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Product Review: Digitech HarmonyMan Intelligent Pitch Shifter Pedal

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Whether it’s the Whammy pedal or the GNX 3000, Digitech has a long history of designing quality floor pedals and boards, particularly ones that help take a guitarist’s sound to unforeseen levels (think Tom Morello). And while Digitech’s invention, the HarmonyMan carries over certain characteristics of Whammy pedals of old, this bright red box is a whole other beast.

Features
The HarmonyMan has four different types of pitch-shifting effects, all of which can be seen through alphanumeric displays above the “Voice 1” and “Voice 2” knobs: triad-centered (for three-part harmonies), scale-based (key harmonies), chromatic (or "fixed"), and detune. The last of these four effects is a group of four distinct “detuned” chorus-like effects found at the end of the “Voice 1” or “Voice 2” knobs, which are used to select all harmonies. The four detuned/chorus choices are labeled “D1,” “D2,” “D3,” and “D4.”

It also contains a built-in guitar tuner (via holding down the left black footswitch, which doubles as the HM's on/off switch). The tuner uses seven LEDs at the pedal’s center and the “Voice 1” note display window above the “Voice 1” knob for accurate tuning. The pedal features four memory locations (by the pressing the black footswitch on its right side), viewed via four LEDS, and a “store” button to store your harmony presets to these memory locations. In all, there are 42 different voicings/effects in the pedal's Voice knobs, including 24 semitones.

Other features include the “musIQ” button (for key recognition), a “Mix” knob (which controls the mix between lead guitar and harmony effects), “Distortion Send/Return” loop (for stompboxes), “Harmony Key” display, and “Sidechain Input/thru” jacks (for a rhythm guitarist to be the chord recognition source).

Setup
Before trying out the HarmonyMan, I needed three quality instrument cables to connect my guitar to it, another floor pedal (for distortion, reverb) and an amplifier. Therefore, I plugged my Fender Stratocaster into the HM’s guitar “input” slot, then connected the “Left (mono)” output of the HM to the guitar input of my Digitech GNX3000 Multi Effects Pedal, then cabled the GNX’s “Left” balanced 1/4'' slot to one of the “Line In” channels on my Behringer KX1200 Keyboard/PA system. Of course, if you want just a clean signal, you can always plug the HM straight into an amp, using the “Left (Mono)” or “Right” outputs. On occasion, I connected my pedal to an old Marshall amp.

Performance
I was excited to try out the pedal for its ability to create triad-centered (a.k.a. three-part) harmonies. For those not theory-trained or who may need a quick refresher course, triads are created by hitting/fretting three notes: the root (the bottom or first note), the third (a major or minor sound), and the fifth (perfect/P5, diminished or augmented).

And the first foray into this territory, as well as all subsequent ones did not disappoint, no matter what setup I used. Since you the reader (and guitarist, presumably) do not have the pedal in front of you, keep in mind that there is only one way to create triad-based harmonies, and that is to use both the “Voice 1” and “Voice 2” knobs on the left side of the pedal.

For instance, turning the “Voice 1” knob to “5H” (a perfect fifth above the root note you are playing, plus that root note) and turning the "Voice 2" knob to "3L" (a major or minor third interval below the same root note you are playing) gives you three distinct notes, thus a three-part harmony/triad. As you play around the guitar neck using this setting, you’ll find yourself sounding a bit like Brian May of Queen (without having to double or triple the guitar parts yourself, of course) or the Allman Brothers. Talk about instant gratification.

One can still create the same kind of two-part harmonies found on Whammy pedals of old using one Voice knob at a time. But what makes the HarmonyMan different and powerful is its ability to recognize the chords and keys you are playing. The aforementioned black footswitch on the HM's right side can be pressed on while hitting any major or minor chord and when you let go of it, the circular display of all 24 major and minor keys, called the “Harmony Key,” will instantly and correctly light up the key you are playing the chord in.

This is highly impressive and indeed, it is where the “Intelligent” aspect of the pedal truly manifests itself.

Using the “musIQ” button on the right side is also smart, as it automatically figures out the scale and key you are playing in. One can use this feature when a second guitarist plugs into the “Sidechain” input/thru channels, so while he/she strums chords that the musIQ uses to identify the chord's key, you solo over but in key with that other guitarist. This full and loaded sound will definitely turn some heads.

With 42 different voicings, there’s a ton of creative possible harmony combinations guitarists can come up with. For example, though there are four distinct “detuned” effects here (from swirly-sounding to warbly), a basic chorus effect can be created instantly by turning both Voice 1 and Voice 2 knobs to the same pitch-shifting voice, whether they are both set to “5L,” “3H” or other voicings.

About the only slightly disappointing feature of this otherwise brilliant pedal is that one can only store up to four harmony presets at one time. With the many voicing combinations one can play around with using the two Voice knobs, storing four of them at a time seems a little small.

That said, playing guitar with this pedal, clean or distorted, is a trip. And the real-time left-side footswitch that turns the HarmonyMan on and off instantly is another plus, whether you want to flash your stored (or experimental) harmonies for seconds or several minutes at a time. So is the pedal’s realistic bass guitar replications (“2o,” as in two octaves below and “8L”). The high Whammy-like octave voicings can be a bit warbly but have high-class tone and accuracy.

Bottom line: Digitech’s HarmonyMan pedal, since it’s release last year can be purchased at a reasonable price these days (in the $300 range). But the creativity one can engage him or herself in using this pedal is priceless. Therefore, it is definitely a keeper.

For a quicker overview and demonstration of how the HarmonyMan pedal works, check out this video.

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About Charlie Doherty

Copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; print/web journalist/freelancer, formerly for Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and Helium.com; co-head sports editor & asst. music editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA); Featured in Guitar World May 2014. See me on twitter.com/chucko33, myspace.com/charlied, & Facebook.