The latest pedal in Boss’ SY series offers expressive synth sounds without the hassle.
If the Boss SY‑1 synthesizer pedal doesn’t quite do everything that you want from a guitar synth pedal, yet you feel that the SY‑300 is overkill, then the pedalboard‑friendly SY‑200 might just fall into your Goldilocks zone. It employs the same polyphonic synth engine as its aforementioned siblings, which means that it works with a standard guitar or bass — no special pickup required. It’s designed to produce a range of analogue‑style synth sounds, so you’ll find no sampled grand pianos or bagpipes on offer here!
In addition to its input and output jacks, the pedal has parallel send and return jacks that allow the synth sound to be processed by other pedals of your choice. Delays are obviously good to explore with synth sounds, but you can hook up whatever you want to experiment with, and while it’s designed for use with pedals, I can’t see a problem with using line‑level devices so long as they have input and output level controls.
There’s MIDI connectivity via 3.5mm TRS mini‑jacks (you will need adaptor cables for these), which would be especially useful in conjunction with Boss’s ES‑8 and ES‑5 loop switchers. This is joined by an expression jack for up to two external footswitches or an expression pedal, and a micro USB port for firmware updates. There’s no software editor, which the larger SY‑300 can boast, but since operation is very straightforward there’s really little need for one. Power comes from three AA batteries or an optional Boss PSA 9V adaptor.
A rotary control selects between 12 sound types, such as Lead, Pad, String, Bell, Organ and Bass, and each comes with a number of variations to give you a total of 171 sounds. You can then make very basic tweaks to the selected sound, typically filter resonance, cutoff and depth, but in some cases, resonance is replaced by rate. These are all guitar‑friendly sounds insomuch as they respond to normal picking techniques and there are no envelope controls to worry about; as the guitar decays, the synth level decays too, unless you use the hold function. There are memories for saving and recalling sounds, after which you can easily rearrange the ones you need into a logical order for performance.
The left footswitch turns the synth effect on or off while the right switch, labelled Memory/CTL 1, may be assigned to various functions such as patch change, synth hold, pitch control, and so on. The levels of the guitar and synth sounds are set via independent rotary controls to the left of the Variation knob. Three rotary/push‑switch encoders are used when editing and relate to what is shown above them in the LCD window, while the Memory encoder is used to select patches or to change the tempo setting, and its push switch functions as an Enter button.
The synth engine uses the output from the guitar strings as a sound source and then modifies the waveform and dynamics, while adding synth‑style filtering and pitch manipulation. This method limits the sounds to an analogue‑style palette, but does away with issues such as latency and pitch tracking problems, which can still be an issue with pitch‑to‑MIDI systems. Note bends are followed exactly as played, too.
The SY‑200 can be patched before your existing pedals or you can use the send and output jacks to split the synth and guitar sounds so that they can be fed to different amps/recording channels. You can use the synth sounds with a conventional guitar amp, but they sound much better going into a clean, full‑range speaker, though there’s a voicing option that improves matters if you really must play the synths through your amp.
In addition to the synth sound types already described, the SY‑200 offers some dual‑oscillator stacked sounds, noise‑based effects, sweeps, special effects and one‑shots, pulsating sequencer sounds, and arpeggios that start on the note being played. Unlike the SY‑300, the SY‑200 doesn’t include an effects section for either the guitar or the synth sounds, so if you feel that the synth sounds need more in the way of effects, you’ll need to patch the synth output into other pedals.
In use, this pedal proved extremely easy to operate. You pick a sound type, choose a variation, then adjust the three knobs below the display to tune it to your liking, after which you can save it as a preset. If you need to change the control pedal functions, the Menu button gets you into the settings area, where the Memory encoder is used to navigate, select and adjust values or select options. Here, you can set things like the MIDI channel and bypass mode.
Sonically, the SY‑200 is impressive, particularly given that it works with a regular guitar, and there’s an excellent choice of lead sounds totalling 30 in all.These range from a ‘Lucky Man’ [Emerson Lake & Palmer, not the Verve! ] square wave to searing sawtooth and even an oscillator sync style sound. Some patches have a little portamento built in and others are made from layers, to give a more dense sound. The organ emulations are excellent, and rival what you can expect from a dedicated organ pedal, though I would dearly love it if the CTL 1 switch allowed you to ramp between fast and slow rotary sounds; as it is, any rotary effects seem to be baked into the patch.
There’s a lot of variety to be had across the 12 synth sound types, all with a characteristically analogue flavour, but in my opinion you really need to add some reverb or delay to bring them alive. A nice chorus pedal or a Dimension D effect would work well on the string and pad sounds, too. While there are no pitch‑tracking errors as such, on a few of the patches the actual sound character can jump around in a slightly lumpy way if you play chords, adding a somewhat warbly texture to the tonality, but in the main everything behaves very solidly with no change to playing technique required.
There’s a lot of variety to be had across the 12 synth sound types, all with a characteristically analogue flavour.
In summary then, while the SY‑200 won’t completely replace a Jupiter‑8, with the addition of a few basic effects it can definitely allow you to create believable synth sounds with the absolute minimum of effort; the ease of use of this pedal has to be applauded. So if you don’t have the budget or pedalboard space for the SY‑300 and you value immediacy of operation, you should find the SY‑200 very appealing.
- Very easy to use and tweak.
- Wide range of analogue‑style synth sounds.
- Compact 200‑series pedal format.
- Works with any electric guitar/bass, and acoustic guitars with a pickup.
- No integral effects.
A compact and practical guitar synth pedal that doesn’t need a special pickup or require radical changes to your playing technique.