Does LAVA’s all-in-one smart guitar offer more instant inspiration than normal guitars?
We give the LAVA ME 3 to a guitarist to see if the built-in effects and looping controls offer more instantaneous inspiration for players compared to their usual setups
In partnership with LAVA Music.
It’s 2023. The guitar industry continues to trundle forward, with instances of real innovation occurring occasionally amongst a steady flow of redesigned iterations of the classic gear we’re all too familiar with. So, when a radical new approach to guitar design emerges, sure, those resistant to change might write it off as a gimmick, but for the rest of us, it can represent an exciting new chapter in the story of the guitar.
- READ MORE: The LAVA ME 3 guitar has effects and a loop pedal built-in – is it the end for stompboxes?
The LAVA ME 3 smart guitar is one example of such innovation, with dozens of effects, a tuner and training software built right into its carbon fibre chassis, accessible via an iPhone-style touchscreen embedded in the top of its upper bout. It’s aimed at guitar players of any level, with onboard assistance of basic chord progressions for newbies, and even a multitrack looper for more seasoned guitarists.
It’s easy to get caught up with the technical bells and whistles and forget the core reason anyone would buy a guitar in the first place: to express creativity. And there can be no creativity without prior inspiration. So, does the LAVA ME 3 help spur the latter and get the creative juices flowing, and to what extent? We take it for a spin to find out.
For guitarists, tapping into our favourite effects pedal – or a stompbox we’re unfamiliar with, for that matter – can easily ignite the flame of creativity. By flavouring our guitar tone with external effects, we’re able to explore ew sonic realms and unlock new musical ideas.
Generally speaking, though, external effects are more commonly associated with electric guitars than acoustics. However, the LAVA ME 3 bridges that gap, offering a host of preset effects housed within. Pretty much any effect you could hope for is available, with essentials like reverb, delay, chorus and Tremolo sitting alongside more out-there effects like pitch shift, a shaperbox and wah.
There’s even onboard distortion, which makes for a truly intriguing sound when coupled with an acoustic guitar. Props must be given for the fact that the LAVA ME 3, responsibly, informs the player that using distortion can lead to feedback – an occupational hazard for distortion-dabbling acoustic guitarists. The warning feels more like a disclaimer than anything; the feedback is predictable, and only really occurs when you stop playing and leave the strings ringing out a little.
To rock and metal players: we found that the LAVA ME 3’s onboard distortion offered a pleasing and simple alternative to plugging an electric guitar into an amp and distortion pedal. Fine, it doesn’t feel like you’re ripping an ESP through a Mesa/Boogie Triple Rectifier, but you’d be mistaken for thinking it would.
For a digital distortion amplified through a relatively humble soundhole, it’s impressive in its own right. When coupled with the guitar’s low fretboard action out of the box, the LAVA ME 3 is a formidable electric guitar alternative should you wish to simply pick up and play. However, with certain effects, distortion in particular, the internal volume wheel – located inside the soundhole – should be cranked up so it’s not overpowered by the guitar’s natural acoustic resonance.
All things considered, we have a cracking time cranking the distortion and jamming along to some of our favourite Metallica tracks. And this was before we realised the LAVA ME 3 lets you stack effects and create your own custom pedalboard, or Template, allowing you to switch between effects at the single push of a button.
This only turbo-charged the possibilities as we wire up, so to speak, our own pedalboard with distortion, chorus and a touch of delay. After cruising through the clean-to-distorted transitions of the likes of Fade to Black, Enter Sandman and One, we are, perhaps inevitably, inspired to write a couple of riffs of our own. Happily, we’re able to capture seamlessly using the guitar’s onboard recording features.
Recorder and Looper
Recording technology has come a long way in recent decades. Gone are the days you’d need to spend money booking studio time to get a decent-sounding recording. That said, in most cases, you still need to start up your computer, plug in an audio interface, plug in your guitar, and set up a microphone stand, which can be an inconvenience if you have a random creative light bulb moment; we’ve often found ourselves forgetting the idea we set up our rigs to record in the first place. This is where the LAVA ME 3 really shines.
Thanks to the guitar’s built-in recording facility, so long as the instrument is switched on and ready to go, you’re only ever a few taps away from capturing any musical idea. Frankly, this is a godsend for any guitarist. Inspiration can strike at the most inopportune times, so the benefit of having immediate access to recording can’t be understated.
In addition to the onboard recorder, there’s also a pretty impressive Looper, which offers multiple overdubs, and even a selection of drum grooves to lay the foundation of your recording. Simply set your beats-per-minute and bar count and you’re good to go.
It often takes accompaniment to really bring creative ideas to life; experimenting over a predefined chord progression can make even the most elusive lead or solo ideas fall into place. With the LAVA ME 3’s built-in Looper, you can capture and expand on ideas without the need for another guitarist, or frankly, anything other than the guitar itself. This, in our opinion, is the ME 3’s standout feature.
To reiterate, you’ll always get better results if you use dedicated gear. A built-for-purpose looper pedal generally offers more in-depth functionality than the looper included with the LAVA ME 3. Dedicated effects often sound superior and DAWs bring more fleshed-out recording functionality. But it’s important to look at the LAVA ME 3 as somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades, and each of the features housed within make for useful tools in the ever-slippery pursuit of creativity and inspiration.
Find out more about the LAVA ME 3 at lavamusic.com.
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