When you think of most MIDI controllers, you probably think of either keyboard or beat pad devices. These are definitely the most common, but MIDI is extremely flexible, and one can turn almost anything into a basic MIDI device. This has lead to some extremely interesting and forward-thinking designs in the indie and DIY markets. However, sometimes people turn classic, tried and true designs into more modern and useable products. Such is the case for Beat Bars' MIDI guitar pedals; the FS3 footswitch/stompbox and the FX3 expression pedal. In this review, we'll be taking a look at both of the units, as well as some practical uses for them.
What are they?
As stated, they are fully programmable MIDI controllers based on classic stompbox and expression pedal designs. If you're unsure what an expression pedal is, think of classic wah pedals like what Jimi Hendrix used. This is, of course, just one way to use them, but as we'll discuss later, there is almost an infinite number of ways to use it. Both are built like tanks and seem like they can take a serious beating. Each unit has a switch that toggles between USB and MIDI, for use with either a computer or another external device. Beat Bars provides a software program that allows you to adjust the settings of each device, allowing you to fully customize exactly what each unit does.
While both are simple MIDI devices, their designs differ, and as such, their means of operation also differ. For the Footswitch, there are two programable switches that can be used to toggle devices on or off, trigger loops, or whatever else you think of.
As for the FX3, moving the pedal up and down sends a continuous stream of MIDI messages that can be used to great effect when assigned to things like filters, x/y pads, gain adjustments, and can also be used to replace faders or knobs.
Both are made in an attractive dark grey aluminum, and both devices are also plug-and-play, meaning they do not require any drivers to work.
When reviewing really simple devices like these pedals, I always feel like I need to write more about them, but they are just so simple and straightforward that there's not all that much to say in comparison to other products. That's not a bad thing at all. In fact, quite the opposite really. Both the FS3 and FX3 are the types of products that just fit into your workflow to the point you almost forget you never had them. I like those types of things. I'd say the hardest part of using either unit is deciding how you want to use them. I come from a punk and metal background, so when I was first introduced to the pedals, I was instantly intrigued.
In my case, I tried them on everything. I found the FX3 worked best with filters and pitch bends/modulating LFO depths and speeds. It took a bit of practice to get my foot to match my playing, but it's like riding a bike. I also use Ableton, so I was able to assign the FX3 to the X/Y pads on my plugins for a smooth method of modulation.
For the FS3, I found it particularly useful for triggering devices on and off both in Ableton and on my AXE-FX II XL, which is honestly where I used it most. Instead of having to interrupt my playing to manually turn a pedal on and off, I was able to very quickly do it with the FS3, which is exactly how such an interaction should take place. Admittedly, I've been trying to use as few plugins as possible, so outside these instances, I didn't have as much use for them as others might. But that's just me!
I have to hand it to Beat Bars. They did an excellent job with the FX3 and FS3. The simplicity of both units is what makes them so great. Using the FS3 with my rack amp was exactly as I had hoped it would be. The FX3 made for some fun and organic jam sessions that are hard to replicate with other controllers. If you come from a guitar-playing background, I would definitely recommend checking out both of these pedals
FS3 - 129.9 euros / FX3 169.9 euros