Jun 26 2011

Review: Amplitube Fender for iPad

by Josh

Practice time has been very scarce for me since the arrival of my new daughter, but I have gotten the chance to spend a little quality time with Amplitube Fender for the iPad.

For those unfamiliar with IK Multimedia’s offerings, this software is available on the iPad for use with their iRig adapter.  This allows you to connect your guitar to your iPad and rock out in a variety of different ways.  This software is Fender branded and contains a bumper crop of amps, pedals, and presets that showcase that signature Fender sound.  My Fender strat is in Illinois for a few internal repairs, so my test setup was not end-to-end Fender… the guitar I am playing right now is my Gibson Custom ’59 VOS Goldtop.

The amp models that you get with this application are an interesting bunch: Twin Reverb, Super Sonic, Pro Junior, ’59 Bassman, and the Deluxe Reverb.  As one might imagine, you get a broad range of different sounds from these amps.  I found myself partial to the Twin Reverb and the Deluxe Reverb, which is like to please my co-contributor John (who is a player/lover of all things Fender).  I threw a few power chords through the Pro Junior and the Super Sonic and they are not without their charm, but I like the cleaner channels of the Reverb amps.

The software also comes with some Fender-specific pedals: Blender, Phaser, Overdrive, Tape Echo, Compressor, and Noise Filter.  I don’t have much experience with these pedals, but I can tell you that I got some cool and interesting sounds playing with the Phaser and Blender together.  I was acquainted with these pedals most directly by use of the pre-sets that IK Multimedia graciously provided us neophytes, and I LOVE the TwinBlues setting which takes the Tone Boost option on the Fender Blender and marries it with the Twin Reverb amp.  A few little blues licks through this and I am hooked.

I did discover a little intricacy that really helped my enjoyment of the software: the Setup provides Input and Output levels that you can adjust to control your signal, but I was always frustrated that I was having difficulty making out the difference as I changed these settings.  I bumped the volume switch by mistake and discovered that my headphone volume was only on 25%, what a rookie mistake!  After feeling like a bonehead for a few minutes then cranking it up to 75% I was having a lot more fun.

So is Amplitube Fender worth the money?  If you like Fender stuff, then absolutely.  Personally, I think it’s worth it just for the amp models alone.  I hope that IK Multimedia continues in this vein for some time, releasing manufacturer specific versions that add new amp models and proprietary pedals to their universe.  It helps those of us that aren’t sure what amps we like, and don’t want to subject ourselves to the disdainful looks of the people at the local Guitar Center as you clumsily plunk out three chords to test our their floor models.  It also helps those of us new to pedal/amp combinations to explore without having to borrow gear from others or drop a lot of money on gear we might not like.

You can check out our review of the original Amplitube for iPad if you’re interested in other offerings by IK Multimedia.

Apr 6 2011

Understanding acoustic wood, visualized…

by Josh

Thanks to Flipboard, I found this great visualization of the tonal characteristics of back and side wood found in acoustic guitars over at Breedlove Guitars.  They also do a great job of talking about how each different type of wood contributes to the tone of an acoustic guitar.  I have heard this information in many different forums as I am learning more about instrument building, but the way they graphed this data on a chart really helped me to understand better.  Also, I was not aware of the similarities between some of these woods, so I found it a very interesting read.

Mar 4 2011

Practice, iRig, John Mayer and more

by Josh

How quickly a month goes by!

Amid the frenzy of preparation for our new baby, I have found the time to practice on a handful of songs and techniques that have helped me progress (or at very least remain the same).  I have been working on some fingerstyle techniques lately, thanks to my cousin John I found this YouTube video of Dale Turner explaining Hole Notes in the style of James Taylor.  I found the focus on the formation and ornamentation of chords to produce a more interesting song very helpful.

On the electric side of things, I have been continuing to play with my iRig which has succeeded wildly in letting me explore the more rock/metal leanings of my Les Paul.  My stratocaster has not been neglected, thanks to the discovery of this tutorial (with tab!) of John Mayer’s “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room”.  I am growing to appreciate John Mayer’s guitar abilities… he is one of those artists that I’m not a crazy fan of but I do see that he has talent.  The blues infusion in this particular song and the mellow groove really keeps my interest.  I am by no means good at playing this song, in fact it is a giant struggle to get through the intro but it is helping to practice moving up and down the neck and practicing hammer-ons.

If you like the look of John Mayer’s Black One guitar, John (my co-contributor on this site) operates Custom-Relics.com where he makes a fantastic reproduction of that guitar (among many others).  I have personally laid hands on many of the reproductions that he offers and can tell you that a lot of care goes into making them look “just right.”  Check it out!

Over the next few weeks, I am going to continue working on these songs primarily.  I have a few other projects in the works, but that will have to wait for another time!


Jan 31 2011

Review: iRig / Amplitube for iPad

by Josh

I had the good fortune of receiving IK Multimedia‘s iRig for Christmas, and I quickly purchased Amplitube for iPad to use along with it.  I’d like to unpack for you not another boring set of specifics on what you get for the price, but I’d like to explain my initial experiences with this product as a relative newcomer to the world of the electric guitar.

What you get

The Amplitube software comes in a free version and a paid version.  I didn’t screw around with the free version at all, so I’m going to focus purely on the full version.  You get eleven stomp-boxes (plus five more you can purchase in-app), five amps, five cabinets, and two microphones to play with.  Many of my early sessions with Amplitube consisted of playing around with a variety of these effects, learning how they sound together and how the controls operate.

I would go into further details here, but I’d rather spend this review talking about my experiences.  If you are interested in further details about what is included, you can find out more here.

First Experiences

I had to really explore the application, because while I own two electric guitars I have very little in the way of real gear.  I hadn’t experienced many of the pedals options that I now had at my fingertips, so much of my early exploration took the form of loading up different stomp-boxes, chaining them together, and then seeing what kind of sound came out.

Because I am not an experienced electric guitar player, these first steps into the Amplitube world can more accurately be described as experimentation.  In the real world, I have only one amp and a single pedal to compare to this myriad of stomp-boxes, amps, cabinets, and microphones.  It was like being a kid in a rock ‘n roll candy store!

This lack of experience on my part was also the source of some problems as well.  Because I was unfamiliar with some of the amp models, I had encountered what I thought to be a sound processing problem.  I had thought initially that the Crunch amp setting was modeling high gain strangely.  Some friends helped me to identify the famous amps that each of these models were aiming to replicate and I was able to test with one of their amps to confirm that yes, the sound matched quite well with the “real” amp.

Another contributing factor to this issue was the input levels.  It turns out that the output level of each guitar varies, and my Gibson Les Paul is significantly louder in output than the Klein pickups in my Fender Stratocaster.  It just took some toggling of the Input Level setting to fix things right up.  The IK Multimedia support team was very helpful in resolving this issue, and were friendly and helpful when tolerating my unskilled questions about their product.

The fun begins!

After these issues were resolved, I got the chance to put the application through its paces as much as my limited skills could.  I must admit, it was $20 worth of fun just messing around with different pedal combinations. I also found the Tools (specifically the tuner) extremely helpful and well-executed.

The most surprising discovery was made when I decided to spend a little time with the Metal amp.  I don’t own a single metal album, nor do I particularly like the genre.  Nonetheless, after cranking up the Metal amp and hitting a few power chords I felt like a fledgling rock star!  Now I’ve been learning a few metal licks and riffs thanks entirely to this application.

In fact, I was so happy with it that I recorded a bit of it on the single track recorder and sent it to my cousin with the title “Look what I can do!”  It was the first time I have ever recorded myself playing the guitar at all, aside from a crappy YouTube attempt or two.  There’s an option available for upgrading to an 8-track recorder, which I plan to do in the near future.

Thanks to all this fun, my wife made a snide comment about the stupid grin that I had on my face which has to count for something.


Moments of musical discovery like this are a treasure, and to think they came at such an inexpensive price is truly amazing.  If you have an iPad and a guitar, these products are a must-have.  Amplitube is a great value for the beginning guitarist –  for the price of a single pedal, you get a versatile audio rig of 11 pedals (and 5 amps, and 5 cabinets, and two microphones) with the option to expand even more via in-app purchases.  Even if you don’t know what they all do, I think that makes a pretty strong “value for your dollar” argument.

I still haven’t explored everything there is to know about the application.  I intend to learn more about the recording features of the application by giving some of my SongInspire backing tracks a try.  I might even recruit a skilled guitarist and record something to post for all of you to enjoy!

Based on some recent marketing material, it appears that they are planning specialized applications to bring several big-name brands (Fender, Orange, and others) and their sound models to the iRig/iPad interface.  As someone who likes to “try before you buy”, this is a very exciting development that will help me hone in the sound that I really like as I grow my skills.  I can’t wait to get my hands on this and future iterations of these products, or any other tricks that the iRig might be able to provide.

Keep an eye here for more information soon.

Jan 3 2011

A $35 IKEA guitar shelf

by Josh

This one came across my feed reader today, courtesy of IKEA Hackers.  It seems that one intrepid music-lover has made a cool 8-guitar stand for $35 using a Gorm shelf and a wine rack.  We’re set to get an IKEA this year and I love the hacking spirit, so I might just make one of these up myself!

Read more over at IKEA Hackers.

Nov 30 2010

Gibson: User’s Guide To Distortion

by Josh

Just a quick one: Gibson has released a User’s Guide To Distortion and it does a great job of explaining the different types of distortion and what it means to your playing.  Very enlightening!

Sep 21 2010

Chromatic Scale Drills

by Josh

My friend Paul turned me on to an easy drill to do in order to get yourself accustomed to proper picking technique and movement around the guitar neck.  Paul discovered this drill from another coworker of ours who is quite accomplished on the guitar and used to do this drill “every time he picked up a guitar”.  He also runs SongInspire, where you can purchase backing tracks to help your playing.

The drill is fairly simple and based on the chromatic scale.  You start at the first fret on the E string and play each of the first four frets, one at a time taking special care to use proper picking technique.  Then you move over to the A string and repeat the same process.  You continue in this fashion until you reach the high E string, and then do the exact same steps backwards.

Once you reach the first fret on the low E string, you move your hand down to the second fret and repeat the process.  You continue on in this way until you reach the 12th fret, and then work your way back up the neck until you end on the first fret.

It doesn’t take that long (I can get through it in about 15 minutes going at a fair pace) and it really helps to get you used to picking without thinking about it and moving comfortably across, up, and down the guitar neck.  Once you get comfortable with the mechanics of the drill and things begin to flow a bit more naturally, you can augment this by tapping your foot to keep time or using a metronome to work on that aspect of your guitar playing as well.

I hope you get some value from this drill, I know I am!  Thanks to Paul for turning me on to this, and Dave for turning him on to it!

Sep 19 2010

Acoustic Guitar Building…

by Josh

For the last few months, I have been cultivating an interest in the construction of acoustic guitars.  This started simply enough this summer once I finished my ukulele kit and continued after I saw Andy McKee perform in Denver.  After some research into his Greenfield guitars, I got interested in figuring out what it would take to start building acoustic guitars on my own.

I found a myriad of different kits, and this led people to send me links of other fingerstyle acoustic players including this one by Antoine Dufour.  Dufour plays guitars by Mario Beauregard, who apprenticed from a man named Ervin Somogyi.  As I investigated further, several other luthiers have apprenticed and raved about the abilities of Somogyi so I headed over to his website and found this excellent video.

It seems that Somogyi has written some of the best books available on the topic of acoustic guitar building, but they are very expensive.  After thinking it over for a few months, today I ordered my book and DVD set.  I plan to read them over the winter months and select a project next year to begin.  I plan to start with an acoustic guitar kit or two so I can get some of the mechanics of assembly down, and then attempt hand-building a guitar myself if that goes well.

I am excited about this new hobby, expect to see more here over the coming months!

Aug 22 2010

Instrument building…

by Josh

As I mentioned previously, I am cultivating some interest in learning how to build instruments.

This all began innocently enough… several years ago, my Dad purchased a tenor ukulele kit from Grizzly Industrial, Inc. for me, which unfortunately sat on a shelf for a number of years.  At the end of May, I began constructing the ukulele kit. Over the course of nearly a week of evenings, I built the kit and finished it. Shortly thereafter, I became dissatisfied with the friction pegs and ordered and installed some Grover ukulele tuners, along with some Aquila strings. This made my ukulele complete, and it looks and sounds pretty good for a first try.

You may have noticed by now that I documented this process over at my personal blog. Frankly, I anticipated this project to be a one-off that I just got done because I had the kit handy, but by the time I was finished with the ukulele I enjoyed it so much that I began to think that I should look into trying an acoustic guitar next.

Over the course of several months, I have been investigating possibilities for someone with very little actual woodworking experience to build an acoustic guitar. I found that several companies have acoustic guitar kits of varying degrees of difficulty, the highest rated of these is the StewMac Dreadnought Guitar Kit. This kit comes highly recommended because of the superior instructional guides that come along with it. Several websites have denoted this kit as a good one for beginners, and it produces a very nice guitar as well.

The biggest limiting factor for me right now is tools. The StewMac kit comes with a recommended tool list that is fairly long, so I am going to save up some money over the winter months and begin this endeavor in the Spring. I have already stockpiled a great set of links, reading material, and videos that are further encouraging me so I will share those as time permits, in addition to our regular content about learning the guitar.

Aug 18 2010

What’s been going on lately…

by Josh

Happily, a lot of guitar practice. I’ve been alternating between my Gibson Custom and my Seagull acoustic, mostly practicing songs that I am familiar with. I’ve been continuing on lessons over at Totally Guitars and slowly making progress.

I got the opportunity to travel back to my hometown thanks to my job, so I got to hang out and jam with my two cousins. It’s always cathartic to get to practice with family, and I always find it to be much more relaxing.

In the process of learning more about the guitar, I am also cultivating a strong interest in learning to build guitars myself. It will likely be next year before I execute on this interest, but we might end up with a new section at The Guitar Zero to focus on instrument building for the absolute beginner. I am still in the information-gathering phase, but luckily the Internet is filled with information from both amateur and professional luthiers. As the weeks progress, I will explore some of the more interesting websites that I have discovered lately.

In the meantime, I will get back to posting more about my guitar practice and some recent discoveries that have made playing more easy. More soon!