Helix LT... a digital pedalboard? Surely my analogue pedals are better?
For some time I've been using my trusty analogue pedals hooked up to a slightly modified Fender Blues Junior amp. This setup took time to put together and was carefully assembled with various pedals I've sought out, found second hand or got for a good price!
The History - my thought process to see if it helps you!
When my church moved venue to a building on a 'lively' main street in a city (with very little parking nearby) I found myself having to park on double-yellows, drop off the kit, park nearby, walk back to the church - then repeat the process in reverse. Carrying an amp and pedalboard (plus extras) for even half a km isn't that easy!
I 'happened to' read something about the Helix LT online - a God-incidence more than a coincidence perhaps! But having read up on the Helix, I became pretty convinced that this digital pedalboard was a solution for playing very regularly and endlessly lugging heavy kit! But would the sounds really stand up against an analogue setup that I'd refined over 12 years or so?
A number of YouTube comparisons and blind tests convinced me over a couple of weeks! Videos like the ones below showed me that the Helix (and Helix LT, a stripped down version of the Helix but with all the same sounds) easily stood up against an analogue setup.
I could hear small tonal differences but it's so close as to be impossible to be noticeable, even by guitar players - especially through PA systems and with varied PA operators too! As for people in the church, they neither understand or care to be honest. 'Does it sound OK' is probably as far as many people go as hopefully their (and our) focus as worshippers is on God.
But hey, we know good tone and a good sound and doing our best honours God...
So after a few more YouTube videos on setting up the Helix and the various options it offers, I took the plunge, selling some old kit to help fund the purchase.
To cut a long story short, my lovely amp and analogue pedalboard are currently sitting feeling a bit unloved and redundant. Having used the Helix for about 4 months now, I can't imagine going back. Sound quality is outstanding, usability and reliability has been outstanding, it's easy to use and change and it doesn't break the back to carry it! And the sound guys love it as no more hassle with mic-ing up amps and feedback!
Setting Up the Helix LT
|Image from the Line6 site|
The Helix LT is very varied in the way you can use it. You can use it by setting up a number of presets for various songs (you can buy many worship presets online such as from Guitar For His Glory and others). So for example one preset for 'Way Maker' and then another for 'Living Hope' etc. You then scroll through the presets using the 'preset' dial to the left of the LCD screen. You can still turn the pedals on and off at will.
You can also setup the Helix LT with a preset and then use what are called 'snapshots', so effectively these are presets from within a song - such as a press for an intro / turnaround riff, another for the verse, the chorus etc. This saves doing an Irish jig all the time on the board. This setup can be combined with the 'preset' setup outlined above. In this scenario, you can then use the eight 'stomp switches' to move between snapshots within a preset.
The way I chose to use the Helix LT was to mirror a standard worship electric guitar pedalboard setup.
|My Helix LT set up in a 'traditional pedalboard' mode|
Setting up the Helix LT in 'pedalboard' mode
1. Use the left 'preset' dial to scroll to a new preset.
2. On the next screen you will be able to select various 'pedals' to go onto the pedalboard. To do this, you use the dial to the right of the LCD screen and click down. This reveals a series of options which you can scroll through to decide what 'pedal' you want - e.g. I have a compressor first in the line.
|In this window, I'm setting up a reverb pedal. |
The 'mark' in the middle of the LCD is just an air bubble behind the screen protector
3. Keep on adding 'pedals' to the board using the right hand scroll wheel and clicking down to select any options you choose. You can at any time scroll around the board to choose an individual pedal and then make changes to the settings. In the example above you have a reverb where you can change the decay / predelay / low cut etc.
Each pedal or amp has varied options, When it comes to choosing an amp or amp/cab, there are up to 3 screens of choices you can use. You can route pedals and amps in different ways as you'll see in the 'behind the scenes' setup of my pedal board.
When done, your preset may look a bit like this...
In my set up, I've got a compressor > overdrive > overdrive > volume pedal > dotted eighth delay > cave reverb > 14/ note delay > bigger reverb > chorus.
I have then taken the signal to two separate amps (a model of the Vox AC15 and one of the Blues Junior). I've changed the mics used on these to personal taste (edit these in the options that will appear when you have selected an amp). Both of the amps go out to the same output.
One small tip is that by selecting the 'guitar' input on the top left of the LCD screen, you can also access a noise gate which I have turned on!
For this preset, I also have a small 'plate' reverb on all the time which is not assigned to the foot switches.
There is also the option to add an 'impulse response' (IRs) to your sound. At a ridiculously basic level, an impulse response is a sort of simulation of the 'character' emitted by a speaker or cab. Many guitar players using digital modellers swear by these impulse responses. There are various ones online and can be found for free as well as paid for. You can also create your own. These add a tonality to the pedal that reflects various cabs and speakers.
On the image above, you will see what looks like a 'pulse wave' (in red) - it's the third icon along on the second line. I actually have a few but have them bypassed as found they didn't add anything to my sound. This is an intensely personal preference so try a few and see how they work for you.
4. In order to view this in a traditional pedalboard 'mode' you simply touch the 'view' button on the left of the Helix (with the 'home' icon). This toggles back and forth from the screen above. When viewing the pedalboard mode, it will look like this.
|My Helix LT setup|
All of the effects you can see have been assigned to a foot switch on the Helix LT. This is done by lightly touching one of the foot switches (don't press them, just touch) while a certain effect is selected on the Helix. You can then save this / assign the effect to the foot switch. This will then colour code.
To save the preset, simply click the 'Save' button above the preset. You can also re-name the preset at any time. Presets can be copied to another preset number as well if so needed. I have the board set up a bit like this, plus an 'acoustic' simulation preset and one for a bass guitar (bass amps are included on the Helix LT).
In this mode, I can then turn effects on and off. The effects are also colour coded.
|Helix LT colour coded effects / foot switches|
ConclusionThe Helix LT is outstanding and with an amazing quality of sound too. It has varied outputs, although I generally use the XLR out(s) direct to the mixer. The only thing I did find was that adding in a separate pedal (in my case a POG type pedal) made the unit more noisy so I simply use the Helix LT as a standalone unit.
In terms of accessibility, the unit is as complex or as simple as you want to make it. You have the option to create standard pedalboard as I have done - or create presets of individual songs with snapshots of sections of the song. I can tell a slight difference in tone from my board / amp setup but nothing that would make me want to return to my analogue set up. It also avoids all the troubleshooting of hums and buzzes that I used to get with my analogue board.
Bear in mind that you will need to download software to your computer in order to keep the board updated. This also gives the option to setup the Helix LT via the computer if you so wish.
You can YouTube a number of demos of this that showcase the pedal far better than I am able to but all I can say is that I highly recommend this. Someone said this is the first time a digital modeller has closed the gap with a traditional setup. For the average worship guitar player like me, it's ideal.
If I had to rate this out of 10, it would be 9.5. Simply amazing.
Protection / Case
The Helix LT isn't cheap so looking after it has become important. The first thing I did is to order a screen protector for the LCD screen. These are DIY jobs - so a layer of protective strong clear 'plastic' with 3M tape on it. I bought mine from https://glenndelaune.com/helix-patches.htm - it's worked fine so far although you could easily rig something up yourself if you didn't want to pay.
For a case I didn't get a Helix specific flight case (heavy and pricey). Sadly the Helix LT is just too large for the Gator GK-2110 case which I already had (too big by around 1cm in width, aagh!) Instead I bought the Gator G-MULTIFX-2411 case which is a bit too big and not quite as well padded in my view. But it's still a lot better than nothing and only £30 or so with delivery.
I have the Helix LT inside a black pillow case as a 'dust protector' and some additional padding in the Gator bag.