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Product Review: DigiTech Drop Polyphonic Drop Tune Pitch-Shift Pedal

Bob Craypoe (also known as R. L. Crepeau) is a musician, writer, webmaster, 3D artist, and creator of the Punksters comic strip series.

This article will take a closer look at the DigiTech Drop Polyphonic Drop Tune Pitch-Shift Pedal.

This article will take a closer look at the DigiTech Drop Polyphonic Drop Tune Pitch-Shift Pedal.

I recently purchased the DigiTech Drop Polyphonic Drop Tune Pitch-Shift Pedal and have to say that I am quite impressed with it for a number of reasons. I had a specific need that was very adequately met, as far as I am concerned.

The Drop pedal is a polyphonic pitch-shifting pedal that allows you to drop the tuning of your guitar. I use it mostly to drop the tuning down a whole step, but this pedal allows you to do much more than that. It allows you to drop the tuning down in ½ step increments down to seven half-steps and then an octave below the original pitch. It also gives you the option of mixing the octave below with the original signal, much like your standard octave pedal.

My Reasons for Purchasing This Pedal

I am a solo performer who plays guitar and sings. As a singer, I try to pick the songs that work best for my vocal range and my singing style. Sometimes, in order to perform a song to the best of my vocal abilities, I may need to change the song from the original key and perform it in a key that best suits my voice. This may involve the use of a capo on my guitar or using a drop tuning on a guitar.

As far as using a drop tuning on my guitar is concerned, there are generally two ways of achieving it, for the most part. One is to tune my guitar down in order to perform a song or a number of songs or to use a second guitar that is already tuned down. Neither option, to me, is all that convenient. So using the DigiTech Drop provides a much easier and more convenient option. It means that I don’t have to tune my guitar down or back up between songs and it also means that I don’t have to carry an extra drop tuned guitar to my gigs.

Carrying an extra guitar to a gig means that I would have to find some space to cram it into, in an already packed vehicle. Since I am a solo performer, I have to bring my own PA system along with my guitar and other items. It makes for a very packed vehicle. Having to pack up another guitar just makes it all that much more cramped. As it was, my guitar usually rode in the passenger seat.

Then you have to consider the fact that if your second guitar is not the same make or model as the first, it won’t sound the same running through your pedalboard full of effects. Additional adjustments may have to be made when using it. Perhaps adjustments to the tone as well as volume. If, by using the DigiTech Drop, you are able to use the same guitar for both the original tuning and drop tunings, no additional adjustments may be necessary. Also, you won’t need an A/B switch to go back and forth between the two guitars. So, to sum it up, the best reason for purchasing this unit is convenience, plain and simple.

The best reason for purchasing this unit is convenience, plain and simple.

A Little About Pitch Shifters

There are a number of pitch-shifting guitar pedals and effects units out there. They provide a number of different functions. You have the DigiTech Whammy pedal that shifts the pitch much like a whammy bar would on a guitar or a pitch shift control on an electronic keyboard. There are other manufacturers like Electro-Harmonix that allow you to use an expression pedal for pitch-shifting purposes as well. Then there are harmony machines that will shift the original pitch to a note that harmonizes with the original pitch. You also have a number of different octave pedals that may provide one or two octaves down from the original pitch or one or two octaves up from the original pitch. Some units do it all but, of course, they will cost you much more. You can even find a number of units available that have a fuzz or distortion mixed with the octave effect.

The problem, though, with pitch-shifting effects units or pedals is that sometimes the pitch-shifted sound is not realistic. I have found this to be especially true, the further the pitch is shifted, up or down, from the original pitch. After a while, it sounds like a sped up or slowed down tape recording. Just think of how a sped up vocal recording makes someone sound like the Chipmunks. Well, pitch shifters are the instrumental equivalent of that.

Another problem is the latency that occurs with pitch shifters. Latency is the time delay between when a note is played and when the sound is actually produced. Cheaper units have a very significant delay. This can be distracting to the person playing the instrument and may affect your performance and timing in a negative manner. This causes some people to give up using them entirely. But not all pitch-shifting units act the same. Some are better than others because they offer less latency and a more realistic pitch-shifted sound.

Comparing Various Pitch-Shifting Products

Since there are a number of different pitch-shifting products, you may have to compare them to each other and really think about what you are looking for. Of course, your price range comes into play in your purchasing decision as well.

Like I have already stated above, there are some units designed to be harmonizers, some that are just octave machines, some that provide whammy effects, some that are a combination of each and so forth. They vary in price, function and quality. So it all comes down to what you want to achieve and how much you want to spend to achieve it.

Whenever I purchase a guitar effects pedal of any kind, the first thing I contemplate on is what it will allow me to do that I cannot currently do. Why do I need it and what do I need it for? What I was looking for, in this case, was a unit that would allow me to do drop tunings on my guitar that sounded realistic enough so that I would not need to drag around a second guitar with a drop tuning to gigs. Pretty simple purpose and very well defined. That’s all I wanted. Well, that along with ease of use is very important to me in a live situation. After all, who wants to navigate through a complicated menu system on an effects unit between songs? Certainly not I.

Lately, I have come to use a specific catch phrase that goes like this: “There is something to be said for simplicity.” This is especially true for me in live settings. It’s okay to poke around a little bit in a recording situation when I am at home but even in that setting, simplicity in operation could be a great time saver.

How the DigiTech Drop Stands Up

So, how does the DigiTech Drop compare to the other units and how does it perform, overall? I would say, pretty darn good. It does exactly what I was really looking for. The dropped pitched sound is much more realistic than most pitch-shifting pedals or effects units out there. This is especially true in the ranges where I wanted to use it most. That is generally between a half step down to one and a half steps down. Within that range, it offers very realistic pitch-shifting sounds and practically nothing for latency. On basically all other units I have personally tried over the years, that is generally not the case. So, two thumbs up to DigiTech for that.

Now, as far as ease of use goes, you really can’t get much simpler. You have one knob that you adjust to the dropped pitch you desire and an LED for each one. Then you have a foot switch to turn the unit on or off. There is also a toggle switch that allows you to operate in two different modes. Basically momentary mode or regular mode. Momentary mode lets you just use the effect when the foot switch is pressed down momentarily. Once you take your foot off of the switch, the effect is no longer in operation.

As far as the realism and latency goes, you begin to notice at about 5 half steps down that there is a bit of latency and the shifted sound is less realistic, but still much better than most units manufactured by other brands out there. So, overall, I am very satisfied with the performance of this unit.

The Research Behind This Purchase

The wonderful thing about the Internet is that you can really look up just about anything you have even the slightest curiosity about and get the answers you are looking for. So I did a lot of looking at various units, read a lot of online reviews and watched demo videos on YouTube.

You see, a lot of pitch-shifting units can get away with a lot when they are combined with a distorted sound. Distortion and fuzz can really hide some of the unrealistic sonic qualities of a pitch-shifted sound. But pitch shifters often fail miserably when applied to a guitar that is using a clean, undistorted tone. So the first thing I sought out was a demo video that applied the effect to a clean, undistorted guitar. I felt that if it sounded good on that, then sounding good with distortion, overdrive or fuzz would not be an issue at all.

So the videos that I watched alleviated those fears. But even so, since I was purchasing it over the Internet instead of actually physically plugging my very own guitar into it and testing it out, I still couldn’t help but feel as if it was like a roll of the dice. Fortunately, it turned out satisfactorily to me.

No Need for Buyer's Remorse

So I basically got into my reasons for purchasing the DigiTech Drop as well as how well I thought it performed. I got into what I did as far as research and comparing it to other devices. I try to be thorough when making a purchasing decision regarding music gear. It really helps to prevent buyer’s remorse. Let me assure you, I have none in this case.

© 2019 Bob Craypoe