Multi-effects that pair with a laptop or iPad can be really flexible and convenient—enabling on-site tweaking and editing. The trade-off is yet another piece of gear to bring to a gig and set up. That’s a deal breaker for a lot of players. This writer included. But the HeadRush Pedalboard is an amp and effects modeler that features an onboard, tablet-style 7" touchscreen, and that puts the HeadRush in an elite league in terms of convenience and ease.
The Pedalboard is from the same team that created Avid’s Eleven Rack, but it’s not just an Eleven Rack in a pedalboard platform. The designers used Eleven Rack’s code to redesign everything from the ground up and create Eleven HD Expanded, the new digital engine that powers the HeadRush.
The Pedalboard is an impressive unit that offers 270 factory presets, 33 amp models, 15 cab models, and 10 microphone models. There’s a looper with up to 20 minutes of recording time that can record as many as 100 layers, and a download card for two Celestion Impulse Response files. There’s also USB connectivity for downloading third-party impulse responses and presets from HeadRush Cloud, where users can share and download presets. This only scratches the surface of what the HeadRush offers, and it would take a review many times the length of this one to cover all of this unit’s capabilities.
Ready for the Road
The HeadRush feels sturdy and roadworthy. It isn’t small, though—its dimensions are comparable to a large pedalboard. With its 12 footswitches, the control panel looks like a pedal switcher. Each footswitch has a color-coded, display strip with a narrow, text-only screen that indicates the model, rig, or list of effects to which the footswitch is assigned. There are four knobs in the upper left corner: three are for volume controls (master, headphone, and aux), and there’s the encoder knob, which lets you scroll through the menu options or adjust settings. On the far right of the unit is an expression pedal.
The touch screen is the centerpiece of the HeadRush. There are three knobs to the right of the display that let you manipulate settings for a single virtual pedal—so you can touch a chorus “pedal” onscreen, see displays for rate, depth, and feedback, and control them with the three knobs. Touching the displayed parameters reveals secondary controls for mix width and sync.
Easy Like Sunday Morning
The HeadRush team should get an award for intuitive design. I can’t think of an easier-to-use guitar processor on the market. I was able to get most of what I needed without consulting the manual. And if you’ve used a touchscreen device like an iPad before, you’ll be able to figure out a lot on your own.
A blank “rig” on the HeadRush will have eight empty slots marked by plus signs. Tap on one of these and the model selector menu will come up. Then you’ll see options for amp, cab, custom IR, distortion, dynamics/EQ, modulation, reverb/delay, FX-loop, and expression. In each of these categories are submenus with specific types from the selected category.
You assign pedals to a footswitch and you can move a pedal or amp’s location in the chain by simply dragging its image to the desired location onscreen. (Footswitches aren’t necessarily laid out in the order of the onscreen chain, but you can customize the assignments using the hardware assign function). When you want to save a preset, an onscreen keyboard comes up so you can quickly type in the name. The two footswitches in the leftmost corner let you scroll up or down to different rigs. The rightmost footswitches let you access the looper and tuner. You can also arrange the screen and footswitches to let you work with complete rigs or setlists (a HeadRush setlist organizes rigs into categories like dirty tones, wet-effects tones, etc. for easy recall).
Look Ma, No Hands
One of the coolest features on the HeadRush is hands-free mode, which lets you adjust parameters using the expression pedal. To get into hands-free mode, you step on, and briefly hold, the switch corresponding to the pedal you’d like to control with the treadle. At that point, the displays and footswitches are assigned to parameters for the selected pedal. For example, when I pressed and held the dynamic delay footswitch, the other footswitches and display strips then became assigned to delay, feedback, mix, sync, ratio, and width. Pressing the feedback switch, then, enables adjustment via the expression pedal. Very cool! The expression pedal can be used to control one of two parameters at a time in classic mode or two sets of parameters in advanced mode.
On every hands-free setting, there’s also one switch dedicated to exit, which gets you back to the main rig display. This sounds like a silly thing to get excited about. But on other multi-effects units, there’s often no indication of how to get back to the main page.
At the end of the day, it comes down to sounds, and the HeadRush delivers. The eight distortion models all sound great. And while you might expect more models, the many possible effect and amp combinations deliver a near-infinite array of tones. (There are also two effects loop on the HeadRush, if you want to patch in favorite pedals.)
The presets are great. “Windy Mary” offered crystalline Hendrix tones and truly dynamic, amp-like response. “Lunar Barking” was a spot-on Randy Rhodes tone. The “OC Ska Punk” preset was tight, punchy, and excellent for palm-muted, power chord riffs. Switching between rigs is smooth. There’s no latency or dropout. You can also have reverb and delay spill over when you change rigs, which keeps continuity intact.
In addition to its fantastic array of sounds, the HeadRush offers unparalleled ease of navigation, for an all-in-one unit. Whether you’re looking for just an effects setup, a complete modeled rig setup, or a self-contained recording unit, it’s hard to do better than the HeadRush.
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