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IK Multimedia Amplitube Jimi Hendrix

Mini Reviews & Tips

IK Multimedia Amplitube Jimi Hendrix

Amp & Effects Modelling Plug-in

In the decades since Jimi Hendrix's death, his sound has continued to intrigue generations of guitarists. The various pedals and processors needed to recreate it (the playing is a different matter!) have always been around if you look hard enough, but it is only recently that software developers have tried to bring all the elements together in a single package. Perhaps the most high-profile product has been the Digitech Jimi Hendrix pedal, developed with Eddie Kramer, who engineered all those classic Jimi tracks, and IK multimedia have done a similar thing in software, working with Authentic Hendrix, the official family-owned company.

Compatible with OSX and Windows, Amplitube Jimi Hendrix supports VST, RTAS and AU plug-in hosts. IK Multimedia have developed presets for just about every section of every classic Jimi Hendrix track, and because the software is based on their existing Amplitube 2 (which incorporates IK's Dynamic Saturation Modelling), you can tweak all the controls on the amplifiers, stomp boxes and rack processors, to fine-tune the sounds to match your own guitar and playing style.

Everything can be freely adjusted, and since you can build your own configurations of amps and effects, there's no limit to the musical styles you can tackle — so you're not restricted to electric Hendrix-land by any means. In fact, you're not even restricted to using the software as a plug-in, as it also works quite happily as a stand-alone application (which means you can take your laptop on the road or into the studio to use as a virtual guitar system).

Guitar TechnologyAlthough the software shares the same engine and user interface as Amplitube 2, Amplitube Jimi Hendrix includes over 20 new models, created especially for this product. The most important components of the Hendrix rig, including processors that were used in the studio, have been modelled: you get all the original vintage stomp boxes used on the classic records, the correct amplifiers and speakers and a choice of how those speakers are mic'd. In all there are nine vintage stomp effects, including emulations of the legendary Tycho Brahe Octavia and the watery Uni-vibe, a Vox Wah, the Univox Uni-Vibe, a Maestro Fuzz Tone and some Roger Mayer fuzz boxes. You also get a rack of studio processors from the era (Rotary Speaker, Stereo Reverb, Parametric EQ and Tube Compressor). Oddly, though, I couldn't find a delay unit anywhere — and I'm sure tape delay was used on the solo of 'All along the Watchtower', at the very least.

There are also four vintage amp models, and seven speaker cabinets. That there are four amps will surprise some people, as Jimi Hendrix was strongly associated with Marshall amplification, but he also used Fender and other US amplifiers in the studio and on tour. Models of the Marshall 1959 JTM100 Super Lead, Fender Twin Reverb, Fender Bassman and Dual Showman amps are provided, and IK Multimedia have gone to great lengths in the name of authenticity. The cabinets were apparently fitted out with the original vintage speakers, then recorded with five different microphones of the type that would have been used at the time, including capacitor, dynamic and ribbon models.

The setup of the plug-in is very much like the regular version of Amplitube, with a really accurate guitar tuner and great graphics for all the amps and effects. Eight buttons allow you to arrange the signal flow in different ways through two parallel chains, and there are separate, tabbed windows for accessing the amps, cabinets, stomp effects and studio gear. If you can't figure out what Jimi was playing, there's even an included speed-trainer audio player, with pitch and speed control, so you can slow down the tough bits! Also included is a demo version of RiffWorks, Instant Drummer REX Player and a selection of effects, courtesy of Sonoma Wire Works. You also get in excess of 250MB of Sonic Reality's R.A.W. Rock SE drum loops and grooves in REX and WAV format.

Presets are arranged by discography. To access them, you can navigate via album, track and then section of track. In many cases there are two or more different sounds for the verses and solos. After that you can tab around the windows to tweak the controls. All your edits can be saved, and controls may be automated to the extent that your host software permits.

I tested the models using a Fender Stratocaster (as that is what would have been played on most of the original tracks) and was impressed: IK's designers have clearly paid a lot of attention to getting the sounds right. The reverbs, in particular, are very evocative of the original records, though, as with most amp-modelling plug-ins I've tried, the sounds don't quite seem to come across sounding like a mic'd, loud amp, which is what you expect to hear on a Hendrix track. It's different if you play the software via a real amp and speakers, as that helps recreate some sense of energy, but with the plug-in you have to work quite hard to create the impression of straining speaker cones: 'Purple Haze' just doesn't sound as angry as when played through an amp on the edge of destruction. Gentler songs such as 'Little Wing' and 'The Wind Cries Mary' fare rather better.

Still, this subjective aspect probably affects the player more than the listener. Though it impinges on the way the instrument feels when you play it (a real amp somehow feels more 'springy'), you can still put together some convincing Hendrix-style sounds. The stomp effects are excellent. Even the notorious Tycho Brahe Octavia is realistic. This effect used a crude full-wave rectifier and some high-cut filtering to create a distorted note an octave above the one you were playing. It has a very odd touch response and when you first try it it feels as though it's broken — but that's actually how it's supposed to work! Being able to configure two chains of amps and effects also enables you to set up some wonderfully complex guitar sounds. As I opined earlier, the studio reverbs work particularly well, though I'm still puzzled as to why there's no tape delay.

As well as being a useful studio tool, Amplitube Jimi Hendrix is a very educational piece of software, as it allows you to examine the effects and recording chains used on all those classic Hendrix tracks, but I found it a bit frustrating that the guitar pickup settings were not listed as part of the patch data, as they form an important element of the sound.

The bottom line is that, if you work on a computer and want to get closer to those magical Jimi Hendrix tones, Amplitube Jimi Hendrix gives you not only the tools, but also the configurations in which to use them, all for a very affordable price (£159, or £136 crossgrade for registered Amplitube 2 users). Though obviously attractive to Hendrix fans, Amplitube 2 is one of the better amp and effect emulation packages on the market, and this version is also flexible enough to use for just about any electric guitar style. Paul White

SUMMARY

A very good amp/effect emulation with wider appeal than the title suggests.
IK Multimedia +44 (0)1223 234414
www.ikmultimedia.com

Boss FDR1 & FBM1

Fender Amp-modelling Pedals

What do you get when you cross Roland's COSM modelling technology with two classic Fender amps? The answer is two new Boss pedals that emulate those amps. The FDR1 models a Fender Deluxe Reverb, complete with reverb and tremolo, and the FBM1 models the classic Fender Bassman. Both models come with Fender's blessing.

The pedals can draw power from either a 9V battery or an optional PSU, and as with most Boss pedals the battery fits beneath the pedal section, which hinges upwards when you release the thumbwheel at the back, enabling the battery to be changed in seconds. Like all digital pedals, these ones are pretty hungry on power — an Alkaline battery should get you through three or four gigs (providing you remember to unplug the guitar when you're not playing), so the PSU will save you money in the long run. Remember, though, that if you switch the PSU off when the guitar is plugged in, the pedal will switch to battery power and drain your battery!

The input is passed through an A-D converter before being processed via the internal DSP chip. The output from the DSP is then converted back to analogue, before being sent to the output jack. There's no built-in speaker emulator, as the pedals are designed to feed a guitar amp or combo, but you can easily use them for recording by feeding them through a speaker-modelling plug-in, with either a clean amp model or no amp model selected.

Guitar TechnologyThe FDR1 appears, at first glance, to have four knobs, but two of these are dual-concentric, so there are actually six controls, which cover Drive, Level, Bass EQ, Treble EQ, Reverb and Tremolo. Drive simulates the effect of power-stage distortion (the original Fender Deluxe Reverb had no master volume), which means you should be able to get the true 'pushed' amp sound at sensible volumes. The two tone controls are designed to work (and interact) as they did on the original amplifier. The Tremolo is a simple amplitude-modulation effect for all those 'surf' sounds, but it also has some hidden functions. If you just turn up the Tremolo depth using the control knob, the modulation gets deeper, but the speed is fixed. To change it, you need to get into a special mode that entails holding the pedal down. In fact, there are two setting modes that allow you to dial in the modulation speed manually. Alternatively, you can tap it in using the footswitch. The modelled spring reverb is accurate, to the point of modelling even those artifacts that many players didn't like at the time (such as the tendency for the spring to sound 'twangy' or 'splashy' when you pick hard.) As spring models go, this one is so convincing that you'd swear you could get it to twang by kicking the pedal!

Played clean, the amp has that characteristic Fender piano-like attack, giving a nice snap to the notes. Piling on the drive brings in some dirt, but only to a relatively modest degree. With single-coil pickups, you can get that jangly 'Hey Joe' kind of distortion at higher gain settings, while humbuckers saturate a little more, adding a gritty bark to the sound.

The FBM1 has the same six-control layout as the FDR1, with two dual-concentric knobs and two standard rotary controls, together adjusting Middle, Presence, Bass, Treble Gain and Level. This is pretty much the same setup as the original amplifier and there are even Normal and Bright input jacks, just as with the original. A textured mustard paint and brown pedal-rubber give the pedal a nice 'tweed' look, in contrast to the black crackle-finish paint used for the FDR1.

Fender's Bassman amp started out as a bass amp but actually achieved greater fame as a lead guitar amp, mainly because of its distinctive overdrive characteristic. For me, this pedal has more of a useful tonal palette than the FDR1, as it covers similar 'clean' ground but has more range when it comes to overdrive (though it lacks the reverb and tremolo, it has additional Middle and Presence tone controls). At low drive settings you get that distinctive, bright edge to the sound, and adding more gain brings in a nice gritty overdrive, balanced by a lower-mid growl, which works well for blues. You can go beyond this range but, for me, the tonality when heavily overdriven isn't so appropriate for rock playing as it is from some other amps — those 'just over the edge' blues sounds are where this amp emulation scores well.

While models and emulations will never satisfy those brought up with the real thing, these pedals really do manage to convey the flavour of those classic amps without you having to buy a complete new rig, and at £116 each, including VAT, they're pretty good value. The end result, though, will always be a hybrid of the sound of the pedal and the sound of the amp that you plug it into.

I'm not convinced that the single Boss pedal is the best format for these products, simply because you can get good clean sounds and good dirty sounds out of them and I'd like to be able to set up two channels and switch between the two (no matter that the originals weren't two-channel designs — that's how most people want to play these days). A dual-width pedal, with an extra gain and level control and a channel switch, may have proved a more versatile option. As it is, the best option is to set the clean sound you like on your own amp and then use the FDR1 or FBM1 as a sort of glorified overdrive pedal — which isn't really using the pedals' strengths as effectively as they might be. Of course, these concerns apply mainly to live applications, where this sort of instant control is a big deal. It isn't such an issue if you plan to use the pedals in the studio, as they sound excellent and you can easily stop and change settings between takes. Paul White

SUMMARY

These pedals sound really rather good and could prove very useful in the studio, but because of the impracticality of resetting the sounds during a live performance, most people will probably pick a favourite setting and stick to it.
Roland UK +44 (0)1792 702701
www.roland.co.uk

Published August 2007