Back to the original review...
Having played at church and lugged my pedal board in time after time, one day I had a revelation. Why not get a compact pedal board?
Hmmm... But the thing is that I used to have an old Roland (I think) pedal board back in the day and the sounds were, well, terrible. Especially the distortions which were like listening to a squeaky old radio rather than an overdrive pedal! And besides I quite liked doing my 'post rock' style guitar riffs and volume pedal swells etc so could anything do this vaguely adequately?
After much research and plucking out actual guitar pedal reviews from among the excited and the overly dramatic, I wondered about the Zoom G3 so went to purchase one from Digital Village in the UK. While looking I found they actually had the G3X on sale much cheaper than the G3, at just over £100! The 'X' means it has a pedal (sounds a bit better than a 'P' I guess, the 'H3P' doesn't sound quite so funky).
So I listened to a few online demos and sounds from Zoom's page before quickly getting one before it sold out or went up in price!
So the lowdown...
|The Zoom G3X - three screens / 'pedals' (can have up to 6 selected) and pedal (5 assignments)|
[ For a full set of features visit the Zoom page - http://www.zoom.co.jp/products/g3/features/ ]
The Spec / Lowdown
The pedal board is an integrated one and is very sturdy. A good thing. The individual 'pedals' have a solid metal clicker on them and it gives you a lot of confidence when stomping down (gently, in my case).
You have three LCD screens on the pedal board, although you can have up to 6 pedals chained together. You have buttons on the unit to scroll the LCD screens backwards and forwards 'through' the 6 pedals (hope that makes sense). So you may have two distortions and a delay on the three screens. Then by clicking small buttons at the top of the unit, you can then choose another simultaneous 3 effects (but only see 3 of the 6 at any one time on the 3 LCD screens).
The unit also has a number of 'patch' sounds which Zoom have pre-programmed. You have the ability to change those and create your own. You access these by holding down the left 'clicker' for a moment or two and can then scroll through preset sounds made to sound like various bands and genres. I rarely use these to be honest but would if I were using this for more live / pre-programmed work. You can scroll through 'Banks' of sounds once in the Patch mode.
You also have a tuner (holding down the middle button for a moment) and you have a looper (holding down the right hand clicker for a moment to access the looper). The looper gives up to 40 seconds of loop time and once you've understood how to use it, it's pretty effective. Obviously a dedicated looper is even better (e.g. Boss RC3 loop station). But this is a great function to have and I've used it on the odd occasion.
The unit is also capable of putting out some 'delightful' backing beats. They're certainly OK for practising and having fun with but as you'd expect, not really a professional sounding tool! But it's great this is included!
The Inputs / Outputs
Yes, yes, yes, but what about the 100 plus effects. How do they sound?
OK so here is where the pedal shines and also fails, despite brilliant attempts and incredible processing power for your buck! I'm going to focus on the kinds of sounds you're likely to use playing in a worship band. There are many others.
I don't use the patches very much but what I would say is that these are the most 'accurate' sounding effects if you are aiming to copy other classic sounds.
If you go to Zoom's page here - http://www.zoom.co.jp/products/g3/demo/ - you can compare the G3 sounds with the original pedals they're designed to model. Really helpful and actually very honest and courageous of Zoom to do something like this as for me, you can clearly hear the differences in sound - with the original pedals understandably sounding better to my ears. But the G3 sounds aren't far off.
One thing I would say about the patches is that they put out very varied volume levels and certainly compared to when using in 'non patch' mode. So that is something to really think about and tweak before any live performance. Bear in mind also that clicking on the patch mode loses your sound setup you may have had.
Delays / Modulation
The upsides include the reverbs, delays, tremolo and other similar effects. You can choose a number of parameters within each sound effect (using the 'page' button above the LCD screens) for example the delay time, the feedback and how much of a dry / wet signal etc. These are fantastic, with the pedal offering dotted eighth delay as well (go into the page and scroll through the time beyond its maximum and there it is!) There are a huge range of delays and reverbs. In fact there are so many variations and options within most effect types that it can be hard to know where to start and which ones to use, so experiment and see what you're happy with.
I would be easily happily using the delays and reverbs. The tremolo / vibrato sound are great, as are things like the chorus, flanger and phaser etc although I use these much less. The more 'complex' phase type sounds like Bend Chord, Pitch Shift, Slicer and Octave etc as you'd expect don't work so well. They need much more processing power so cannot 'track' individual notes and don't even try with chords without a mushy mess of a chord! But to be fair this is to be expected as it could never compete with a dedicated unit like an EHX POG / HOG worth much more.
Some of the options within the Zoom menus are quite complex so to setup the pedal as a volume pedal is possible but it requires a bit of internet research and experimentation! The pedal can also be assigned in 5 other ways (only one at any one time) including things like vibe, pitch, way etc. You can also set the volume pedal as a tap tempo (although it's really not as effective as a metal clicker).
(Go to the 'Total' button then click on 'Page' to access the CTRL SW/PDL option on the middle Number 2 LCD screen. Then use the button to twist between options to assign to the pedal. If you want the volume pedal, choose 'BYPASS/MUTE').
Overdrives / Distortions
So the overdrives and distortions which are always the hardest to compare and contrast. Overall, Zoom does a brilliant job and for the price you just cannot go wrong. Let's face it: while us guitarists and gear heads compare, contrast and assess tone, most people in church don't know what an overdrive (or any other) pedal is, let alone any difference in tone! So let's not get too hung up on it.
Having said that, the sounds are a mixed bag for me. Having said that, there are so many it'd be hard not to find some sounds that work for you / that you can tweak.
One thing that does need looking at before using live is to try and match the output levels of individual sounds (as you would on a pedal board). Some overdrive / distortion / amp modelling sounds are much louder than others.
My preferred sounds include the OverDrive, the Governor, Dist1 and the ZDream. I found that the T Scream and Dist+ sounded too weak / too processed. Other sounds like some of the fuzz sounds are OK if that's the kind of thing you want. I found the 'booster' pedal sound changed the nature of the distortion sound it was boosting so don't use that. The different drives are done to copy other more well known pedals.
I often use some of the many amp modellers which 'live' after the overdrive / distortion sounds. The 'US Blues' and 'Vox Combo' both have their strengths.
Overall the drive sounds simply don't have the character, warmth, depth or tone of those I regularly use such as the Fulltone Fulldrive 2 and the Visual Sound Open Road. I would liken the difference in tone to be like using a modelling amp compared to a tube amp. The sounds lack that kind of fullness and depth. But I would say that you may not notice it as much with your setup and your church or small group probably won't either!
With or without an amp
Remember that using the 'Global' button on the unit, you can select the output (under the LCD 1 screen) - so if you're using a tube amp, choose 'combo front' for example. Or you can set it to go out direct. What I did find is that choosing 'direct' causes the sound quality in my opinion to dive markedly. So I would always leave on 'combo front' for example when using an electric guitar. Of course when using an acoustic (which I do all the time), set it do direct.
And I have had one or two times where the PA guys have asked me to turn down the master volume of the pedal because it's set too high. So increasingly I'm going to use this with my tube amp when playing electric and with an acoustic amp (with a balanced out) when playing acoustic.
The G3 is amazing in that it has a tap tempo. It's another outstanding touch on such a great price bit of kit. But the tap tempo button which can be tapped, is a very small plastic button at the top of the unit. It needs to be bigger, metal and set on its own. For example, where the pedal says 'G3X' on the image above, why not put a tap pedal there? (Yes you can use the pedal but it's not the same as a dedicated clicker).
The same goes for moving through the patches / scrolling, as this is done by another small button along the top. Again, these buttons all just need to be bigger and more accessible.
My suggested improvements
I think the G3 could like a bit like the example in my quickly done Photoshop mockup where the buttons are more widely spaced apart and bigger. Zoom, if you're reading, this would make it a more killer pedal. This plus a larger button to quickly scroll up and down the patches. Oh and of course larger and clearer LCD screens will no doubt come in time.
I have used this in smaller venues with both acoustic and electric guitar.
Overall, Zoom deserve huge credit for this pedal and the sheer range of options it has. I would rate this 7/10 without any doubt.
My final improvement suggestion to Zoom is to consider creating a unit with fewer but higher quality sounds and one that has less 'pzazz' like the backing drum beats etc. Instead focus on the drives and the accessibility and design of the pedal. If you do, it will be an awesome bit of kit.
Well done Zoom!