Digitech Drop Review
The Digitech Drop is a much needed pedal for a large number of guitarists. This review of the Drop will look at what it does, how well it does it and whether it’s the right pedal for you or not. I’ll talk about how to use the Drop in creative ways and give examples of what type of guitarists the Drop would suit.
Digitech Drop Features
The Digitech Drop is a polyphonic pitch shifter that can drop your guitar’s tuning from 1 semi-tone (eg: E down to Eb) all the way to a full octave. It’s a simple feature and while there have been many polyphonic pitch shifters over the years, there’s a reason the Drop has built up such a wide acceptance since it was released: it does the job extremely well.
Here are the main features:
Polyphonic pitch shifting (down only)
The Drop allows you to drop your guitar’s tuning all the way down to a full octave below. That means if you’re using standard tuning, you can drop your guitar down to Eb, D or all the way down to E an octave below standard. To give you an idea how low that is, an octave lower is the range of a standard 4 string bass guitar. In other words, you won’t need to go any lower.
One knob controls the pitch selection and the range of LEDs give you a quick idea how many semi-tones you have dropped your tuning.
Momentary or latching mode footswitch with LED
This is a fantastic feature and should appear on more pedals. Momentary footswitches allow you to hold down the footswitch when you want the effect activated, then when you release the footswitch it deactivates the effect. This is different to latching footswitches which are standard on guitar pedals. With a latching footswitch, you hit the footswitch to activate the effect, then to deactivate the effect you hit the footswitch again.
The toggle switch on the face of the pedal allows you to choose which mode you want the Drop to operate in. This gives you complete control over the footswitch. So if you want to use the Drop to drop your guitar’s tuning for an entire song, you would set it to ‘Latching’. Then you simply hit the footswitch once to detune your guitar. On the other hand if you want to use the Drop as a temporary effect, set it to ‘Momentary’ and you can easily turn the effect on an off simply by holding the footswitch down.
Octave & Dry Mode
In addition to being able to detune your guitar down to an octave, you can also set the Drop to pass a mix through of an octave below as well as your original signal. This is a great addition to the Drop as it’s a pitch shifting effect that’s used quite often. Listen to Joe Satriani’s Super Colossal for a great example of this effect in action.
External Power Only
A 9V DC 300mA power supply comes with the Drop as there’s no option for battery.
Ease of use
It’s pretty simple to use the Drop. First, work out how many semitones you want to drop your tuning. For example if your guitar is in E standard (E A D G B E) and you have a song you want to play in C ‘standard’ (C F A# D# G C), the distance you need to detune to bring E down to C is four semitones (E > Eb > D > Db > C = four semitones). Once you know how many semitones you need to drop, simply turn the main knob until the correct LED lights up. So in this case you would turn the knob until the ‘4’ LED lights up. Simple.
The tagline for the Drop is ‘Drop Everything’ which is a good reminder of how the Drop works. While it is polyphonic, it drops all notes across your strings at the same time. That means you can’t have your guitar in Standard tuning and use the Drop to change the tuning to Drop-D. That doesn’t work because it will drop tune all strings the same number of semitones. So while you can’t go from Standard to Drop-D using the pedal, you can definitely use the Drop to play in tunings such as Drop-C or Drop-B (B F# B E G# C#).
Here are the steps you would go through to change from standard tuning to Drop-B:
- First, tune your guitar to Drop-D (tune the low E string down to D). You end up with D A D G B E
- Work out how many semitones you need to drop your tuning to reach the target. To drop D down to B, you need to detune 3 semitones: D > Db > C > B.
- Turn the knob on the Drop until the ‘3’ LED lights up
- Your guitar will now be in Drop-B tuning (B F# B E G# C#)
So the Digitech Drop can easily be used for other Drop-D based tunings. All you need to do is set your guitar to Drop-D then work out how many semitones you need to drop all strings.
Even if you’re a beginner and still wrapping your head around intervals, this is incredibly easy to use. Eventually you will just know what to set the Drop to for your favorite dropped tunings. Even if you’re unsure, you can simply use your guitar tuner (if it’s positioned after the drop in your signal chain) to check if you are set to the right tuning.
Having the diagonal row of LEDs for the different intervals makes this very quick to set up. Compared to other pitch based pedals, this is the easiest pedal to understand. It also means if you’re playing at a gig, you’ll easily be able to see which LED is lit up and can easily change back and forth between different tunings with a simple turn of the knob.
The sound quality of the Digitech Drop is crucial. A lot of pitch shifters result in a very artificial sounding tone which takes the fun and usefulness of the effect. Fortunately Digitech have had plenty of experience with pitch shifters thanks to the Digitech Whammy. As a result, the Drop sounds great. Shifting down a few semitones sounds completely natural and it’s only when you start to approach an octave lower when you start to notice your tone change. It doesn’t quite sound digitized, but the tone does change. But when I compare it to other pitch shifters or even high quality pitch shifters I have in my DAW, the Drop does an incredible job.
The other aspect to consider is the latency and tracking. Latency is the time between when you hit the strings and when you hear the note. Poor quality or older pitch shifters often suffer from high latency which can be very frustrating. I did not experience any latency when jamming along with the Drop which was a nice surprise compared to other pitch shifters I’ve used in the past. In terms of tracking, every note was spot on. The only time I noticed some digital artifacts from the pedal struggling to figure out the pitch of a note was when I placed the Drop after a few other effect pedals to intentionally try and force it to make mistakes.
This raises a good point. The Drop should be the first pedal after your guitar. You want a perfectly clean and dry signal into the Drop to make sure it can properly identify the pitches played. If you place a pedal such as a distortion or chorus pedal before the Drop, you are likely to end up with poor results. I also recommend placing it before your tuner pedal so you can easily check the tuning your in with the Drop activated.
One of the great uses of the Drop is to shift your guitar down a full octave to simulate a bass guitar. The quality of the tone the Drop produces is great. Of course it doesn’t sound exactly like a real bass guitar, but it does a good enough job that you could easily use the Drop to record your own bass parts if you wanted.
It’s worth mentioning that if you’re using the Drop at home, you will hear something strange when playing at low volume. The sound coming out of your amp will be detuned while your ears will pick up your guitar’s strings at the same time. This means you will hear both the detuned sound and the original sound at the same time. If you use headphones or you crank your amp up, you won’t notice it, but at a low amp volume, it will become obvious. It doesn’t sound nice when you detune your guitar one semitone on the Drop and start playing so keep this in mind. This isn’t a fault of the Drop, it’s just what happens when you use pitch based effects at low volume. Use headphones or play loud to avoid this problem. If you use the Drop while playing live, you won’t have this problem.
Does it work with Bass Guitar?
The Digitech Drop works perfectly well with guitar, but what about bass? I do play bass so I gave it a run through with my five string bass. The Drop does work well, but it’s important to understand the limitations with bass. The lower the original pitch, the less wriggle room you have before it starts turning into a muddy mess. What I mean by this is that when I detune my guitar’s low E down a full octave, it sounds fine. Of course the low E doesn’t have the same clarity as a bass playing the same E, but it’s still acceptable.
Now when I detune by bass’ E down a full octave, the result is a complete mess as should be expected when you try to shift the pitch that low. When I bring the E down to a B and compare it to the five string’s low B, the result is borderline acceptable. Some bassists might feel it’s okay while others won’t. Push it any further and it becomes a complete mess. If you’re playing in a band that plays some songs in a five string range or lower than B, consider getting a five string. You’re just not going to be able to force the Drop to detune your four string ridiculously low and expect the results to be as good as a five string. So a guitarist could easily use the Drop to reach a 7 string guitar range, but unfortunately things work differently in the bass range and you won’t achieve the same results.
The Digitech Drop is a nicely rugged pedal. The casing looks like it could take a beating without any problems. It’s built in the same style as the Digitech Whammy pedals with their iconic red color. I don’t expect any problems with this pedal and I couldn’t find anybody online who had problems.
Digitech Drop Pros
- Excellent quality polyphonic pitch shifting
- Incredibly useful pedal to quickly reach a wide range of drop tunings
- Easy to use and quick to change between settings
- Must have for any guitarists using a Floyd Rose so you can easily switch to lower tunings
Digitech Drop Cons
- Battery would have been a nice option
- Not as effective on bass guitar
Who is it for?
Live guitarists – the chances are you play some songs that aren’t in standard tuning or Drop-D tuning. Being able to instantly tune your guitar down to C# or B then back to Eb or E for the next song can save you a lot of hassle with extra gear. Let’s say you have a couple songs in Eb tuning and the rest in E. Instead of bringing two guitars for the two tunings, you and your bassist can simply use the one guitar and use the Drop. In a live situation that means you can easily move between songs in different tunings without having to switch guitars or manually tune your strings.
Any Floyd Rose owners – if you have a guitar with a Floyd Rose trem, you should get the Drop. Changing tunings with a Floyd Rose is a major pain. With the Drop you simply select the tuning you want to move to and it’s done. This will give you a lot of freedom and allow you to play songs that you wouldn’t have been able to play without the Drop.
Home guitarists – if you’re just starting to learn guitar, you’ll quickly learn that a lot of the songs you want to play are in some sort of drop tuning. Instead of having to manually retune your guitar any time you want to play one of those songs, the Drop allows you to instantly drop your tuning. That means whenever you want to jam along with a song that isn’t in standard tuning, you can now do it with the Drop.
Singer Songwriters – experimenting with different keys is a great way to see what vocal range works best for you. The Drop allows you to easily move between different keys without having to relearn your guitar parts. It also means that if a song is out of your vocal range, you can easily shift it to fit your natural range. Keep in mind that if you play acoustic, you will need to use headphones to avoid the original pitch bleeding through, but it’s still a worthwhile songwriting and performance tool.
Who isn’t it for?
The only situation where I can’t think of a reason to use the Drop would be if you don’t play any songs that use different tunings. I know some guitarists only play songs in standard or only play in one specific tuning. If you only play in one tuning and don’t feel the need to experiment with other tunings or change to different tunings for other songs, then you might not need the Drop. But even in that situation, I highly recommend experimenting with different tunings as even a one semitone difference can dramatically change the vibe of a song (eg: most of Metallica’s songs are in E, but when playing live they perform them in Eb).
How to get the most out of the Digitech Drop
Place it first in your signal chain – this should be obvious but you want to feed the Drop the purest signal you can. Don’t place it after other effect pedals unless you’re experimenting and want to produce weird sounding pitch artifacts.
Experiment with the momentary switch mode – not many pedals offer the option to set the footswitch as a momentary switch so make the most of it. Try to come up with riffs that move back and forth between the original pitch and the detuned pitch. While nothing really compares to the Digitech Whammy and it’s expression pedal, you can still have a lot of fun creating interesting effects with the momentary switch mode.
Explore different tunings when songwriting – even changing a song up or down a semitone can make a big difference in the end result. If you’re stuck with writer’s block, try setting the Drop to a tuning you haven’t used before. You suddenly might come up with a riff or lick you wouldn’t have come up with in other tunings.
Learn some bass parts – set the Drop to a full octave down and learn some bass parts. You’ll enjoy jamming along with songs in a new way and it might help you learn to write your own bass parts later on.
Alternatives to the Digitech Drop
The only alternative to the Digitech Drop I recommend considering is the Digitech Whammy DT. The reason is that it gives you all the detuning features of the Drop as well as an expression pedal, harmony options as well as the ability to lower and raise the pitch instead of only being able to lower the pitch. It is a far bigger pedal, but when it comes to pitch based effects, you’re going to want a Digitech Whammy.
If you’re looking for a simple pedal to detune your guitar, the Drop is a perfect choice. On the other hand if you want to have a range of other pitch based effects, I would recommend checking out the Digitech Whammy DT which I review here.
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