Brian May Red Special review by DigiTech

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  • Sound: 10
  • Overall Impression: 10
  • Reliability & Durability: 9
  • Ease of Use: 9
  • Reviewer's score: 9.5 Superb
  • Users' score: 7.4 (67 votes)
DigiTech: Brian May Red Special
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Price paid: £ 130

Purchased from: eBay

Sound — 10
My current setup is a Yamaha ERG-121 Guitar (a real cheapie), plugged into the Brian Box as I call it, plugged into a Boss CS3 Compressor (more on that later), plugged into a Marshall 45w effects amp. Noise is hardly an issue at all, the only noise it inherently makes more prominent is that found from boosting the gain and in effect the noise generated by the pickups of my guitar. In fact having compared the noise experienced with and without the pedal in my chain, it's safe to say this isn't a noisey pedal at all. I originally bought this pedal because I wanted to be able to play my Queen licks more authentically. I've since been convinced that the way forward in being your own guitarist is by making your own sound rather than attempting to be someone else. If you do want to sound like Brian, then these effects do the job perfectly. If you don't, you'll be pleased to know that this isn't just a one-trick pony - it's a decent, relatively cheap all-in-one effects pedal. If you're looking for complete control over every effect under the sun, you won't find it here but it does a lot of things very well. If you want to know in detail what every Model does effects-wise, then I'd recommend watching the above-mentioned video and referring to the manual available on the DigiTech Website. To summarise the effects and sounds, the pedal features a Flanger, a "Screaming" sound with some phaser, ideal for soloing with, an all-around generic rythm and lead, easy-to-switch sound (I use this most often), a generic Phaser sound, an Acoustic simulator, a Telecaster Simulator with reverb and slight delay - a great rockabilly sound, a subtle chorus with 2 ping-pong delays allowing for 3-part harmonies to be formed (note: the chorus and delay effects work together but the delay can be cut out, leaving just the chorus), a pitch-shifter set to major or minor 3rd and a deacy-amp simulator (look it up if you're not familiar, its an interesting read) with an option for the addition of reverb + delay, making a very moody and dramatic sound. With the Control dial, you're able to control the rate of Flange, Phaser, amount of Reverb and rate of Delays whereas with the expression pedal (which works like a wah/volume pedal in that it sensitively reacts to the exact angle its positioned at) controls the mix of Flange, Phaser and Delays and whether the pitch-shifter is in major or minor key. If you press down firmly, it also allows you to Switch between the two modes available in each Model. Despite its lovely range of effects, I don't tend to use this pedal for many of them (although it is comforting to know that if I ever wanted to add some Flange to my riffs, Phaser to my licks or have an Acoustic sound handy for when I can't carry my 6-string along with me, I could do). The main 2 settings I use are 3 (Tie your mother down, a generic rock guitar sound) and 6 (Brighton Rock, the 3-part delay with chorus) with the expression pedal backed off, leaving only the chorus. It also works great at generally improving your tone - I don't strive to sound like I'm playing through Tri-Sonic pickups so I tend to ignore the guidelines of how the Guitar dial "should" be set based on my current pickups (rather, I just move it around till I like what I hear) but it makes my 150 guitar sound like a 500 one - thats a relatively accurate estimate by the way, I've compared a 500 guitar to a 150 guitar with this pedal in front of it. The real beauty of this pedal however lies in something that the DigiTech guys don't advertise AT ALL: it's a very organic pedal in that if you back the volume pot of your guitar down, it gradually cleans up. This means that you can control the level of distortion your sound produces manually without needing to toy around with the pedal or whatnot. It's also sensitive to the intensity of your picking, meaning that if you want to for instance add some soft, clean chords to a song without having to turn the Brian Box off, all you need to do is play more softly - what could be easier? For this reason, when people ask me if I use my amp or a pedal to control my distortion, I explain that I use the Brian Box to provide it, but its all controlled from the volume pot of my guitar, which never fails to impress! With the subtle chorus effect, this means that you can go from a real glassy, shimmering tone to bluesy or full on distortion, depending on how you set your gain and volume pot - making you an incredibly dynamic player with little required effort. I often employ this technique and so when I roll the volume pot from 10 to around 2 or 3, I'll often want the volume to remain at the same levels (otherwise I can't be heard over the drummer in a live situation) so I'll use the Boss CS3 (Compressor & Sustainer) after the Brian Box in the effects chain mainly to bring the volume back up but also because it smooths out any harsh picking on my part, making me sound like I can actually fingerpick competently. It also allows me to do a neat litte signature move where I'll play something soft, hold a chord and roll up the volume, gradually bringing in the distortion without making it overly loud. Overall, whether you're looking for a VERY convincing Brian May sound at a great price or some great effects to start you off in your search for an Original sound, the Brian May Red Special pedal delivers an incredible sound that for a wide variety of Queen-related genres (of which there are many) can only improve your sound!

Overall Impression — 10
I mainly play rock which this pedal excels at, but also indie, some basic funk, rockabilly, pop, metal, blues and a little folk and country. This pedal handles all of these genres very well. I've been playing for around 3 or 4 years now and so my sound still has plenty of time to change completely but for the meantime, I can't see myself phasing this pedal out of my effects chain. If it was stolen or lost, I'd cry about it for a few minutes but I'd definitely buy it again, there's no pedal like it. There's nothing that I really dislike about it other than the amount of pressure needed to turn it on/off and Switch between toe and heel positions as well as the less-than-perfect strength of the glue applied to the rubber grip under the unit. A pedal that's been accurately modelled after a bunch of high-end and Vintage guitars, effects and amps can't really go far wrong, even at a price that you'd expect something of this standard to be at least twice of. But hey, not complaining! It's tough to compare this pedal to many others, it's quite unique (and not just in how generally good it is), but for a kind of all-in-one effects pedal, it's not for you if you want to be able to mix any number of effects together (and control them as accurately as you'd probably want to). It does get on fine with other pedals however and true to Brian's style, the idea isn't for it to smother your sound in massive amounts of reverb or an erratic chorus that will hopefully hide an otherwise poor-sounding/bleak solo, its to provide effects that complement your sound, should they need complementing! This pedal's easily revolutionised my playing style and sound. The beauty about it is it not only allows you to sound convincingly like the man himself, but it provides for a great range of effects at a cheap price. If you're considering buying one, I'd strongly recommend it.

Reliability & Durability — 9
It's really hard to fault this pedal for its build. I wouldn't jump off it for a stage-dive (like I stage-dive at all...) but I've stood on it with all my weight (I'm of average build for someone 6"5 tall) before for the sake of proving that it's not made of flimsy material so it'll handle your foot-stomping without breaking. This is just as well because the main problem I have with it is how hard you need to push down on the pedal to turn it on/off and Switch between the toe and heel positions, especially when sat down. Expect to need to put some visible momentum into it on-stage. Another problem is the reliability of the rubber grip attached to the bottom of it: when I moved into my university accomodation a few months ago, I found a random piece of rubber amongst all the clutter I'd accumulated on my floor in the first few weeks. I threw it away thinking it was some random bit of packaging...it turned out to be the heel-part of the grip from the glue having worn off, but this would be fixed by using superglue to re-attach it (unless like me you lose it...then you'd need to find a replacement piece). I've gigged with it a good few times now without a backup and not had to worry about it cutting out or breaking. As with all my equipment though, if someone gave me a backup for free, I'd definitely carry it around with me.

Ease of Use — 9
For a pedal with 7 nobs/dials and 3 pedal-related controls (more on that later), the Brian May Red Special Pedal is suprisingly easy to get a good sound out of (its almost impossible to get a bad sound out of it). I had the benefit of having watched the video review posted on YouTube by leebaguk which goes through every setting (basically its the more fun way of reading the manual) before purchasing it, but I got on well with this pedal from the word go. Because I was short on cash (but still eager to buy this pedal), I decided to buy it from eBay which saved me around 30 but cost me the manual and complimentary sixpence (Brian's Pick of choice) that it comes with first-hand, but the good fellows at DigiTech provide a manual on their website which explains everything in clear detail. Controls are as follows: 1st Nob - Outer Ring - Level (Volume) Inner Dial - Gain (Amount of Overdrive) 2nd Nob - Outer Ring - Bass (controls level of lower frequencies) Inner Dial - Treble (controls level of higher frequencies) 3rd Nob Outer Ring - Guitar (adjusts tone based on pickups to "re-voice" the pickups into sounding like Brian's) Inner Ring - Control (adjusts effects such as Rate of Flange, Phaser, Delays, Amount of Reverb or if there are no effects in the current Model, the Mid-range - the level of middle frequencies) 4th Nob - Model (changes the effect(s) based on the song it is modelled after)

2 comments sorted by best / new / date

    ClickSwitch
    Great review, but be warned, since its pretty much the same as the Digitech Ex-7, the pedal pot will become squeaky eventually, which luckily isn't too difficult to replace, and shouldnt cost much either.
    rv_phoenix
    ClickSwitch wrote: Great review, but be warned, since its pretty much the same as the Digitech Ex-7, the pedal pot will become squeaky eventually, which luckily isn't too difficult to replace, and shouldnt cost much either.
    Thanks for pointing this detail. I thought that for 150 GBP you get something unbreakable. Since I'm not so interested in Brian May's tone, I'll consider a Vox Wah.