Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Digitech Bad Monkey

One of the perks of my job is the opportunity to interact with the manufacturers of audio gear. Plenty of products created recently have been a direct result of my coworkers saying, "You should make something that does this and this and that..." to companies like JBL, PreSonus, Gator, Korg, etc.

DigiTech is a company to which I haven't paid much attention in past years, since I was never excited about my GFX-1 TwinTube preamp.

However, I recently picked up an RP-350 and was very impressed by the quality of its effects, its noise-free operation, and comprehensive set of features...

So, when DigiTech asked me to be part of their Product Evaluation Team, I jumped at the chance. I figured it would be the best of both worlds - interact with a manufacturer about what they SHOULD be doing, or enjoy for free the good stuff the ARE doing!

The other day they sent me their Bad Monkey for evaluation. It's a tube overdrive pedal intended to boost the signal from your guitar into your amp, giving it the character of an overdriven tube amp.

The pedal features one 1/4" unbalanced input and two 1/4" unbalanced outputs. Output 1 goes to your amp, while Output 2 features DigiTech's speaker cabinet emulation, with the purpose of allowing you to run the pedal directly into a mixer or recorder.

In their advertising, DigiTech has been putting this pedal head-to-head against Ibanez' TS-9 Tube Screamer. But at a street price of forty bucks versus the Tube Screamer's hundred bucks, I was pretty skeptical of their claims.

I opened the box and was surprised to find that, even at such a low price point, the case is of solid metal construction weighing almost 1 1/2 lbs. A good first impression.

But that was offset by a couple of issues:

The four controls on the Bad Monkey did not feel consistent with one another, with two feeling resistant to turn, one about right, and one obviously looser in sweep than the others.

I also don't like DigiTech's method of getting to the battery compartment. Without a trip to the instruction manual, most people don't immediately think of using a guitar cable to push in one of the spring-loaded hinge pins to pop the pedal off the chassis.

However, the footswitch does feel good, the LED indicator is nice and bright, and the Bad Monkey appears to be constructed in a way that should stand up to years of use and abuse.

These initial observations aside, the biggest test of a pedal is in its sound. So I plugged my Strat into the Bad Monkey, running Output 1 to my 60-watt Vox AD60VTX amp.

The first thing I did was see how close the pedal could match my guitar's tone straight through. All it took was Level on 5, Gain on 0, and a little tweaking to the EQs. At that setting, it managed to be almost completely tranparent.

From there, I brought up the Gain a bit... And at that point, the Bad Monkey started to really shine! My guitar completely kept its personality, but now I was creating a Stevie-Ray-Vaughan-like sound - as if I was playing through a Fender Super Reverb cranked to ten.

Unfortunately, when I brought the Gain up towards max, things got really noisy. I was concerned that maybe this pedal wasn't going to be usable in the top 30% of its Gain range. So at this point, I switched to my Les Paul. Sure enough, the humbucking pickups proved that it wasn't the pedal producing the noise - it had been my Strat's beautiful-sounding but oh-so-succeptible-to-interference single coils.

The Bad Monkey did different stuff to my Les Paul. Rather than bringing out a bluesy feel, it saturated my signal, bringing out a 1970's arena rock sound and making pinch harmonics just scream.

I will have to bring this pedal into the studio to check out its cabinet emulation, but at this point, I'm already sold. Forty bucks for the Bad Monkey is ridiculously underpriced. After spending a week with it, the only limitation I've found so far is that there are so many good tones to be had from this pedal, I may need two of them for my live rig. Fortunately, two can be had for less than the price of ONE Tube Screamer!

To give the Bad Monkey a listen, you can check out DigiTech's online sampler by clicking the pic below:

However, one of the biggest strengths of this pedal is the really warm tones it envelops your guitar with. And that's one thing that these samples don't communicate well. But trust me - this is the best forty bucks you can spend as a guitar player today (as long as you already own a tuner).