Zoom G3x: An affordable multi-effects pedal that does it all
The Zoom G3X is a multi-effects pedal and USB audio interface that combines all the major features of the various multi-effects processors on the market into one compact, but not restrictively small unit – all at a very affordable price.
The G3X holds an assignable expression pedal, three(!) LCDs, a chromatic tuner, a 40-second looper, a drum machine, tap tempo, and even includes free recording software (Steinberg Sequel LE) as well as a tone editor. The unit can be plugged into an amp or a pair of headphones, has a jack for an external footswitch or expression pedal, an XLR connector, and allows you to switch between passive and active input.
The unit can be powered by a regular 9V adapter (included) or 4 AA batteries (also included), as well as via USB. The processor comes packed with 94 stomp box models and 22 amp and cabinet models, plus 100 factory presets that can be edited and overwritten with your own creations, and can run up to 6 effects simultaneously.
Ease of use and UI:
Based on the sheer number of user reviews praising its usability, the Zoom G3X is probably the easiest multi-fx unit to handle for both beginners and advanced soundscapers. This is largely due to a wealth of buttons and controllers for both global and patch settings, as well as the three LCDs and intuitive user interface.
The three displays offer instant control over three of the six total effects in a patch. To turn them on or off, you simply press one of the three respective footswitches below the screens. Instant enabling/disabling of effects is a feature most cheaper multi-effects units lack and an especially welcome addition when performing live.
At the same time, some users have found control over only three effects at a time insufficient for their needs, considering the sweet spot to be four or five. Thus, if the music you’re playing requires extensive tone switching within a song, you might want to look at larger models (see this article for possible alternatives).
However, it is possible to switch between the set of three effects active for editing fairly easily on the G3X. To do this, you simply press footswitches 1 and 2 together to move left in the effects chain, or 2 and 3 to move right. As you can also arrange the effects in any order, the lack of extra footswitches/screens for the other three is really more of a minor inconvenience than a design flaw and shouldn’t be an issue in most cases.
What can be limiting in live situations, however, is switching patches. While instant and sonically seamless, there is no way to jump between distant presets. In order to move from one to the other, you’ll need to scroll through each patch in between, which all become active as you do so, though this can simply be solved with careful ordering and planning of patches. If this is a problem for you, though, you might be interested in the Pod HD500X, which solves this with a few extra footswitches and an elegant silent scrolling system.
The factory presets of the G3X, as in most multi-effects units, are not the greatest. Many of them are reportedly too high in gain and can subsequently produce unwanted noise, especially those intended for heavier sounds. But factory presets are hardly the point of any multi-effects pedal anyway.
To get the most out of your multi-effects unit, you’ll want to create your own tones – which, as said, is very simple on the G3X. However, to do so, you will have to replace the factory sounds as they occupy all 100 memory slots, so be sure to back up the ones you like.
The amp models are decent, though nothing amazing, which is to be expected at this price. The effects, however, are the high point of this pedal. The distortions and overdrives are not perfect, but still better than on many other multi-effects units, while the modulations, delays and reverbs are practically flawless. The fact that you get ten to twenty of each just seals the incredible value of the G3X.
Even with its poorer-quality effect models, with proper tweaking, you can get a great sound for virtually any genre and style. And since Zoom pedals also have an active community of tone-crafters, with currently over 700 user-made patches available for download online (see here), they probably already have most of your tone needs covered.
As pointed out above, the Zoom G3X can run up to 6 effects simultaneously, which is fairly average – higher-end units offer more, while most similarly and lower priced pedals fall below that or lack effect stacking entirely. If you think 6 might not be enough for you, be aware that the G3X also has a “combo” category of effects, which is essentially several effects packed together (e.g. chorus + delay or compressor + overdrive), taking up just one of the six effects slots.
As the G3X came out in 2011 and is therefore a relatively old pedal (on the scale of modern technology development), it is, however, possible to run into trouble with the DSP (digital signal processing) limit. This means that the unit can’t always handle running multiple processor-heavy effects at the same time and will simply bypass some if it does happen. While this generally only applies to a few specific delays and amp models on the G3X, it is usually not an issue with newer tech.
The Zoom G3X is also a wonderful practice tool. The 40-second looper includes overdubbing capabilities and, unlike cheaper multi-effects units, also allows undoing a single layer of looped audio. Be aware, though, that with the “Undo” option active, looping time is unfortunately cut down to only 20 seconds.
The looper offers a choice between three nifty modes for stopping the loop: Stop (loop ends immediately when the footswitch is pressed), Finish (loop stops at the end of the loop), or Fade Out (loop slowly fades out). Additionally, the looper can be combined with the built-in drum machine, which contains a variety of built-in rhythm patterns and can be synchronized with the looper. You can adjust the tempo of the rhythm patterns within a range of 40-250 bpm, as well as their sound level.
The screens even show pre-count beats, when to begin recording your loop, as well as drum pattern progress. The only major downside of the looper and drum machine functions is that the tap tempo switch is a small finger-pressed button that can’t be operated with your foot.
The Zoom G3X may look a bit plasticky, but the casing is actually made of durable aluminum that is perfectly suitable even for playing live, and most users have had no problem with its build quality. Some have had issues with the displays and finger buttons breaking, though this is generally over several years of extensive use, which is impressive enough for an entry level unit with all the bells and whistles one could ask for.
For the price, the Zoom G3X is therefore an extremely capable unit and an excellent first choice for a multi-effects & audio interface combo. While some list it as best suited for bedroom practice and home studio use, which is indeed where it shines, there is no reason it couldn’t be used for gigging or band practice either.
Most of its shortcomings in live control options are due to its middle-sized build, which many users will appreciate, have not gone unnoticed by Zoom, and thus, while not perhaps the most convenient, do have workarounds.
As with most budget multi-effects processors, its weakest points are probably the amp and drive models. Even within these, however, there is something to be found for everyone, and in terms of effects and tones, the G3X covers all essential ground and more.
If you’re looking to upgrade from another budget multi-effects pedal, you will probably see more of a step up and be happier with a higher-end unit. However, if this is your first foray into amp/effect modeling, for the price, you really can’t go wrong with the Zoom G3X.