• Amazon: Digitech JamMan Solo
• Pros: The Digitech Jamman Solo is a compact, inexpensive and feature-laden looper pedal. Great for rocking out while practicing at home or for use as a song-writing companion.
• Cons: Due to it’s size, a lot of the features aren’t accessible hands-free without buying the optional FS3X external footswitch. Only records in mono.
• Overall: The Digitech Jamman Solo is not as well suited for live use as other pedals, but it’s more than enough for a for practice sessions, and it’s not too hard on your bank account.
The JamMan Solo seems to be Digitech’s challenge to the Boss RC-3 Loop Station, the smallest of Boss’s line of looper pedals. The JamMan Solo is the compact, inexpensive sibling of DigiTech’s larger JamMan Stereo and JamMan Delay Looper pedals, and is now somewhat eclipsed by Digitech’s newer Jamman Solo XT, which offers a few small improvements over the Jamman Solo. The challenge faced by manufacturers producing compact pedals like the Jamman Solo or the similar Jamman Solo XT is maintaining the same level of functionality offered by the larger models.
Looper pedals, for those who are new to the idea, basically allow you to create a full backing track by yourself. This is done by layering parts on top of one another. Essentially, you can stack up percussive strums and bass lines along with some rhythm work to create a full-band sound to jam over. The fundamental operations are recording, loop playback, and overdubbing. For general information on looping, click here.
Due to its small size, the Digitech JamMan Solo is a bit more suited for home use. To use a looper pedal in live performance situations, your looper really needs full, hands-free functionality, which means a myriad of footswitches to control all the pedal’s functions. If you’re looking for a live performance looper pedal in the Digitech line, you might want to check out the larger JamMan Stereo or the JamMan Delay/Looper. These pedals are larger and therefore offer more hands-free accessibility to pedal features on stage.
Basic Looping Operation
The Digitech JamMan Solo’s basic functions can be accomplished almost hands-free with a little practice, however. The unit only has one footswitch, which is used to record, play or overdub. For example, after choosing an empty loop-location with the “Up/Down” buttons beside the unit’s display, all it takes is a tap on the pedal to start recording, and another to set the end point of the loop and set it automatically looping. To overdub, hit the pedal again and shred away. Two pedal taps will stop playback.
Another function that can be controlled hands-free is the “Undo/Redo” feature, which allows you to remove the last overdub you recorded. If you change your mind again, you can hold the foot pedal down for a couple seconds to put it back again. In addition to allowing you to erase your mistakes, this “Undo/Redo” feature also allows you to add and subtract different parts of your song while playing. For example, if you have a melodic backdrop for your chorus, you can overdub on-the-fly the first time around, remove it for the verse, and bring it back again for the next chorus by simply holding down the footswitch. This also means you can harmonize with the phrase and have it completely disappear when you are done.
Timing and Quantization
For everything else, you will need your hands, unless you have particularly dextrous feet, that is. First off, you may wish to set a tempo prior to recording. This is done either by tapping on the “Tempo” button at least twice at the desired speed, or by similarly tapping the footswitch. To use the footswitch you have to activate “Pedal Tempo” mode, which is simple enough to do (pressing the unit’s two central buttons together sends it into “Setup” mode). After that, you can tap out the tempo with your foot. The LED light beside the tempo button flashes at the speed you’ve set, and you’re ready to go. If you’re using the footswitch, you have to hold it down for a couple of seconds to get the Jamman Solo ready to record.
In addition to tempo, you can set the time signature on the Digitech Jamman Solo by going into “Setup” mode and scrolling down to the “Time Signature” option. The dedicated LED to the left of the display screen will begin flashing and the display will show the number 4. This indicates that it’s currently in 4/4. If common4/4 time isn’t what you want, you can adjust the beats in a bar with the “Up/Down” controls beside the display. This allows you to mess around with a whole host of bizarre time signatures.
These features combined then give you both a one-measure count in before you start recording, and they open up a couple of new features. For instance, you can opt to have a rhythm track as a guide, and there are nine options for the sound, including a simple click or cowbell, as well as a few different drum sounds. The volume of the click-track can be adjusted with the dial on the right of the unit, so you can set it to be just about audible and avoid it interfering with your sound.
As well as expanding the rhythm options, when you set the time signature and tempo on the Jamman Solo, you also benefit from the “Auto-Quantize” feature. Without a quantization feature, a slightly mis-timed pedal press can mean a train wreck of beats and rhythms. The loops would play at their own speed, and eventually fall catastrophically out of time. The “Auto-Quantize” feature on the Digitech Jamman Solo gives you some leeway, and will correct your minor mistakes in footswitch tapping and keep everything together. Purists should not be discouraged, though, as this is only optional, you can also loop “Free-Form.”
After you’ve recorded your loop, you can use “Time-Stretching” to speed up or slow down the loop, while maintaining the original pitch. This at first sounds slightly dubious, because you can, of course, play guitar at whatever speed you choose to, but the feature does allow you to recycle old loops at different speeds to create different sounds. Also, when combined with the auxiliary input, you could import a song you want to master from your MP3 player, and slow down any sections you’re having difficulty with, and practice them at your own pace. You could also use this feature if you ever want to work out a complex solo. As with it’s bigger brother, the JamMan Stereo, the Digitech Jamman Solo can only do this when the loop is stopped, unless you purchase the optional FS3X footswitch.
The tempo details are stored in the Jamman Solo’s memory banks with the loop itself. You can also save options such as whether a particular phrase will loop on playback, or to just play as a singular phrase. The Digitech Jamman Solo’s onboard memory stores an impressive 35 minutes of mono, CD-quality audio. This can also be infinitely increased with SD cards (a 32GB card gives you 16 hours) or an external hard drive, which you can connect via the USB port. For the super organized musician, you can connect your PC and organize your loops with Digitech’s free JamManager software.
A Few Considerations
The Digitech Jamman Solo obviously falls down due to it’s size, especially when it comes to live use. The operations, while impressively crammed into a small package, are not accessible hands-free without an additional footswitch. This makes something as simple as switching between loops necessitate stopping and hunching over the unit to make adjustments. As I said at the beginning, though, this is a sacrifice you might want to make in lieu of the Jamman Solo’s convenient size and affordable price.
It is also difficult to stop loops at their end point, with no “Stop Modes,” it is a matter of timing your double pedal press correctly, and this often results in the beginning of the loop rearing it’s unwelcome head before playback finishes. Again, though, this is only really an issue if you’re performing.
Significantly, there is no “Reverse” function on the Solo, which is strange, as it would be difficult to attribute that to the unit’s size. Even if adding in another button is not space-efficient, surely an extra LED light and button-press combination wouldn’t have caused too much trouble. Although this isn’t critical for most musicians, the reverse feature is included on the Digitech JamMan Stereo.
Aside from all this nitpicking, the Digitech JamMan Solo is a powerful, compact, inexpensive, and versatile looper pedal. There are enough tools and features to entertain the bedroom looper for as long as his or her guitar playing allows, and it is an expensive way to always have a jamming companion. There may be a few features you won’t get, and you can only record in mono, but in the end it comes down to the old adage, ‘you get what you pay for’. However, if your looping is more of a pastime than a career, the Digitech JamMan Solo is definitely worth checking out. You also may be able to get a deal on the Jamman Solo these days, since Digitech has now replaced it with the slightly upgraded Jamman Solo XT.