IK Multimedia has a long history in amp modeling. They were pioneers in working with amp makers to offer products that carry the official brand of the amp they’re modeling and the manufacturer’s approval. They had already done products with THD Electronics and Ampeg, but I remember how big of a deal it was at the time back in 2008 that Fender was on board for then-upcoming Amplitube Fender. When it came out in 2009, it sounded great. It was a big step forward in quality and realism for IKMM, and was my go-to for demos for years thanks to how well the models worked with pedals and other gear.
The pinnacle of tone is a moving target. Time marches on. Technology improves. There have been a number of modeling advancements in IK Multimedia’s Amplitube software since 2009, and after buying the MESA/Boogie pack last year and experiencing many of the improvements brought by IK Multimedia’s time and effort, I was excited when I read about a new collaboration between Fender and IK. This time, the two companies have focused their efforts away from effects and other accoutrements and toward bringing out a killer collection of amps and matching cabinets, modeled as accurately as possible using their most recent technological advancements. Has IK Multimedia pushed the envelope even further for 2017 with Amplitube Fender Collection 2? Read on!
From Whence They Came
Except for two models covered below, the amps modeled in Amplitube Fender Collection 2 come from Fender’s ’57 Custom series which offers refined versions of Fender’s classic tweed-covered amps from the late 1950s, with a few circuit updates that make them a better fit for 2017. Some may gripe that they aren’t in each case using the original, now difficult to source parts and have instead opted for current-generation alternatives and custom-made electronics. They are certainly using a number of classic design touches, from overbuilt cabinet construction to hand-wiring and even specially designed speakers.
For those of us who do much of our amp collecting in the digital world? Fender’s partnership with IKMM means that we can plug in and record tones that run the gamut from classic, shimmering cleans to seriously tuned-up distortion when you crank ’em. I’ve ran a few different guitars into each of the amps now and I am taken by how much detail there is in the dirt when you crank these models. In general these models respond to volume knob adjustments as well as anything I’ve ever used in the digital realm.
None of these amps have a ton of clean headroom, true to the originals. They all have great clean tones at the lower to mid ranges of the volume knob, but they get overdriven pretty quickly. Those who haven’t had the pleasure of playing older Fender gear may be surprised at just how much these amp models will distort your guitar’s signal when cranked – they’re hot! It’s incredibly easy to get into early Clapton territory, or jam out some Neil Young style rock n’ roll.
Particularly Outstanding Tones
The Fender tweed tones here are faithful as can be. Between the models included you have a great representation of the surprising range of Fender amp sounds. On board is the ’57 Custom Champ, simple to work with and with a sound that works surprisingly often in a mix for such a little amp – as true digitally as physically. Sims of this quality help to erode the latter distinction. If you’re using hardware that can deliver low latency, you’ll probably be as impressed as I’ve been at how much plugging into this model collection within Amplitube 4 feels like plugging into a real amplifier with tubes warmed up and ready to go.
They’ve got an outstanding ’57 Custom Deluxe model with a singing tone when pushed. I found it could even edge into a little Eric Johnson territory with the right supporting gear. Those who have invested in the Amplitube Custom Shop gear over the years will find that several of these amps are dynamite with pedals, too. A fuzz pedal in front of the Bandmaster model rips! I can’t decide whether I prefer how the Bandmaster or the Pro-Amp sounds with pedals, but they’re both great platforms to work with. I like that the Pro-Amp has a 15″ speaker – there aren’t many great sounding 15″ speaker amps in the digital world overall, but I’m a fan of the slightly rolled back highs and punchy low-mids grunt they can offer. It’s gotta be a good sign when the things that stand out about an amp model are the same things that stand out about the real amp!
On models that feature on-board spring reverb or tremolo, you’ll find the amps faithfully recreate those behaviors. For those that don’t, though, the Fender ’63 Spring Reverb from the 2009 Amplitube Fender (available now a la carte in the Custom Shop or in the prior Fender Collection) fits in perfectly. I prefer to have it in Amplitube 4’s new “Insert” slot so that it fits in the amp model itself, before the cabinet. Try pairing the ’63 Spring Reverb with the ’57 Custom Twin Amp model and I bet you’ll like it – the Twin-Amp, being faithful to the original, has no built-in reverb, but it’s a blast to play with a great deal of hair on the tone as you crank the volume. It’ll get you in that “my amp’s gonna blow!” territory where the sound just has a little extra, without killing your ears in the bargain (and no maintenance!).
IK has included models of the ’65 Super Reverb and even an original ’53 Bassman model which can switch at the touch of a button between a well played and worn-in model with cosmetics to match, or the same amp but in “New Old Stock” condition with a less worn circuit and speaker and spotless tweed.
It’s a neat effect – IKMM has always been good with GUIs – and I appreciate the option, as the two modes behave differently. As you’d probably expect, the worn amp model is darker, with a softer drive feel and less pronounced highs, but mic it up right in the cabinet sim and it will sing – the “New” condition one boogies, with a brighter tone and a little less sag when playing harder.
The ’65 Super Reverb model is a stand-out as well, with some of the most authentic sounding “Black face” Fender tones I’ve ever heard from a modeling setup. Here are the pristine cleans with that trademark shimmer, and singing drive when you push the amp harder. The model features a great sounding spring reverb on-board as well as a superb built-in tremolo effect. It’s trivially easy to dial in a bluesy tone on this model, but its range is suitable for a variety of musical styles.
As mentioned earlier all of the amps here excel to different degrees at volume knob cleanup. This one is particularly good at it – in the following clip the amp’s settings are as above, and I roll the volume knob for my bridge humbucker down as I play a simple chord progression. Real tube amps tend to clean up well with the volume knob, so hearing such a warm and full tone with the highs still present and accounted for as the drive smoothly gives way to cleaner reproduction is a big mark in Amplitube Fender Collection 2’s favor.
I was saying last year that I hoped that IK Multimedia would re-visit their relationship with Fender some day, and I have to say I am not disappointed – these amp models have a lot to offer and feel great to play. They perform well on their own, but also combine well with other gear from the Custom Shop, and expand the tonal options for users considerably. IK Multimedia have put out a good candidate for their best effort so far, delivering some startlingly dynamic, responsive, sweet sounding driven tones from amps that have beautiful cleans to begin with.
Amplitube Fender Collection 2 offers a variety of sound that I think will be a pleasant surprise to those who have not heard much of the older Fenders, and which is a warm invitation to those who know they love the classic tweed tones. I appreciate the inclusion of the original Bassman and the ’65 Super Reverb as they expand the range of the collection even further than the varied amps of the ’57 Custom series.
Again and again when evaluating the models in this collection I found myself having to remember to make notes germane to computers – to amp modeling – when my inclination was to jam and make some music with these rockin’ amps. Amplitube Fender Collection 2, with good supporting hardware of course, feels a lot like playing into a real cranked amp, even at modest recording volumes that wouldn’t wake someone in an adjacent room. The graphical user interface is accessible and straightforward, with a workflow seemingly designed to be intuitive for anyone who has ever recorded an amp while offering excellent flexibility in constructing patches.
It’s a great software package, and I recommend it for any fans of Fender amps (or just good, classic tone!). It’s rare to get this kind of responsiveness from a modeling rig. The amps from the collection are available to demo free of charge and to purchase individually in the Custom Shop, which may make more sense for those after only one or two amps in the pack – though I don’t envy anyone trying to narrow down which one or two amps to get from such a tone-packed collection.
Price: $149.99 individually, $229.99 bundled with Amplitube 4
Availability: For sale directly from IK Multimedia via their web site or Custom Shop applicatio