Sound — 9
Brian May's guitar tone is one of the most unique and recognizable in rock music; at the heart of it is his home built guitar and Vox AC30. Scrolling through the presets shows a surprising amount of diversity based on these pieces of gear, and the sounds were incredibly realistic. One very cool and overlooked facet of Brian's rig is his use of a treble booster, and DigiTech went so far as to include this circuitry in the Red Special's input section. For those Who don't know, a treble booster does exactly what it's name implies; when placed before a preamp section or distortion pedal, its overall effect is to boost the gain and smooth it out. I don't know how to play all that many Queen songs, but I am certainly familiar with their catalog and many of Brian's signature riffs. I had a great time playing with each preset, especially comparing the sometimes subtle differences from one to the next. The "Bohemian Rhapsody" setting had me banging my head "Wayne's World" style as I played the heavy riff after the a capella section, and the "We Will Rock You" setting catapulted me to arena-rock bliss as I played the simple-yet-uber-cool outro. A big surprise was the "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" setting, which had one of the most realistic acoustic simulators I've yet heard. The Guitar control bears another mention in this section. Take a listen to the sound clips with this in mind: I recorded them with a home-built, EMG-equipped Explorer clone! I would say the pickup modeling was pretty successful.
Overall Impression — 9
I had fun putting this pedal through its paces. It is not meant to be a piece of stage gear for a professional player; it is meant to give weekend warriors and bedroom-only players a peek into Brian May's unique guitar tone. At this, it passes with flying colors. I was particularly impressed with the "woodiness" of the amp/cabinet simulation, which made it sound like I was playing through an amp rather than a microchip. Whether you're a Queen fan or not, there are some great rock, blues, and even metal tones to be had with the Red Special. It even comes with a British sixpence, Brian's plectrum of choice.
Reliability & Durability — 8
I can't say much about this, as it is a brand-new pedal, but I have heard very few complaints about the Red Special's reliability, and DigiTech's customer service is excellent should you run into difficulties. It seemed well-built and ready to stand up to some abuse.
Ease of Use — 6
I wouldn't say the Red Special is difficult to use, but it takes a bit to get used to the controls. The pedal itself is a wah/volume case (finished in a sexy faux wood grain) with knobs across the top: Gain, Level, Treble, Bass, Control, Guitar, and Model. Gain, Level, Treble and Bass are self-explanatory. Model allows you to select models 1 through 7, and you can select two tones (red or green) for each of these settings by stomping on the toe or heel switch. Control has a different function for each model; for some settings it is the Midrange control, but it may control an effect level or speed. Keep the owner's manual handy to keep these straight, also to tell you which sound each setting is modeled after. Another unusual knob is the Guitar knob. The 12 o'clock setting is for those rare players Who have either a Brian May guitar or Burns Tri-Sonic pickups. Left of center is labeled "SC" for single-coil users, and right of center is "HB" for humbucker users. The aim is to make any guitar sound like a Brian's guitar, and there is some flexibility depending on how the knob is set. I took a point off for the expression pedal, whose short throw is difficult to control. For example, when using it to control delay level, it is difficult to set it at a middle point between no delay at all and so much delay as to be unusable.