Some time ago I wrote about my journey from your-perfectly-adequate-2nd-violin player to your-perfectly-mediocre-yet-very-loud electric violin player, and I mentioned that my setup has been evolving. I started with individual pedals, I then switched to using a multi-effects pedal and now ended up with a hybrid solution.
The multi-effects pedal in question is the Line6 HX Stomp, and this post is about how I use it and why I find it to an amazing, versatile, and superb value piece of gear.
Line6 people, if you’re reading this, I am happy to take your money.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that I use the HX Stomp with electric violin and a bass guitar. YMMV with other instruments, although I think most of the comments below are universal.
Ok so what is an HX Stomp: it’s a small multi-effects pedal with 3 foot switches. You can plug additional 2 foot switches or 2 expression pedals (there is only one TRS port, so you need a Y-cable; and no, I don’t know if you can plug 1 foot switch + 1 expression pedal using this method, but in theory you could), and MIDI controllers (in/out). You can use the HX Stomp as an audio interface by plugging it to your computer via USB. You can connect the output directly to FOH/PA, since the HX Stomp supports amp/cab modeling. You can use the “4-cable method” to plug an amplifier into the signal path, and finally you can just use it as a stomp box. So yeah, it’s a versatile little beast. All this in a box the size of, roughly, a fancy Strymon pedal.
Here are my impressions after using the HX stomp for about 2 years.
- It’s compact and hugely versatile. If you prepare presets/snapshots per song and you know what you’re doing, you can play a full show with just this one box.
- It’s being continuously improved by Line6. Recently a software update allowed the HX Stomp to support 2 more effects blocks (from original maximum 6) and it brought a couple of new effects (❤️ polyphonic pitch shifting ❤️).
- While managing all the effects blocks and parameters via knobs and buttons is certainly possible, it’s much easier to configure the HX Stomp by connecting it to a computer and using the provided HX Edit software. You can spend days tweaking your sound (I sure did).
- Ok while we’re on the subject of complexity, which will go in the “cons” list, a major advantage of the HX Stomp in this area is its popularity. So if you’re overwhelmed or don’t have the time to dig through endless parameters, there is a huge community that offers presets. Some are worse, some are better, some are free and some aren’t, but at least you can easily use them as a starting point for crafting your sound.
- Generally the sound quality of HX Stomp’s effects is superb, but, as you might expect, there are a few caveats. In my very subjective opinion, HX Stomp really shines at reverbs, delays, modulation and pitch shifting effects (especially with 3.0+ firmware). I have some reservations when it comes to overdrive/distortion effects, and I was never able to get a nice wah out of the HX Stomp. This being said, it’s definitely possible to get great dirty sound from it, it just takes more effort. Which brings us neatly to cons.
- The HX Stomp is complex. Really, really complex. When I mentioned that some groups of effects offer amazing sound in the paragraph above, I meant that they offer it at their default settings, without the need of changing much in terms of mix ratio or having to put them onto separate signal paths, etc. Oh, and that’s assuming you’re not using the amp/cab simulation, because if you do you’re essentially adding another layer of complexity. The great dirty sound the same paragraph references came from a preset I bought from Alex Price, who offers many carefully crafted presets for various instruments. I tip my hat to the guy, because I would never be able to achieve the sound his presets produce on my own. And that’s really the only problem with getting a great sound out of the HX Stomp: it takes time, practice, and effort.
- As you may expect, tweaking individual effects on the HX Stomp while performing can be very tricky. It doesn’t help that the foot switches are touch sensitive by default, and it’s very easy to accidentally tap them while twisting the knobs above. This means that if you’re performing, you need to plan ahead. I found that to be too much of a cognitive load.
- There are only 3 foot switches. You can buy an HX Stomp XL which has more, but you’ll be sacrificing portability. You can also plug in a MIDI controller, which again adds bulk, but there are all kinds of shapes and sizes of foot-operated MIDI controller and it’s definitely possible to find a useful yet compact solution.
How I use the HX Stomp
I found some ways to mitigate HX Stomp’s cons. Like most musicians that use effects pedals, some parts of my signal chain remain constantly on. For example, if I am playing violin, my EQ, reverb and phaser will be more or less constantly on. On the bass guitar, compression will always be on (actually, even two compression blocks). On either instrument, overdrive/distortion/fuzz is not only seldom on, but also needs to be tweaked quite frequently if on, so I use a dedicated effects unit for that.
I use HX Stomp’s built-in tuner, because a) I want to have the tap tempo switch and the only way to assign it to the 3rd foot switch is to make it a tap tempo/tuner combination, and b) the HX Stomp’s tuner is amazingly good. I find it better than Boss TU-3 especially in situations when I drop my bass tuning to C, because I want to play bad metal (it’s therapeutic). The TU-3 would get super confused in those low registers, and the HX Stomp just doesn’t.
I never use the HX Stomp as an audio interface, because I find it a bit limiting. I plug its output into my sound card instead, and every preset I use, I make in 2 versions: one with amp/cab sim on for recording, and one without, for practicing and playing live.
The above setup covers my electric violin and bass guitar sounds, fits on a Pedaltrain Nano and thus easily in a bag or on a bicycle (I live in Amsterdam, all my gear needs to be transportable by bike). It allows me to easily record and perform. I’m super happy with it.