• Amazon: Digitech JamMan Looper Pedal
• Pros: Easy to use, good quality pedal. Good memory, and provides the option of backing up to your computer. Can store a massive 99 loops onboard, which can be easily recalled.
• Cons: Difficult to use live because of the amount of button pressing that needed without buying the external footswitch. Doesn’t have full range of features (e.g. no “Reverse”), and as such falls down slightly in comparison to it’s main competitor.
• Overall: Similar to the Boss RC-20XL, with a better memory system and fewer features. This is the older model JamMan, however, so it has fewer bells and whistles than the newer JamMan Stereo.
Right off the bat, you may have noticed the similarity in look between the JamMan and Boss’s RC-20XL. You are certainly not alone. The RC-20XL came out in August 2004, and the JamMan a year later, to the month. This leads to a lot of competition between the two pedals, and they are in many ways easily comparable. DigiTech has since released a couple of new pedals, the JamMan Solo, the JamMan Stereo, and the Jamman Delay, but then again, so has Boss with it’s RC-3x series.
The manufacturing rivalry between Digitech and Boss does stand out, and they are similar in more ways than just appearances. In fact, both manufacturers offer us loopers with a lot of the same functions. The key to choosing between the two is simply to establish the differences and take your pick.
The layout of the original JamMan is straightforward, and an experienced looper will find it intuitive. For any new loopers, the manual will have you on your feet in no time. To start a loop, all you have to do is tap the “Rec/Play/Overdub” pedal, which is on the left hand side of the unit, record your loop, and give it another tap to start it looping, then again to overdub. For general information on looping, click here.
To store your loops the JamMan gives you 99 locations, which are saved on a Compact Flash card. With the unit you get a 128MB card, which is good for around 24 minutes of recording time, but you can get cards of up to 2GB, which provide over six hours of storage time. In addition to this, you can also connect to your computer via USB, and keep any important loops stored on your hard drive.
This is one of the main differences between the JamMan and the RC-20XL, and it is one in which the JamMan really does exceed the competition. The RC-20XL only offers sixteen minutes of recording time, and there is no USB connection for remote storage.
As well as “Rec/Play/Overdub,” the left pedal also operates “Undo/Redo,” a vital function that takes account for the fact that we as humans are quite prone to making mistakes. A quick hold on the pedal will remove the last part you overdubbed. You can also use this as a phantom, one-off memory, to bring in a final extra layer when it is needed. For example, you could bring in a harmonised part when needed to compliment your melody, but take it away so it doesn’t conflict with your soloing.
The other footswitch can be used to stop playback, clear what you’ve recorded and to tap out the tempo. The “Tap Tempo” feature is an impressive one, allowing you to change the tempo of recordings without changing the pitch. Tapping the tempo is also vital if you want to play along with one of the pre-made rhythm sounds. You can either tap the tempo on the pedal or on it’s button on the upper section of the pedal. This is as simple as it sounds, a light blinks to show what tempo you’re tapping out, and once it’s right, just don’t tap anymore.
Built-In Drum Patterns
The rhythm sections are basic, but the JamMan gives you nine options so you can pick something which at least suits the music. These work as a simple metronome, and are very helpful, because whilst the JamMan does supposedly contain an internal “Quantize” feature, it’s effect isn’t too noticeable, because you have to be pretty close to the mark for it to even help you by making sure your loops end exactly on beat. In a way, this maintains some authenticity, in that the looper isn’t doing much for you, but when you just want to make some simple loops to amuse yourself you’ll soon be clamouring for a “Quantize.” That’s one thing the RC-20XL does have over the JamMan.
Once your loop is recorded, you can set whether you want it to play once, or to loop continuously. Because of the single play option, you can have sections of a song saved in different locations, set to play through once, and then move onto the next part when the first one comes to the end. Or you could set certain parts to loop, and the bridge, for example, to just play once.
The JamMan can also be set in “Auto-Record Mode,” which means the unit begins recording as soon as it picks up audio from your guitar, which could avoid some dreaded fiddling with buttons if you’re hoping to be performing with the pedal.
In use, the JamMan is great for bedroom rocking, but you would need to buy additional footswitches for full live use. Although the sound is only in mono, the sound quality is good, and whilst there is a decrease in quality the more you overdub, this is only to be expected. Unfortunately, there have also been reports of loop corruption after the 4th or 5th overdub (see Yahoo JamMan Discussion Group). Another issue is that the outputs make it impossible to put the backing track through the PA and not your amp, which is certainly not ideal.
Another criticism is that you can’t dial a tempo in using the unit’s display screen; you have to tap it out. This isn’t too relevant to most users, but if for any reason you know exactly what BPM you want to play at, you should be able to tell the machine exactly what you want.
In direct comparison with it’s assumed competition, the RC-20XL, the JamMan is pretty equal. Even though it seems almost spitefully designed to be slightly better than Boss’s pedal, it really only surpasses it in memory, and USB connectivity, but falls short in it’s features. It still has more than you will need for basic looping usage, but it would have been nice to have a “Reverse” function, or some form of pitch changer. Also, the “Quantize” on the RC-20XL is much more evident than on the JamMan, which could either be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your outlook.
The original Jamman will cost you less than Boss’s rival pedal, but that price also includes a power supply, which has to be bought separately with the RC-20XL. The JamMan still faces familiar issues with not having full remote functionality, and some issues with sound, but is a good looper for what it can do. The price is probably well-suited to the bedroom looper, and it’s also unlikely to matter that you can’t access everything remotely, because when you’re using it as a jamming tool, it doesn’t matter if you have to fiddle with dials for a while.
Overall, the JamMan is a great pedal, and even though it has been surpassed by newer models, and doesn’t quite have all of the functionality of it’s rival pedal, it still remains a viable option for many guitarists, because of ease of use and the relatively low price. If you’re a bedroom jammer, it’s flaws won’t make much of a difference, because the pedal serves well as a jamming partner, and that’s why it remains a big name in the world of looping.