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Having played with a number of guitar effects boxes in the past, I approached the Boss ME-33 with a certain amount of cynicism. Those earlier units I had toyed with had, on first blush, seemed to have everything I was looking for: an array of effects, a bunch of modeled amps and cabs, and heaps of ready-to-use patches. But what looked so promising at the outset quickly turned to profound disappointment. The effects were hokey. The amp and cab models were totally unconvincing and the presets were pretty much useless. And worst of all, attempting to create my own patches was frustrating as a result of non-intuitive user interfaces. And when I did finally get the process figured out, the net result was, more often than not, mud. It quickly became apparent that you can't build killer patches when your cupboard full of ingredients doesn't have realistic flavors.
I'm happy to report that the Boss ME-33 is a whole 'nother kettle of fish. I came away from my foray into its capabilities with a revised opinion of the potential value of a multi-effects unit and what is possible through modeling.
Getting a handle on it
Although this is a floor unit with a volume pedal, I conducted my initial survey with it on a table, better to check out the controls. The case is made of plastic, but it struck me as being plenty sturdy. (OK, if your bass player's cab topples on it, it might not survive. But short of that, it seems very bulletproof.) All the knobs and buttons function smoothly and positively. I was especially impressed with the assignable pedal. It has an ultra-smooth taper so getting the right level of expression is a snap and it feels very solid under your heel and toe.
The control surface is intelligently thought out with a generously sized, backlit LCD that gives you an easy-to-read display so you always know where you're at. The six Quick Edit knobs (Gain, Tone, Modulation, Delay, Reverb, Level) provide just what their name suggests: instant effects tweaking. Plus, they automatically become the parameter controls for whatever effect you're editing. Likewise, the five effects bank switches are solidly designed and have great tactile feedback.
Getting down to the sound
This is where the rubber meets the road. A well-conceived interface and ergonomic controls are fine, but if the box doesn't produce useful sounds, all is for nought. Happily, the ME-33 with its 24-bit processor shines in this department. A quick tour through the presets confirmed my initial impression that this is one very musical device. I'm essentially a blues and jazz guy, so some of these factory patches aren't particularly useful for my style of play. But checking them out, it became quickly apparent that the ME-33 has all the right raw ingredients to build sounds to suit. I was especially knocked out by the distortion effects that can be harnessed with overdrive to fatten up the kerchunk factor.
The EZ tone feature proved to be a worthwhile tool. Clicking through its styles: Country, Blues, Rock, Hard Rock, Metal, and 7-String, is a reasonable alternative to scrolling through effects patches. Of course, maniacal tone tweakers will want to build their patches from the ground up. The ME-33 makes the process dead easy. Once you've nailed the tone you want, simply put it into one of the 60 memory locations for immediate recall. If you decide to trash a patch that's not working out, it's easily deleted.
Altogether there are 24 different guitar effects that include some very realistic and useful entries such as Feedback Modeling, Auto Wah, Humanizer, Harmonist, Auto Riff, and Phrase Trainer. The multi effects include an Overdrive/Distortion which I combined with Boss's COSM amp modeling to get a very credible Stevie Ray sound through a solid state amp. The modeling is pretty amazing-you can get everything from super clean and crisp to meaty blues all the way through to the all-out sturm and drang of a metal rig. On top of which you can simultaneously dial in up to nine effects such as reverb, chorus, and delay. Of course, you can get a bit carried away with all these choices. I found that the addage "less is more" holds true with the ME-33 . You can definitely sludge up the sound by adding too many effects at once. But as long as you don't go totally overboard, the ME-33 doesn't add in a bunch of buzz as do so many stomp boxes I've tried.
Pleasures of the pedal
As I mentioned before, the expression pedal is beautifully engineered with very smooth action, easily on a par with some of the very best dedicated pedals. Its assignable functions are also impressive. You can control everything from wah to pitch shifting and volume. I found I could get some very cool pedal steel sounds with just a bit of tweaking.
For you seven-string players, there's an auto tuner that can lock in a low "B." The phrase trainer is an invaluable tool for slowing down and endlessly repeating those riffs that are tough to otherwise nail by ear or with tabs. All in all, I came away from my testing session very impressed. It's hard to imagine any other way in which you could spend $250 and add as much versatility to your rig.