Amazing guitar and vocal effects boxes will have you sounding like a pro | Cult of Mac

Amazing guitar and vocal effects boxes will have you sounding like a pro

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Play Acoustic has all you need to sound like a pro. Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac
TC-Helicon's Play series has all you need to sound like a pro. Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

It’s hard enough to sing and play guitar at the same time, let alone manage a floor full of guitar effects pedals. Add to that trying to create vocal effects like most listeners expect and you’ve got a solo musician’s worst nightmare.

The folks at TC-Helicon have come up with a couple of pretty nifty floor-style pedal boxes that have you covered though: You can dial in a fantastic guitar sound for either acoustic or electric guitar, fill a room with amazing vocal effects and backing harmonies, and even loop musical phrases to create a song with multiple parts on the fly. Dubbed Play Acoustic and Play Electric, these simple stomp boxes contain some serious technology in an easy-to-use platform.

Here’s how it plays out.

If you’ve read our review of the all-inclusive Voice Live 3, you’ll have the basics down. The Play Acoustic has the sounds and effects for acoustic guitar, while the Play Electric is decidedly more distorted and rock-oriented. You plug in a microphone and a guitar, and you’re ready to roll. Send your audio out to a PA and/or guitar amp, or monitor it all through a headphone jack on the back. You don’t even need a mic or plug-in guitar, as each Play box has a condenser mic built into the sides of the unit to pick up the ambient sounds, so the tuning and harmony algorithms know what to do when choosing the specific notes to back you up. It’s all very well thought out and easy to use.

The Play Acoustic box has 110 different presets built right in, and there’s room to add more: up to 500 total. The Play Electric box has 177 presets for your rocking pleasure. Each preset is named mostly for the type of vocal or harmony it represents (“High Harmony,” “Rockabilly Slap,” “Tuned Up + Down,” on the Play Acoustic, for example). It can be tricky to know which of the hundred or so presets you want to use, at first, which is why you can also filter how you browse through them using the Genre button. There’s Showcase, a sample of all the coolest vocal presets, Songs & Artists, which re-creates popular song and artist sounds. You can choose only presets for Pop, Rock, Alt, Country, Hip-Hop, or Dance genreas, or just focus on specifics, like Echo, Doubling, Reverb, Harmony, Hard Tune (for that T-Pain effect)Megaphone, Extreme, and Character sounds (if you like singing like a chipmunk, for example. Even better, you can Favorite the presets you like the best and only browse those – perfect for a gig with several presets you want to use without having to scroll through too many numbers with your feet.

The difference between the Play Electric and Acoustic is mainly in the type of guitar effects you’ll run into. The acoustic model lets you choose between different reverb, chorus, and resonance settings, with a guitar feedback protection circuit to keep from stunning your audiences with a squeal of feedback. The electric model has guitar out jacks on the back to let you send your vocals to the PA and your guitar sound to an amp (if you like), and allows you to control the type of amp modeling, reverb, compression and delay effects, and modulation effect (like Chorus or Flange). The one you’ll want to get will depend on your own play style — if you just need a guitar sweetener and vocal effects, the Play Acoustic is perfect. If you need distortion and the like, the Play Electric is the one to grab.

Check out this demo on the Play Electric to get a sense of how it can be used in your own performance.

And here’s a great demo of the Play Acoustic:

There’s a USB connection on the back of each box lets you plug your Play to your Mac or PC and download any number of awesome presets made by TC Helicon and freely available within the VoiceSupport app. Update the firmware, add presets, delete them, or just rename them all from the comfort of your keyboard.

Better yet? You can hook one of these boxes up to your iPad via the USB port and a Camera Connection kit and record right into GarageBand, letting you bring your live sound onboard for some amazing demo recording. This is the real deal.

Each unit has the ability to create and play loops, as well. You can record, play back, and overdub different sections of your guitar or vocal parts (or both!) to create a layered sound. Think about playing an 8-bar guitar part for a verse and then having that rhythm part keep playing while you rip a sweet solo. That’s what a loop can do. You just record the eight bars the first time through, then let it play back while you perform the solo. When you’re done, you can turn off the loop and just play regularly. Similarly, you can record the verse/chorus parts of a song either vocally or instrumentally, and then switch between them with the pedal buttons to sound like an entire band. It takes practice, like any instrument, but you’ll sound amazing with it.

One of the coolest things about TC-Helicon voice/guitar pedals is the sheer volume of useful YouTube videos on the company’s own channel that take you through each bit of the pedal in detail, showing you how to get the most out of your purchase.

Next time you want to perform solo, consider grabbing one of these bad boys. You get a whole ton of amazing sounding presets, easy and complete customization options, and a rugged, stage-worthy effects box that can, in fact, replace entire rack mounted vocal effects and viciously complex guitar pedalboards, not to mention being able to lose your guitar amp and plug right into a PA. All of that for $300? Now that’s affordable.

Play Acoustic ElectricPlay Acoustic/Play Electric by TC Helicon ($299.99)
The good: An impressive amount of preset sounds for both guitar and voice; all the basic tech behind the premier Voice Live 3 box with a much lower price.
The bad: There are foot buttons to operate from the floor, but that’s not always a bad thing.
The verdict: If you don’t have the cash for the bigger, more comprehensive Voice Live 3 pedal, the Play Acoustic or Electric are a fantastic bargain, filled with amazing sounds for your guitar or your voice.
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