REVIEW: TC-Helicon VoiceLive Play GTX

Vocal effects and harmonies can really add to the professionalism of a live performance, but they’re hard to implement, especially for the singing guitarist. It’s difficult to get harmonies happening between band members sometimes: bad monitor mix, one or more vocalists having an off night – and that’s before you start to think about how this will all sound to the audience. Well just like on one of those infomercials that show someone struggling with some particularly mundane and cumbersome housework chore, TC-Helicon has taken the idea of the singing guitarist and simplified it so even a so-so singer like myself can make listenable music with it.

VoiceLive Play GTX is a multi-effects unit dedicated the singing guitarist, whether they play electric or acoustic guitar, solo or in a band or duo. It features professional-level TC-Helicon effects, including state-of-the-art harmony processing. And let’s not forget that TC-Helicon is associated with TC Electronic, one of the finest guitar effect makers in the business and the company behind legendary units like Stereo Chorus Flanger, TC 2290 Digital Delay and G-System. So Play GTX is also overflowing with guitar effects and amp simulations. It features more than 200 presets which include both a vocal and a guitar component, many of which are inspired by popular songs (with subtle and not-so-subtle preset names to hint at what songs they’re based on). And every preset can be enhanced with the dedicated HIT button, which adds additional vocal effects as you need them. For instance, if you only need a harmony in the chorus, or if you need a megaphone effect for three words in a verse, you can add those effects to your existing sound via the HIT button without having to dial in an entirely new preset. And you can store selected presets as ‘favorites’ to make setup easy.

Everything about VoiceLive Play GTX is geared towards ease of use. There are essentially two levels of menu screen, one which covers the basics only (which will suit singer/songwriters who need the occasional harmony or ambience effect but don’t want to go overboard with parameter editing) and then there’s the deeper level for tinkerers like me who like to really get down into the furthest corners of edit-dom. This extends to the guitar effects and amp models too.

So how does it do it? VoiceLive Play GTX features inputs for microphone and guitar (Guitar In and Thru jacks are included, in case you want to send the modelled sound to its own amplifier or bypass the effects completely). Why would you want to plug the guitar in only to bypass the unit, you ask? Because VoiceLive Play GTX has the ability to sense the note or chord you’re playing and create a harmony based on what it hears! Play a D chord, sing a note over it and you’ll get a luscious harmony, then change to a Dsus4 and part of the harmony will shift too. The effect can be surprisingly complex, and it really aids in creating the illusion of several singers. Further solidifying this illusion is the ability to morph the gender of the voice – male to female, female to male, even fairy, robot and monster effects are included for those rare moments when such a trick is called for. VoiceLive Play GTX also includes pitch correction, which you can use for everything from the most subtle tidying up of errant notes to the full-on Kanye effect. There are also doubling effects which can be made to sound more natural or more artificial at your discretion. The guitar effects are good, although it can take some tweaking to make the amps sound natural. They’re certainly useful in a cover band or duo situation, and great for demoing song ideas, but it’s nice to have the option to bypass them too if you’d rather use your own amp. And embedded stereo RoomSense mics allow you to detect the pitch of instruments nearby, replace the cabled mic for headphone practice, or give you some much-needed ambience in your headphone mix.

There are some other handy features as well: MIDI jack (yes, you can ‘play’ vocal melodies on a keyboard), foot pedal jack for adding even more control, an auxiliary in for practicing or taking control of your live backing tracks (with a useful Vocal Cancel mode for singing over existing recordings), a 1/8″ headphone jack, stereo outputs, and a USB connection which you can use to update the software and to share new patches. In fact, there are some pretty entertaining official Mastodon patches available which are great fun. But the stock sounds are great too, and I’m only a little embarrassed to say I must have sang “Moves Like Jaggar” (with that song’s inspired preset) a good four or five times just because it sounded so good. Like TC Electronic guitar gear, part of what’s great about the VoiceLive Play is that the presets aren’t ridiculously over-the-top like some other multi effect units. Some presets have very subtle effects on the ‘Hit’ button – a little doubling here, maybe some reverb there – which give your music a little extra push for a big chorus or a moment here and there. The megaphone effect is especially fun for those post-rock moments or covering Faith No More’s “The Gentle Art Of Making Enemies.”

The pitch correction feature is handy, but personally I found that for all the limits of my own vocal range, I preferred the natural sound of my voice, occasional pitch wobbles included.

Although there are plenty of great features here for the singing guitarist, I can also imagine some singers preferring to put control of their vocal processing at the feet of their duo partner or musical director so they can focus on performance. And even singers who don’t play guitar or have a guitarist to work with can use the aux input to detect the pitch of backing tracks. Ultimately, anyone who needs to create harmonies from a musical source can benefit from this great little gadget.