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.


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.

Conclusion

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.


May 25 2010

My new ’57 VOS Gibson Les Paul Custom Gold Top!

by Josh

I decided earlier this year to buy myself a debt-free celebration present of a really nice guitar to continue my learning process on, so I picked the Les Paul Traditional.  However, those of you that have been following along over at my personal blog are aware of my recent dealings with MusiciansFriend regarding my order for a Les Paul Traditional that my order was delayed.  Shortly after my blog post was up, I was quickly contacted by a gentleman named Justin with MusiciansFriend that wanted desperately to make things right, and I am pleased to report that they have done just that.

They provided me an option to upgrade my order to a used Gibson Les Paul Custom (that they had in stock) and after a fairly long email chain they quickly had it to my door.  I’m happy we were able to work out a compromise that resulted in me ending up with a better guitar, despite the fact it was more expensive.  As anyone that has been near me lately can attest, I am very pleased.

The Guitar

I opted for a more cost-effective used model of the Gibson Les Paul Custom 1957 VOS Gold Top.  MusiciansFriend was advertising this guitar as used, despite the fact that there appears to be very little used about it.  They claim that the VOS finish was polished to a semi-gloss, however there is nothing to indicate that it wasn’t done by the Custom Shop or someone equally skilled.  One of my friends is a former Gibson employee and told me that people pay a lot to have their Gibsons finished in this fashion, so there was absolutely nothing wrong with it and I’m inclined to agree with him.

The Neck and Back

The neck on this guitar is rounded in the 1950’s style.  It’s the biggest neck I’ve ever held on an electric guitar, far surpassing my acoustic’s neck in fatness.  I wasn’t sure I was going to like this at the onset, but just a few minutes of playing it extolled the virtues of a large neck.  It fit my hands very well and put my wrist in the proper position very naturally.  Both the neck and the back of the guitar are solid mahogany, which gives this guitar excellent sustain.  It also makes it weigh a metric ton.

The Pickups

I made a concession on the pickups.  I really wanted to get a guitar that had the ’57 Classic pickups, but the more research I did indicated that I was actually trading up here too.  It seems that Gibson pickups are one of those “holy war” topics where it is very difficult to be right, you eventually have to end up going with what you want.  My new guitar has Burstbucker 1 and 2 pickups, which are considered “precise replicas” of the original Patent Applied For pickups (if you believe the marketing materials).

Not being extremely well versed in Gibson lore, I had only a few reference points.  One of them is my buddy Paul’s Gibson Les Paul Standard, which has Burstbucker Pros.  My pickups sound mellower than his, but they still sound great when they have some gain put on them.  Personally, I prefer the mellower sound so once again I’m happy.

Playability

The thing that gets me the most about this guitar is the big leap in playability.  The action on this guitar was very good right out of the box, making it easy to get up and down the neck without a lot of effort.  In addition, the frets are both tall and wide, which cuts down on the amount of pressure needed to make a clean note.  Add these things together with the fat neck, the extra sustain from the solid neck and back, and the vintage-style pickups and it all adds up to one incredible instrument.

Thanks to MusiciansFriend for making this situation right, and thanks to Gibson’s Custom Shop for making a superior instrument.  This sure is one great debt-free present!

Wanna see more pictures?  Get a fairly large zip file here and check ’em out.


Sep 28 2009

Distortions at a Glance

by John

John is a new addition to TheGuitarZero team. He has been playing guitar since he was a little kid, and has spent most of his adult life chasing tone and knowing all there is to know about guitar gear.


This week I will be exploring the infinite ocean that is “Distortion pedals.”  Distortion can be broken up into several different categories.  Saying you have a distortion pedal is like saying you have a car.  People get the point of what it is but they have no clue if its a convertible, sedan, import, race car, truck, SUV, etc.  Essentially distortion is the over-amplification of the input signal coming from your guitar.  I’m sure everyone here is familiar with the idea.

Low Gain

So lets go from the low gain distortions to the high gain distortions.  At the low gain side of the distortion you have overdrive.  Overdrive gives you a very mild distortion.  It it usually meant to “overdrive” your amplifier.  Meaning it pushes the signal to your amp so the signal breaks up a little bit to generally give you a smooth sounding tone.  A fantastic overdrive pedal would be an Ibanez TS-9 Tubescreamer or a Boss BD-2.  A famous example of a lot of overdrive is Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Texas Flood and an example of mild overdrive can be heard on the solo of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall pt. 2 solo.

Medium Gain

The medium gain distortion sound is what most people think of as distortion.  This is the classic sound that the 90’s grunge scene was founded on.  This is basically amplifying your guitar signal much more and through different internal components i.e. transistors, diodes, etc.  The classic distortion of choice for most musicians is the classic orange Boss DS-1.  This pedal is the equivalent of pressing the distortion button on most of your practice amps at home.  There are so many high quality medium gain distortions out there you wouldn’t believe me if I told you…  The choices are practically endless.  A few great distortion boxes out there would be the Xvex Box of Rock, the afore mentioned Boss DS-1 if you are on a budget, Proco Rat, and the Xotic BB preamp.

High Gain

Lets talk high gain pedals!  These pedals are distortion on steroids…  These high gain pedals we are about to talk about are the huge sounding distortions you hear by bands such as Metallica, Disturbed, Nickelback, and any other Nu Metal band out there.  Many guitarists get that great sound simply by buying an amplifier that has a high gain circuit built right in.  Like the Mesa Boogie Rectifiers, most Randall amps and the Peavey XXX.  These will 99% of the time be a better sound than any pedal.  But there are hundreds of awesome high gain pedals out there that will get you pretty darn close at a fraction of the cost.  The Boss MT-2 Metal Zone and the Boss ML-2 Metal Core are probably the most versatile, best sounding high gain pedal out there.  The Digitech Hardwire TL-2 Metal Distortion is really good as well.  You might want to be careful about some of these higher gain pedals because some companies want to push the envelope so much they end up making a pedal that has so much distortion it sounds terrible.  I won’t name any names but on your journey you will come across more than a few of these.

Distortion pedals generally work the same way.  Its how much they crank up your signal and what internal components are used.  These always vary from pedal to pedal.  Another neat trick that makes your distortion stand out is to put an overdrive pedal after your distortion pedal.  That will get you that meaty Eric Johnson/ Steve Vai tones.  Also subscribe to a few YouTube channels that do nothing but pedal demos.  My favorite subscriptions are proguitarshopdemos and gearmanndude.  Just type those names into the youtube search bar and subscribe to them.  You will learn a lot and at least get a good knowledge of how these pedals sound at different settings.  I will be back next week with another article that will help you on your tone quest.  Until then….  Jam hard.