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This article was originally published in issue #51
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The MS-3 is an incredibly impressive and well-built device that is virtually unique in the market thanks to its size and price point.
112 high-quality onboard effects
Three loops for combining your own favourite pedals
Fantastic build quality
Easy to edit and store sounds
Excellent value for money
Included power supply
Midi and USB included
Absolutely none at this price point
In 2017 guitarists have more choices when it comes to effects pedals than ever before. In an attempt to streamline this process, Boss looks to have created a pedalboard solution that claims to help maximise creative options by combining a world-class multi-effects engine and multi-pedal switcher in one small, dedicated unit. Sounds perfect, but is it? Tom Quayle finds out.
Imagine how great it would be if a professional quality multi effects unit were combined with a high-quality pedal switching loop system in a single product. Such a product has actually existed on the market for quite a few years now, but it is very expensive, bulky and heavy to carry around. The MS-3 is Boss’ attempt to combine these two essential products into a single, highly compact and lightweight design, morphing the concepts from their GT series of effects units and ES5 and ES8 pedal switchers into a single unit.
The MS-3 shares a lot of its visual DNA with the ES8 and ES5 thanks to the same shaped metal housing, non-latching switches and small LCD display. Unlike the ES pedal switchers, the MS-3 includes a pro-level effects unit with 112 effects algorithms and 24-bit, 44.1khz A/D conversion for a pristine signal path. Whereas the ES8 and ES5 feature 8 and 5 pedal loops respectively, the MS-3 provides a more modest three loops. The real power of the MS-3 comes from being able to combine your three (or more if you are prepared to chain more than one pedal into each loop) favourite pedals with the onboard effects for a small pedal board with pretty much unlimited sounds and incredibly powerful switching options at the press of a footswitch.
An MS-3 preset allows up to six of the internal effects to be combined, in any order, with your three pedal loops. While the pedal loops location relative to one another is fixed (running loop 2 into 1 is impossible for example), the internal effects can be moved anywhere within the signal chain for all manner of possibilities using the vast array of drives, modulations, delays, reverbs and pitch effects onboard. This represents one of the most compact and powerful setups we’ve ever seen here at Guitar Interactive, allowing for a very small pedal board with an incredible array of amazing sounds at your feet.
With so much on offer here you might feel a little daunted about creating and editing patches, but Boss has worked hard on the menu and editing system on the MS-3, combining the best parts of their ES and GT series with three rotary knobs and just five buttons for controlling every function. The three dial’s functions are clearly labelled on the screen for each scenario while the buttons allow you to turn effects or loops on and off, browse through the various menus and write your patches to any of the 200 onboard patches.
Boss have included a pair of expression pedal inputs and a controller out for amp channel switching. The expression pedals can be assigned to a dizzying array of parameters from the internal effects processor or you can plug in an external footswitch for tap tempo if required. Midi Out is also included for controlling and switching patches on midi capable pedals and there is even a USB connection for utilising Boss’ librarian and editing software designed for those who don’t want to use the front panel of the MS-3. Stereo output for the internal effects is included for extra setup options such as a pair of amps or running a separate channel to the front of house or to an amp simulator for monitoring or recording.
The onboard effects sound excellent. They may not be completely mind-blowing or the best effects you have ever heard, but they are absolutely pro quality and very consistent across the board, with so much choice that you could gig with the MS-3 alone, using it only as an effects processor. Being able to combine these sounds with your own favourite pedals, switching them on and off per preset is fantastic, making you very much question why you are lugging around a massive pedal board to every gig.
Just like the ES8, there are two modes on offer - memory and manual. In memory mode you work with presets, the four footswitches changing presets and moving up and down banks. Each preset can then put into manual mode, allowing you to select up to four of the effects or loops within your preset and assigning them to each of the footswitches. These can then be turned on or off as required for even more flexibility within a preset. A long press on the Memory/Manual footswitch takes you into the included tuner function.
The MS-3 is an incredibly impressive and well-built device that is virtually unique in the market thanks to its size and price point. It’s fantastic value for money, costing less than some individual effects pedals, and should be very attractive for anyone looking to downsize a large rig into something equally or more powerful with a very small footprint. Boss has hit the nail squarely on the head here, and the MS-3 deserves to be a big hit for them. They see to be on something of a winning streak at the moment!