For many of us, ever since seeing Mr. Peabody first fire up the WABAC machine, we’ve dreamed of traveling back in time and seeing things as they were before
Upon plugging into IK Multimedia’s newest modeling venture, AmpliTube Jimi Hendrix, it’s apparent that the company’s programming team had that bespectacled canine and his machine on retainer. Thanks to the power of modern computing, IK Multimedia – a perpetually hip company specializing in the merging of analog and digital – has gone back to the ‘60s and captured the sounds of social upheaval. Developed in a cooperative effort with Authentic Hendrix, established to curate Jimi’s extensive legacy, this app promises to accurately model all of the classic gear that translated Hendrix’s feelings into sound, including four amps, nine analog pedals, seven speaker cabinets – including five microphones – and four rack effects.
And while it’s certainly a tall order replicating gear that has such a revered place in our collective guitar consciousness, the good news is that this application pulls it all off in style. Through the use of an attractive graphical interface, you essentially have all of Hendrix’s amps, cabinets and pedals at your disposal. The program is broken down in to easy-to-digest “modules,” meaning you can jump quickly from your pedalboard to amp to cabinet controls. Each module has a wealth of options and lots of tonal decisions to be made, from the major (which kind of preamp to use) to the seemingly minor (on or off-axis mic’ing?).
Beginning with the AMP module, you have four models available: the Fender Bassman Jimi used in the studio to record “Voodoo Child;” the Fender Dual-Showman used on his ’69-’69 tour with the Experience; a Fender Twin Reverb, which Jimi played from ’65 to ’66; and of course, that archetypal Marshall 1959 JTM100 Super Lead which is associated with his gainiest guitar pyrotechnics. In addition to these basic amp models, users can select from four different power amp models, including the 6L6 stages from each of the Fender amps and the KT66 stage found in the Marshall, allowing users to mix preamps and power amps for sounds that just couldn’t exist without the help of an overclocked computer chip.
When it comes to the STOMP module, all of Jimi’s drool-inducing pedals are present and accounted for. Users can chose from models ranging from a sustain-inducing Arbiter Fuzz Face to an extremely close UniVibe, for a total of nine analog pedals. Add in a noise gate, spring reverb and four available rack effects (parametric EQ, a rotary speaker effect, stereo reverb and a tube compression unit), and you’ve got 15 different, vintage effects to wreak sonic havoc.
In the CAB module, you can spend some time picking out the perfect cabinet to compliment that perfectly tweaked head. Choose from models of cabinets ranging from a Sears Silvertone 2x12 to a stacked 4x12 Marshall. Also in the CAB module are the mic selections, and golden-eared users can choose between modeled condensers (AKG C12, Neumann U67 or U87), a dynamic Shure SM57 or a Beyerdynamic M160 ribbon mic. Included are options to mic on or off-axis, as well as to adjust the position and distance of the placement, allowing to you catch more or less room ambience.
AmpliTube also allows users to run multiple amp setups, meaning you can replicate that wall of Marshalls, all in a virtual world. Because the program uses two separate signal paths, you can choose from a variety of options, such as running two distinct amp setups, using one or two cabinets, and creating a massive 12-pedal board (or two independent six-pedal boards). Frankly, there’s a gleefully crazy amount of options here.
But perhaps the most surprising part of this program is how good overall these models sound, and how much the slightest tweaks affect the sound. The warmth of the amps is stunning, and thanks to Dynamic Saturation Modeling (DSM) technology (which involves math I can’t comprehend), they are exceptionally volume-sensitive. Turning down cleans up your signal, just like plugging right into that non-virtual Super Lead, and the EQ and presence knobs actually mean something here. The Fenders are chimey, the Marshall is ballsy and the Fuzz Face imparts sustain for days, just like the originals. All of the rotary effects are musical. The mic models and placement options are quite possibly the biggest surprise, allowing users to dial in the exact tone they need. This program will most reward those brave souls who have time to spend experimenting.
Of course, for those that aren’t consummate gear tweakers, AmpliTube Jimi Hendrix includes a wide array of presets, brilliantly arranged by both Hendrix’s discography and by sound type. Want to bust out your own take on the slightly fuzzed wah solo of “Burning of the Midnight Lamp?” Pick the preset and AmpliTube Jimi Hendrix will set up your signal chain right where it needs to be. What about the all-knobs-cranked warble of “The Star Spangled Banner?” Hit the preset and feel UniVibe-powered patriotism emanate from your speakers. The presets are convenient when you have a specific sound in your head or when you just want to dive right in.
And when you’re done modeling, AmpliTube Jimi Hendrix will help you hone your chops. The standalone version features both a metronome and a fully-featured SpeedTrainer, which allows you to import a wide array of audio files, slow them down, change the pitch and learn licks note for note. Host sequencer BPM synchronization is also supported.
But we really can’t let IK off the hook so easily. If you’re not running on a sturdy platform, you can experience some dropouts and troublesome audio issues due to the hardcore number crunching going on inside your computer’s brain – we were running this version of AmpliTube on a fairly beefy Mac G5 and had occasional issues with audio lag when running it as a plug-in in GarageBand. You can adjust the buffer size used by AmpliTube to reduce the amount of signal delay, but if you plan on doing serious recording work with this, you’ll want to get yourself a dedicated sound card.
And while this program can be used both in a standalone mode and as a plug-in with your favorite recording apps, it should be noted that the application runs in a set window size; it’s not possible to resize the window and make it larger or smaller. If you’re running on a large computer screen and would like to take up more desktop real estate, or simply find it hard to see the knobs or settings, you can’t make it any bigger.
The Final Mojo
If you’ve been wearing that tie-dye tee emblazoned with Hendrix’s face since high school and know every lick from The BBC Sessions, you’re going to want to pick this up immediately. Even if you’re not much for Jimi’s style, you can still own some damn good models of classic gear at a mere fraction of the price. There’s very little downside to this purchase, other than the fact that you might spend the following weeks playing more guitar and watching less Rocky & Bullwinkle.