Hands-On Review:Yamaha DG Stomp
The success of Yamaha's DG Series amps has heightened expectations, so there's been a lot of buzz about the DG Stomp. Well, having had a chance to mess with the Stomp thoroughly, I'm here to tell you that the buzz has been warranted. This is a very impressive piece of gear - well-conceived, practically designed, fathoms deep in what it can be made to do, and very high quality in its sound. I give it two thumbs up, five stars, and a perfect ten.
If you're familiar with the DG Series amps, then you have an idea of where the DG Stomp starts. And it is a head start. The DGs weren't Yamaha's first venture into modeling realm. In fact, their ECM (electronic circuit modeling) was developed by Yamaha about 10 years ago, and Yamaha was first to introduce physical modeling with their VL1 Synth in '94. With this experience behind them, it wasn't surprising that they'd tear up the field when they got around to applying physical modeling to their amps. As expected, the DG Series amps have distinguished themselves. When Guitar Player Magazine conducted a Modeling Amp Shoot-out last year, comparing all the major names head to head, the newcomer DG took top honors. It won for the basic reasons: practical ease of operation, killer sound, and expressive dynamics. The DGs are really the first modeling amps to truly break the gig barrier.
Beyond the DG amps
The Stomp utilizes DG technology, but takes it a big step further. It starts with the amp's front-end models, but then adds expanded effects, tons of presets, extensive programmability, and then puts all this into a stompbox floor unit that's very compact and securely housed in a rugged metal chassis built to handle on-floor use.
It's designed for both live performance and the studio. Used live it can function as a higher order pre-amp/effects floor pedal, either in front of an amp, or in front of two amps for total stereo spread. It can serve as the ultimate D-box, running to both amp and P.A. Or you can leave your amp at home and just go through the P.A. In the studio, it's an extremely sophisticated pre-amp that gives you about any tone you'll ever need, and that greatly facilitates the recording process in either tape or digital contexts.
Like the DG amplifiers, the Stomp begins by giving you eight basic modeled sounds from which to select. Unlike most of the models, the DG's basic sounds aren't labeled as specific amp models. They are described as types of sounds: two clean sounds, two crunch sounds, two drives, and two leads. These are starting points, and by classifying the sounds by function rather than by amp type, Yamaha has simplified the issue of which model to use when. The important thing, of course, is the viability of each of these basic sounds. In this quarter, the DG excels. Each is well suited to its purpose. On top of that, the wide choice of presets and their programmability makes the usefulness of the basic settings overlap. You can, for example, get great crunch out of even the clean channels by altering them. These basic amp sounds are also adjustable via master, gain, treble, mid, bass, and presence controls that operate just like they do on most amps.
Musician Approved Presets
Once you've selected the basic sound you need, the DG gives you an extensive choice of effects. There are 90 presets to choose from, and 90 user slots for altered versions. They are divided into 10 groups with 3 banks of 3 patches each. Stepping through the presets, you find a lot of subtle variations of which many are quite useable. Only a few are super extreme - the kind you would rarely or never use. And modifying any of them is made easy by the first-level parameters Yamaha has provided. You just turn the knobs or push buttons to effect changes. There are also second-level parameters built into the DG that can be accessed for those of you who love to tinker.
One reason the presets are so useable in general is that Yamaha didn't just depend on sound engineers to create them. They consulted extensively with top level studio guitarists in refine each preset. The overall result of this a whole package of very practical sets. Yamaha has also avoided the inclusion of a bunch of overblown distortions that are the weakness of so many floor pedals.
The effects section of the Stomp is fairly extensive and it can be accessed via a manual mode by pushing buttons that look like Beds. These are neat, and at first I didn't even realize that they were buttons. Push one to turn on a particular effect and it lights up. This feature makes it much easier to check the status of your settings than if you had to read a display.
The effects are arranged into 4 groups and include a compression, chorus, flanger, phaser rotary, tremolo, delay and tape echo (with tap function), and reverbs (spring, hall, and plate). These can all be used individually or in combinations, and relevant adjustment knobs for each group are provided for easy tweaking. You can also plug an expression pedal into the DG and use to control volume, tone and other effects - even use it as a wah. The overall quality of the effects is good, and some, like the reverbs, are exceptional.
The Killer Feature
The one simple thing that the DG Stomp can do that the various similar devices do not do is run in an Effects Mode. It lets you use the footswitches to turn effects on and off, but also change patches, use the tap tempo, and access the tuner - all with the fourth switch. There's never any down time on stage with you on your knees fiddling with the floorbox.
Once you get past the various effects groups, the last block in line is a fairly extensive set of speaker emulations. It gives you 16 in all. This makes the DG especially functional for recording, or for playing direct through a P.A. You get the ambiance that speakers provide without all the difficulty of milking them. Other features that make the DG Stomp a studio monster is 20-bit A/D and D/A converters, a coaxial digital output for direct connection to a computer or digital mixer or recorder, as well as the standard stereo analog outs. MIDI in and out are provided. Receiving functions include program change, control change, and bulk in. Transmitting functions include program change, control change, bulk out, and merge out.
Every guitar gizmo in the world these days has a built-in tuner, but still it's cool that Yamaha didn't overlook such a mundane yet handy feature in such a sophisticated piece of gear. Another little detail that wasn't overlooked is an input hi/lo switch. If you're putting together a recording that calls for an acoustic guitar pass, you just flip the switch to match the DG to a piezo output.
The price of the DG-Stomp is its final cool feature. You could easily expect it to cost more, and Musician's Friend gives you a big chunk off list. They have a batch of new DG-Stomps ready to ship, and they're waiting to hear from you. If the DG-Stomp is for you, it's just a click or two away. And you can always just pick up the phone.