• Amazon: Zoom G5
• Pros: 22 amp models (with matching cabs) and 145 effects. Up to nine simultaneous effects gives you plenty of possibilities, and you can record with it via USB. Great for home, studio or live use.
• Cons: Some effects can be anything from cripplingly weird to downright pointless, and changing patches (especially between banks) could be a smoother process.
• Overall: The perfect option if you’re looking for the most capable and feature-rich multi-effects unit on a budget.
When you’re looking for a multi-effects pedal, it can often feel like you have to spend a ton of money to get a really capable piece of hardware. Generally, as you get more affordable, the pedals start hemorrhaging features, gradually shrink to the point where they’re challenging to use live and the catalogue of effects gets smaller and smaller. The Zoom G5 looks like a bargain-hunting guitarist’s dream: up to nine simultaneous effects with over 145 to choose from, and more memory slots than you’ll ever be able to fill, all for a reasonable price. Is it too good to be true, or is the G5 really as excellent as it sounds?
Tons of Features
Unless you’re in the midst of a full-blown addiction to creating effects, the G5 has more patch slots than you’ll know what to do with: 297 in total, with three in each of 99 banks. In each individual patch, there is room for nine effects or amp models, all of which you can use simultaneously. For a comparable price, you can’t find anything that even approaches this offering – either in terms of available memory locations or simultaneous effects. Really, it’s like having a collection of 297 different pedalboards at your feet, all crammed into one device.
You get plenty of choice in amps, cabs and effects, with 22 classic to modern amps (all including a companion cab) and a total of 145 effects, including over 120 stompbox models. This means you can make your own digital dream rig by mixing and matching amps and cabs, and then still have plenty of room left over for incorporating stompbox effects into your sound. The stompboxes modeled include compressors and noise gates, filters and EQs, distortions, modulations, delays, sound effects, reverbs and some single-slot combinations of different effect types. 50 pre-programmed patches have also been made by professional musicians, including members of bands like Anthrax.
There are five footswitches on the bottom of the G5, and four of these are used to switch patches and turn specific effects on or off. In the ordinary operation mode, they work just like stompbox footswitches, letting you bring effects in and out at will hands-free, but by holding down the fourth switch you can use them to choose a patch too. In this mode, pressing the first and second footswitch scrolls down a bank and the second and third scroll up a bank, then the individual switches are used to choose one of the three patches. Each of the four left-most switches has a dedicated display screen, three buttons and three dials that allow you to choose a specific effect and adjust its parameters. The fifth pedal is a solo booster, adding a bit of volume to help your solos burst through the mix.
The expression pedal on the right of the Zoom G5 is more than just the standard up-and-down variety; by adding movement left and right, it can be used to control up to three effect parameters on the fly. You have complete control over what you assign, and there are 20 effects on the unit specifically designed for the far-out pedal. It’s definitely a cool idea, and expands the amount of changes you can make without using the dials and buttons, but keeping the effects under control with three-dimensional motion can be a little challenging.
There’s also a built-in looper on the Zoom G5, offering 60 seconds worth of looping time along with as many overdubs as you like. The far left footswitch controls most of the looping functions – you hold it down to enter looper mode, then it becomes the “Record/Play/Overdub” pedal for all your looping needs. There is an “Undo/Redo” function on the G5’s looper (which is good for when you make mistakes, but also opens up new possibilities for composition), but unfortunately this cuts the looping time in half. This still compares with the loopers offered by other multi-effects units, especially since most don’t even have an undo/redo option. There’s also a drum machine with over 40 patterns, which can be made a part of your loops, form the rhythm backing for recordings or used in place of a metronome for practicing.
The back of the unit has a 1/4 inch input, stereo outputs, a 1/4 inch headphone jack, a spot for an external footswitch, an XLR jack and a USB port for connectivity. Using the USB port, the G5 can serve as an audio interface so you can record directly onto your computer, and the pedal comes with Cubase so you can edit and arrange your compositions. If the number of included patches isn’t enough for you, you can also download the free “Edit and Share” program to store even more sounds on your computer.
The G5 – Almost Unbeatable Value
Criticizing the G5 isn’t particularly easy, and the pedal is so good all-round that the only real downsides are fairly minor in nature. With so many effects, it’s pretty much inevitable that some won’t have quite the same wide-ranging uses as others, and there are definitely a couple of offenders here (I’m looking at you, “MonoSynth,” and the “Air” effect designed to simulate the ambience of a room… you know, like the one you’re already in). On the whole, though, the effects are well-modeled, and there are more than enough of them to keep you busy.
The claim of nine simultaneous effects definitely turns heads, but the digital signal processing limitations mean that it isn’t a total free-for-all. For example, you may run into a limit if you try to run multiple amp models along with reverbs and delays, but it’s also fairly obvious that barely anybody would want to do that. If you use it like a normal person would – one amp model and a collection of effects – having nine simultaneous effects is completely possible.
The G5 is definitely user-friendly in most cases, and if you don’t need much on-the-fly control over parameters it’s well set up for gigs on the whole. The only real snag comes when you need to change presets, and especially if you’re going up or down a couple of banks. It doesn’t require too much messing around between songs, but with holding down a switch, double-pressing to scroll through banks and then tapping to confirm, it could be a smoother process.
But in the end, these issues are incredibly minor, and most of the stuff on the G5 works just like you want it to. With an onboard looper, a plethora of well-modeled amps and effects, a three-way expression pedal and the ability to have nine simultaneous effects, it’d be hard to find anything comparable for anywhere near this low in price. In fact, you’d need to spend double the amount to find something to rival it; within its price range, it seems to be the undisputed king. If you’re a professional musician and you need effects a lot, it might be worth spending more for a larger set of footswitches, but for anybody else it’s hard to see a serious issue with the G5. If it’s towards the upper end of your budget, you’ll be hard pushed to find anything better.
• Amazon: Zoom G5