Hands-On Review:DigiTech JamMan
Reliable looper/phrase sampler packed with intuitive genius
Digitech's JamMan looper/phrase sampler is the easiest and most powerful sampler I've ever used. With a full 24-minutes recording time (6-1/2 hours if you buy a bigger, 2GB flash card), on-board rhythm functions, the ability to change tempo without changing pitch, storage of up to 99 loops, and a USB port for saving loops to your computer, it's the perfect onstage companion for everybody from singer-songwriters to ambient artists to rock monsters.
Wide open door
Since the JamMan is a performance instrument, I wanted to find out immediately whether it would perform. Without benefit of any instruction other than the little primer printed on the bottom of the unit, I plugged my guitar and amp in and started looping. In seconds I had a rich, crystal-clear cascade of looped sounds filling the room. I soloed over this first loop for twenty minutes before I got around to exploring the box further.
Not touching the JamMan with anything but my foot, I could immediately record, playback, and overdub continuous loops or single phrases; undo and redo the last overdub; and erase the whole loop to start over. With a turn of the jog wheel, I accessed nine different jam-along preset loops featuring drum, bass, and even rhythm guitar parts in blues, rock, Latin, and country styles. I got lost in one amazingly cool, extremely funky preset.
The 24 minutes of recording time on the included 128MB CompactFlash memory card let you stretch out the seamless loop as far as you want so it doesn't sound like a loop at all. In fact, you can easily use it as complete backup for whole songs with no looping. Pick up a 1GB card and record 193 minutes of backup material--plenty for any solo gig. With 99 memory slots and dedicated XLR mic, 1/4" instrument, and 1/8" aux inputs, you can make the JamMan into an entire backup band.
But with a little practice--and this thing really makes you want to practice--you can use it in even more exciting ways, magically creating layers of loops on the spot, building a spontaneous base for your solos. Just holding the right foot button down a few seconds erases the whole loop so you can start over again while you're playing. Giving you the ability to jam with yourself ad infinitum, this may well be the most musically engaging stomp box ever devised.
Twenty years after
Of course, a looper is hardly a new idea. DigiTech introduced the first model two decades ago--the PDS8000. Designing the new JamMan, DigiTech incorporated many of the ideas from that unit as well as from the Lexicon JamMan from which it draws its name. While the PDS8000 was a fine unit in its own right, the modern JamMan is a space shuttle to its biplane--from the JamMan's substantial shell to its brawny brain.
The super-sturdy metal housing is painted a deep metal-flake blue with rubber feet and rubber pads on both foot buttons. The control surface features six dual-function buttons; loop, rhythm, mic, and instrument output level knobs; a jog wheel; two-digit selector LED; 10 LED status indicators; and a peak VU LED.
A single button lets you store your loop for future recall. You can overdub on a saved loop to your heart's content, then erase the overdubs without affecting your original loop. An auto record function starts recording when you start playing, making it a breeze to create truly seamless loops.
Plug into the USB port on your computer and the JamMan becomes a card reader that shows up as a new drive on your computer. Just drag and drop files from the card onto your hard drive for storage, and retrieve them as easily by dragging them back onto the card. This gives you the potential of an unlimited pool of loops to draw from.
Time to jam
As anyone who's worked much with a looper can tell you, keeping the time solid from beginning to end of a long loop can be a challenge. The JamMan makes it easy with a dead-simple rhythm function. A couple of toe taps set the tempo and you have a variety of click tracks, bass-and-cymbal tracks, or just cymbal hits to keep time while you set up the first loop. A rhythm level control lets you determine just how loud your rhythm accompaniment is.
You odd-number freaks will be happy to learn the JamMan doesn't leave you stuck in 4/4. You can change the time signature with just a couple of button taps and a turn of the jog wheel. Change to 5, 7, 9, 11--or even get seriously esoteric with 13 or 15--and set the whole room on edge.
Of course, the JamMan's auxiliary input means it's super-easy to record rhythm tracks from a drum machine or CD and store them on the JamMan. Or with the benefit of some mics and a little mixer, a drummer could use it to lay down the groove and then play percussion over the top.
Sweet sound of success
If I were going to use the JamMan as a backup band, I'd buy at least a 1GB flash card and the optional three-button footswitch, which lets you select the auto record mode and move up and down through the 99 memory locations. Even without those add-ons, your imagination is the only limitation on what you can do with the JamMan.
Working solo, it can be all you need to create rich textures of sound to play and sing over. In a band context, it can be like adding another musician to keep the song structure intact during solos. And it can be an invaluable creative inspiration while you're writing songs. Even if you don't use it for any of those things, it is undeniably a hell of a lot of fun! The DigiTech JamMan definitely gets a big thumbs up with honors!
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