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By Ryan Conrad
Musician’s Friend Staff Writer
If guitar playing is like painting, then your guitar is your paintbrush and your amp is your canvas. And effects? They are your palette. The more effects you’ve got, the more colors you can splash across your canvas. Of course, that palette can get messy sometimes. Make a wrong move and your red and blue bleed together to make purple. The level knob on your compression pedal mysteriously gets turned down without you noticing so when you kick it on your guitar disappears. Sometimes it’s hard to get your fuzz to work with humbuckers as well as it does with single-coils. Next thing you know, the battery in your delay dies, the yellow and orange get out of phase and start sucking all your tone, your frigging wah pedal slides around every time you use it—and WHERE is that HUM coming from?!!
Thankfully for guitarists, there’s Boss. Boss has been supplying brilliant colors for painting sonic masterpieces for over 30 years, going all the way back to the CE-1 Chorus in 1976. Guitarists have bought over 10 million Boss effects units that they’ve taken onto stages and into studios across the world. The ME-20 captures the best of those sounds and distills them into a single, affordable—and extremely neat and tidy—multi-effects pedal. No colors spilling into each other, no slipping stompboxes, no mysterious knob movements, and no crazy noise from that bad antenna you call a pedalboard. It’s Boss-quality sound that’s easy to use, gig ready, and an extremely sweet value.
Let’s face it, there are lots of multi-effects pedals out there for the guitarist who wants every sound in the world—right now. But there aren’t that many designed to provide the essential effects and straight-forward operation necessary for gigging. Who better to make one than Boss? The ME-20 hits that goal with a top-shelf selection of Boss’ world-standard sounds, a tuner, bypass mode, an expression pedal, and an easy-to-use interface in a rugged die-cast chassis. An extremely cool feature—to me, at least—is that the ME-20 can be operated by an AC adapter or six AA batteries—and Boss includes the batteries. So you can take the ME-20 straight out of the box, load the batteries, and start playing. With alkaline AAs, you get about 13 hours of play.
The ME-20 gives you 17 of the most popular Boss effects in three separate categories: distortion, modulation, and delay. The distortion array gives you choices of overdrive, blues, distortion, metal, fuzz, and compressor. Under modulation you’ll find chorus, phaser, flanger, tremolo, and rotary speaker effects. The delay bank includes a 0-99ms delay, 100-700ms delay, and reverb. A solo function boosts your signal and activates the distortion tone you’ve selected from the overdrive bank (if it wasn’t already on). All of these sounds are based on classic Boss effects from the pedals you know and love. A separate EQ section lets you dial in your tone separate from the effects, and the expression pedal gives you a choice between volume pedal and wah modes.
The ME-20 operates in two modes: Manual and Memory. Manual mode lets you individually select a single sound from each of the three effects arrays using the three footswitches on the ME-20. It’s sort of like having a three-pedal Boss board. The first pedal button selects your overdrive/distortion/compression sound, the second one selects your modulation sound, and the third one selects your delay/reverb effect. LED indicators above each footswitch let you know which effects are active. To flip your signal into bypass, just press down switches one and two at the same time. Hold them down for just a second longer to engage the tuner. Holding down switches 2 and 3 together activates Memory mode.
Memory mode gives you 30 patches organized in three-patch banks, with 10 banks total. Each patch in a bank corresponds to the three footswitches, making it easy to tap into a different patch. The banks comes loaded with patches that deliver killer, proven guitar sounds for rhythm and lead guitar, but you can edit and save your own patches. There are dedicated buttons for moving through the banks, but an easier way is to simply hold down the footswitch of the patch you’re currently playing, when its LED indicator flashes, use footswitch 1 to move up, footswitch 2 to move down, and footswitch 3 to select the bank you want.
How easy is the ME-20 to use? I’m no multi-effect wizard (although I do have a pointy hat) and I figured out how to conjure up some magical sounds with the ME-20 in just a few minutes without cracking the manual. Starting in Manual mode, I selected a sound from each category and rocked out. The expression pedal action is adjustable, but the factory setting felt great to me, with just the right amount of tension. After a bit of exploration I found the EZ Edit knob, which lets you select an effect and quickly jump to optimized settings for it without having to touch any other knobs.
Switching to Memory mode, I quickly found some patches that grabbed my attention, and discovered just how easy it was to make my own. I hit Edit, made my changes, hit Edit again (to exit editing mode), pressed Write, saved the patch where I wanted it, then hit Write again. Combined with the easy-to-use matrix interface, it’s one of the easiest processes for saving and creating patches I’ve used.
I know some of you out there are thinking. “Wait, I can’t use rotary AND flanger together?” Well, riddle me this, Batman. Do you even play any songs that use two modulation effects together? Unless your first name is “Jonny” and your last name is “Greenwood” or you’re in a Red Hot Chili Peppers tribute band, the correct answer is “No.” The ME-20’s total back-to-basics approach gives you just what’s needed to play 99.9% of all the songs in the world, simplify your sonic palette, and make gigging easier. Sounds like a winner to me.