Zoom’s new multi‑effects pedal is both a problem‑solver and a source of inspiration.
Over the years of playing bass gigs I’ve had an on/off relationship with effects pedals. For some periods of my bass playing career I subscribed to the idea that all you need is a bass, a cable and an amp. However, a few years ago I found myself playing in a band that demanded both electric and upright basses in the same set, and along with a pedal to swap between them, each instrument also required different EQs. The electric — a fretless — required a bit of chorus and reverb in the more atmospheric songs.
So I found myself with a nest of boxes and patch cables at my feet. There were multiple connections to get wrong, cable reliability to worry about, batteries to check, and more than once I left a pedal at a venue and had to go back the next day to rescue it (on one occasion I didn’t get my Boss graphic EQ pedal back). In the end, I came to appreciate the creative possibilities of the sounds, but I got tired with the palaver and stress of separate effects and invested in a Zoom B3 multi‑effects box. And although the B3 is a brilliant and rugged little box that makes gigging life much less complicated, I’ve never been entirely convinced by the sound quality of many of its effects, and consequently I’m relatively conservative in terms of which ones I use. So, the launch of the new Zoom B6, the review subject here, had me intrigued.
The B6 is very much larger and very much more capable than the B3 and its successor, the B3n. For a start, where the B3n offers a total of 67 individual ‘stompbox’‑style effects or amp models (each one of course separately configurable), the B6 offers around 115. And whereas the B3n enabled each patch to be built from a chain of up to three effects, the B6 accommodates six. But that’s just the beginning of the B6 story; there’s much more to it than just effects count and patch chain length. Probably the easiest way to begin to explain all there is to play with (and there is a lot) is to describe its physical format, so that’s what I’ll do.
At 42 x 23cm, the B6 consumes significantly more floor space than the B3, and that’s potentially an issue on bijou stages. However, it’s still pretty small compared to many a bandmate’s pedalboard that I’ve had to gingerly step over on the way to the back of the stage. Structurally, the B6, with its carbon‑fibre‑look plastic top panel and metal chassis, feels sturdy and suitably roadworthy, if perhaps not quite as bomb‑proof as the all‑metal B3.
On the upper surface are located nine footswitches, four rotary parameter encoders and a 100 x 75mm colour LCD touchscreen. The touchscreen displays everything you need to know about the current state of the B6, enables effect and patch configuration and selection, and also incorporates swipe‑down setup screens that provide access to all the necessary configuration and housekeeping menus. The idea of a touchscreen on a device that by its very nature sits on the floor for foot operation might seem a little incongruous (especially if, like me, you own a pair of ageing knees), but the B6 is so generously equipped with both effect and configuration options that I think it’s actually a perfectly reasonable proposition. Furthermore, with the optional Bluetooth wireless adaptor fitted, or the B6 connected to a computer by USB, all configuration can be done from an iOS device or a Mac OS/Windows computer — no knee‑strain required.
To begin with the footswitches, the function of the four Effect switches located along the front edge of the B6 is conditional on the setting of the far‑left Play Mode switch, but before I lift the lid on that, I’ll quickly cover the function of the remaining four switches.
At the top right is an input selection switch. The B6 can accommodate two instruments (hurrah!) and this switch simply selects between them. Directly below the input switch is a DI selection switch that cycles through two valve types and two transistor types of modelled DI box. If you’d rather not have a DI box model at the end of your signal chain, there’s also a defeat option. Finally, at the bottom right‑hand side is a bypass switch. It cycles through options of bypass off, bypass effects (leaving any selected DI option in place) and bypass all.
The last of the four ‘hard’ switches, the one to the right of the touchscreen, actually has two functions. Firstly, if a looper or rhythm generator (more of both later) tempo is required, repeatedly tapping the switch defines said temo. Secondly, if you press and hold the switch, a big, bold and wonderfully clear tuner display appears on the B6 screen. Engaging the tuner also usefully mutes the B6 output. I found the tuner easy to use and reassuringly stable. It tunes chromatically to 440Hz by default, but other options can be configured if required.
Moving on to the ‘soft’ Effect footswitches along the front edge of the B6, their function is modified by the setting of the Play Mode switch located to the left of the touchscreen. The Play Mode switch sequentially selects through four modes: Looper, Memory, Bank/Patch and Effect Board. Looper mode is a bit of an...