by Neal Vanderhoof
This guide is aimed at newbies to the POD HD experience—as well as those who have dismissed, given negative reviews, or returned one of the POD HD line of products because of the higher-than-average learning curve for such not-so-simple computer based gear.
Out of the box, I’d say the HD500 is not “gig-ready.” Of course it functions, unless UPS decided to drop it off a building on the way to its final destination. I’m referring to the fact that no set of presets designed by another guitarist who’s probably using different strings, a different pick, different playing style, and listening to different types of music is probably not going to design presets that fit your needs. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the HD line of effects are highly editable, and the sounds you want are in there—somewhere! But you need to understand how to make the HD do your bidding, and the following is what I recommend doing as you take as your first steps to get to know this product properly . . . (Note: Click on any image to enlarge.)
Forget about all your other gear except the guitar (or guitars) you plan to use with this unit. Get a great pair of headphones; do not use an amp at low volumes at this stage of the process. This will perhaps seem strange to you, but as you’ll see, there are very good reasons why I recommend this approach.
Fig. 1: The power connector is toward the right.
Be very careful with the power supply and how you plug it in, where it sits in your studio or on stage, and be as gentle as possible with the power connection point (Fig. 1) as it can break fairly easily if you’re not careful. A replacement power supply is about $50, but it’s more costly if the jack inside the unit breaks or “falls in.” Sure it’s all covered by a warranty, but who wants to wait weeks for something as simple as a power supply problem?
Take the time to find and either print (or simply save) the expanded HD500 Users Guide online. The manual with the unit is really just a getting started guide, and you want to do more than just get started.
While reading through the expanded manual, use the most recent version of the free Line 6 Monkey utility program to upgrade your unit to the full 22 amps/cabs (as well as added features like bias adjustment). Connect the HD to your computer’s USB port, make sure you have a working internet connection, boot up Monkey, the follow the updating procedures (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2: The Line 6 Monkey analyzes your system, and lets you know if any elements need updating.
Note that when doing any updates with any gear via USB (not just Line 6 gear), don’t use a USB hub—plug directly into a computer’s USB port. Also while you're connected, download the POD HD500 Edit software!
I strongly suggest not bothering with any of the preset banks in the POD HD Edit software, at least for now, but do start your explorations with the editing software—it makes many “hidden” inner workings and signal paths of the unit much clearer. Also, the advantage of copy and paste for some sections of repeated programming is useful (Fig. 3).
Fig. 3: The POD HD Edit software unlocks the programmability of your POD.
After completing your updates, go to an empty User Bank and start there with a blank slate. Any patches from any of the presets can be simply dragged in and dropped into any slot you choose and modified if needed, but it’s important to know the basic amp sounds and default settings. The amp and cabinet are the foundations of any preset, so the better you know the various amp qualities, the easier it is to choose one that’s closest to what you need.
Each amp has two versions, Pre and Full. Pre is just that—the Preamp section of whatever amp you’re using, and any effects you may want to add in the signal chain. However, if you’re not following the unit with a guitar amp, you should choose Full as it will then model whatever cabinets and microphones you want. Using the headphones automatically puts each amp into this mode (I told you there was a good reason!); this mode is also adjustable, as described in the advanced manual.
Without turning the volume up too loud (remember, take care of your hearing), plug your guitar into the 1/4" input jack, put on the headphones, then sit with your HD500 connected to your computer with POD HD500 Edit running. As you change amps you’ll hear each through the headphones, which gives you a very detailed impression of the amp sound. Also, please don’t let the name alone fool you. Just because it’s a Vox or Fender doesn’t mean it can’t be used for heavy metal, or a Bogner or Mesa can’t be used for warm, clean sounds—much depends on the combination of your guitar’s volume knob setting and each amp’s input gain. Spend some quality time checking out all the amp sounds in full mode, as this will serve you well in the future.
Another advantage of listening through headphones is that you can hear what the amp should sound like when turned up to a volume that’s representative of running the amp at optimum levels. Truly good headphones will cost about $150 - $300; they’re worth the expense if you’re serious about getting the most from this unit.
Finally, remember that you can have two separate paths, each with their own amps and effects. This can make great stereo effects, but even when summed in mono, you can get a huge variety of sounds.
This should go on for quite a while, until you get to know all the nuances of each amp model. Then simply run the HD500 into your DAW via USB (or by patching the audio outs to an audio interface), or with a guitar amp by patching directly into the the power amp input or an effects loop return, choosing the Full or Pre sound as appropriate. Although being able to make your own sounds is ideal, don’t overlook the tons of worthwhile presets at www.customtone.com (Fig. 5). Better yet, now you’ll know how to modify them as needed.
Fig. 5: It's great to be able to roll your own, but check out what other POD HD users have created as well.
And here’s one last tip before playing out: Turn your amp up to your performance stage volume you usually use, then make any final tweaks or adjustments to the HD500.
Acknowledgment: Thanks to Craig Anderton for editing and additional content. He also contributed the following video to this article, which shows how a couple simple tweaks can augment a basic dual amp sound.