For those who've followed FrugalGuitarist.com for a while, it should be no surprise that I'm a fan of Digitech gear. I've owned a piece of their gear for just about as long as I've been playing guitar as they are one of those companies which always offers a great balance of professional features at a relatively affordable price. As such, it was only a matter of time before I got my hands on their flagship processor the GSP1101. The GSP1101 was initially announced in 2007 and was quickly adopted by many professional players. However, Digitech continued to build new features on the AudioDNA2 platform which appeared in new lines of the company's RP processors. By the time the RP1000 had been announced at the end of 2008 the GSP1101's features already appeared rather dated by comparison. Stan Ripley and mustbebeta.com to the rescue! Though unofficial beta firmware updates, the GSP1101 has been updated to stay extremely relevant in a market which has grown increasingly competitive since 2007. The latest firmware as of this writing is C63, which may very well be the last as its been a year since its release. As the GSP1101 has been on the market for some time and reviewed thouroughly, I'm only going to focus on the beta C63 upgrades and whether the GSP1101 is worth the upgrade for owners of the current Digitech RP series. For opinions on general Digitech amp modeling and effects (the same algorhythms used in the RP series are in the GSP), be sure to check out my reviews of the RP255, RP350, and RP500. Before I get into the review, a few links. The latest GSP1101 beta update and release notes can be found here, the GSP Impulse Response Loader (G.I.R.L.) can be found here, and the official Digitech GSP1101 page here. Potential owners should really take a read of the beta release notes as all updates are covered.
While the GSP1101 C63 firmware offers numerous updates, perhaps the most intriguing new feature included is the ability to load third party Impulse Responses (IR). An IR is essentially the sonic signature of an environment, in the case of the GSP1101 a guitar cabinet. While this technology is fairly commonplace in DAW plugins, and is the backbone behind the vast majority of speaker cabinet emulation in multi-effects units, the GSP1101 is the only multi-effects device under $1,000 which allows loading of third party IRs. That said, the GSP1101 only supports mono impulses and additionally only loads the first 128 samples of the IR (the left channel in the case of a stereo IR) to both left and right channels, or alternatively the first 256 samples to the left channel (mono option). I must admit to being very skeptical that a truncated file could impart the realism typically associated with IRs. My first experiment was downloading the free Marshall 1960A Celestion G12M-25s cabinet pack available at redwirez.com. After some brief experimentation, it was obvious that a third party IR can indeed offer tonal advantages over many of the stock cabinet models in the GSP. I quickly got drunk on the experimenting which ate up many hours over the course of a few days...which I have extremely mixed feelings about. Yes, experimentation is often needed to wrangle the best tones from gear but I believe its also important to remember that putting tones under a microscopic level of scrutiny can be counterproductive and any guitarist (including myself) would be much better served by putting in some extra practice time than performing a similar experiment.
...if you dig the tones your getting from an RP unit, you'll love the tonal advantages the GSP has to offer
After getting past the IR experimentation, the GSP1101 beta updates offer some additional very cool functionality such as parallel effects processing, custom assigns when paired with the Control 2 footswitch, pre/post compressor placement, and many other goodies. All that is in addition to all the cool features the GSP1101 already offered such as disabling cab emulation on the 1/4" outs (so the XLR can still be sent direct), global cabinet modeling, and global EQ.
So is it worth the upgrade for an existing RP owner? Depends. If you're an RP1000 user who makes use of that unit's dual loops, you loose one with the GSP1101. Also, while the vast majority of amps/effects have been ported to the GSP1101, there's still a few missing (most notable the lofi and reverse delays). And despite all the GSP1101's strengths, the one nagging weakness is the unit's inability to run pitch and modulation effects simultaneously. This is a feature offered by the older GNX series as well as the newer iPB series and a frustration many current RP owners are likely familiar with. Now, if those features aren't that important and your not one intimately in love with the floorboard format, the GSP1101 offers a pretty big advantage when going direct into a full range system. That said, an IR is not a silver bullet which will completely transform the GSP tones. If you generally don't like the Digitech tonal signature, loading an IR likely won't change that...but if you dig the tones your getting from an RP unit, you'll love the tonal advantages the GSP has to offer. And then there's all the little things like the GSP's excellent strobe style tuner, global EQ, and excellent controller integration. All in all, unless your a player who absolutely must have a specific feature in an RP unit not offered in the GSP1101, its well worth the price premium especially considering the fantastic deals to be had on the unit due to the length of time its been on the market.
Price: ~$400 to ~500 USD (GSP alone) or ~$600 to ~800 (Control 2 Bundle)
Pros: Great Tones, Impulse Response Loading
Cons: Only one Modulation/Pitch effect available at a time