Digitech RP-200

Budget-conscious way to go ampless
Budget-conscious way to go ampless

Last month, I disclosed that I’ve gone ampless in 2002. Now let’s discuss how, and with what gear. My criteria is the same as with any gear I use – it must sound great, be flexible, tough, and not cost a lot of money. After lots of gear comparisons with units from Line 6, Korg, Zoom, and Digitech, I recommend the Digitech RP-200. It does all this and much more for only $200 list, and you can usually get a new one for around $150.

DOD has been making pedals in the greater Salt Lake City area for nearly 30 years. Their early offerings of stomp boxes for compression, phasing, distortion, etc. were adequate, if somewhat nondescript. However, unlike some competitors, it managed to survive the era of keyboards and big hair. DOD did have the services of one Michael Dowdle, a tremendous guitar player with an ear for tone who offered his input. The company began their Digitech line as pro sound oriented pieces in the ’80s. Since that time, they have been producing rack gear for guitarists like the GSP-2100, which included sounds programmed by some of the biggest names in guitardom.

The RP series has been around since the early ’90s. A former student once showed up with an RP-10, which had some cool sounds, but had to be run through a guitar amp to sound good. When I saw the RP-100 and read user reviews on Harmony Central, I thought this would be a great unit for my teaching, writing, and recording needs. The RP-200 is the same unit, with the addition of an expression pedal, bigger LCD screen for naming patches, and the included A/C adapter.

The RP-200 has a dozen amp simulators, including a ’65 blackface (Fender), Matchless DC-30, Boogie Mark II-C, Dual Rectifier, ’57 Fender Deluxe (tweed), Vox AC-30 TB, Marshall JCM 900, Johnson JM150 High Gain, fuzz box, acoustic guitar simulator, and two small tube combos – clean and dirty. Thirteen cabinet models are included, mimicing 4×12 and 2×12 speaker configurations, as well as a “cabinet off” setting. The effects list is staggering, including pickup simulator, wah expression pedal, compressor, EQ, noise gate, chorus, flange, phaser, tremolo, panner, vibrato, rotary speaker, Ya Ya, Auto Ya, synth talk, envelope filter, detune, pitch shift, Whammy, delay and reverb. Whew! Additionally, the RP-200 has an onboard drum machine, as well as a jam-along feature that lets you plug a portable CD player or the like into the unit to jam along with your favorite sounds. The unit is encased in a heavy-duty steel housing with the expression pedal using photocell technology to eliminate scratchy pots.

One major criticism of modeling gear is that it’s hard to program. But DOD put three parameter knobs on top of the RP-200 to allow us six-string Neanderthals to twist and tweak to our heart’s content. The LED screen makes it easy to see the controls and creating a new sound is a snap. You press the “Select” button and it brings up the first menu – you can opt for making that single-coil pickup sound like a humbucker or vice versa, if you wish. You can also choose a wah as well as which flavor wah tone – Cry(baby?), Boutique, and Full Range. When you get the sound you want, press the select button and access the next menu. The order is then compression, amp modeler, EQ, cabinet/mic/gate, effects, delay, reverb and expression. Each parameter is adjustable in at least two ways and the RP then lets you save the edited tone in one of 40 user presets. DOD provides another 40, giving you a total of 80 sounds in a package 81/2″ long, 10″ wide, and 21/4″ deep.

When I began contemplating tossing the amp for a modeling processor, I asked around about several units. The POD requires a footswitch that adds another $200 to the price of a $300 unit. I tried the Zoom 505 II for a day and it sounded great, but needed an expression pedal to control volume as well as an optional A/C adapter. The RP-100 needed an A/C adapter that cost $20 or more and didn’t provide a means to control volume or other parameters with my foot. Consequently, I chose the RP-200 as the unit with most bang for the buck.

Longtime “Gigmeister” readers know I don’t write about any piece of gear unless it sounds good. The RP-200 sounds great, plain and simple! Clean and dirty tones are very authentic and I can pre-set levels of distortion, tone, and volume with each patch. Best of all, I can use the expression pedal to tweak volumes as I play and sing – critical for success on an important gig.

I’ve used the RP with tremendous results with my Yamaha SA-1100 as well as my Mexican Strat. I can set delay times precisely along with every other tone parameter to really nail any tone I need. The tones sound excellent when recorded to tape or disc. The onboard drum machine sounds very good, especially on heavy rock material, and makes practicing a lot more fun!

The first gig I used it on was with Mirror Image at a biker convention in Oklahoma (a far cry from the Greenbrier Resort, but a real acid test for the RP-200). To my delight, the RP fit perfectly in the outside storage compartment of my Strat gig bag. I could run a stereo cable out of the RP into the board and hear myself completely through the group’s monitor system. I carried my gig-bagged Strat and RP with cables in one hand, and my clothes bag and guitar stand in the other! It takes three or four minutes to set up and tune the guitar (did I mention it tunes silently by depressing both footpedals?).

I solicited input from our sound man, the great Noble Hatch. After that first show, I asked him to be honest about the guitar sound during the night. Noble said, “It sounds great – both the clean and the dirty stuff really sing and they don’t jump out and bite you when I crank your guitar up on solos. It sounds like a good amp would sound.” This was what I had been hoping for, as Mirror Image features three excellent vocalists and they sing better with quieter stage levels. So the RP-200 passed the test with flying colors.

I do have a couple of beefs. The drum machine sounds are okay, but the patterns are lousy. And who the heck is gonna play urban music on guitar with this? Also, there’s no metronome feature, and there are no 3/4 or 6/8 time-signature feels. The drum machine should be footswitchable on/off for live use. I despise wallwarts, so naturally the RP-200 comes with one. The input jacks should have been located on the back of the unit so you’re less likely to trip over a guitar cable. The delay times should also be variable by more than 10-microsecond increments.

However, these are very minor quibbles. I love my RP-200 as much as any piece of gear I’ve bought in a long, long time. My hat’s off to the folks on the Wasatch at DOD. This is a revolutionary piece of Gigmeister gear – congratulations!

This article originally appeared in VG‘s June ’02 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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