DigiTech Trio needs a quick upgrade

The DigiTech TRIO is one of those product that I want to love. The basic idea is commercially viable — an assistant that learns a simple song then adds bass and drum parts. There is some smart technology and smart people behind the TRIO. It is truly innovative. (Does the world really need another distortion pedal?)

DigiTech needs to improve both the product and the customer retail experience in order to make the TRIO successful.

Here’s my experience. I read a few on-line reviews beforehand and knew that it was important to “keep it simple” when starting out with the TRIO. I did not, however, read the operations manual. A mistake, perhaps, but most potential customers do not read the manual ahead of time. Heck, they frequently do not read the manual at all.

The Guitar Center staff did not know that there is a DigiTech TRIO. They needed to look up the TRIO in the inventory database. The clerk struggled to provide power to the TRIO. No help with actual operations here.

Left alone with the TRIO, it took me several moments to suss out LEARN mode and PLAY mode. I didn’t immediately realize that I needed to hold the footswitch in order to switch modes. Even a simple graphic or hint on the front panel — “Hold to change between PLAY and LEARN mode” — would have been enormously helpful.

I’m not the greatest guitar and barely know half-a-dozen chords. I decided to start out slow and simple in LEARN mode by playing single notes in time on the low E string. I also went Ramone and played power chords. Not only didn’t the TRIO learn or add a simple bass/drum pattern in E, there was no feedback other than a blinking LED. The TRIO should at least learn the tempo and add a simple beat ASAP, even if it’s just snare taps. A simple beat would help the user to play in time and provide a measure of positive feedback. Many players are pretty bad like me and they need help.

Eventually, I gave up on LEARN mode and switched to PLAY mode. At least I was able to audition some of the backing tracks. Then, I drove home.

DigiTech need to develop and release a Mark II update — and soon. First off, the TRIO needs to store and recall songs. If a user invests a lot of effort in teaching the TRIO a song, they will want to save it for later. More importantly, storage should be preloaded with songs in the most common keys and chord progressions. For example, there should be a few simple blues I-IV-V patterns in E, A and D. There should be funk patterns like a simple ii-V (Dm-G7) or I7(#9) (E7(#9)).

Yeah, everybody hates presets. However, pre-stored songs would really help the retail experience. Lame players like me can listen to and play to sample songs even if we can’t figure out LEARN mode. Also, one common complaint in on-line forums comes from blues players who can’t wring a simple blues backing out of the TRIO. Pre-stored songs would give the end user value while they learn LEARN mode and develop backing tracks of their own.

The big insight from this experience is the need for instant gratification, most preferably without reading the manual. A musical device or instrument should do something satisfying immediately, right out of the box. That’s where the Yamaha Reface CP is such a kick. It has a live panel and the Reface CP is instant musical fun. Guitarists expect to plug in and make noise. Instant gratification in the store converts to impulse sales. The TRIO, unfortunately, is a complicated lump and the retail staff are no help.

I hope that DigiTech takes these suggestions to heart. The TRIO concept has a lot of musical and sales potential. It just needs to provide a better, immediate user experience in the store and in the studio.