Some have been wondering what to do about Amplitube Fender’s lack of compression and overdrive in front of the amps. While you can get the whole pre-Fender Powered-By-Amplitube suite (AT2, AT:Metal, AT:Jimi Hendrix, Ampeg SVX) for just $299 from IK’s site, there are probably still going to be plenty of people who invest in amp modeling because of Fender and don’t feel like spending another chunk of money to make it complete. While I personally would hate to give up the rest of the plugins, I definitely understand that perspective, especially in this economy. Well, one thing that people might not consider since this is supposedly the virtual, in-the-box paradigm is that you can actually use your real pedals up front and get realistic results! Run them directly into your DI. Obviously you’ll have to be more careful than levels than you might with a real amp, especially if you have a finnicky DI (StompIO, for example, can take a hefty boost and overdrive naturally thanks to its well-designed class A preamp, while Rig Kontrol 3 is a little bit daintier and you have to watch your levels lest you clip it in a not-so-pleasant way). So take care with your levels depending on your interface!
Over on KVR and elsewhere, people are bowled over by the amp quality but not everyone wants a fuzz in front of the amp, or a compressor after it. With that in mind and two brand new Musician’s Friend Stupid Deal of the Day scores in hand, I set out to test it out for me and for you (okay, that’s not totally true – I’ve used dirt in front of virtual amps many times in the past, often without telling people that the amp in a clip wasn’t real and sometimes getting funny questions like “What tubes are in the head, and what speakers in the cab?”).
The two pedals are the BBE Freq Boost treble booster and BBE Orange Squash compressor, well-built true-bypass clones of classic designs – I think the Freq Boost is a Rangemaster and I know the other is an Orange Squeezer. If you’re looking for a dirt pedal and a compressor up front, well, I’ve got good news, you can use them that way just fine. As usual, when I make a claim I don’t want it to just hang out there unsupported – I’ve got freshly recorded clips to back it up! I also decided to take this opportunity to demonstrate three amps that I feel deserve your attention, one of which I haven’t done yet at all (the ’59 Bassman). The Pro Junior was featured in a short automated Fuzz Wah demonstration, and I have spent some time with the Metalhead but it’s just such fun to play that I decided I’d use it again. Plus, compression and boosting are often weapons of the high-gain player’s arsenal, so it makes some kind of rationalized sense 🙂 For these clips, my signal path goes from my guitar to the Orange Squash to the Freq Boost to my DI.
Here’s the structure of the clips: I play the same thing three times with a pause in between each. The first time I play whatever it is, it’s with both pedals bypassed – they are genuine, 3PDT-switch true bypass pedals, so it’s just like adding a few inches of cable and nothing more when they’re bypassed. The second time I play whatever similar-sounding passage being played, the Orange Squash is engaged. The third time, both the Orange Squash and the Freq Boost are engaged. Alright, enough of that – on to the clips.
Example 1: Fender Metalhead
The guitar used here is my Fender strat with SCN pickups. They are very “single coil” pickups, noiseless but the dynamics and tonality of classic strat singles is captured flawlessly in my opinion (I swapped out a set of very real and quite noisy vintage single coils to put these in). Yes, that means the first clip here is a strat used for high gain… Sounds silly, but listen to how the Orange Squash makes it a reality. In my opinion the Freq Boost with my Strat is probably too much for the Metalhead model, which has a pretty unique treble profile. Part of the cool thing about a treble booster is that you can dial in your amp for a lower gain, somewhat darker setting to get a really thick tone, then run the treble boost full-time to tighten it up and make it really roar. This is a trick most often used by guitarists wielding humbuckers, not strat-slingers, so it might be time to put down my beloved strat and pick up one of my humbucker equipped guitars if you guys want a demo of the Metalhead that really shows it off… I might record a demo of that tomorrow, if there’s interest. I did switch around my pickups here. I used the bridge pup for most of it, but when you hear it become smoother during the (late-night, unfortunately rather sloppy) shredding I’ve switched to the neck.
Example 2: Fender Pro Junior
Alright, the second clip, this time into the Amplitube Fender Pro Junior model. Same guitar, bridge pickup, different amp. I chose the Pro Junior because it is probably the most Vox-like of all the Fender amps, with a simple two-knob (Volume, Tone) control scheme and a very harmonically rich tone. It is destined to become a favorite when you get to play it, it’s just an awesome and lively amp that’s hard to turn off when you start jamming on it.
Example 3: ’59 Bassman
Final clip for tonight, the same setup into the ’59 Bassman. This time instead of the bridge pickup I’m using position 2 (Neck+Middle for non strat guys) blended in parallel with the bridge pickup by way of a modification that was done to the guitar to allow this and other additional pickup switching options. I love this mod because the way the pickups are set up lets me get a very full sound but with plenty of sparkle and even bite, as you’ll hear. Rolling back the volume attenuates the non-bridge pickups much more sharply, so backing off from full to 8 or even 9 mixes in a substantial amount of the bridge pickup tone. I love how the Orange Squash and Freq Boost completely change the way this amp reacts – it’s a sign both that these are great pedals and that the amp model is superbly done.
Tomorrow, if there is interest… I’ll continue in this way by demonstrating some more pedals into the Fender amps. I’ve got a variety of dirt pedals so if there’s a sound you’re looking for, I can at least get close. Want to hear how these amps take distortion? Overdrive? I’ll do my best to accommodate any requests.