Hands-On Review:G-DEC Guitar Digital Entertainment Center
G-DEC Guitar Digital Entertainment Center
Painless practice and instant jams
By Jonny Redding
Guitar digital . . . what? Entertainment center? That was my response when Musician's Friend called me to review the brand-spankin' new Guitar Digital Entertainment Center, or G-DEC, from Fender. I thought of the black-finished piece of wood in my living room that supports my TV and various pieces of home theater equipment. My initial guess was that this was some type of guitar furniture, handily organizing your gear while keeping it open and accessible. It seemed reasonable enough at the time.
When the box containing the G-DEC arrived, a quick glance at the well-designed graphics adorning the packaging made it obvious I had the wrong concept altogether. The G-DEC looked like some type of combo amp, a little reminiscent of the Cyber-Twin SE. I was intrigued and my curiosity was quickly rewarded, as I discovered the G-DEC to be one seriously addictive piece of gear. I played and practiced more the first day I got it than I had in the whole week previous, and I've gone back every day for more.
First, let's break down what the G-DEC is. It combines the functions of a powerful amp modeler, DSP effects processor, drum machine, MIDI synth, riff decoder, and combo amp into a ridiculously easy-to-use groove box. Look at the G-DEC's price and then check out that feature list again—it's a phenomenal deal. Then it gives you an impressive level of control over all the different elements so you can customize it to your individual desires. Fender has crafted an amp to be your own personal backing band, just waiting for you to step up and play. From the first time you turn on the G-DEC and plug in, it's set up for you. It's so brilliantly easy you only have to touch three knobs and one button to get busy rockin'.
You plug in and turn up the volume (first knob) and tone (second knob) the same way as any basic combo amp. The third knob you have to adjust is the big shiny chrome one to the right of the LCD. Labeled the Data Wheel, it selects the Performance Preset you play through. There are 100 Performance Presets on the G-DEC, 50 factory and 50 user. Each one consists of a guitar tone (an amp model and effects), a drum beat, a bass line, and sometimes additional instruments such as organ—combined with a cohesive feel. The guitar tones are excellent, which is saying something, because I had suspected at the outset that they probably wouldn't be that great. I mean, these are modeled amps and digital effects through a tiny combo amp, so how can it sound good?
Well, I was wrong. The tones are oustanding and make playing the G-DEC a blast. They nail everything from screaming British metal to clean, compressed chicken pickin' with authority.
The Performance Presets represent genres like reggae, jazz, blues, country, swing, funk, and hip-hop. All of the presets are great; the rock settings actually rock, as do the others. Fender did a good job of giving the presets appropriately descriptive names—so you don't have to remember what preset 39 is. Names like Rockin' G-DEC, Original Punk, and Latin Jazz, make it clear before you even play what you're in for. The default Performance Preset, 00 Rockin' G-DEC, is the perfect starting point, with a feel and sound that will appeal to nearly any electric player. The LCD clearly and conveniently gives you the beats per minute (BPM) count and key of the preset (E, C, F#, etc.) so you can jump in on time and in tune.
After selecting your preset of choice, there's only one button left to push before the band comes in and propels you into your own musical fantasy camp: the START-STOP button. Press it and the G-DEC gives you a helpful four-count lead before the music starts, which is reinforced by the START-STOP button flashing in time to the beat. 1 - 2 - 3 - 4, and you're off, working on chords, scales, lead techniques, or just jamming. I spent countless hours with the G-DEC; I just couldn't stop! It was too much fun! It's a much better way to spend your time than soaking up the latest reality show on the boob tube. There's even a second input on the rear of the G-DEC so your guitar-playing friends can plug in and jam along.
The G-DEC would be good if it was just a combo amp loaded with tasty preset grooves to jam with, but it offers much more than that. You can set up your own Performance Presets using the basic ingredients of guitar tone, key, tempo, style, and backing instruments. Got a scale you need to work on in every key? It's easy to set up a preset with a rhythm and tone you like and simply change the key when you need to. Being able to set up your presets can be invaluable for working on your own riffs, chord progressions, and leads.
Another practice-session pearl is the Phrase Sampler with 14 seconds of record time, slow down, and an auto-loop that instantly shrinks the time to fit whatever you've sampled. You can record your own licks or record a section of a song to learn. Fender eschewed the standard amp-top handle for a shoulder strap so that the top of the amp is nice and flat—perfect for a CD or MP3 player. Set your player down and run it through the RCA inputs to use the phrase sampler. The MIDI port lets you play the MIDI synth with a MIDI-ready guitar or a MIDI controller, will let you download any future software updates from Fender, and allows you to stream MIDI files from your computer so you can play along with them.
With an impressive amount of tweakability, fantastic-sounding amp models and effects, and a diverse programmable rhythm section the G-DEC is an absolute blast to have around. And on top of all that, it will make you love to practice. Guitarists of every stripe and experience level will have fun with it.
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