Digitech 2120 Multi-effects preamp/processor
I have had a long and mostly productive experience with multi-effects processors, but this is truly the top of the line.  This device does it all with incredibly versatility and quality.  While no processor can do everything, this one does so much more than I could ever hope for that I can't complain.

Why use this instead of effects pedals?  Well, this unit has all the parameters (and then some!) of the best pedals on the market.  It has a full compliment of effects (I couldn't begin to estimate how many pedals worth of tricks it does).  And yet it is a fraction of the cost, simple to set up (pull it into the power, your guitar, and your amp, and that's it), and, most importantly, it is programmable!

I don't know how effects pedals manage to maintain a market share any longer.  I know some bands out there play one song after the next with just a couple of sounds, but I need more than "clean" and "dirty."  Most effects units come with at least 30 user-defined programs (plus an equal number of factory presets that no one every uses).  If you can program it, you can always return to it.  With a computer interface, you can also store an infinite number of programs off-line as well.  Why would anyone chose anything else?



MIDI interfacing
 
In order to get any hardware that uses midi (musical instrument digital interface) to talk to your computer, you will probably have to get a device like the one pictured.  This is a Edirol UM-1SX USB MIDI Interface.  As the name and picture imply, it allows you to connect midi cables to your computer via a USB port.  In the past, it was more common to connect through a 9-pin joystick port on the back of a soundcard, but those have gone the way of the dinosaurs.  Many of the newer effects processors go direct to a USB ports sans interface for a number of purposes, including direct recording.

And now... a rant
The processors on the market at the moment are a step backwards in terms of all the things you would want out of them: versatility, versatility, and versatility!  For a while there, Digitech/DOD was getting it right with processors like the RP20 and GSP 2101, but they totally got off track somehow.  Apparently, these processors were too complicated for mere guitarists.  Personally, I think they're missing the marketplace full of computer-savy kids who have grown up while they're putting out this Fisher Price junk like the current GNX line.

Check out this letter I wrote them a while back.



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Postscript:  I liked my 2120 so much that I bought a second unit: One for at home and another for gigging.  If one should ever break down, then at least I've got a backup until I can track down another one on eBay.


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