The Digitech RP-1 Guitar FX Preamp Processor

Bob Leggitt | Wednesday, 22 January 2014
The early 1990s was a time in which a lot of guitarists started to focus away from innovation and onto a more retrospective plane, in which recreating the best sounds of the past was considered the way forward. But of course, innovative manufacturers like Digitech were not going to stop innovating, and their RP-1 effects processor served as a saviour for guitarists who didn’t want to call a halt on the progress of the ‘80s and suddenly go back to single channel valve combo reissues on a direct feed from the guitar.

Digitech RP-1 Guitar FX Preamp

Whilst the RP-1 probably looked vaguely like a derivative of the landmark Boss ME-5, that’s not really what it was. The ME-5 was a consolidation of floor FX pedals integrated into a digital switching and parameter storage system. The RP-1, conversely, integrated the essence of a professional rack-mount pre-amp/processor, and its separate floor control unit, into a single case. It came with full MIDI, 75 factory presets, storage for 75 user presets, and the ability to stack up 9 (of the total 23) effects simultaneously. A powerful, four-model, user-editable speaker simulator completed what was, back at the unit’s UK launch in 1992, a dynamite package. The RP-1 was distributed in the UK by JHS (John Hornby Skewes), with an original recommended retail price of £499.

Whilst the RP-1 was marketed as able to give the user “everything from Thrash Metal to Country Rock. Blues to Fusion” (and accurately so), it was clearly going to appeal most to hard rock players, and the preset bank reinforced that notion. The associated brand DOD of course shared the Digitech’s specialist knowledge of the heavy metal and modern rock market.

The RP-1’s strength lay in its ability to take the rather convoluted and expensive setups that pro guitarists were rigging up on stage, and present them to the amateur or semi-pro, who wasn’t realistically going to lug a rack around the local venues. Initially, the RP-1 was the only piece of gear that took such a concept seriously, and recognised that just because a guitarist found a rack impractical for live use, it didn’t mean he or she didn’t want those rack-synonymous sounds. At less than five hundred quid (cheaper than the Boss ME-5’s launch price), this product did represent good value, and it had a big impact on the market.

In terms of sound, anyone familiar with the Digitech and DOD brands in the ‘80s and early ‘90s would know what to expect. High quality, slick and processed – the sort of thing that would have been branded “modern” in the period from 1987 to 1992. But perhaps not earthy enough or sufficiently brimming with character for the mid ‘90s, when Britpop really commandeered rock in the UK, and the stripped back, warts-and-all roar of cooking valves once again became the order of the day.

For the record, the basic effects included on the RP-1 were: Compressor, Distortion (wide range of options including hard metal and overdrive), Modulation (the expected range of chorus-and flanger-based thickening), Delay (including ping-pong and multi-tap), Reverb (including gated and reverse), Comb Filter, Graphic Equalizer (7-band – much better than Boss floor unit EQ of the day), Noise Gate, Stereo Imaging, and the Speaker Sim.

As a purchase in 2014 and beyond, a product like this would now be very much in retro territory, and in particular, a good catch for someone interested in rock recordings from the cusp of the ‘80s and ‘90s. RP-1s look to go for very low prices online these days (January ‘14), and whilst they wouldn’t be something everyone would want, an enthusiast of that heavily produced late-‘80s-going-into-the-‘90s feel would, I’m sure, be over the moon with a nicely kept and maintained example.