Putting the BOSS to Work

All well and good, but how does it sound, you ask? Very BOSS-like. If you’ve ever played with a BOSS or Roland synth system like this before – be it an actual Roland synth keyboard or the BOSS SY-1 (which we’ve previously reviewed), SY-200, SY-300 or even SY-1000 – the GM-800 apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, at all. Which is to say, lots of cool sounds and extreme sculptability, but not necessarily immediately useful for a bassist playing a typical role in many straightforward playing situations. But roll those sleeves up and dig in, my friends – there’s aural gold to be found! That’s all but required with units like this, for me. I was able to pretty quickly program in a Roland TB-303 Bass Line acid synth sound, complete with ‘90s-era modification, by using a distortion patch after the synth voice and playing with the resonance and cutoff controls – one of my all-time favorite inorganic bass sounds! And I was able to get a nice, dirty Fender Rhodes sound, as well, which is another go-to for me.

Unfortunately, this unit is lacking the super cool, 0-latency COSM instrument models that my last Roland guitar synth – the GR-55 – offered, and those would have added a ton of value for me. However, it’s fair to observe that the GR-55 was a Roland product, and the BOSS SY family of synth products is a separate entity. Those instrument emulations functioned essentially as very complex EQ filters, applied to the output signal of the divided pickup, which, being precisely quantifiable by the unit (unlike with the variances in normal pickup types, locations, etc.), worked perfectly as a sort of standardized sonic input the COSM models could work with. That meant they were immediate – no digital conversion was happening – and they were really, really accurate sounding! You’d swear you were playing a MusicMan, P-bass, etc.

BOSS GM-800 Guitar Synthesizer & GK-5B PickupBOSS GM-800 Guitar Synthesizer & GK-5B Pickup

Another minor annoyance was the inability to control the output volume directly from the instrument, as the GK-3B allowed for, and to send both your bass’ magnetic pickup tone and divided pickup tone down the same cable; meaning that you still need to plug into potentially a separate amp to “play bass” and still have control over the standalone synth signal’s volume and EQ. The GM-800 features an Output Level control on its front panel, and this could of course also be mitigated by using an expression pedal connected to the GM-800 set to control output, which it certainly allows for, but doesn’t ship with – a potential extra expense. An inability to control that synth level from your playing position for performers could be a challenge, and at the very least, would require some extra auxiliary gear.

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