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TC Electronics G Force

Guitar Effects Processor By Paul White
Published April 1999

TC Electronics G Force

Though marketed as a guitar effects unit, the G Force might be more accurately described as a full‑function studio effects processor with some neat guitar‑related functions added. 

TC Electronic have built their reputation on ultra‑clean‑sounding effects that are musically as well as technically excellent. They also pay more attention than most to making their units easy to operate, while retaining all the flexibility needed to satisfy those programmers who like to really get inside a patch. The G Force is aimed at serious guitar players who want to get rid of their mess of pedals and replace them with one unit that does it all. To this end, both overdrive and intelligent harmony creation have been added to the more familiar armoury of studio effects such as reverb, delay, modulation and so on.

In order to make the G Force attractive to as many users as possible, TC have given it stereo balanced outputs on jacks, stereo inputs on high‑impedance (instrument/line‑compatible) jacks and 24‑bit, 44.1kHz digital I/O on S/PDIF phono connectors. The user has access to eight effect types that can be run simultaneously with no 'out of DSP capacity' messages, the effects blocks may be freely routed in both series and parallel configurations, and there's a powerful modulation system, known as the Modifier Matrix, that enables the user to set up various real‑time control functions. External MIDI or pedal control of effect parameters is possible, but there's no dedicated pedalboard — something I think gigging professionals might ask for.

G Force

G Force comes housed in a smartly styled 1U rack, and in addition to the rear‑panel digital and analogue I/O already mentioned, there's also a full set of MIDI In, Out and Thru connectors, as well as an external control input jack that can be used with a standard expression pedal.

The front panel houses the input and output level controls, a PCMCIA expansion card slot, a display section, 22 control buttons and two data‑entry knobs, one for Parameter and one for Value. Unusually, the power switch is a momentary‑action button, so to prevent G Force being switched off by accident, you have to hold down this button for at least three seconds before releasing it in order to switch the unit off. The display section comprises two areas — an LCD window for patch selection and parameter editing, and something called the Billboard, which behaves rather like those scrolling text advertising signs you see at trade shows. In fact, the Billboard is a matrix of 5 x 14 square LEDs, which can show things like the preset name and number, tempo, and messages of your own choosing — a novel way to advertise at gigs. As shipped, the unit delights in spelling out its name if you leave it alone for more than a few minutes. Beneath the Billboard are further indicators to show when a patch has been edited, when MIDI and pedal information is being received and so on. Yet more LEDs act as a compressor gain‑reduction meter and tuner indicator.

The buttons are arranged into logical sections, and each has a dedicated function. The Effects Control section provides a button for each of the eight effects types plus the noise gate, as well as Bypass, Tuner and Tempo buttons. Tempo can be used to tap in delay tempos and so on, while Tuner turns the front‑panel display into a large and very accurate guitar tuner. When a patch is called up, LEDs within the corresponding effect buttons light up to show which effects blocks are active, and any block may be bypassed by pressing its button. In Effects Edit mode, these buttons may be double‑clicked, computer mouse‑style, to get you directly into the effect edit menu for that block.

Next along are the Control buttons handling Recall, Store, Effects, I/O Setup, Mod and Utility. Recall and Store deal with finding and saving patches between the two factory preset banks and the 100 user memory locations (900 more patches can be stored on a card). It's also possible to copy individual effect‑block settings from patch to patch. Once you're in a display window, the left/right arrow keys are used in combination with the Parameter and Value knobs to access and edit parameters. The Enter key is used when loading selected patches and for confirming settings while editing — an inbuilt LED flashes when a confirmation is expected. Exit enables you to leave the current screen, though it may also be used in some situations to cancel actions.

G Force rear connections.G Force rear connections.

The Inner Workings

Before you can use G Force, you need to choose the appropriate I/O mode via the Setup menu; if you're patching a guitar directly into the unit, you must select the left analogue input as the source. You can also set up whether operating Bypass should kill the dry component of the signal — something you'd normally do if using the G Force in the aux send/return loop of a conventional mixer.

TC have used custom screen graphics to make using the G Force as simple as possible. When setting up an effect from scratch (as opposed to editing an existing patch), you have to decide how to route your effects blocks using an on‑screen grid four blocks deep and eight blocks wide. At at any point where one or more block is placed in parallel with any other, the signal splits to feed both. The signal mix at each relevant point may be adjusted and a little bargraph display comes up to help you get a good overview of the various mix levels. Everything is so intuitive that you can work most things out faster than finding them in the manual, which is in itself impressive, as the manual is much smaller than you might expect for a piece of equipment of this calibre.

The effects blocks themselves are divided into Compress, Filters, Pan & Trem, Pitch, Delay, Drive, Chorus and Reverb, and each block may only be used once in a patch (Flange comes under the chorus menu). The first level of editing is to select the effect type from the list available to that block. Once it's selected, you just hit Enter to get to the relevant parameter edit page, which is arranged as a simple scrolling list with parameter names on the left and values on the right. In most cases, the selected parameter will also have some kind of display icon, such as a bargraph meter for values. It all works very logically.

Perhaps the most difficult part to follow with any complex effects unit is the way in which modulation can be set up from external controllers or internal sources, such as LFOs or envelopes. Even here, TC have done a great job of keeping things simple. In effect, you have four columns displayed on screen with four modifier sources visible along the top at any one time. The Value knob is used to scroll crossways through the many available sources. All the destinations are listed down the right‑hand side of the screen, but once again, they won't all fit at once so the Parameter knob is used to scroll down the list. A little square icon shows where the columns intersect at any time and pressing Enter creates a patch between the selected source and destination. Though not every parameter within each effect is available as a modulation destination, all the logical ones seem to have been included.

When an external pedal is being used, its high, low and mid settings can be adjusted to give the desired control law and range. Some parameters may also be set to change over time using the Glide function. Best of all, if you get into a bit of a mess, hitting Exit twice will bring up a dialogue box allowing you to remove all the links you've just made.

Internal modifier sources can be used to map the input signal level to filter frequency to create auto‑wah effects, but you can do a lot more than that inside the G Force. There are two fully functional ADSR envelope generators that can be triggered by the input audio level, as well as two LFOs capable of generating sine, triangle or square waves with variable pulse width. During editing, both the Value and Parameter wheels may be used to simulate any of the internal controllers so that you can test out the effect you're trying to create.

Effects may also be sync'ed to tempo, where you choose the music rate you want — for example, eighth‑note triplets — and then just use the tap tempo to beat time with the tune. In addition to delays, chorus rates or any other LFO‑driven effects can be locked to tempo. Tap tempo may also be edited via MIDI, but there doesn't seem to be any way to lock the internal tempo to MIDI clock, unless I've missed something. As you adjust the tempo, the Billboard display turns into a large, pulsating red eye!

The Effects

All the effects are clean and pristine, with the exception of overdrive, which obviously isn't supposed to be! There's a fairly basic but effective speaker simulator available in the G Force's output section, and as you might imagine, the overdrives sound pretty gritty if you try to DI them without it. With the simulator turned on, the overdrive is musical and quite usable, but doesn't have the level of bite or squeal that I'm used to hearing from a real amp. The sound is more theme from Taggart or Peak Practice than AC/DC, if you get my drift. Most live players will probably use the G Force in conjunction with a guitar preamp, overdrive pedal or in a guitar amp's send/return loop, and for rock sounds, this might also be the best approach during recording. In this context, the overdrive settings help colour and shape what you already have, making your original amp a lot more versatile.

TC produce some of the world's best reverb algorithms, and the ones provided here are pretty impressive, albeit with slightly fewer parameters than you might get in a dedicated reverb processor. In fact there are two reverb options — a simple reverb with only five parameters, and a more comprehensive version where you can control room size from box to huge, adjust the high and low reverb tonality, change the room reflections, and tweak the pre‑delay, the diffusion, the decay start time and so on. By adjusting the available parameters, it's possible to emulate most natural spaces.

On the processing side, the G Force has a compressor optimised for guitar use, a 5‑band EQ with two shelving sections and three fully parametric bands, plus a standard guitar wah‑wah, as well as vowel‑based format filters. The more conventional effects include pan and tremolo plus emulations of chorus, flanger and phaser pedals that reproduce everything but the noise of the originals. Though the pitch‑shifter still exhibits a degree of shimmer (a side‑effect with even the best real‑time shifters), it is reasonably usable providing it is mixed with some of the straight signal, and there's a full plus or minus one octave range available. By choosing a key and a scale type, it's also possible to set up an intelligent pitcher that can harmonise guitar parts in real time with up to two additional voices. The more ambitious can create their own custom scales, and though you can tell the result isn't really two or three guitars playing together, the illusion is pleasantly musical. The unit can also do extremely good monophonic octave box impressions, as well as all the regular detuning and spiralling 'pitch shift in a delay loop' tricks we're so used to hearing.

The delay section includes a stereo delay line with a maximum delay time of 740mS, which is more than enough for most sensible uses, but rather stingy if you're into Fripp‑style looperisms. Even so, there's high cut and low cut, to make tape echo imitations more convincing, as well as a number of multi‑tap and cross‑feedback options.

Summary

It's a testament to the dedication of TC that they've made such a great‑sounding unit that can be reviewed in so short a space. The G Force's operating system is excellent, so trips to the manual cupboard should be infrequent, and the sonic quality of the effects is beyond reproach. I'm impressed that all the effects blocks can always be used without running out of processing power, and some of the complex examples provided, using the G Force's modulation capabilities to create effects that morph or shift over time, are quite inspirational. It's probably fair to say that the overdrive section doesn't really attempt to emulate real amp voicings — it's assumed that most players will use the G Force in conjunction with an amp of some kind — but you can DI directly from the unit and still get a result that's musically responsive and usable for many guitar styles outside mainstream rock. It may, however, be a limitation to some users that the digital I/O can only function at 44.1kHz, especially for those who want to team it with a digital desk/ADAT/BRC setup that can only run at 48kHz.

The G Force is probably best suited to those who demand quality but don't want to spend their life figuring out how to use their gear. The calibre of the effects, both technically and musically, is up there with the best of them, and being able to advertise your band or studio via the Billboard display is just an added bonus! If you want real quality without the hassle, this is one effects box to take very seriously, even if you don't own a guitar!

G Card

The G Card is an optional set of patches comprising 245 presets arranged into three banks. Because the card is read only, however, any edits based on these patches must be stored in regular user memory. All the patches on this card were created by professional guitarists and as such reflect the styles of the contributing artists. The musicians are listed as: Andrew Schlesinger, Michael James and Keith Wechler, Craig Anderton, Blues Sarenceno, Brian Swerdfeger, Bernie Chiaravalle, Mathew Nelson, Gunner Nelson, Guy Defazio and Tomo from Rudy's Music Centre NYC.

The presets provided vary from simple emulations of tape echo machines to heavily treated textural sounds, and though you're unlikely to use all of them they do provide useful starting points for further experimentation. Some of the very reverberant patches that include a higher octave of pitch shift would be useful for film score or ambient projects, and there are lots of nice chorus and modulation patches for more general use. I don't think the card goes any further than the factory patches in terms of stretching the machine, but it may be a good investment if you don't relish the thought of creating all your own patches from scratch.

Pros

  • Brilliantly simple operating system.
  • Quiet, musically inspiring effects, including intelligent guitar harmonies.
  • Digital and analogue I/O.
  • All eight effects blocks always available.

Cons

  • Digital I/O at 44.1kHz only.
  • No dedicated pedal board.

Summary

The effects market is a pretty cut‑throat place at the moment, but if you need high‑end sounds without Mensa complexity, the G Force is a good place to start looking.

Information

£1291.33 including VAT.

www.tcelectronic.com

Published April 1999