Following on from the much-celebrated original RK5, Tech 21 has once again hit a home run in the form of the Richie Kotzen RK5 v2 Signature Fly Rig, developed in close collaboration with Richie himself. Retaining the same delay with tap tempo, a powerful boost, and Richie's Signature OMG overdrive—the Richie Kotzen RK5 v2's new features include an independent reverb with choice of room size, a rotary speaker mode, compression, fuzz, a tuner, headphone capability and an XLR Output in a form factor fit for any touring artist. Nick Jennison tells us more.
Fly gigs are an exercise in compromise. Almost nobody outside of A-list touring artists can afford to fly their favourite gear to every corner of the world, so we're generally left at the mercy of whatever backline happens to be at the venue. If you're lucky, you'll get a Marshall DSL, a Hot Rod Deluxe or an AC-30, which may or may not be appropriate for the music you're playing. If you're unlucky, it can be anything from a turn-of-the-millennium solid-state horror to a battered JCM900 with valves that are so past their best that it sounds more like a Fuzz Face.
It's understandable that many guitar players have turned to modellers for their touring needs, but our collective fear of menus and "digital stuff" is legendary. Enter Tech 21 and their "Fly Rig" line of pedals. Everything you could possibly need to get through a gig in a single pedal that fits in the front pocket of your gig bag, with no menus, no digital trickery, nothing to go wrong in the heat of battle. A cursory look at Tech 21's artist roster alone should tell you the quality of these clever little pedals, and these collaborations have spawned a whole range of signature models—including the Richie Kotzen signature RK5 v2.
Even putting aside the fact that I'm a massive Richie Kotzen fanboy, this is a really appealing pedal. In one single unit you get a boost, a compressor, an overdrive, a fuzz, a great sounding delay, a superb rotary speaker simulation, two great-sounding reverbs, a tuner and even a SansAmp for going direct to desk. To buy each of these effects individually, you'd be looking at paying at least three times the price of the RK5 v2, and your board would be at least five times the size of this killer little pedal.
Let's start with the gain sounds. The boost comes first in the chain, and can function either as a clean boost for hitting the front of your amp (or the on-board overdrive), or as a beautifully squishy compressor. The OMG overdrive is a real gem, offering a whole range of gain from a gentle purr to a rich and thick lead voice, with tons of old-school character and dynamic range. Hit the "fuzz" switch and you'll get that killer collapsing, blown-out feel without any real drastic change in gain, level or tone from the overdrive mode, meaning you can easily switch between the two mid-performance. In my opinion, the boost and OMG sections alone are worth the money on this pedal, and deserve a place on your board as a stand-alone overdrive!
"Wet" effects come courtesy of the reverb and delay/rotary modes. The reverb is pleasantly simple with just a single knob and a switch that toggles between a short room ambience and a longer hall-type reverb. It's a great way to add a little life to your sound, which is particularly useful on outdoor stages (which are famously dry and unpleasant sounding). The delay is super versatile, with a tap tempo function and a "drift" control for dialling in some 'Deluxe Memory Man' style modulation, and can be switched out for a really convincing rotary speaker effect, with the tap tempo switch toggling between two fixed speeds for some pseudo-Leslie action.
The RK5 v2 sounds absolutely killer into a clean amp, but if you find yourself either without an amp or lumbered with an amp that doesn't sound great, the onboard SansAmp gives you the option of going direct to the desk via the onboard XLR output. It's a simulation of a warm, clean valve amp that's perfectly matched with the OMG overdrive, but there is a bit of grit on tap if you usually prefer running into an amp on the edge of breakup.
The Tech 21 Richie Kotzen RK5 v2 Signature Fly Rig offers exceptional overdrive and fuzz tones, along with the tools to get through just about any gig in a genuinely tiny package. The gain sounds alone are worth the asking price, and it can function as both a complete travel rig and a killer-sounding backup in case your regular amp goes down at a gig. I'm a big fan!
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