech and holler in the tone. It sounds like the Champ 1×8 cab model–which is also screechy when you need it–only with more low end punch. In short, it’s one seriously blue amp model.

One of the amp models that sounds nice with the GA40 cab is the Digitech Blues. I didn’t know what to expect from this model, and it has no matching cab. But it turns out to have a nice, beefy midrange punch that goes well with blues harp, and it matches well with the usual cab suspects for big blues harp sounds.

New features take time to explore, which is why you never know exactly to do with one of these devices the first time you turn it on. I’m having fun seeing what these new models can do. Stick around for more discoveries.

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Recording for Lowlands with the RP355

I’ve done a few recordings with the Italian band Lowlands, and a few weeks ago Ed Abbiatti, the leader, sent me some rough mixes for their next record and asked me to lay down some tracks. It was another opportunity to check out the RP355 as an audio interface and recording tool.
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How to Set Your RP Up for Multi-Layered Looping

Now that the Huntersounds v17 Patchset for Digitech RP500 is shipping, I’ve started configuring my RP500 for live performance, which means adding in patches that are song-specific and setting up the sequences of patches that I use in my looped performances. Every looped song is supported by two to three patches, sometimes four, and they all have to work together in the mix, which isn’t a given. I don’t necessarily design patches out of the box to have compatible EQ and FX, and if that stuff clashes for any reason it can make a multi-layer loop sound like any of a hundred different kinds of bad.

So here are my steps for creating collections of patches that work well together in a multi-layer loop. I’ve framed the discussion in terms of my Digitech RP500, but the same basic steps apply to any Digitech RP (or any other amp modeler, for that matter) that you want to use for looping.
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Pedalboard Mode on the RP500 is, Like, Perfect

I’ve written previously about pedalboard mode on the RP355, and it’s certainly a nice feature. But it takes some fancy footwork to get in and out of it. Pedalboard mode on the RP500 is much, much better.

Top to Bottom: RP500, RP1000, RP355

Top to Bottom: RP500, RP1000, RP355


On the 355, once you enter pedalboard mode–where you have dedicated footswitches for FX, delay, and reverb on/off–you can’t change patches until you exit pedalboard mode. That’s cool if you only want more realtime control over one patch, not so cool if (like me) you like to change patches frequently within a song.

In the RP500′s pedalboard mode, you get both. You have five dedicated footswitches (compression, distortion, FX, delay, and reverb), which give you on/off control over those very important aspects of a patch’s sound. And at the very same time, the dedicated up/down footswitches let you change patches, too.

Is that not to die for? Realtime control over five big aspects of the sound, and patch changing too. I’m in love. If you want to find out about our Huntersounds patch sets for Digitech RP–a bunch of great sounds for your RP that makes all this control even more satisfying–click here.

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The Bug in the RP’s LFOs

I give my Digitech RP355 and RP500 pretty good workouts when it comes to exploring their features and functions. One of the things I like on these devices is their twin LFOs–low frequency oscillators–which give you lots to work with when you’re looking for complex sounds.
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