When it comes to stompboxes, we usually associate them with guitarists and bassists although it’s pretty much safe to say that those days are long gone as there have been a myriad of vocal-centric pedals hitting the market these last few years. Today, we’re going to be taking a look at one such box, the TC-Helicon VoiceTone Harmony-G XT, a pedal that can automatically generate vocal harmonies through either an input signal from your guitar or a preselected key, among a few other features. I’ve been messing around with the Harmony-G XT for about a month now and it’s safe to say that although it might not be for everyone, if you’re looking for a stomp box that can spice up your vocals by adding harmonies, effects and pitch correction, this pedal might be exactly what you’ve been searching for.
TC-Helicon states that the “Harmony-G XT reacts solidly to your guitar chords, with some musically valid harmonies that complement your singing and playing."
First and foremost, the Harmony-G XT is the successor to TC-Helicon’s Harmony-G pedal and mixes it with some features from the more high-class VoiceLive 2. It’s specifically designed to give singers a variety of effects to bolster any performance including, but not limited to, harmony generation, doubling, reverb, delay, compression and even automatic chromatic pitch correction (aka autotune). As far as how this pedal operates, the Harmony-G XT revolves around 10 programmable presets arranged in five banks with a choice of A and B. You can switch through the five banks with the preset button and then switch between the A or B variations with the left foot switch. Each of these presets can be built up using several effects and features. There's also an option for phantom power in case you're doing some home recording with a condenser mic.
As far as those harmony voices go, you have two to work with, shown on the pedal as Voice 1 and Voice 2, each of which can be chosen from six option of simply be turned off. Voice 1 offers higher, high, low, lower, bass or octave up harmonies while Voice 2 has the same options but replaces the octave up with octave down.
The Harmony-G XT comes with a slew of effects. You can choose from hall reverb, room reverb, echo, slap, combi (combination) or the very avant-garde SFX. You can also choose to have no effects at all if yo prefer a dry sound. The levels of the effects and of the harmony voices can be dialed in using two separate knobs and each of the effects has a few selectable variations to boot. And on top of all this, you can engage the double button which activates the doubling effect which has four different options itself, such as different amounts of delay, among others. You can use this double option alone or along with the harmony voices.
There’s also a Tone button that with a single press adds what TC-Helicon describes as ‘Adaptive Live Engineer Effects,’ a combination of EQ, de-essing, gating and compression to smooth out the voice. Pressing the tone button a second time will engage the automatic pitch correction which either works in tandem with the key of the chords you’re playing on guitar or from a manually selected scale in case you’re strictly singing. You can also quickly select your desired scale with your guitar by simply strumming the root chord of your preferred key and holding both footswitches down. If you do happen to want to rig this pedal up with your guitar, a through put jack takes your axe’s signal clean to your amp or added with the voice signal in order to share the reverb, although the relative level of the effect added to your guitar can be dialed in or muted with the Guitar knob. And finally for the features department, the Harmony-G XT comes with TC-Helicon’s VoiceSupport software which is designed for backing up and restoring user presets as well as installing any updates to the pedal.
Customizing the Harmony-G XT’s presets is pretty straight forward once you get the hang of it. It’s actually a very good idea to read through the entire manual to save yourself the time it takes for trial and error or want more detail on what the effects entail. The manual shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to read. But once you’ve programmed the combination of harmonies, doubling and effects, switching between them onstage should be no trouble at all. The right footswitch is used to turn the harmony and doubling on and off but keeps any effects that you may have added. Holding this right switch down will engage the bypass and bring up the onboard guitar tuner. You can always tweak the levels of the harmonies or effects by using the FX and Harmony knobs. The center position for both these knobs offers a nice default balance that works well but the knobs make tweaking or shutting them off completely that much easier. If you happen to have two favorite preset settings, you can simply switch between them with the left footswitch and not have to worry about the right one at all.
Some of you out there might be thinking that with so many features and effects slung into one box, the integrity of each sound must not be on par with dedicated single effects pedals. Well, not so as each of the effects sound great, even on default. There are also plenty of variations available as each effect has three options each, not to mention the four variations on the doubling effect.
Seeing as how TC-Helicon is the branch of the TC group (such as TC-Electronics) that specializes in vocal effects, it should come as no surprise that the sound of the harmonies and effects are outstanding when generated from both your guitar chords or the preselected key. High and higher revolve around a third and a fifth above your voice, while low and lower are around a fourth and a sixth below and bass sings the root of your guitar chord even if you're singing other notes. The tracking itself is solid and the pedal reacts consistently with your chords. Add some musically valid harmonies to compliment your singing and playing – as long as you can coordinate the two – and you can achieve some professional quality vocals. It should be said that finding the right combinations and switching through effects can be a bit cumbersome and time consuming to figure out onstage but once you get the hand of it with practice, it becomes easy enough.
All in all, the Harmony-G XT offers plenty of creative possibilities and offers tons of value for solo acts in particular who want to add some big sound or unique spice to their voice. But a fair warning; these type of pedals require a bit of caution as the vocal pitch-shifting technology can only do so much. Being off just a few semitones can result in unnatural sound if mixed too high in relation to the main vocal. But if you keep the levels reasonably balanced and sing in tune, this baby will reward you with harmonies and sound that can take your vocals to the next level!