On Hardware Modelers

February 26, 2009

Before I speak directly on the topic at hand, I dislike the distinction between so-called hardware modelers and software modelers. Hardware units are in fact specialized DSP computers built into enclosures which are designed for ruggedness and integrated I/O and control. While they give the appearance of being “hardware,” it’s important to remember that in fact the actual signal processing that is running on all of the floor-based modelers is nothing more than software written in a language that the DSP can process efficiently. In fact, some DSPs (like the SHARC processors used by Line6 and Fractal Audio) can be programmed in C++, which allows them to be easily ported to a traditional software environment (aka a computer). Even if other floor units aren’t programmed in C++ or other higher level languages, they are still running software, specialized for execution on the processors in the floor box. Everything in digital modeling is software, it’s just a question of whether its operating environment is a discrete unit or a computer. Advantages of the former (discrete unit) include absolutely 100% known hardware, which improves the ability to efficiently streamline the code since the conditions under which it will be operating are perfectly standardized, and integrated DSP processors and other components which are usually designed specifically for audio and hence which have “low latency” as a goal from the ground up. To get a computer to the same level of latency and ease of connectivity requires a significantly higher investment, and software working in a computer has to be programmed robustly in order to ensure that it operates as flawlessly as possible across a virtually unlimited number of hardware configurations. Read the rest of this entry »

ProTone Jason Becker Distortion Review sneak peak & clip!

February 14, 2009

ProTone Jason Becker Distortion – Analog amp modeling in a pedal

First, this is the picture of the pedal I got.

They’ve changed the graphic to a different painting by his dad for the newer run of the pedals, I actually really like this graphic because of how the control colors correspond to the “elemental” association of the colors behind them, and the Burn and Drive controls are touching the fire and water, respectively. But the new ones look good too, and they’re probably closer to Becker’s general aesthetic style (check out his Peavey with its child-like appearance, he lived a great sense of humor in everything he did).

If you don’t know Jason Becker’s story, you ought to head over to the wikipedia entry on him, it’s sad, poignant, and inspiring – I won’t cheapen his life by giving a “short version” here. The pedal is made by Dennis, the sole proprietor of the Protone pedal company, and part of the proceeds go to Jason Becker’s family and causes.

I’ve had it in for a day or two now from FuzzHugger, and while I’m reserving a full review for the edition-after-next of FrugalGuitarist, I wanted to bring a killer pedal to your attention. The goal is pretty common, I guess – make a Marshall in a box. In this case, it’s aiming for an analog miniaturized solid-state recreation of the amp Jason Becker used to record his early album Perpetual Burn, but with additional gain on tap to achieve some of the higher gain tones he was using towards the end of his playing and recording career. Well, okay, not even counting the official Marshall pedals to that end, that’s the Box of Rock, Crunch Box, Plextortion, Hot British, etc., etc., etc. – there are tons of Marshallesque pedals.

This one’s different, though, in some important ways. First, all of the “volume” related controls on it have to do not just with output level but with the amount of crunch you get. The Master Volume on it behaves like an amp’s master volume, increasing volume and then sort of reaching a maximum output point and past that increasing compression/distortion. It has a Pre-Amp gain control and a Drive control as well. All three of them interact to produce the final amount of distortion of the dirt side of the pedal. The other side of it is a class-A boost, very warm and clean, I love what it does to my single-coil strat (and to anything, really, it’s a great boost). The boost has its own adjustable gain and is operable separate from the “amp” side of the pedal. I made a quick clip demonstrating it with my single-coil (Samarium Cobalt Noiseless-equipped) strat. For the FG review I’ll have clips with a few different guitars of course.

The control scheme seems a bit complicated at first glance, but it’s straightforward once you get it into perspective. It’s got a control layout like a relatively simple, single-channel amp with an overdrive pedal up front. So you’ve got your EQ section, Lows, Mid, Highs – that’s clear, tweak it like an amp. Then you’ve got your Pre-Amp gain and Master Volume. Those are the amp’s own controls. Then there’s the overdrive pedal control, which is just called “Drive.” The final control, “Burn,” is the boost control, so it’s really just a one-switch/one-knob boost that happens to be attached to the rest. It’s easy to get the hang of if you’ve ever played an amp more complicated than the Valve Jr.

Anyway, here’s the clip, going for a “strat into a Marshall” tone with my SCN-equipped mid-’80s Fender Contemporary Special 22 Japanese Strat:

Edit: I’ve recorded another clip to demonstrate how it sounds when used with a hot humbucker-bearing guitar, this time with an arrangement of a song that was pretty popular in the ’80s… Thanks, Jake E. Lee 🙂

Of course, it’s a fairly, ah, “liberal” arrangement… But in my defense, if you ever saw him play it live he improvs a great deal anyway, as did a lot of the ’80s greats (though by no means all, not suggesting they’re all hipshot gunslinger types who lay down a wicked improv solo in the studio then don’t bother to learn it for the road – but many did, a la George Lynch, etc.).

Looking for feedback so I can get some updates coming your way!

February 12, 2009

Thanks to everyone who has visited the blog so far and checked out what’s going on in my corner of the internet 🙂

I sort of bombarded any visitors with a lot of content right up front, but by now I figure if you’re interested in the topic you’ve had a chance to check out the existing reviews and maybe you’re interested in some more. Of course, if you’re a first-time visitor, thanks for coming and I hope you’ll find what I’m doing here useful!

I’ve been asking on the forums where these comparative reviews are first published whether there’s anything I could do next that would really get people interested. Since I want this blog to be an equally important part of my reviewing, I’ll offer the same question to anyone who happens to drop by: what would you like to see out of my reviewing? Do comparison clips really interest you? Would you prefer that I show off some of the more out-of-the-ordinary features of various modelers, including amp models that are only present in THAT modeler and no other? Do you want me to put up some clips showing all of the dirt pedals in a modeling plug-in? Or would you find it helpful for me to document the process of creating patches and achieving a few different sonic goals?

Any of those options, or any suggestions you have, I’ll be happy to listen and think on them. I want this to be a good resource for everyone who is interested in the topic. I’m fortunate to be able to review these great products alongside eachother like this, and whatever I can do to make it as fun and useful for you as it is for me, I’ll be happy to consider.

So talk to me if you want to have a hand in shaping the trajectory of this review blog!

Marshall Madness 1

February 8, 2009

Marshall Madness!

The goal here is to offer a comprehensive, experimentally controlled demonstration of the various programs’ Marshall models. All of them. Of which there are, oh, I don’t know, a lot. In order to obtain as much control over these as possible, as usual I’ve used the same dry track on all of them, and tweaked them by ear against clips of the real amp they’re modeling to try to obtain a realistic and useful sound. Since all of these programs address effects differently and that isn’t part of this review, I decided to use a couple of free VST effects on the Master rather than using individual programs’ effects (which would also seriously disadvantage Studio Devil Virtual Guitar Amp, as it is an amps-only modeler and has no effects). Therefor all of these tracks feature the same delay and reverb, provided by the awesome Classic series of plugins (Classic Delay, Classic Reverb). I was going for “subtle” reinforcement rather than overt wash-of-reverb or megadelay, which should let the amps themselves show what they can do more effectively. So without further ado, here we go, part one…

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Fender Comparison 1

February 8, 2009

Fender Comparison Part 1: Twins and Bassmen, Oh My!

As usual, first, the clips.

Fender Bassman Clips – These clips start with a clean patch, and then after I finish playing some clean stuff, I switch to an overdrivable patch. Finally, I kick in my Vox&Joe Satriani Satchurator pedal to see how the overdrivable patch responds to being really slammed.

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Freebie High Gain Comparison 1

February 8, 2009

There are a wealth of free amp modeling plugins on the net. I’ve worked with nearly all of them at this point, and this review is by no means comprehensive, but here are a few of them. I’ll be posting another review that covers some of the other ones, such as Aradaz’s amps and Nick Crowe’s Wagner plugins, but for now these are the plugins in use:

Voxengo’s Boogex plugin,
BTE Audio’s Juicy77 and Tube Screamer’s Secret,
Simulanalog’s JCM900 and TubeScreamer plugins,
FrettedSynth’s VST FreeAmp 2 SE.

Anyway, I’m not going to go into a lot of detail on these clips, as it’s really just an attempt to show you that you can get passably good high gain tone without spending anything if you’re pinched. The next freebie review will cover some of the very high quality plugins available, including those featured on Dimi Nalbantov’s excellent guitar instrumental albums.

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Voices of Vox (Amplitube 2, ReValver MkIII, Guitar Rig 3, Waves GTR Solo)

February 8, 2009

Voices of Vox

First, of course,

The clips!

Vox AC30TB Clean, with a brief Satch pedal improv outro to demonstrate how the clean amp takes pedals

Amplitube 2

Guitar Rig 3

ReValver MkIII

I debated whether or not to run the pedal on this clean track at all, since it’s supposed to be a clean demo, but in the end I thought it would be useful to demonstrate how the amps respond to pedal input. To me, an amp’s responsiveness to dynamic, real input is just as important as how it behaves with its own modeled pedals and effects. I am a huge fan of dirt pedals, wahs, etc., as I’ve mentioned before, and if the amp modelers can’t make use of my collection the way that a real amp could, in my opinion something is wrong with the modeler.

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