Zoom A3 Acoustic Guitar Pedal – THUMBS UP!

Well as I have noted I am preparing to record another cd this winter and in conjunction with that I am selling a few guitars and buying a couple of pieces of electronic recording equipment.  In doing research on that I came upon this pedal and decided to purchase it.

Street price is $199 which is a bit steep I think for a pedal but then I am a geezer  age 63 and this is the first pedal I have ever bought and used.  Back in the day when I was a twenty something pro bass player we didn’t have pedals.   Pedals were just coming on the scene when I retired at age 27.

So last night I took it to my gig after playing with it for about an hour.

I think it was pretty awesome.  I think I sounded great.  I think the people listening though I sounded great.

I am calling it the “magic” box.  But its just one night and I have been messing with it this afternoon.  We will see how it holds up, how durable it is.   I really like the reverb it sounds awesome to me.  I think the reverb and the compression really makes my voice kind of “float” over the guitar sounds.   The guitar sounds great too with some brilliance and depth and also a bit of reverb makes my solo guitar playing sound a bit fuller in the narrow spots.  [Edit well I don't play any "solos" I am pretty much limited to rhythm guitar playing what I meant by solo is that I am a solo act.  It just reads strange.  But no doubt the compression and a bit of echo/reverb or delay helps fill out my rhythm playing quite well too!  It just sounds great! ]

I know the guitar sounds great because I offered to do sound for a friend one night at an outdoor event and she used the zoom with her voice and guitar and she sounded awesome.  I had heard her just two days earlier in a place with a very poor sound system.  The Zoom enhanced both her voice and guitar.  She was playing a plainer Ibanez acoustic electric but it sounded like a thousand bucks.  Her voice just floated above the music.

Actually I am not using the box the way it was designed.  The mic input was designed to mic your guitar, so you can have dual inputs (mic sound and piezo/mag pickup feeds) to optimize the sound of your guitars amplified sound.  I am plugging my vocal mic through this input that was designed for guitar.

The effects chain available on this box is three.  You can use three effects at once, however the first link in the effects chain is always guitar type, and it is always ON, on both guitar and mic channels.  So effectively you have two effects available to you.   Thinks like compressors, tremolo, reverb, echo, chorus, and usually multiple choices for each effect.  You can place the mic input in the chain either after the first, the second or the third effects link.  That is why the mic channel is always processed by the guitar body processor, because it can only be positioned somewhere  after the first link in the effects chain.  So basically my voice signal is being processed as if I were a Martin D-18 today, which maybe is a good thing since it seems like the range of a guitar is pretty similar to the range of a human voice.   So my voice is getting some compression, some limiting and gating, and some low frequency rumble removing and plus whatever effects I add.  The reverb is great for vocals in the small club I have been playing it adds a dimension that I haven’t used before as the reverbs on PAs and amps have always seemed so murky to me.  I am also experimenting with several of the compressors and also the “Exciter” on guitar and vocals.  The “exciter” seems to be a compressor and midrange and high brightener and it sounds pretty good to me.  [EDIT  I have discovered that the zoom exciter is a model of the BBE Sonic Maximizer ]  There are also types of equalizers that I am experimenting with, for vocals, guitar and bass.   I don’t especially like the modern bass (synth type) sounds.   I am more partial to the old Motown bass sound.  I think with these EQs and that little Washburn bass I have I can come close.  My experience so far with the A3 makes me conider buying one of their guitar multistomps too just to record with.  The MS 50 gives you the option of chaining up to 6 effects.  They also have one for bass, the MS 60B, one special for chorus, delay and reverb, the MS 70 CDR and one that is Bluetooth enabled, the MS100B.  All of these have their own set of effects, obviously some are shared, and the last two also come with factory presets, 30 or more of them in addition to the effects.  The presets can be scrolled through with the footswitch just like user patches, in fact they are the same as patches you create yourself, and stored and manipulated in the same place.

The thing is I am an acoustic singer/songwriter or “troubadour” and I sing a lot just pure acoustically, but lately I’ve been getting more and more gigs where I am playing through a pa or amp.  For these gigs I use my Ibanez acoustic electric or my Crafter street acoustic with a sound hole pickup (Dean Markley) stuck inside.  A year or so ago I decided to get an acoustic amp.

However now that I have the Zoom A3 it is functioning for me as a little 2 channel mixer (I can balance my voice and guitar right at my feet in a stompox I don’t need any elaborate amplification or pa system for just me.   I just did a larger outdoor venue (several hundred people) with the Zoom A3 and 20 year old Randall 30 watt bass practice amp and I sounded great.  I put the little Randall on a chair, put the gain, treble, bass and contour knobs at 12 o’clock,  and tilted it back, bungee corded it in position, plugged in the Zoom a3 and let her rip.   I bounced the sound off the front of a two story building across the street.   You could hear me for blocks.   The venue itself (a short city block here in Old Eureka, the Farmer’s Market)  was saturated with sound, loud but not too loud.  A little bit of compression and slapback work wonders.

With the Zoom I control the volume, the mix, the effects, the anti feedback, the tone, eq, everything right at my feet.  Wow.

The instruction manual is ok as far as it goes but I was going nuts trying to figure out how to use patches.   You can save up to 20 patches on the A3, it doesn’t come with any preset patches.  Here’s the thing, the Zoom is a multistomp box but it isn’t made to be used one effect at a time.   With more than 50 effects that you can chain together 2 at a time there are too many to cycle through for use on stage unless you stick to one or two effects.   Once I realized that the Zooms are made to use with patches in patch mode did I figure this all out.   So basically if you want to use just a phaser for instance, you would create a  patch with just a phaser in it and store the patch.   Same if you have a delay that you use on a couple of songs.   Of course you can combine effects in some of your patches.  The point is when it comes to playing on stage, you hit the menu button and go to memory and there are all your patches and you use the footswitch to cycle through them.  Once you have saved your desired effects to a patch (you can name them fuzz, delay etc whatever you want)  using them just requires the menu button then the memory button.  There you are, but you can’t access the individual effects from there.  You see what I mean?  The zoom was built to be customized and used in the memory mode (patch mode.)  Once that concept is in your head the zooms will all be easier.

TO SAVE A PATCH, TAP THE “MENU” BUTTON IT IS LEFTMOST OF THE 3 SLANT BUTTONS, MENU, DOWN AND UP.

YOU WILL SEE THE MENU SCREEN WITH MEMORY, SETTINGS AND VERSION.  WITH THE CURSOR HIGHLIGHTING “MEMORY” (YOU MAY HAVE TO TWIST THE MENU BUTTON TO SCROLL THE HIGHLIGHT BAR)  TAP THE MENU BUTTON AGAIN.  NOW YOU WILL SEE YOUR SAVED PATCHES AND YOU CAN TAP THROUGH THEM WITH THE MAIN FOOTSWITCH OR YOU CAN SAVE A NEW ONE.   YOU CAN TAP THE EFFECTS BUTTON AND GET TO THE EFFECTS BUT THERE IS NO APPARENT WAY BACK.

SO SAVE YOUR PATCHES AND USE THEM.   :)

ON THE OTHER MULTISTOMPS THE PRESETS SHOULD BE THERE TOO.

A few other things I noted about the A3.   One effect is the ZNR well I was clueless until today.  It is a noise gate!  The hint is you have to set it to “guitar in” it default sets to “effects in” and that doesn’t work so well.

And you can select which type of battery you are using.   I selected nimh.  This is prob a good idea if you are using battery power.

The tuner is awesome!   Although my experience with electronic tuners is limited, so far the best I have owned is a korg headstock pickup, and not a high end one.   This tuner in the zoom a3 is wonderful and it sounds strange but it actually gives me more confidence that my guitar is in tune.  And it seems to make a difference in the sound of the guitar……you can set the tuner for chromatic , guitar, bass, open d, etc etc.

Here is a link to the Zoom A3’s specs and a list of effects:

http://www.zoom.co.jp/products/a3/spec/

Oh and another thing when you start using patches maybe go to settings and turn off the AUTOSAVE otherwise you might end up chasing your tail because it tends to save everthing so if you have a saved patch you are playing and you tweak one little setting you might end up autosaving your new setting but sadly the old one is lost.  Set it to manual save until that day comes when things are clearer to you.   That day may never come for me.

Here’s a video demonstrating the BBE Sonic Maximizer that is emulated in the A3 “Exciter.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5jMJqi0R_E and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLVJfLgAOyE

I have been using the exiciter it sounds like a really tasty but mild chorus, reverb and compression combined, makes the guitar and voice sparkle.  So right now I am using either one of the compressors (either Comp or MComp) in the 2nd position and either a hall reverb or slapback reverb in the 3rd position with the mic in the 2 slot so it giets both effects but I am experimenting with using either the exciter or some ethereal chorus type effect to sub for the compression.  I wonder if you can daisy chain Zoom Multistomps?  :)

contact me:  Humboldt.organizer@gmail.com

Heres a video demonstrating how to create patches on the Zoom MS100 B.   Not exactly the same as the A3 but close.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2t_O1ycJCY

IN REVIEW:

IMO the best way to use the Zoom A3 in live performance is by use of your preset patches and user defined patches, that you can cycle through the footswitch.  This is true even if you are using only 1 effect at a time, like just a wah, or just a compressor, something you could use just as well as a single effect, or even something as subtle as changing guitar bodies.   Save it on a patch and go to ‘memory ” mode for your live shows.   For me, just a singer/strummer, I can use it in manual mode because I just need some reverb or echo and maybe a compressor or exiter or very subtle chorus and I am good to go for the whole show.   But I can see a lead player who needs a variety of tones will need to use the A3 in patch memory mode.  Single effect mode is too complicated to use on stage.  Create and use your presets (patches.)  That’s how the Zoom A3 designed to work.

Here’s a pretty fair review of the Zoom A3:

http://www.musicradar.com/reviews/guitars/zoom-a3-574949

Again the reviewer thinks its a bit complicated for state use, and he is right,  it is, if you are using it in effects mode.  Save the effects you are using in memory (all of them, effects chains and single effects that you use all the time) in memory and step through them on stage in patch mode (or preset mode, or memory mode if you will)  with the footswitch.  Its simple and the LCD display is quite visible even for my 60 something eyes I can read it all the way down on the floor.  Its true you can only step through them in one order, but its easy to change the order so you can put your most used effects near the top.  Its not perfect but way usable onstage in patch mode.

 

Here’s a nice Brett Kingman review of the A3:

Heres a good demo of the Zoom MS 70CDR that operates in a similar (but not identical) manner to the A3:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWJ3ZelxPT4

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