The VGS50 system was introduced in 1999 and became an instant classic
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In the competitive world of multi-effects processors, manufacturers can't afford to rest on their laurels. To compete and survive, they must continually introduce units that have more features and lower prices than the models they put out previously. DOD, which has long been a leader in providing low-cost effects for guitarists, has upped the ante once again with the release of the VGS50.
Introduced at the '99 Winter NAMM show, this pedal board-style processor features a good selection of digital effects--including two full seconds of delay--a tuner, and a built-in expression pedal. Plus, there's a phrase trainer feature called "Learn-a-Lick," which allows you to sample up to 12 seconds from a CD or cassette and play it back at a slower speed without changing the pitch.
What really makes this unit unique, though, is the inclusion of an actual 12AX7 tube, which can be switched in and out of the signal path depending on how the unit is set. Yet with all these goodies, the VGS50 sells for a very reasonable $299.95. Let's take a closer look.
Nuts and Bolts
The unit measures 17.7" x 9", weighs 3.7 pounds, and is housed in a combination of metal and hardened plastic. Some may quibble with the external "wall wart" power supply, but remember that virtually every processor in this price range has one. What's more, DOD has thoughtfully included a little clip on the back panel to keep the power cable from pulling out accidentally.
The mono input and stereo outputs are all 1/4" unbalanced, and there's also an 1/8" (Walkman-sized) jack to plug in a sound source for the "Learn-a-Lick" feature. In addition, DOD has broken tradition somewhat by using another 1/8" jack instead of the traditional 1/4" variety for the stereo headphone output.
Ease of Use
One of the most impressive aspects of the VGS50 is its extremely intuitive user interface. I was able to easily start tweaking and programming the sounds without even cracking the manual. All the user-programmable components are clearly laid out on the top of the unit, and by pushing the corresponding Effect Select buttons and turning the Data Wheel, you can quickly turn effects on and off, and assign functions to the expression pedal. Saving an edited patch is virtually effortless. You simply press the Store button, scroll to one of the 30 user memory locations (there are also 30 factory presets) with the Data Wheel, and press again.
One of the keys to the simplicity of the VGS50 is that DOD has divided the effects and other components of a patch into 11 groups, each of which has its own front panel button to enable it. By using the "one from column A, one from column B" approach, it's easy to put together a patch in very little time. And unlike some other budget processors, there are editable parameters for most of the available effects. For instance, on the Tape Delay effect you can adjust Delay Time, Regeneration, and Mix/Level.
On any given patch, you can choose one from each of the following Effect Groups: Reverb (Room, Hall, Arena); Delay (Tape, Mono, Ping); Effect (includes modulation effects such as Chorus, Flange, Tremolo, and a Pitch Bend effect that's controlled by the expression pedal); Noise Gate; three bands of EQ; and three levels of Compression. In addition, you can select from one of eight Distortion types, which range from Overdrive to Grunge. Four of these eight distortion choices utilize the 12AX7 tube to get their sounds, so depending on which of these you select, you can have the tube in or out of the circuit.
You can also control a patch's overall volume (Program Level) from the front panel, and you can set the Expression Pedal to control volume, selected effects parameters and pitch bend, as well as Wah and Auto Wah.
So how does the VGS50 sound? Overall, quite good. The Compressor works well, as does the Delay section (I particularly liked the Tape delay emulation), and the Noise Gate. While the reverbs won't blow anyone away, they're perfectly useable. Having three separate EQ bands (which can be turned on and off independently) is also very helpful, and makes sound-shaping a breeze.
The modulation effects give you a lot of sonic options, and I particularly liked the "sweepy" nature of the flanger. The Pitch Bend was effective, especially when set to bend a note below the original pitch. Unfortunately, because they're in the same Effect Group, it's impossible to have Pitch Bend going at the same time as, say, Tremolo, or another modulation effect. Nevertheless, there's a lot to work with here.
The Distortion section gives you a pretty wide variety of choices, and, as previously noted, half of these utilize the 12AX7 tube. Of these tube settings, Clean Valve was a particular favorite, offering a bright, slightly edgy tone (I found that I had to back the High EQ off a bit on all of the tube settings). The more distorted tube choices--Blues Valve, Classic Combo, and Saturated Valve--were all more effective with their gain controls turned down. At the higher settings I found them to be somewhat raspy. You might think that when compared with tube settings, the solid state distortions would suffer in comparison, but in fact they hold their own quite well. I especially liked Overdrive, which yielded some very crunchy tones.
Guitarists interested in a full-featured processor that doesn't cost the moon should give the VGS50 a serious look (or should I say a serious listen). Combined with an amp, a guitar, and some cables, it gives you all the features you need for virtually any gigging situation. Couple that with ease of use, a nice fat sound, and extras like the "Learn-a-Lick" feature, and you're looking at a lot of processor for a reasonable price