As I work on patches for the Zoom G3 (now in version 2; see our Zoom G3 page), I’m constantly comparing what I hear to the sounds I get from my Digitech RP355. In fact, I have the two boxes side by side on the floor with an A/B pedal connecting them. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned from direct comparisons.
Don’t Replace Your RP
I like to start with the bottom line, so here it is: if you’re running an RP with one of my patch sets in it, I do NOT recommend that you run out and replace it with a Zoom G3 (unless you need something that runs on batteries, which the RP doesn’t). What the Zoom does isn’t new and different (or better) enough to justify starting over. Further, if your budget is strictly limited, you get more for your money from the Digitech line. The starting price point for a G3 (new) is about $160-170; for an RP, it’s under $100, and that $100 buys you a smaller set of the same amp models and FX you find in the higher-end RPs. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that in the $200-and under price range, and ESPECIALLY in the $150-and-under range, the Digitech RPs are absolutely the best value for money right now. (But I may change my mind as I get closer to the G3.)
Amp Models: Thumbs Up x2
Both the Zoom and the Digitech RPs make some interesting sounds. Both do basic amped-up sounds well, and applying the lessons I learned in programming the RPs has made it possible for me to move quickly where programming amps on the Zoom is concerned. The G3 has four Fender amp and cabinet models, and that’s where I started. All of them work with harp, some more to my taste than others. In my opinion the modulation FX in the Digitech RPs (detune, flange, chorus, pitch shifting, vibrato, tremolo, etc.), especially the pitch-based ones, sound better (meaning bigger and clearer) than the ones in the Zoom–and the G3 doesn’t have ANY rotary speaker effect! (The vibrato is nice, but a rotary effect is REALLY nice.)
Zoom Gets Points on Performance Flexibility
The Zoom gets big points for letting you load the FX in any order you like and turn them off and on with dedicated footswitches. That’s a cool way to make and modify super-freaky tones (though most of my customers don’t use a lot of super-freaky tones). In performance it’s great for making deep, rapid changes in tones on a single patch, which is useful when you’re looping, for example.
One substantial point in favor of the G3 is that it will run on batteries, which makes it a very useful device for all sorts of situations where setup time is short and/or wall power is unavailable. I think many players will find that a G3 represents better value for money than a Tech 21 Blonde pedal, which sells for about the same price but doesn’t include any FX other than amp modeling. Of course a Zoom will require a longer learning curve for the user than the Blonde will, but that’s the difference between a multi-FX box and a single effect.
Summary: 2 Nice Pieces o’Kit
I don’t hear a difference in the quality of the amped tones the Zoom produces compared to the Digitech RP–they both sound very good, which is what you’d expect for 4th-generation chip-driven products. There are things you can do with a G3 that you can’t do with a Digitech. The reverse is also true: you don’t get a rotary speaker effect with a Zoom at less than $300, and the reverbs in even the least expensive RPs just slay the Zoom’s. I suspect that most users who want a handful of good basic sounds with (at most) reverb and delay would find that their choice would depend more on the feel of playing the device than anything else, because that’s where the biggest differences between the Zoom and the RPs lie. For players who push the devices to their limits, there’s likely to be one or two FX in one or the other box that makes the difference. The first time I played through an RP’s pitch shifter, I picked the thing right off the floor and took it to the checkout counter. I haven’t had that experience with the Zoom yet, but I haven’t had time to run through everything in it either.
That said, I like the G3’s basic sound and battery-based operation, and I like giving customers a choice, so I’m working on patches. Stay tuned.