• Amazon: Boss RC-2 Loop Station
• Pros: The Boss RC-2 Loop Station has all the functionality of the larger Boss RC-2x series crammed into a tiny box, that isn’t too expensive.
• Cons: Some lost sound quality after multiple overdubs. Close to unusable in the studio, and impractical live, without buying extra footswitches. Superseded by the newer Boss RC-3.
• Overall: A good pedal for a bit of fun at home, but if you’re wanting to take your looping further than the bedroom, it might be worth investing in a bigger model.
The Boss RC-2 Loop Station is the predecessor of the Boss RC-3 Loop Station, which was released in 2011. If the RC-2 were to be described in iPod terms, it would be the Nano of Boss’s older RC-2x series. For it’s size, you would think that it’s quite difficult to get all the functionality of the big boys (the RC-20XL Loop Station and the goliath RC-50 Loop Station) into a little box. You might also think it’s not likely that Boss would opt to provide you with a different peda that is 19 inches long if there wasn’t a benefit to all that size. But don’t discount the little Boss RC-2 straight away; you’d be surprised how much you can fit into such a small package.
Boss has essentially developed a few pedals built around the same basic model for their RC-2x looping range. Of course, the basic goal of each pedal is the same. All that is needed, in essence, is something that doesn’t alter your sound, and allows you turn a phrase of your playing into a loop that you can then jam over or overdub. As a technology, it’s best suited to solitary experimentation and jamming, and can be arranged to form some semblance of a live set. The ‘RC-2x’ range tries to provide something for everyone interested in looping. For more info on looping, click here.
The Boss RC-2 really is the baby of the family, but still packs it’s own little punch in many ways. Far from being a snivelling, under-developed miniaturized version, it’s features are still fairly extensive, and however much your internal phallic rating system wants you to opt for the biggest one, it may be worth checking out the tiny model. The onboard memory allows you to record sixteen minutes of mono, the same amount as the RC-20XL, and plenty of time for a good jam session. These can be split across eleven ‘Phrase’ save slots, and accessed via the dial in the centre of the unit.
For the impatient new owner, using the Boss RC-2 straight out of the box is relatively simple. Select a slot to record on with the dial, tap out a tempo (using the unit’s only push button), kick the footswitch and go for it. Then you give the pedal another tap, and the loop plays back. Get into some horrifically exaggerated 80’s rock power position, give it another tap and solo away to your heart’s content.
The footswitch can also be held for a few seconds to undo and re-do, which are both useful tools either for when one particular run made you feel like you’d committed some sort of musical crime, or when you’re wanting to exploit the ability to bring in another part. The ‘Undo/Redo’ function gives you an easy way to temporarily add another layer: overdub it onto the phrase, remove when it has played it’s course (‘Undo’), with the option there for if you want to bring it back in later. Also tap this pedal twice in quick succession to stop your loop, unless you’ve shelled out extra on the footswitch.
Built-In Drum Patterns
The Boss RC-2 has several built in drum sounds, and has a sufficient enough library for the lonely guitarist to enjoy jamming in different styles, with 35 different beats to choose from, it’s quite easy to fall into a jam with the machine. Even if you use the ‘Guide’ enough to become sick of them, you can always play a backing track from a music device via the unit’s auxiliary input. The ‘Guide’ is just Boss’s version of a click track, but it’s more like the computerized offspring of a drum machine and a metronome. You’re left with a basic drum beat to work to, and hopefully the starting point of a trip into the magical world of improvisation.
Timing and Quantization
The Boss RC-2 also offers the ‘Loop Quantize’ feature, which is there to save you from the frustration of not stopping the recording exactly on the beat with your pedal tap and having your loop spiral out of control. It basically extends or shrinks your loop so that it’s in correct time. It is only enabled when you’ve set the tempo before playing, which is an irritating restriction, as if you don’t set one and begin recording, when you hit the pedal to start the phrase looping, it will calculate the tempo for you. So essentially, if Loop Quantize was activated from whenever the machine knows the tempo, instead of just if you actually pre-warn the machine, Loop Quantize would just start on the second loop anyway. It seems to me like most people would probably be able stop the loop in correct time if they’ve literally just tapped out the tempo to the machine anyway. Being able to tap to what you’re going to play also involves forethought and planning, and if you know what you’re going to play, I’d say it’s a fair bet you’re going to know when to stop the loop. And for those of us who just pick up play something without planning a tempo first? Combining the two features would do us well, after having made up something at an ad hoc tempo, the machine would calculate it, and if we took a musical detour, it would whip us into shape and correct the timing for us. As long as we wanted it to, of course.
One more thing that’s worth mentioning is the Boss RC-2’s controls. As it’s so small, it faces many more issues than the RC-20XL or the RC-50 because all of the aforementioned features have to be accessible in a 3×5 inch pedal. The solution is quite ingenious. On the left is the volume dial, in the middle you have the ‘Phrase Select’ dial, and to the right is the vital ‘Mode’ dial. It’s responsible for setting the pedal to ‘Rec/Play/Overdub’, for using The Guide, for setting the tempo, and for setting whether the phrase plays once (like a sampler) or loops. It is also used for saving and deleting files. A lot of the pedal’s functionality relies on that knob. Without external pedals, it’s really all you have.
This leads us to the problems with the Boss RC-2. Obviously in trying to cram everything under it’s tiny lid some features were cast aside and other’s beaten and mangled upon entry. Whilst for the most part, the unit works as well as it claims to, there are several issues with it. For one, you can’t sync up to an external MIDI clock, coupled with the fact that the sound quality does decrease as you add more overdubs, it makes it a potential nightmare in the studio.
Along with that, the fiddly functions almost rule the lone RC-2 out for use in gigs, because you’d spend too much time bent over tinkering with the thing instead of performing, or it’d cost you extra for the external pedals. This leads us to what is, in my eyes, the product’s ideal market. The home-jammer! The humble, non-performing (or not seriously performing), experimental guitarist who’s a little low on cash but after a decent looper. There are a lot of ways in which the product could be improved, and in reality, Boss should have tried to get a more complete functionality on their ‘Nano’, but if you’re just after a bit of fun, it’s pretty damn good! The reason it gets you is the price, in looking at the bigger models you see what they can do, and really want one, but the price tag is ridiculous. On Amazon (present day: May 23rd, 2010) the RC-20XL will run you $218.89 and the monster RC-50 is $449.99. So, there’s quite a market for the Boss RC-2, which will cost you significantly less. The price tag also suits the pedal’s ideal audience, who probably just want the unit for fun, and don’t want to pay $450 for a good time without some sort of ‘happy ending’.
The Boss RC-2 is flawed in many ways and not really suited for studio or live use, but if looping is more of a hobby for you, it’s definitely worth having a look at. It’s cheap, has the same great functions and tools as it’s older brothers, and will is the perfect companion for the trip down into the strange and twisted road into the world of looping. Unless you’re on a strict budget, however, it might be worth at least checking out the newer Boss RC-3 Loop Station, Boss’s newer compact looper released in 2011.