Review: Fender Switchboard Effects Operator

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Review: Fender Switchboard Effects Operator

Words by Christopher Hockey

Fender Switchboard Effects Operator | Fender Music Australia | RRP $799

Professional-grade switching units are usually known for two things: being very convenient and being very expensive. However, thanks to Fender’s new collaboration with loop switching expert Ron Menelli, the convenience of being able to switch like the pros just got a lot more affordable with the Fender Switchboard Effects Operator.

Fender Switchboard Effects Operator

The Fender Switchboard Effects Operator is a graceful, efficient switching tool with a conveniently minimalist interface designed to put you in full control of your signal chain. Invaluable for players with large, elaborate pedalboards, the Switchboard allows users to recall multi-pedal presets via five rearrangeable relay true bypass effects loops. Featuring a powerful processor that reroutes your pedals whilst preserving an entirely analog, hi-fi signal path, the Switchboard can be used to access endless combinations of effects in any order and switch single or multiple effects on and off.

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Designed to be as user-friendly as possible, the Switchboard graphic interface and encoder knob allows for the creation of presets on the fly, keeping the process mercifully simple. Encased in a subdued but beautiful gold-coloured unit, the Switchboard’s LCD screen displays clear visual graphics to prevent players from losing track of which effects they have on and which preset they have selected. 

Loaded with 500 user presets, a built-in tuner, volume pedal and dual high fidelity buffers, the Switchboard is an immensely powerful tool for such a compact unit. Players can also use the Switchboard to control their amplifier’s footswitches as well as MIDI-based pedals, making it a no-brainer for pedal enthusiasts of all budget levels. 

The Switchboard has three main operating modes: Loop Mode, Editor Mode and Bank Mode. In Loop Mode, players have the ability to control their pedalboard in real time, and craft new presets on the fly. Utilising the Switchboard’s six footswitches, Loop Mode allows for five effects and an external footswitch to be switched on and off from the same device, meaning you’ll never have to trip over yourself trying to quickly tap on several pedals at once again. 

Editor mode

Editor mode allows for full control over all the parameters saved to each user preset. In this mode, players can entitle their presets, switch buffers on and off, alter MIDI messages and edit the order and status of their effect loops. Finally, Bank Mode can be used to quickly access 100 banks of user-presets. By using the Switchboard’s footswitches, players can efficiently scroll through banks and instantly recall the presets within them.

Fender’s decision to work with Ron Menelli on this product was a wise one. Menelli has been a leading expert on MIDI and switching technology since 2003 and is well known for his company RJM Music. Largely based on RJM’s Mastermind PBC/6X switcher, the Switchboard has one less loop than Menelli’s original but that’s very little to sacrifice for such a compact and affordable package.

Ron Menelli

The combination of Menelli’s technical expertise with the chic, user-friendly design of Fender has resulted in a truly great product, especially given its markedly lower price tag. Now players for which higher end switching tools were slightly out of reach can enjoy the convenience of a professional grade switching system without breaking the bank. 

I see this tool being particularly useful not only for any artists with expansive boards but particularly for session players, professional cover bands and other performers of that ilk. The ability to instantly reroute one’s effects and recall complex presets with the press of a button is invaluable for players who need radically different sounds and setups from song to song, and don’t have time to mess around with their pedals.

The ability to create patches for certain sections of songs and save pre-programmed banks for whole setlists means hard working guitarists with multiple bands or ongoing gigs don’t have to reroute their boards between shows or have multiple setups for different jobs. 

The main and simplest benefit of the Switchboard and similar devices however, is the ability to turn several pedals on or off simultaneously. We’ve all been there, frantically balancing on one foot whilst trying to click three pedals at once for that big solo or section change. Well, with this new product from Fender being far more accessible to the everyday musician than its comparative products, your tap dancing days can finally come to an end.

Fender Switchboard back panel

For those with a discerning ear and a love for their analog effects, a unit like the Switchboard is also a great alternative to succumbing to the dreaded world of multi-effects units. A switching system has all the convenience and compactness of a multi-effects unit and can serve a very similar function whilst still utilising your actual pedals and maintaining an analog signal path. Truly the best of both worlds.

This means reigning in an expansive board that is starting to become a bit much to manage doesn’t mean having to sacrifice on tone, you can keep all your discrete, specialised effects without having to worry about switching any of them on or off individually. 

This level of convenience has previously been fairly inaccessible for the average guitarist so it’s great to see Fender bringing a high quality product like Menelli’s to the masses, and in such a pretty package to boot. 

Whilst most switching units and similarly utilitarian devices aren’t generally much to look at, Fender have really applied their trademark commitment to aesthetics to this product and it really elevates the user experience. The classy golden design of the Switchboard is very easy on the eye and the large full-colour LCD screen makes it very easy to use in a live setting. 

So whether you’re a shoe-gazing pedal junkie who has lost control of their elaborate creation, a seasoned pro with multiple setups or just somebody who values having the most streamlined signal chain possible, the Fender Switchboard Effects Operator is here to solve all your problems. The convenience of a top notch switching system is no longer reserved for the stars, so now we can all spend less time tap dancing and more time playing at our absolute best, distraction free.

For more info, keep reading Fender Australia.