TC Electronic G Major Guitar Effects Processor

Published in SOS December 2001
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Reviews : Effects

Blue Box





Guitar Effects Processor

The effects engine of the fêted G Force at half the price! What more could you want? TC Electronic's new G Major guitar multi-effects processor sets out to redefine the price/performance ratio.

Dave Lockwood

TC Electronic may be best-known these days for their ground-breaking Finalizer mastering processors and their M-Series and System 6000 high-end effects processors, but they are certainly no strangers to the guitar market. The Denmark-based company, celebrating their 25th birthday this year, actually started out making guitar pedals, progressing to their current range of sophisticated rackmount processors and studio gear via units such as the 1220 Chorus/Spatial Expander and the legendary 2290 Delay/Effects Control Centre. TC's G Force specialised guitar multi-effects processor was launched in 1999 to much critical acclaim, and subsequently found a home in many a pro rig. However, its premium performance came at a premium price, and some potential purchasers who wanted a high-quality effects unit solely for use on stage with a guita

  Test Spec  
  TC Electronic G Major OS v1.01  
r amp may have baulked at paying for G Force features (distortion and speaker emulation, for example) that were apparently redundant in this application.

There was no denying that G Force sounded gorgeous, though, and the one thing that everyone agreed upon was that a G Force engine without the extraneous bits, in a mid-priced product, would go down very nicely indeed. And that, essentially, is what we've got here. The G Major combines thefamiliar rugged, yet lightweight 1U black box and multi-coloured LCD display of many recent TC products with a honed-down feature set, a more intuitive user interface, and some sensible configuration options.

Six Simultaneous Effects

The G Major is based around six primary effects blocks -- Compressor, Filter/Modulation, Pitch, Chorus/Flanger, Delay, and Reverb -- preceded by a Noise Gate. Each of these blocks is always available to every preset, so there are no configura

TC Electronic G Major £459
Excellent sound quality.
Simple to use.
Sophisticated MIDI implementation.
Powerful real-time control.
Some routine OS functions poorly implemented.
No dedicated foot controller.
No 'phantom power' capability for foot controllers.
The G Major is a top-quality unit from a high-calibre manufacturer, at a bargain price, but it ultimately falls short of its full potential. It remains a good buy, so long as you are aware of its quirks and are content to work round them.

tions that lock you out of certain combinations. The only thing you can't do is run two different versions of an effect at the same time -- for example, a tight slapback and a longer, discrete echo -- as they would both come out of the Delay block. The routing options have been narrowed down to the three that make most sense: Serial, which routes from the Comp, through all the others, to the Reverb, like a row of stomp boxes; Parallel, in which the Comp and Filter/Mod stages remain in series, but the signal is then fed in parallel through the Pitch, Chorus, Delay and Reverb blocks; and Semi Parallel, which splits off just Reverb and Delay for parallel treatment. Preventing Chorus or Delay from feeding into the Reverb in this way results in a more distinct, less washy sound and is analogous to sending to several different effects via separate aux busses on a mixing console. Of course, there may be times when this separation is the opposite of what you want -- for lead playing, I generally prefer the 'blurring' effect of having delays feed into reverb. Sensibly, G Major allows you to select routing on a per-patch basis, although if you have one preferred mode of operation you can opt to lock that as your chosen configuration for all presets.

You may have already deduced from the above that the order of the effects is preset. More adventurous types than I may have a problem with this, but the G Major's preset order is the only one I would ever want in the context of a guitar rig. Flanged reverb and the like may be very effective in the studio, but I find that such subtleties tend not to survive reproduction by guitar speakers too well. The positioning of the Gate as the first block in the series might also seem odd to those more used to analogue effects chains. However, it is exactlywhere it needs to be. Given that the G Major, like many of today's generation of 24-bit effects processors, effectively introduces no noise of its own, the thing you need to guard against is amplification by the effects section of any noise present at the input. In use, the gate proved to be very controllable and unobtrusively effective against any reasonable amount of source noise.

Effects are added to the current patch simply by single-clicking the effect switch dedicated to each block. A double-click takes you into edit mode for that effect, with the outer ring of the right-hand dual-concentric control selecting the parameter to edit and the inner pot setting the value. A push switch on the inner pot acts as an Enter key to activate the dialled-in value. The other dual-concentric controller, in the centre of the panel, allows instant access to the mix parameter of all relevant effects (excluding the Gate and Compressor, which always need to be set at 100 percent effect path). The user interface, in general, is consistent, and therefore easy to learn and subsequently use efficiently.

Programs are selected via the right-hand data-entry knob, with the program not being activated until the knob is pushed in or the Recall button pressed. The outer ring selects the Factory or User bank -- irritatingly, always starting at program 1, so if you're on User 96 and you inadvertently grab the outer ring along with the inner knob and thereby change banks, you'll find yourself at Factory 1. Reverting to the User bank will take you back, not to 96, but to User 1. This annoyance is compounded by the fact that the banks do not wrap from the last program back to the first, so you can't just scroll backwards five steps from 1 to get to 96. Hmmm...

The G Major ships with 100 Factory presets on board, with a further 100 User memory locations. There is no card slot, so

  G Minor MIDI Foot Controller  
  TC's new little MIDI footswitch is undeniably 'cute'. The whole top surface of the trendy transparent plastic box tilts to give you three switching zones -- at four-, eight- and 12-o'clock positions -- and some very clever software allows it to switch presets up and down, change banks, and transmit up to two MIDI controllers to access switch functions within the G Major. It can't do all these at the same time, but you can get quickly from one mode to another. You can also set the tap tempo parameter and access the tuner, complete with display. All in all, it's a marvel of modern science... until you come to use it. The switch action has no 'feel' and as the unit is so small, you always obscure the status LEDs with your foot; if you operate it on carpet you are quite likely to accidentally flip it over unless you are pretty accurate with your footwork; and every time you operate the 12-o'clock switch your foot hits the connectors, straining the soldered joints between the sockets and the PCB inside.

I can't help thinking that three entirely conventional footswitches mounted on a little board, endowed with exactly the same capability as G Minor presently has, would be a very popular option!

data backup and patch exchange has to be via MIDI. Some might see 100 user patches as a hint stingy, but it is certainly more than enough for my needs. Actually, 10 would probably be enough for my needs on this unit, because the G Major allows you to remotely punch effect blocks in and out within a preset using MIDI controller data. This means that you can work in 'virtual stomp box' mode all the time, if you wish, without having to save a separate program for every combination and individual effect you might need. Of course, you'll have to find a MIDI pedal board that will let you transmit the necessary controller data from its footswitches first (see 'Remote Possibilities' box).

The effect blocks all kick in with fairly sensible default values that you can generally use straight away. For example, the pitch-shifter comes in with a dual detune of plus and minus a few cents rather than the major third or perfect fifth interval proudly exhibited by certain other units. However, I think operation of this unit would be considerably enhanced by the ability to store user settings as defaults. In the case of something like the gate, the default 60dB attenuation is far more fierce than I need with my rig -- I generally found I wanted something more like 6dB. Nobody minds a bit of fiddly editing for creative purposes, but when you find yourself resetting the same parameters over and over again, you can't help feeling that the designers have missed a trick.

Easy Interfacing

All analogue signal connection takes place on the rear panel, using quarter-inch jacks at line level. The two inputs and two outputs are electronically balanced, which will certainly be welcomed by those intending to use the unit in the studio or between a sophisticated preamp and a separate power amp, but it all works perfectly well in unbalanced mode too, when standard guitar cables are used. Mono operation is equally transparent -- if you only connect to the left channel, the two sides of the processing will automatically be summed at the output.

Small front-panel knobs set input and output levels, and I found no problems in this area when interfacing with either guitar-amp effect loops or studio desks. At unity gain the G Major really is impressively quiet, and with some fairly tasty 24-bit converters on the front end you don't have to worry too much about setting your input level, beyond simply keeping it s

hort of clipping. Inevitably, on-stage signals exhibit a much wider swing of input levels than recorded signals (well, I'm told they do in some types of music, anyway!), and it is comforting to know that nothing unpleasant happens to your sound when the G Major is very under-driven -- this is an important consideration in any unit that is intended to sit in series with your whole signal.

G Major also offers digital I/O via a pair of RCA phonos, with a choice of 48kHz or 44.1kHz sampling rate, AES-EBU or S/PDIF format, and the option to dither down the output to 20 or 16 bits. Tested with the digital output of a Johnson J-Station modelling preamp, it worked flawlessly, although neither the noise floor nor subjective sound quality were actually any different to using the analogue inputs.

Although it is always tempting to run through the presets to get an idea of what a new effects box sounds like, this can be somewhat misleading -- different amps, different levels through the unit, even just different expectations of what a program should be doing can all serve to undermine the original programmer's work. What really matters is whether you can get the unit to do what you want it to do, and how easy that process is. With its relatively limited parameter set, programming the G Major from scratch really is a doddle, and most of the classic combinations can be dialled up in no time. You would expect a TC unit to be strong in the chorus area and the G Major duly delivers, with two versions, Classic and Advanced. (Advanced allows you to invert the phase of one side, for a wider effect when running in stereo, and also to abandon the fixed, 'Golden Ratio' relationship between speed and depth.) I actually preferred the sound of the G Major's chorus-based effects with their bandwidth significantly reduced -- I found I always wanted the intensity of effect that you get from keeping the mix well up, but preferred to avoid the metallic edge that high-bandwidth time-domain effects have with distorted guitar -- although this is a purely subjective preference. But, again, I'd love to be able to make my reduced bandwidth setting the default... oh well. TC maintain that they don't see this facility as a necessity at this price point.

The delays, another of TC's traditional strengths among guitar effects, pretty much cover all bases: Ping-pong, for inter-channel movement; Dual, offering two completely independent delay lines; and Dynamic, where the delays are ducked by a user-selectable amount until the source signal stops. They can all be warmed up or thinned out by high-pass and low-pass filters (I find a fair bit of both is usually the most effective way of keeping the repeats out of the way of your direct g

  The Phantom Menace? Remote Powering Your Pedal Board  
  If you do find yourself a suitable MIDI pedal board, you may well go eagerly looking round the back of the G Major for the 'MIDI phantom' remote power input. You'll be disappointed. There isn't one. TC were reluctant to utilise a non-standard connector (a seven-pin DIN is favourite, as used on most Rocktron gear) and even more reluctant to stick DC on the 'spare' (normally unused) outer pins of a standard MIDI connector. Personally, I miss it, and I think that the form of implementation that uses an external input socket on the back of the rack unit, to which you connect your footswitch's own power supply, is about as idiot-proof as it needs to get, even using the standard connector. Internal short protection can guard against connection of rogue (generally older) MIDI cables where the outer pins have each been tied to their neighbour.

If you only ever use your gear in the studio, you may not mind a power supply hanging off your MIDI pedal board: if you use your gear live as well, as I do, you probably won't want a weedy little non-locking PSU mini-jack sitting there at the front of the stage just waiting to be stepped on. I guess I just disagree with the manufacturer about the importance of this, but my current Ground Control and MIDI-phantom-capable Intellifex rig is starting to look like an elegant solution in comparison.

uitar sound), and delay times can be specified in milliseconds or in terms of musical divisions, such as eighth notes or quarter-note triplets, related to an overall tempo setting. The latter can be derived from a MIDI Clock input or, more likely, from the system's Tap Tempo sensing, available via front-panel button or MIDI remote. Maximum delay time, at 1800mS, is more than adequate for normal guitar echo applications, but won't make this the box of choice for those into loop recording for self-accompaniment. Seamless patch changing with spillover is no less than we would expect, but it is faultlessly implemented.

As always, the chorus, delay and, particularly, the reverb programs sound far more impressive in stereo, although they still work well in mono. TC have been making fine-sounding reverbs for almost a decade now, and the G Major has plenty of subtleties to offer in this area. I particularly liked the way in which the tonality of the decay could be fine-tuned using the Hi Color and Lo Color parameters: respectively 'Wool; Warm; Real; Clear; Bright; Crisp; Glass', and 'Thick; Round; Real; Light; Tight; Thin; No Bass'. The decay filtering and reasonably generous pre-delay -- G Major will go up to 100mS -- is enough to ensure that the reverb doesn't sit on your direct signal too much.

I think it is highly likely that G Major users may well wish to employ the unit for home recording as well in a performance guitar rig. My studio testing showed the reverbs, in particular, to be comfortably of 'studio quality'; indeed, in many applications, I would be quite happy to use this unit as a dedicated reverb processor on a mix! The presets lean heavily towards combinations, in line with the primary application, but isolation of any of the individual effects blocks under the studio spotlight reveals each one of them to be top-notch.

However, if you want to use any of the multi-effect presets in a studio aux send/return context, be prepared for some editing, for there is no simple 'dry kill' option. This is not a problem with a single effect, as you just set the mix parameter to 100 percent wet, but if you do this with several blocks in a multi-effect you have, effectively, rebalanced them against one another, which will invariably render the preset unrecognisable. The obvious workaround is to use the individual block output level parameters to restore the original programmed balance, but it's not elegant. A proper 'dry kill' function really would significantly enhance this unit's studio functionality.

The pitch-shifter is noticeably faster than on many guitar multi-effects, and cleaner-sounding than most, but I still wouldn't want to do anything too exposed with it. The manual claims that you can play bass lines using a 100 percent shifted mix, and in a way you can, provided that you can play sufficiently cleanly to prevent any overlapping notes, which sometimes cause it to glitch or go pitch-hunting. Some may be disappointed to find that the pitch-shifter does not offer scale-based harmony. I'm not -- I have yet to hear this implemented even half well enough to want to use it in any real application.

At a similar status, perhaps, is the foot-controllable Whammy function of the pitch-shifter. Hours (well, minutes) of fun 'dive-bombing' without going out of tune. For most users, this is peripheral stuff, but for what it's worth, this Whammy facility works better than most, though it's more handy for the odd moment of weirdness than as a substitute for its mechanical counterpart, I think.

The detune function offers subtle thickening via shifts of a few cents up and/or down, without the cyclic component of conventional chorusing. This can be turned into a fairly convincing double-tracking effect by delaying the shifted signals by somewhere between 10 and 40 milliseconds. The detuned signal, however, suffers from an audible momentary glitch on complex sources, when heard in isolation. I feel it is important that I put this apparently rather damning criticism in perspective -- If you only ever use detuning at the same time as chorusing and delay, you may not notice this glitching at all. Even if you do use detune on its own, you might never use it with a clean sound and play four-note chords through it... but if you do, it will bother you to the same extent that it does me. And it drives me nuts!

The compressor is effective, both when providing a small amount of unobtrusive dynamic tightening and as an obvious 'effect compressor'. Some G Force owners assert that the minimum attack time on that particular unit is too long to create the classic 'squeezed' sound that is so effective on clean Strat-voiced parts. G Major's 1mS is certainly fast enough.

There's plenty more in the way of sonic mangling for the adventurous, including flanging, from classic whooshing to subtle shimmer; resonant filtering, for those who like that sort of thing; phasing -- aahh, the vapid warbling of pedals I hoped would never come back into fashion; tremolo, which I have a real soft spot for when you can make it sound like an old Fender amp, as you can with this one; and auto-panning, if you can think of a reason why this would actually be a good idea in a guitar rig.

  Remote Possibilities: MIDI Foot Controllers  
  There's no serious dedicated remote foot controller for the G Major (but see 'G Minor' box), so for on-stage use you'll need to get hold of one of the relatively small number of MIDI foot controllers on the market that are capable of transmitting more than just Program Change and Bank Select messages from their footswitches. There are a couple of different ways of working this setup, but what I think most people will want is the ability to both select presets and to switch individual effects in and out in 'virtual stomp box' mode. To achieve this you will need a MIDI footswitch whose functions can be determined either on a per-switch basis, or at least on a per-row basis.

My DMC Ground Control can do it (early versions need a software upgrade), TC are recommending the ART Ultrafoot, and then there's also... well not a lot else that I can find. Yamaha's MFC10 looked promising for a while, as it has all the necessary programmability, but I eventually discovered that its switches can't respond to incoming controller data; they can only originate it. Thus, whilst you can control an external unit with it, you can't keep the status of the MFC10's switches synchronised with the unit it is controlling. For example, when you switch from a preset where chorus and delay are switched in to one where they are both switched out, the G Major will dutifully update all its continuous controller values, transmit the lot over MIDI and the MFC10 will duly ignore them and blindly go on telling you that both blocks are switched in. If you think you'd be happy to ignore the local status LEDs and use your memory and your ears to tell you what's in and what's out, there's still a complication. MIDI switches alternately transmit a high and low controller value, representing on and off. If the footswitch is telling you that an effect block is on, when it is actually off, the next press of the pedal will transmit a low value -- ie. an 'off' message -- to something that is already off. Thus it takes two presses to reactivate or deactivate any effect that has got its control status reversed in this way... which kinda gets messy when you'd rather be thinking about how great your imminent solo is going to be.

None of this is TC Electronic's fault. The G Major does exactly what it is supposed to do and indeed everything that you'd want it to do in this respect. But if the targeted user will consistently fail to be able to make the most of the product due to lack of proper third-party support, there is surely a strong argument for offering a dedicated foot controller.

Where a MIDI foot controller does support the necessary dual (program-change-and-controllers) mode, it typically splits the 10 switches into two banks of five, one bank for each type of message. With the G Major, this allows you instant access to your top five presets, plus the added ability to individually punch any of the effects in or out within the preset. This truly is the best of both worlds and gives the player far more control than any presets-only system. You don't have to use the controller switching just to punch effects blocks in and out, however; the G Major is very flexible in this area and will allow you to do almost anything you like with it. Switch to silent tuning mode; activate the preset boost function; access the tap-tempo facility; change channels on your amp... Change channels on your amp? Yes, the G Major incorporates two relays which can be remote-switched via MIDI. Any contact-closure switching system, like most amp channel-changing facilities, can therefore be MIDI controlled.

Of course, if relay status can be accessed via MIDI, it can be stored as part of a preset, so selection of the correct amp channel can be tied to your effects -- no more tap-dancing when you want to go instantly from 'Big Echo Harmoniser Death Thrash Lead', to 'Soft Chorus Underwater Jazz Tone' on your clean channel. The single TRS jack provides two independent relay channels. Better than none, but not enough to allow a typical user -- say, me -- to abandon my amp's own multi-function (three channels, effect-loop in/out, EQ in/out) footswitching and thereby simplify my rig down to one pedal board. The relays are a great idea, but in the end they're just a little frustrating in their limited implementation.

Real-time parameter control is comprehensively implemented, with both MIDI and a directly-connected expression pedal supported. Most of the effects parameters can be assigned to real-time control via a Modifier -- a 'virtual handle' that interfaces between the incoming controller data and the parameter to be controlled. Multiple assignments are permitted, allowing some very sophisticated effects to be achieved. The G Major's 'learn' mode makes setting up any of its remote and real-time control options spectacularly easy. Perhaps this might encourage a few more people to really use the creative power that this unlocks in any device that supports it.


The Good, The Very Good & The Ugly

The factory presets, as usual, endeavour to show off the full range of the G Major's versatility. Some of them are very good, some of them certainly repay deeper investigation than a cursory audition on the way to the next one, revealing hidden subtlety and detail, and some of them (usually the ones with 'synth' in the title) succeed in making the unit sound broken.

However intuitive the G Major is to program from scratch (and it is very intuitive), many users will still initially decide to edit one or two of the factory presets, tweaking the mix parameters, adding a new effect here, taking one away there... it's really easy to do. What's not so easy to do, however, is take away bits of the patch name as, curiously, the current OS doesn't seem to have a 'character delete' function. Call me picky, but it just plain pisses me off to not be able to quickly change 'Chrs, Delay & Verb" into "Delay & Verb' just by deleting the first few characters. Add this to my earlier observations about the memo

  Simultaneous effects: six (plus gate)
Factory Presets: 100
User Memories: 100

Connectors: quarter-inch jacks (bal/unbal)
Maximum input level: +24dBu
Minimum input level for 0dBFS: 0dBu
Input impedance (bal): 21k(omega)
Input impedance (unbal): 13k(omega)
Output impedance: 40k(omega)
Max output level: +20dBu
Dynamic range: typically 100dB 20Hz to 20kHz
Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz (+0/-0.1dB)
THD: typically 0.0025% at 1kHz
A-D/D-A conversion: 24-bit, 128x oversampling bitstream
A-D delay: 0.65mS (at 48kHz)
D-A delay: 0.63mS (at 48kHz)

Connectors: RCA phono (S/PDIF or AES-EBU)
Sample rates: 44.1kHz, 48kHz
Formats: S/PDIF or AES-EBU 24-bit, EIAJ CP340, IEC 958
Processing delay: 0.1mS (at 48kHz)
Frequency response (digital I/O): DC to 23.9kHz ±0.01dB

ry organisation and the fact that the G Major ships with the User bank empty (rather than already filled with duplicates of the Factory bank) and you may concur with my conclusion that this aspect of the product has not been, shall we say, optimised?

The G Major's delightfully detailed LCD includes a constantly-running, auto-ranging tuner display. Two modes, Fine and Coarse, are available, the latter allegedly a bit faster for on-stage use, at the expense of a tiny degree of accuracy. You can remotely mute the output for silent tuning, either via MIDI controller or an expression pedal mapped to input level (the tuner can still read the input even when the pedal is fully off). It's great having the tuner readout there in the display all the time, and it's even better having it echoed down in front of you if you've got a G Minor hooked-up as well (see 'G Minor' box), although the tuner in the review model was prone to the odd bout of random vagueness, as if it had suddenly lost interest in the proceedings. Powering down and restarting always effected a complete revival, but perhaps this is something else TC might like to look at with a view to future software revisions.

Although relatively small and densely packed, the display is nonetheless eminently functional, with the moving elements -- tuner readout, input metering and compressor gain reduction/gate attenuation -- all visible at a reasonable working distance, unlike the rest of the front panel, which consists of black buttons on a black background. If you think you are ever going to have to poke around at it in the dark, bring a torch!

Every preset includes a Preset Boost parameter, designed to allow you to achieve an instant change in level via MIDI footswitch, for solos or fills. The amount of boost is user-determinable, but all the presets default to -6dB for this parameter (thereby allowing 6dB of boost). I know some people will love this facility, but I don't work that way and I don't love it, especially the fact that it creates a level difference between every preset and full bypass mode, unless you go in and edit each one individually (no global tweak for this, unfortunately). Remember, this is not just the effects signal you are affecting, it's your dry signal too, so if you've got this thing patched into the insert point of your nice valve amp, suddenly your power stage is seeing 6dB less signal, and everything is sounding and feeling very different. The default should be unity gain, leaving those who actually want the facility to set up the desired amount of attenuation.

G Diminished Or G Augmented?

In spite of my reservations, the G Major has a lot to offer, both for on-stage use and in recording applications. It sounds just like a G Force to me, but is even more intuitive, and therefore a bit faster to get around. The available effects range from the brutally assertive, through the overtly impressive to subtle shades of supportive enhancement, and the real-time control options are extensive and well-implemented. I would also readily concede that some potential users, particularly in a studio-only context, simply might not be bothered by some of the things that affect me.

However, I feel that the absence of a dedicated (serious) MIDI foot controller (see 'Remote Possibilities' box) and the limited range of third-party options available, plus the omission of any MIDI phantom powering facilities, is regrettable. Although the G Minor seems to have been launched as a dedicated companion to the G Major, even the most cursory investigation is enough to reveal that it is clearly not intended to take the place of a serious floorboard controller. With its comprehensive MIDI 'remotability' and on-board relays, the G Major hints at the prospect of acting as a complete 'rig command centre', handling amp channel switching, loop selection, power-amp mode switching, and so on, but two relays (again, see 'Remote Possibilities' box) are simply not enough to realise the unit's potential in this area.

Ultimately, I'm left with slightly mixed feelings about the G Major. I love the sound of it, I really like the basic organisation of the unit, and I think that it is great value for money in the UK, with no obvious competitor of equivalent quality at this price point, despite the fact that, in some areas, the software gives the impression of simply being unfinished. Of course, software can always be updated, as indeed the review model OS was during the test period, and TC have already begun to address some of the reservations that I have expressed. Clearly, there was a gaping hole in the market waiting to be filled by the first mid-price, high-quality guitar effects unit that finally got everything right, and whilst G Major can not yet lay claim to that accolade, it is certainly the new front-runner in the field.

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