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Review of Zoom G1on and G1Xon multi-effects units

Introduction

The G1on and G1Xon are multi-fx units released by Zoom in 2013, now discontinued.  Here in the UK they can be picked up for between £20 – 50, I picked up a G1on locally from Facebook for £25. 

Ideally you want to find one at the lower end of this range because when you start approaching the £50 mark, you’re getting towards the price of a used G1Four or G1XFour which is the updated model released in 2019 (although I think it has less effects) or a used MS-50G which is similar but has a pedal format, more effects with up to 6 effects at once and also has tap tempo but no option for an expression pedal.

Overview

The G1on and G1Xon are incredible value for money.  Strangely they are often cheaper than older, less featured zoom multi-fx units.  Potentially for less than the price of one used pedal you get 100 effects in a number of categories, for example –

    • Dynamics: Filters, EQ, compressors
    • Overdrive: Overdrive, distortion, fuzz
    • Amp sims: Marshall Bluesbreaker, Fender Vibroverb, Fender Twin, Marshall JCM2000
    • Modulation: Tremolo, flanger, phaser, rotary, pitch shifter, chorus, ensemble, ring modulation, vibrato, octave
    • Reverb: spring, plate, room, hall
    • Delay: tape, analog, reverse, filter delay

With the G1on / G1Xon you can have up to 5 effects in series in any order.  When I started playing a long time ago I had Boss SE50 and Zoom 9050S multi effects and like a lot of multi effects units these only allowed a certain order of effects and only certain combinations of effects. Because there aren’t any such restrictions with the G1on / G1Xon it means you can have a good range of effects, or 3 delays and 2 reverbs if you want. Or 5 delays. This flexibility opens up lots of sonic potential. Up to 5 is the key phrase here because sometimes you reach DSP limits meaning that you can’t have certain combinations of effects but this doesn’t happen too often.

The G1on and G1Xon have space to store 100 patches which is done in 10 banks lettered A to J, each with presets numbered 0 to 9.  You also get a tuner, a number of drum loops and a 30s looper. It runs off 4x AA batteries or an adaptor. 

These units have 8 buttons (home, enter, menu, rhythm/looper and 4 cursor keys) a small LCD screen, a rotary encoder and two foot switches which can cycle through patches (up and down) as well as activate the tuner, control the looper and start / stop the rhythms.   Although the screen is small, it’s big enough to display all the information you need such as the bank and patch number, patch name and effects chain.  You can also add, delete and reorder effects as well as edit the effects themselves.

The back panel is fairly sparse, it has a mono input, mono output (so it can’t do stereo effects), a 3.5mm jack to connect an audio source like a phone or mp3 player, power input and USB port, although note this is for software updates only. You can potentially run off USB power but a number of users don’t recommend this.  Not only can you plug the output into an amp, you can also use it with headphones.

The only difference between the two models is that the G1Xon has an expression pedal (which of course makes it wider) and 5 extra wah type effects.  The expression pedal is digital and can control many – but not all – effect parameters but I’d say it’s definitely worth having if you have the option between the two units.

These are often touted as ‘beginner’ fx units but I think this does them a great disservice because in practice they are capable of producing a huge range of sounds from a single effect such as an overdrive or reverb to complex modulation and huge ambient sounds. The ability to use any 5 effects in any order makes them very versatile. Sure, they’re never going to be up to the standards of a fractal or helix but that’s not what you’d expect.  That said, the sound quality is impressive especially considering they are nearly 10 years old.

Practical experience

I’ve been using the G1on for a while now and there are a few things to note.  The first point of note is that it is made of plastic.  It looks pretty strong but I’m not sure how it would hold up to gigging if it was thrown around in a bag for example.  For home use this isn’t an issue.  The next one may seem really picky but they don’t have an on/off switch.  It isn’t really a problem, just something to get used to. The other point of note is that these units are not true bypass but this has not caused me any issues, should you want to switch in and out then you could use something like a true bypass looper.

As multi-fx units there is a compromise using these compared to pedals.  You don’t get the visual feedback and ease of directly adjusting knobs you get with pedals, it does involve a lot of button presses in certain combinations and a awful lot of twisting the mod wheel which is how you select, add and change effect parameters.  Once you get the hang of it, the process is really straightforward. You can also use ToneLib software to create, manage and download presets which makes the process a whole lot easier. Although dynamic adjustment is quite difficult, the best option is to spend some time exploring the sounds and creating presets and then you can cycle through them as you play.  This actually gives you a big advantage over pedals because you can create and have instant access to a huge number of sounds without having to make a bank of drawings or take lots of photos for every setting you use and then have to set each pedal up every time you use it.

I don’t think the presets give a very good impression. They’re quite samey, tend to be a similar rock / metal type of sound so don’t give a good idea of what you can do with these. The levels are all over the place although when you consider the range of pickups and amps they could be used with, I doubt you’d ever get something that suited everyone.

Effects in more detail

The thing is, I don’t want or intend these observations to put you off.  When you listen to the effects the sound quality really shines through.

There’s an excellent range of overdrive, distortion and fuzz sounds. These are good but if I’m being very critical I’d say maybe a bit too digital and not so good at lower gain levels so work better for mid to high gain sounds.  I don’t think they have a great tonal range either.

I really like the amp sims, I can’t say how close the sound is to the amps they are modelling but you can get a superb range of sounds from overdriven, blues to more distorted.

Modulation effects are also very good.  Chorus, phaser, flanger, tremolo, rotary, ensemble and others are excellent and there’s even ‘the vibe’ which is a uni-vibe type effect.

In the dynamics section the compressors are ok although I preferred the sound of behringer pedal in comparison.  The Zoom noise reduction and noise gate though are excellent and I also really like the filter effects like the fCycle filter, random filter and slicer.

Time effects are similarly excellent, there’s a superb range of delays and reverbs.  In fact this is why I subsequently bought a G1Xon. I was looking at a Sonicake sonic ambience pedal (delay and reverb) when I saw a G1Xon for the same price of £25 and it seemed a better, more flexible option. I thought the expression pedal would be really useful and it also occurred to me that I could use the G1on for noise reduction and  distortion / overdrives and the G1Xon for modulation and time effects to give more effect slots.

The wah effects on the G1Xon are ok and the expression pedal is a decent size and sturdy with a good range of travel so is a great addition for controlling modulation or time based effects or as a volume pedal.

The tuner is a very handy function and I have played with the looper but need to get better with timing of the controls.  30 seconds doesn’t sound long but interestingly Hal Leonard published a ‘looper pedal songbook’ which according to the introductory text requires a looper capable of recording up to 35s so it may be possible to use this to record songs. 

What I have found is that whilst the distortion / overdrive and amp sims are ok by themselves, they don’t stack like pedals would because they are digital and modelled to produce a specific sound – it makes very little difference if you stack an overdrive with a fuzz for example. They also don’t tend to work well with modulation effects which sound much better on their own, they do seem to work fine with delay and reverb though.  I guess this is the same reason that modelling amps don’t tend to work well with pedals.

Conclusion

For the price, these are incredible value for money. I tend to think of them like a secret hidden in plain sight. I don’t think they do everything brilliantly and they aren’t an all in one solution but are a veritable ‘swiss army knife’ of effects that are worth having in your collection, even though approaching 10 years old.

Even if only used for reverb and delays, you’re getting a large number of effects that you’d need to spend 5 – 10x the price to obtain in pedals. And the thing is if you then combine these reverb and delays with modulation effects you can get close to the sound of some boutique pedals for a fraction of the price.  And this is why I don’t think they are limited to a beginner’s pedal, they offer huge creative potential and will also suit more experienced guitarists, especially ones like me on a tight budget.  

The amp sims and overdrives / distortions are perfectly fine for practicing or jamming when you don’t need precise tones.  Similarly, if you don’t use effects like chorus or flanger very often it’s a great way to get these sounds without having to buy separate pedals.  The same applies for EQ and compressors that may come in handy for some people from time to time.

If you want a particular sound or have an ‘always on’ effect then of course you can get separate pedals.  And that’s how I’ve found myself using these. Whilst not an all in one solution they are very useful in many different ways depending on your style, how you use effects and when you discover effects you never knew you needed. When I ended up with both I thought I would use the G1on for overdrive / distortion / fuzz effects and the G1Xon for modulation and reverb.

What has actually happened is that I’ve picked up cheap distortion, overdrive and fuzz pedals so that I can stack them and get more specific tones, especially at low gain.  I’ve explored the units a lot more than I thought I would and am using a lot of the filter effects, modulation effects like chorus, the vibe and phaser as well as delays and reverbs. 

The benefit is that I have a better sound for overdrives and modulation effects and it also gives more slots for the modulation effects, delays and reverbs which I think sound better with a separate overdrive in any case.  I tend to use the G1Xon because it has an expression pedal which expands the creative possibilities whilst playing, it can also be used as a volume pedal which is a really useful addition.

I also use it for headphone practice which is a godsend.  I’ve created several presets for this so I can play straight away, no set up required and it sounds very good through headphones.  Just be aware it is very loud with headphones and you will need to adjust the level accordingly.  Come to think of it, if you want a headphone amp why not buy one of these?  It’s in the same sort of price bracket yet you’re not limited.to the one or two sounds you typically get on a headphone amp although it is marginally less portable.

The G1on has recently found another use as I have recently picked up a Behringer Crave synth and have set this up to work with the Crave, it works very well and completely transforms the sound of the Crave.

That’s the beauty of these units. They are cheap, incredibly versatile and provide a number of effects that you may not be familiar with but are more likely to use because you’ve got them whereas you wouldn’t otherwise buy a separate pedal. You may also find effects you never knew you needed and end up using them in different ways than you first envisaged. Some effects do sound better than others but they are good quality and all very usable. If you want a specific sound or more control / a better sounding effect there’s nothing to stop you picking up separate pedals – you just need to decide if the cost of a separate pedal gives you any benefit over what you’ve already got because sometimes it won’t. 

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