Did I ever say, “I love my job?” Well… GuitarGear.org isn’t exactly a job, but even it were, I’d still love it because I get to sniff around the Internet for different kinds of gear. Recently, through The Gear Page forums, I ran across this great amp company called Ark Amps. I had heard the name in passing but didn’t know much about them. Still don’t, but they make some gorgeous amps! The designs are really out of this world with incredible woodwork! And from what I can gather from the audio clips, these are nice-sounding amps as well.
To give you an idea of just how awesome these designs are check out these pictures! Talk about combining art with function! I’ve never seen amp cabinet designs like this – ever! Check ‘em out for yourself at Ark Amps!
I wrote this song a few years back, and had the hardest time trying to record it. Unfortunately, the stock drum tracks in GarageBand just don’t cover the blues very well, so I finally found some decent audio drum loops that I could use. Ostensibly, this is a song about everlasting love, and how in marriage or even lifelong relationships, despite their occasional downs, if you truly love someone, you’ll return to them.
With this song, I wanted to capture a smoky lounge with a jazz quartet kind of groove. And BTW, the guitar in this was recorded using IK Multimedia Amplitube Fender. Damn! That ’57 Champ sounds great! Anyway, here’s the song:
Summary: Need a quick, portable way to get your guitar ideas down on track, with an incredibly easy-to-use USB interface for performing live through software models? Look no further. Amplitube Fender Studio will get you rocking in minutes!
Pros: The inclusion of Fender Studio SE, RiffWorks T4 and Amplitube X-Gear, provide you with a full-featured experience to develop and track your song ideas, and are well worth the price of admission!
9’/2,5m length cable with integrated audio interface
1/4” jack connector MONO IN
1/8” mini-jack Headphone STEREO OUT (suitable also for Amp/Powered Speaker OUT)
USB 1.0/2.0 connector
Volume UP/DOWN buttons
USB bus powered
16 bit A/D -D/A converter
44KHz/48KHz Sampling Frequency
Ultra-low latency ASIO and Core Audio Drivers
Hi-Z direct Guitar and Bass-IN (suitable for any instrument with line out also)
Price: $99.99 (street)
Tone Bone Score: 5.0. Being constantly on the go as I am it can get frustrating having to wait all day to get a riff or song idea down. With the Amplitube Fender Studio, I can quickly hook up my axe, switch on my laptop, and get an idea down before I lose it!
Amplitube Fender Studio: Be Anywhere, Record Your Axe Anywhere
I received AmpliTube Fender Studio with the included StealthPlug a few days ago (it’s always nice to come home to find a delivery box), immediately opened the box, plugged the StealthPlug into the USB port of my laptop, plugged my headset into the StealthPlug, fired up AmpliTube X-Gear, chose an amp, and started to play. Just as I expected, the device worked as advertised; and also as I expected, it worked with practically no latency. I immediately thought, “Man, I could gig with this…” But I’m jumping ahead… As fortune would have it, I could only spend a few minutes playing as I had to leave, so I unhooked everything and placed the StealthPlug in the pocket of my gig bag.
This morning, I loaded up my axe into my car, wanting to practice a little at lunchtime, as my work has kept me from playing regularly for the last several days. As I was driving into work, just letting my mind wander as I traveled down the freeway, out of nowhere I got a song idea. I played it over in my head for a few minutes, then anguished a bit because like many song ideas I’ve had in the past, I would have to wait until I got home to get the idea tracked; more often than not, by the time I got home, I’d lose the idea. Then I remembered that I had put the StealthPlug in my gig bag!
I immediately exited at the next exit and found a good place to park. I jumped out of the car, with laptop in hand, opened up my rear hatch, pulled my axe and the StealthPlug out of my gig bag, hooked up to my laptop, opened up GarageBand, created a new track, and hit record. I had the song idea down in less than five minutes. Sorry, I’m still working on the song, so I don’t have a clip. But the point of this is that the StealthPlug enabled me to get my song idea down soon after I got the idea. It meant that the idea didn’t get relegated to another “one that got away.”
I needn’t go into any diatribe of the StealthPlug’s fit and finish nor how it sounds. How it sounds is based upon what amp and effect models you apply in your software. But here’s one thing I did notice, and it’s a huge thing: I could barely detect any latency at all while I played through the StealthPlug, even when recording in GarageBand, which can be a real resource pig. That kind of instantaneous response is absolutely to die for! I suppose the near-zero latency of the StealthPlug probably has a lot to do with the simplicity of the signal route. It’s a USB cable, for goodness’ sake! But that bodes well for using the StealthPlug in a live situation. I’ve often wanted to use my computer in a live situation using nothing but software models for amps; especially in my church gig where controlling output volume is essential. The only thing that has kept me from doing this is latency. Even tiny amounts of latency can throw you off while you’re playing. But with the StealthPlug’s near-zero latency, I think I’m going to have to give it a go.
Funny thing, I perused the web for other reviews, and all seemed to have a much more tepid response to this wonderful piece of gear; especially with respect to latency. Mind you, I have 4 GB RAM in my Mac, so that probably has a lot to do with my lack of latency, since the computer rarely has to go to the hard drive once things are loaded.
Another thing I tried with the StealthPlug was running it from my pedal board, to see how it would react, and see how the amp models I have on my laptop would react. After tweaking some levels, I was amazed at how well it worked! Admittedly, the tone produced seemed a little thin in the highs, but a little EQ to boost the highs remedied that right quick. But there are other ways to employ the StealthPlug. Here a few ways you can use it.
Amplitube Fender Studio: It Simply KICKS ASS!
So I’ve established that I dig the StealthPlug… On a standalone basis, I’d give it a 5.0 Tone Bone score by itself because of the effect it had on my songwriting, but used within the context of the included Fender Studio software well, the whole package gets a 5.0! And it’s due to a little software package called Riffworks T4 that’s included with Fender Studio. I had heard of Riffworks by following Todd Rundgren who recorded his latest “Arena” album using the full version of this software.
Basically, Riffworks, as the name implies, is a software where you can create layered riff loops. Unlike programs like GarageBand or Ableton or the like, you construct songs in Riffworks by linking together riff loops that you can create. I won’t go into a lot of detail about it here, but I will say that it makes songwriting very very easy. For those of you familiar with digital recording, riffs are built using a “loop recording” methodology; that is, a phrase is played over and over again with a new “layer” added with each iteration of the loop. It’Add to the fact that Fender Studio and X-Gear or whatever amp plug-in you have on your computer is readily available in the software, and creating music is absolute freakin’ breeze. Here’s a clip that I recorded just a few minutes ago using Riffworks with Fender Studio:
For the rhythm part, I used ’59 Bassman model, then applied a Riffworks Filter and Shaper to it to give it that “vibey” sound. For the lead, I used driven ’57 Deluxe model. But for this, I ran my guitar into my pedalboard first, then into the StealthPlug. I only used a single pedal, and that’s my beloved Tone Freak Effects Abunai 2 to add some slightly compressed and sustaining overdrive to the signal. The result was magnificent!
Once I was done with recording in RiffWorks, I outputted the clip to a WAV file, then imported it into GarageBand, so I could add a bassline. If I had a bass handy, I could’ve done everything in RiffWorks, but alas, I can only use MIDI for now. But here’s the cool thing: The StealthPlug was my only audio interface into my computer! How incredible is that? And I just had my headphone attached to the StealthPlug, and it all worked amazingly well. Talk about having a portable studio! All I need is a couple of guitars, the StealthPlug and my laptop! Save the guitars, all I need will fit into my laptop bag. Granted, I wouldn’t have access to my pedalboard if I was on the road, but adding effect plug-ins to Amplitube if I need them is not a problem.
Amazingly enough, response to the StealthPlug has been just okay… Not sure what that’s all about. But for me, I have a recording solution wherever I go. I don’t need to bring amps, just my laptop and a couple of guitars when I want to get away for a remote songwriting adventure. And RiffWorks plus Amplitube gives me everything I need!
For those computer-based DAW jockeys, you know about IK Multimedia’s Amplitube software. I recently wrote a review of Amplitube Fender Edition, and loved it. Now I have an even bigger reason to love it, and that’s IK Multimedia’s StealthPedal which looks like an expression pedal but is actually a fully-functional, USB-powered audio interface WITH a built-in expression pedal. How friggin’ cool is that?
Folks, this thing works, and it works well, as my full review, which will be released in a few days will bear out. As an audio interface, it may not have a lot of bells and whistles, but for the home recording studio buff, this is a great, affordable, high-res audio device that can take a direct in from your guitar or pedal board, or a line out from a pre-amp to use for layering tracks.
But because the pedal has the ability to act as a controller for any “Powered by Amplitube” software or plug-in, you may not even need an amp to record your guitar parts! There are enough fantastic-sounding amp models packed into the various Amplitube packages that you’ll be sure to find a model that works for you. Plus the software effect plug-ins that the StealthPedal can control give you added tone shaping abilities.
In my impending review, I’ll have more clips to share, but here’s a “torch song” that I’ve been working on that features the StealthPedal in action as an audio interface:
Except for the drum loop, all the instruments were recorded using the StealthPedal as the audio interface. I did a line-in directly for the electric piano. For the guitar parts, the amps are both software amps! For the rhythm part I used a Fender Champ 600 with a virtual compressor rack plug-in and my Strat plugged directly into the StealthPedal. For the lead part, I plugged into my pedal board and used my Tone Freak Effects Abunai 2 overdrive, and a Hardwire RV-7 Reverb. For the amp, I used a ’59 Bassman model. Imagine that! Software that sounds this good!
I know, nothing sounds like or feels like a real amp, but the convenience and the general sound quality of these models, plus the high-fidelity of the StealthPedal isn’t lost on me. It’s a nice, compact audio solution that combined with the software, will definitely make a difference in how you approach recording guitars.
More often than not, the way I end most of my days is to strap on an axe, plug into one of my amps, and just noodle or jam to a jam track I put together. But tomorrow, I’m doing an outdoor gig that requires the use of my amps (had to drop them off tonight), and even though I have a little Fender Champ 600 for practice and recording, I was more in the mood for a bigger sound.
It was then I remembered my copy of IK Multimedia’s Fender Edition! I could plug directly into my DAW, spark up AmpliTube X-Gear, Amplitube’s excellent standalone and plug-in modeling software, and jam away! And with 12 different amps and boatload of presets to play with, I could get any sound I wanted! So I lost myself for over an hour of playing and trying out a bunch of different models and presets. It was truly marvelous and a great way to cap the end of a great day!
When I finally came up for air, I realized the power and allure of using these amp plug-ins from AmpliTube. They’re certainly not the real thing, but they’re so close to real, it almost doesn’t matter. Imagine going to a gig, and all you lug with you is a laptop, a DAW, and a couple of cords. You plug straight into the board and output through the PA. Then all you do is monitor your tone through your stage monitor.
IK Multimedia has tools to make it even easier to do exactly this. AmpliTube Fender – or any modeling software they make for that matter – is fully controllable via MIDI. So IK Multimedia has a product called StompIO, a USB stage controller that gives you full control over “Powered by AmpliTube” plug-ins, such as AmpliTube Fender Edition. Want to switch to a different amp? Add some chorus? Add a little dirt? It’s all available via the StompIO! The coolness factor of this is way huge, and at least for someone like me, it has some interesting ramifications.
For one thing, I play mostly small venues, so the more simple I can keep it, the better. Also, except for real purists, most people just can’t tell the difference that you’re playing through a model or a real amp. For instance, last year, I went up to Lake Tahoe and was sitting in a bar at a Casino, and there was this excellent male/female duo playing classic rock covers. The lead singer was a real excellent guitarist, so during one of their breaks, I went over to talk to him and see what gear he was playing. Amazingly enough, I discovered that his amp wasn’t an amp at all; it was a VOX ToneLab that he ouputted straight into his mixing board! I consider myself to be pretty good at making the distinction between a model and the real thing, but as the dude explained it, with all the ambient crowd and general bustle of the casino, it would be tough to tell he was using a modeler. It didn’t matter to me just the same, because the guy was such a damn good guitarist who could make his guitar absolutely sing. So for someone like that, he could make pretty much make anything sound great!
He shared that for larger gigs, and for playing solos in the recording studio, he still used a real amp – there’s just no substitution. But for tracking rhythm parts, and for playing in the casino, there was a lot to be said about the gear he didn’t have to bring with him. And that’s the point of something like AmpliTube Fender Edition. The less gear I have to lug around, the better! Of course, there’s no substitution for a real amp. Even though software can come close – incredibly close – to sounding like a real amp, there’s nothing like playing through the real thing.
But that said, when I want to go on a song writing trip, I can now pack everything I need to record my ideas in one bag, and all I’ll have to do is bring a couple of guitars! When I return home to lay down the tracks for good, I’ll just keep the rhythm tracks I recorded with the software models, and layer solos using a real amp.
400 presets included with more that can be downloaded online
Powered by AmpliTube® with exclusive DSM™ (Dynamic Saturation Modeling) and VRM™ (Volumetric Response Modeling)
Tone Bone Rating: 4.75 overall, but for a recording plug-in, it gets a 5.0
Being a snobbish purist about “real” gear, I’m not easily impressed by emulation software. But when I heard clips of the Fender Edition of Amplitube, I knew I had to check this software out. A million thanks go to the folks at IK Multimedia to letting me evaluate this software because I am definitely impressed by Amplitube Fender! It’s not everyday that you have access to 12 awesome Fender amps, and to have them literally a mouse-click away is just insane! I don’t think amp software will ever replace a real amp, but this software comes so close to sounding like the real thing that especially for recording, I’d be hard-pressed to NOT use it for recording lots of guitar parts!
I used an earlier version of AmpliTube a few years ago, and was not at all impressed by how it sounded. But being in the software development world, with time, software gets better, and I have to say that this software is absolutely incredible!
Now and then, I go off for a weekend alone, and I lug a couple of guitars, a couple of mics, an amp or two, and my MacBook, along with my MBox 2 interface to just do some writing and recording. With Amplitube Fender, I don’t need to lug my amps! I can just load my laptop and MBox an a couple of cords and a mic, and I’m home free! Hey! Not having to lug any extra gear is HUGE! I’m sold on using this software! Not only do I have my four real amps, I now have 12 other amps to choose from when I record! It’s really exciting!
How It Sounds
Imagine that! No need to write a section on fit and finish!
In a word, it sounds AWESOME! Right after I installed the software, I plugged my Strat into the DI jack of my MBox 2, opened up GarageBand, started a new project, added a new track, and selected “Amplitube Fender” from a plug-in drop down. It was literally that easy! I randomly picked a ’57 Deluxe Dual Mic, then started to strum this little ditty in Am. Before I knew it, I was adding drum and bass tracks, to record the riff.
I’ve played through a ’57 Deluxe in the past, and I was amazed at how the software emulated that warm, bright and crisp sound that that amp is known for! I kept on thinking to myself, “This couldn’t be software – it sounds to friggin’ good!” After I recorded that rhythm track, I took out the Goldtop to play a lead. I ended up playing for over an hour this evening just tooling around with different amps. In the end, I wanted to get a sample out, so I chose a ’59 Bassman with a Fender Fuzz-Wah plug-in to get some fuzz, then recorded the following sound bite:
I don’t know about you, but I really can’t tell the difference between the real thing and software. Maybe because I’m starting to lose my hearing and my ability to discern audio fidelity is kind of going south. No matter, I think this software ROCKS!
Amplitube Fender does a fantastic job of amp emulation – there’s no arguing that at all. But there’s a certain “mojo” about a real amp that just can’t be captured with software, no matter how close to the real thing that software sounds. That said, however, even one as snobbish as myself, and other gear freaks I know would be hard-pressed not to seriously consider adding this to their arsenal of recording plug-ins!