With a history of nearly 20 years in the analog modeling world, you would figure Tech 21 to be a nearly household name among guitarists. Yet somehow the company has largely fallen between the cracks of the tube purists and digital devotees. The U.S.A made Tri-A.C. is one of a long line of Tech 21's innovative product line.
The unit is a unique three channel preamp in a small pedal sized format which combines digital programming to store presets in combination with a 100% analog signal path. Control knobs line the top face of the pedal and include gain, a character switch to toggle between the units three distinct voicings, independent bass, mid, and treble, and a volume control. Power can be provided by a nine-volt battery or DC adaptor.
At the heart of the Tri-A.C. is the character control, which allows users to choose between Tweed, Brit, or California settings. Each voicing contains a unique gain structure and equalization curve which in tandem with the interactive, wide sweeping tone controls, is able to capture a wide range of tones emulating a variety of different classic amps. Overall, the Brit settings seem to speak to me the most offering a wide range of medium to high gain tones with goosed highs, tight lows, pronounced attack, and great sustain. With the gain around 70%, bass trimmed back a bit, and the mids around 85% I was able to coax some great blues tones which were reactive to picking dynamics and cleaned up fairly well by rolling back the volume knob. Inverting the bass and mid control settings and pumping up the gain got me into JCM 800 territory, but this pedal doesn't do the uber metal thing as well as some other pedals. The Tweed setting offers up a good selection of clean and distorted tones. However, the bass and treble needed to be dialed back significantly to control the flatulent low end and piecing highs. The California setting I found to be the least inspiring. However there are still quite a few sweet spots.
While the Tri-A.C. is capable of some absolutely great tones, it's fairly easy to dial in a bad one as well due to the highly interactive tone controls. This is one of those pedals which really needs to be programmed at the intended playback volume, as a setting which sounds great through headphones won't necessarily translate to a large amp or PA. Fortunately, programming the unit is as simple as dialing in a sound and tapping one of the footswitches quickly twice. Additionally, the pedal has a unique feature which makes it extremely easy to perform small tweaks on the fly. When you reach down and twist a dial, a led will blink at a rate which indicates how far you've moved from the original value. The closer the value, the faster the led will blink until it stops indicating the value matches. Excellent!
At approximately $190, there are a wide selection of digital pedals which have features far beyond the TRI-A.C. However, this is a great sounding, flexible unit which will appeal to those who dig analog circuitry and prefer individual stomps rather than digital all in ones.