Digitech RP500 Multi-Effects Pedal Review
- Pros: Nine rugged, metallic footswitches in total which allow for much greater hands-free control. Plenty of amp models, cabs and effects, with a “matrix” editing system and a user-assignable expression pedal.
- Cons: No drum machine, the expression pedal can be a little stiff and the amp models are noticeably less responsive than the real thing.
- Overall: A mid-sized to large unit that is suitable for extensive gigging. There might be better options in terms of sounds, but they will be more than enough for the majority of players.
The Digitech RP500 is the second-largest member of the RP series, making it a definite option for players looking for something to use as a gigging companion. Digitech’s smaller units generally fall a little short of being up to the task, but they get pretty much everything else right. The extra size looks set to be the RP500’s savior, allowing it to offer everything on the smaller units with the added bonus of genuine hands-free capabilities. But does it deliver?
Depending on your outlook, the fact that the Digitech RP-500 includes the same features as the smaller units such as the RP355 is either a great thing or it means you’re parting with extra cash just for the luxury of a bigger box to fit everything in. You do get more preset locations, with 100 user slots and 100 factory ones, as well as 53 amps, 22 cabs and 72 effects – more than on any of the smaller units. Aside from a handful of extra amps, cabs and effects, you get pretty much everything you do on the biggest unit in the series, the RP1000.
The rigid, metallic construction and the size of the unit are the first things you’ll notice out of the box. The Digitech RP500 is almost 20 inches long, which gives it plenty of room to house five main footswitches along the bottom row, two at either side of the display and a large expression pedal on the right hand side. The construction quality of the footswitches is much better than on the smaller units because the shallow buttons are replaced with rugged metallic versions which are evenly spaced apart. You’re much less likely to hit one accidentally thanks to the extra room on the pedal.
There are a total of 55 amp models included on the Digitech RP500, with extras like the Dreadnought and Jumbo Acoustic taking the total higher than on the 355 (which “only” includes 32). Along with a whole host of Digitech amp models, you also get versions of classics like the ’74 Orange OR 120, Mesa Boogie’s Dual and Triple Rectifiers, the Marshall JCM200, Fender’s vintage Tweed, Blackface and Brownface amps and others like the ’96 Matchless HC30. They all use the Digitech AudioDNA2 processing, allowing for accurate representation of the original amp sounds. Although you’ll still be acutely aware that you’re hearing a replication, unless you happen to have 55 classic amps in your basement the amp models are invaluable. The 22 cabs are matched up to the amps automatically, but you can make up your own combinations too.
You also get 72 cool effects on the Digitech RP500, and these are also modeled on classics from throughout electric guitar history. There are plenty of options for compressors, wahs, distortions, flangers, choruses, phasers, delays, reverbs, envelopes, tremolos, vibratos and pitch-shifters, as well as a 3 band EQ. This is a veritable catalogue of legendary sounds, from the pitch-shifting fun of the Boss OC-2 Octaver to the Electro-Harmonix Small Stone phaser and the DOD Classic Fuzz distortion pedal. Plus, there are plenty of Digitech effects scattered across the different groups.
When the Digitech RP500 was originally released there was no in-built looper, but a firmware update changed that. You now get a 20 second looper with the unit, and it’s actually arranged in a much more standardized fashion than it is on the smaller unit. There aren’t dedicated switches, so you have to use the “Up” and “Down” footswitches (which usually allow you to change presets) to control it. Holding the “Up” switch for a couple of seconds activates the looper, and the “Down” switch is used for recording, playing back and overdubbing. Unlike on the smaller units, you don’t have to hold a switch down when you’re overdubbing, making the operation of the looper much simpler.
You also get plenty of options for connectivity with the Digitech RP500. The back panel includes stereo 1/4 inch outs, a pair of XLR outs (with a switch to minimize hum from ground loops), a headphone jack, an auxiliary input, a 1/4 inch input and a USB port. You can use the USB port to alter your sounds using the included X-Edit software and to backup your presets. The pedal also comes with Cubase LE4 in case you want to do some recording.
There are two basic modes you can use with the Digitech RP500, and the default one means the footswitches work just like individual stomp-boxes. In Pedalboard mode, from left to right you can activate or deactivate the compressor, distortion, chorus/FX, delay and reverb effects with a simple tap of a switch. The “Up” and “Down” switches choose a preset in this mode. In Preset mode, the five main footswitches choose a preset and the “Up” and “Down” ones are used to select a bank of five presets.
The “matrix” display in the center of the unit is used for editing the preset sounds. For basic customization, you can simply adjust the two left-most dials to browse the pre-programmed tone and effects libraries (which each include 40 style-specific configurations). If you want to get more technical, the up and down “Edit” buttons are used to select a row on the matrix, and then the first knob selects a specific effect from within that group. Pressing the knob in activates the effect, and fine changes to parameters are made with the remaining dials. The parameters are detailed above the dials, so it’s really easy to use. If you’re new to multi-effects, reading the manual is advised though.
There are a couple of minor issues with the Digitech RP500. Firstly, there is no drum machine. As this is included on the smaller units, the fact that you don’t get one when you spend more money seems to betray common sense. It isn’t the biggest issue, but it’s one that wouldn’t have been much hassle to get right. The sounds are also notably less responsive than the real things, and although this is to be expected to a certain degree, other modelers such as Line 6’s POD HD series do a better job. Finally, the expression pedal can also be a little stiff, and doesn’t have much room for parameter adjustment because of its small size.
The Digitech RP500, when set up correctly, can be used effectively in a live setting. You get all of the benefits of the smaller units with additional sounds and heavy-duty pedals. This makes switching between presets and adjusting the components to your sound much easier during a gig. There may be a few minor issues, but overall it offers all of the plus-points of the RP series without the fiddling and accidental-pressing that is common with the smaller units. If you’re a serious gigging musician, this is the smallest RP pedal you should consider, but for bedroom players there are cheaper options that are more than suitable.