In the past few weeks, the world at large has been turned upside down. The impact of the recent coronavirus pandemic on musicians has been enormous – wherever you are in the world, it’s likely you’re staying home in order to slow the spread of the virus.
This presents some new challenges to guitarists, aside from the obvious cancelled gigs. There’s a chance your rig will sound its best when it’s been cranked to 11, which might not be an option when playing at home. You might also not be able to play along with bandmates – making loopers and the ability to record all the more essential. Here we look at some of the best gear to grab during the lockdown.
Boss Waza Air Headphones
These innovative headphones from Boss are, well, not really headphones. Think of them more as the guitar equivalent of a Virtual Reality headset. They allow you to play through a virtual amp, controlled through your smartphone, with over 50 effects available. Five amp models are available, all derived from the ever-popular Katana series.
Where things get interesting is the head-tracking aspect, which allows you to build up a virtual location for your guitar, which, if you want, can stay in place as you move your head. This combines with the ability to stream backing tracks and music to the Waza Airs, meaning you can build an entire virtual soundstage that responds to your movement.
Essentially, you’ll be able to practice the way you would with a cranked amp and a band – but with fewer calls from angry neighbours.
List for £378. Find out more at boss.info.
Digitech Trio+ Band creator/looper
This innovative pedal from Digitech, unlike your friends or coworkers, listens to your playing. It then picks apart your chord progression and rhythm to create a dynamic backing track with a virtual drummer and bassist. There are 12 different styles to choose from: Blues, R&B, Rock, Alternative Rock, Metal, Pop, Electronic Pop, Hip-Hop, Country, Folk, Latin, and Jazz.
Essentially, Digitech have recreated the jam experience without the need for bandmates, and due to the wide spectrum of genres available should slot into your practice session whatever you’re feeling. And because Skype latency is far too high to use for live jams, this could prove indispensable while we’re all stuck indoors.
Lists for $354.99. Find out more at digitech.com.
Harmony 8418 Amplifier
It’s no secret that guitarists love two things: vintage gear, and tube tone. The Harmony 8418 reissue combines both of those into a tiny retro package, which due to its diminutive size won’t shake the light fittings out of the ceiling when cranked. It’s true-to-the-original 6” speaker is driven by five watts, and it’s voiced just as authentically, with more headroom than you’d expect from such a small amp.
Lists for $399. Find out more at harmony.co.
TC Electronic Ditto Looper
This simple little box from TC Electronic boils down the loop pedal idea to its bare essentials – one knob, and one footswitch. Tap to start recording, tap again to stop and immediately play that loop, once more to overdub, hold to undo the last overdub, double tap to stop the loop and double tap then hold to clear.
Despite its simple appearance, it’s a versatile thing – allowing you to either practice your blues soloing over a 12-bar progression or to build up delay-soaked ambience layer by layer.
Lists for £69. Find out more at tcelectronic.com.
The Iridium is Strymon’s answer to the trend of boiling things down to direct pedalboard amps. And luckily, that trend is perfect for those stuck inside right now. It offers three flavours of cab-sim, as well as three amps: Chime, Punch and Round. These each offer a different approach to amplification, from vintage jangle to full-throttle gain. The ‘room’ knob, which adds a bit of airy space to the sound, combined with the ability to run into an interface or headphones, is a great bonus especially if you’re stuck for different spaces to record in at the moment.
Lists for £399. Find out more at strymon.net.
DIY Fuzz Pedal
Many guitarists, especially those who’ve swapped out a pickup or a faulty jack socket, have at least some experience with a soldering iron. But if you don’t, what better time to get some than now? There are a host of DIY fuzz options available, this particular one shown being from british brand Fuzzdog. It makes a number of circuit boards, some completely original, some DIY versions of classics. Something like the above is fairly simple, and there’s nothing quite like plugging in a fuzz pedal you yourself have built, only to have it work (and sound great) on the first try.
The above Cone Ripper is available from pedalparts.co.uk, starting at £25.20.
IK Multimedia iRig & Amplitube
This is one of the many choices you have if you want to put together a virtual rig. With an accompanying app from IK Multimedia, it opens up an in-depth set of simulated cabinets, amps and pedals, allowing you to squeeze some great tones out of your phone. Perfect if you want to play through headphones, or mess around with the virtual equivalent of physical gear you can’t get your hands on at the moment.
Lists for £29. Find out more at ikmultimedia.com.
Supro Blues King 8
Like the Harmony, Supro’s Blues King 8 provides true tube tone, at minimal volume. Rated at a tiny one watts, it’s clearly designed for home use, but unlike truly vintage combo amps, it has a few modern quality-of-life features – namely a master volume and a buffered line level output. Supro also says that it offers a full, roaring sound when mic’d up – great if you want to do some home recording without having to run direct.
Lists for £329. Find out more at suprousa.com.
Orange Terror Stamp
This was one of the highlights of our trip (remember trips?) to winter NAMM this year – the size of an overdrive pedal, this is essentially an Orange Tiny Terror shrunk down even more. While it has a cab-simulated headphone-out for all-hours rocking out, it can also be connected to any 8 or 16 ohm cabinet. So, when appropriate, it can get very rude very quickly – certainly loud enough to gig (remember gigs?) with.
Lists for £149. Find out more at orangeamps.com.
Chase Bliss Blooper
If TC Electronic’s Ditto was a bit too straightforward for you, this might be the loop pedal for you. A collaboration between Chase Bliss and pedal-demonstrator/hardwood desk enthusiast Knobs, it offers a more lo-fi approach to looping, with the ability to add modulation effects and more generally modify the loops you’ve recorded. With a dizzying array of functions, knobs, and dip switches it’s a fully-fledged loop workstation that should keep you busy until about 2021.
Lists for Find out more at chaseblissaudio.com.
Blackstar Fly 3
For those separated from their regular rig, or who otherwise want something a bit smaller to play at home, the Blackstar Fly is a great option. Its drive channel in particular outperforms any other in its class with no audible fizziness, and battery power means you can, if you want, take it down to the end of the garden for an outside (remember outside?) jam.
Lists for £59.99 Find out more at blackstaramps.com.
Universal Audio Ox Box
If you’re set on continuing to play your 100-watt powerhouse – Universal Audio’s Ox Box can elevate your amp head to the next level, and make it a lot more lockdown friendly to boot. The Ox Box is a ‘reactive load box,’ meaning it replaces (or joins) your cabinet in your rig. It can run your amplifier through a high-class cabinet simulation, and feed that directly into a DAW or headphones. Either way, it means you can get great cranked amp sounds, recorded with extensively-modelled vintage microphones, without any volume leakage or noise complaints.
Lists for £1,145. Find out more at uaudio.com.
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
If you’re a little more budget conscious, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 has earned a reputation as a great home interface, especially for guitarists’ needs. Its two combo jacks mean it’s easy to create home recordings on the fly, be it from a mic’d-up amp such as the above Harmony 8418 or Supro Blues King 8, or from running directly into software amplifiers. For more interfaces we recommend for guitarists, check out our full rundown here.
Lists for £134. Find out more at focusrite.com.