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March 17, 2009

Filed under: music»tools»effects

POD People

Part of an ongoing series obsessing over effects pedals. Other posts in this series concern the MXR M80 Bass DI+, Line 6 DL4 delay/looper, Boss LS-2 Line Selector, DOD FX25B Envelope, and Z-Vex LoFi Loop Junky.

There are three pieces of Line 6 gear in my collection: the DL4 (possibly retired), the Variax Bass, and the Pod XT Live. Of the three, the last is probably the only one I'd recommend without exception. It's also descended from the most important musical product that Line 6 ever made, one that can legitimately claim to have changed the industry.

In 1999, Line 6 introduced the first Pod, named because it was a thick, red, kidney-looking thing. Its purpose was to provide a virtual guitar signal chain in one unit: pedals, preamp, power amp, and speaker cabinet. Later models added microphone and acoustic simulations to the mix. The Pod wasn't the first modeling processor--Roland's been making them for years, among others--but it took off in a way that its predecessors didn't, probably because its controls directly mimic the modeled amplifiers, making it simple enough for guitarists to use. Pods found a niche in a lot of home (and some pro) studios, as well as being used sometimes for live musicians that wanted flexibility onstage. They've gotten a lot better over the last decade: I know guitarists can be picky about them, but they sound eerily accurate for my purposes.

The Pod XT Live is the second or third generation of these modelers (depending on how you count--there's both a Pod 2.0 and a Pod XT series before the Pod X3), and it integrates a floorboard into the design. Run it straight into a power amp and a relatively flat cabinet, and it's a cover song machine--particularly with the Variax, which links up digitally to the Pod. I've set up flattering amp and effect combinations for my favorite bass models: a Jazz bass through a GK amp (my general-purpose rig), Rickenbacker through an Ampeg stack (great classic rock/punk sound), Stingray with a scooped Sunn/4x10 combination (for slap), and a few crazy models (like the twelve-string into an ultra high-gain "lunatic" amp). Even though I don't lust for amps the way I do for effects and instruments, I could still tweak the settings on these all day long. It's terribly addictive.

That said, the Pod isn't important because it lets me sound like Geddy Lee when I want to play "Limelight." It's important because it represents the democratizing effects of modern music technology. A pedalboard Pod like this will run you about $500 if you want the latest version, and you can knock off a couple hundred if you settle for scratch-and-dent stock of the previous generation. That's roughly 1/2 to 1/3 of the cost of one of the cheaper amps it models, and for amateur recording purposes it's probably a better deal--after all, most people can't crank up a Dual Rectifier in their apartment anyway, and the sound would be terrible if they did. Modeling tech might not make you Rick Rubin, but it gets you close enough. And while you can pull a lot of the same tricks with a $100 audio interface and a VST host, it's nowhere near as simple or foolproof as a Pod--trust me, I've tried.

I'm not really advocating that everyone should be aiming for slick production, of course. I'm a huge fan of messy, unprofessional recordings (audience: "You would be!"). But look: sometimes you just want a decent guitar or bass sound, and you don't want to fiddle around with expensive microphones and amplifiers and acoustic spaces for hours--or you can't afford to, in terms of time and/or money. I don't think you should have to, the same way that nobody should have to find an echo chamber or a plate reverb unit in the age of digital delay and 'verb units. Musicians should be able to cut straight through to making music. For me, that's when the Pod really comes in handy.

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