What's the deal with guitar effects these days? It seems like everyone and their uncle has an all-in-one unit on the market now, and they all look pretty similar. Just plug it into your computer, and all your FX prayers will be answered, if you believe the marketing materials. I picked up a BOSS GT-001 (Roland) and put it through its paces. Or, more accurately, it put me through my paces.
Stacking up the history
There was a time when you needed a full stack. A preamp, a bunch of effect pedals, and a hulking great cabinet. Then came digital effects. For a while these were laughable: a range of 8-bit sounds and effects that sounded like someone got into a fist fight with a robot.
Musicians began to adopt these sounds, possibly out of pity that the early attempts from Japanese giants like Roland and Casio had all the punch and weight of a toddler doing a Brett Hart impression (Brett Hart anyone? No? Anyone...?). Think of the 80s here, with now-classics like Kraftwerk's Pocket Calculator.
It's important to note that hugely influential music of this type was made in spite of the limitations of digital effects, not because of how they could stand in for their real-world counterparts. But digital processing power grew, and with it came advancements like the TB-303 and TR-909 (I'm focusing on Roland here, due to the BOSS name).
Bear in mind, the TB-303 itself, which was able to make a very limited amount of "bass like noises", was £240 in the UK on release. That's more than the shelf price of the GT-001 on review here, and that's not accounting for inflation. In today's money, a brand new TB-303 would have set you back almost £650. Yeah. You could have bought a pretty decent real bass and amplifier for that money.