It’s rare that Aristotle and guitar pedals cross paths inside my brain, but upon plugging in the Fly Rig 5 for the first time, it was your favorite Greek philosopher (and mine) that immediately came to mind. Aristotle, you see, is the man credited with the idea of ‘the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.’ And that’s exactly what the Fly Rig 5 achieves.
Obviously designed for the working musician, the wizards at Tech 21 somehow managed to pack a fully functional, gigworthy pedalboard into a unit that’ll fit inside your guitar case or gigbag—with room to spare. Seriously. I showed it to a buddy of mine and his instant reaction was, “Whoa, that’d fit in my strat case!” To which I replied, “It’d probably fit in your pocket.” (He’s tall.) And while that’s somewhat overstated, it’s actually not too far off. Measuring just under 12” long and only 2.5” wide (the same size, side to side, as an MXR Phase 90), the Fly Rig 5 is astonishingly small. And in a world where tight, slimmed-down rigs are just as fashionable as jumbo-sized, pedal-packed boards, it definitely has appeal.
At the core of the Fly Rig 5 is Tech 21’s claim to fame, the SansAmp—an all-analog amp and cab simulator that celebrates its 25th birthday this year. According to the manual, this section focuses on amp-like cleans, but I found a surprising variety of pleasing crunch tones with the gain up around 3:00. The 3-band boost/cut EQ is perfect for finding just the right tonal balance straight into a mixer or PA system, or for matching up with your guitar amp of choice. Add to that a decent spring reverb emulation—which is smartly mixed in parallel with the DLA side of the pedal—and a gain-interactive master volume, and no matter what your sonic preference, options abound.
The right side of the Fly Rig 5 features a two-headed monster in the form of an independent 21dB boost and a Marshall-inspired distortion lifted from Tech 21’s Hot-Rod Plexi pedal. The primary gain option delivers plenty of grind and saturation if you want it, or you can dial back the ‘Drive’ knob for convincing low-gain tones to stack into a crunchy SansAmp. Then, hit the ‘Hot’ switch to engage the boost for added compression into the Plexi, or added volume for a clean SansAmp.
On the left is a stripped-down version of Tech 21’s Boost DLA pedal. And whether you’re someone who’s pretty reliant on delay or prefer just a touch of ambience here and there—you should feel pretty comfortable here. Controls are rather straightforward, but I think a tone control would’ve been an extremely beneficial addition. (The DLA is designed to emulate the venerable Roland Space Echo, but the repeats are a bit bright and a little thin for my taste. Just personal preference.) On the positive side though, quarter note tap tempo is huge, the delay time is significant and the ‘Drift’ knob ranges from subtle tape-echo-esque modulation to a pretty seasick warble. The “hidden chorus” setting will make non-delay users happy, too.
What we like: I’ve really enjoyed playing this pedal. In fact, I plan to add one to my personal arsenal. Here are a few things I like but didn’t mention above: the built-in clipping indicator, the silent footswitches and the oscillation-friendly delay circuit.
Concerns: If I had to complain about something besides a few shortcomings of the DLA side, it’d be the dedicated power supply. Of course, batteries would add size and bulk to a unit designed to be exactly the opposite, but I’m nitpicking here anyway.
Overall: Calling the Fly Rig 5 a must-have for gigging musicians isn’t much of a stretch. As a primary gigging option, grab-n-go board or just-in-case backup—it works. It’s well built, priced cheaper than you’d pay for the individual pedals and extremely functional. Buy with confidence.