Amplitube Fender Collection 2 Review

March 2, 2017

fendercollection2_main_image_20161121IK 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! Read the rest of this entry »


V-Picks Have Landed. Some thoughts, and a clip!

February 16, 2011

All v-picks have arrived. Work very busy this week, but nonetheless I am going to try to at the very least do an audio demo quickie to show that they bring out different sounds when strumming and when playing single notes, both clean and overdriven.

Ah, I may be passing on the Medium Rounded and Medium Pointed next week, since the 4.1mms really, really do it for me, I guess I’ll try to get clips of them done soon so the $4 lineup has a part in the thing. They’re nice, but the $10 ones are pricier for a reason imo, really, really comfortable to play. It takes a bit of getting used to, and A/Bing between a Big Stubby and the acrylic V-Picks (of any variety) shows that it isn’t that the Big Stubby sucks or anything, it’s just that the V-Picks are way more comfortable for me and have a sound I like.

My general impression so far is that the 4.1mm V-Picks’ sound is similar or different as follows:

A.) pointed or rounded tips sound more like other pointed or rounded tips. The strongest difference of kind is here; within the “pointed / rounded” distinction it’s more difference of degree, and can be subtle.

B.) there is a sonic quality to the attack that buffed picks have, and a notably different one that unbuffed have. The buffed picks slide the string out of the way while the unbuffed picks are rougher and drag/push the string out of the way. You can feel the difference playing and it’s pretty noticeable to the ear, too.

C.) specific bevel characteristics beyond just “pointed” or “rounded” influence the sound, but less so than “pointed” in general and “rounded” in general. So a slightly rounded bevel sounds different than a really rounded bevel, and a slightly pointed bevel sounds different than a really pointed bevel, but they will sound either “pointed” or “rounded” first.

So, for example, I have a Snake Pointed Buffed that has a very similar bevel to the Diamond Pointed Buffed, and the main difference between them is that the Diamond is a smaller pick while the Snake is a larger pick, not a huge sonic difference. The part of the plectrum that makes contact with the string is similar on the two and so there’s not a whole lot of difference in the sound. But I have a Snake Unbuffed with a more rounded edge, and it sounds totally different than either of those. I have a Dimension Buffed and it sounds pretty different since it is less pointed and also has a built-in offset to the plectrum’s sharper edge, sort of like you’re tilting the pick but without tilting the pick. That imparts a difference. But for straight-up “pointed edge” picks, probably more a question of comfort. If you like bigger picks, the Snake Pointed is preferable to the Diamond Pointed for comfort reasons.

Here’s what I was thinking for the demo, something like the following clip but with a video to show what’s being played when, going through all 8 of the ones I have here (the two $4 ones and the 6 $10 ones). In this clip, I have just two – a Pointed Diamond Buffed followed by an Snake Rounded Unbuffed. This isn’t the most prominently differing pair but these are two of my favorites. The Diamond is little, somewhat bigger than a Jazz III, while the Snake is bigger than a Big Stubby. Both are 4.1mm thick.

Format is straightforward – first I play something with the Diamond, then I play something with the Snake. Have a listen.

I have become a V-Picks enthusiast, and if you like thick picks, you might too if you give ’em a shot.

February 4, 2011

I’ve got two V-Picks and I’m getting two more! Hooray, something I can post about!

(here is a picture I found of a bunch of them, why not?)

Background info: I’ve played Dunlop Stubbies and Big Stubbies pretty much exclusively for the last several years. There were some deficiencies in them – a tendency to get pretty slippery when you start really digging in, leading to me scoring whatever one I was actively playing at the time with a grid pattern on the “grip” of the big stubbies to try to give a little more for the fingers to hold on to – but I enjoyed the very deliberate articulation that their mass allowed, and so I put up with the issues. It seemed like a pretty fair compromise, since lighter picks and flatter picks just never played as well for me. But it did always still feel like a compromise.

Welp, done with that now!

It turns out I was compromising unnecessarily. I’ve known about V-Picks for a long time but never considered actually trying them until recently. I guess there are a few reasons, mainly that the actual plectrum edge on the Dunlops wears out more quickly than I like and then makes the pick as a whole less articulate and more susceptible to drag on the strings and move toward my wrist, despite my efforts to make them have a less slippy grip, but when I lived in central AR I was near music stores that carried them so I could just have them on hand for when the last one wore out and be good to go. Well, now if they wear out I have to either make a minimum of a three hour round trip to get new ones or order them online. The main advertised quality is that they grip extremely well, but apart from that the V-Picks are supposed to be less susceptible to wearing as quickly (I’ve got testimony from a couple people I trust that they’re more durable than most picks, and it makes sense, the material and the bevel on them are both very high quality). I’m down to two packs of stubbies now, which would last me a while but not forever, and anyway I was curious so I figured I’d try out the V-Pick thing.

I called Vinni and he recommended two to try out, the Medium Rounded and Medium Pointed. They’re part of the “standard” lineup of V-Picks and are equilateral, so while they do cost twice the individual price of a Dunlop Big Stubby, they have three times the usable plectrum edge. The rounded ones are rounded, the pointed ones are pointy, and “medium” in V-Picks language means 2.75mm which is pretty comfortable to me, just slightly thinner than I’m used to.

I got them in and was pretty much immediately sold on the whole idea. The whole “grip” thing is absolutely true. I don’t have to destructively mod them to try to get them to stay put, they just do. There’s some adjustment to the different shape, just to be expected with any new pick, but it wasn’t very long, and the comfort of the grip really knocked me out. The edge type makes a really distinct difference in the sound. It turns out that I like the pointed variety better, they are every bit as articulate as the Stubbies but they play much easier. The distinct tip is very articulate; I can get more motion but there’s nothing at all that prevents me from playing softly. The rounded version is clearly a high quality pick, too, but I just prefer the tip on the pointed one. I think this set would be perfect for anyone who wants to see what the fuss is about, because it lets you feel the difference in the grip, get accustomed to the thicker pick, and lets you hear and feel the difference between two especially distinct varieties of the tips that he offers in the product line, at safe-bet prices.

So, having received two picks with three identical edges for longevity, picks which are well-reputed to be very durable anyway, one of which has already proved awesome for my needs… the obvious choice was to go ahead and order two more from the $10 a piece, 4.10mm-thick premium line! I figure in for a penny with a boutique pick, in for a pound, and from talking to him I get the impression that Vinni’s a really nice guy who cares a lot about his product quality and wants you to be happy with your decision. He tried to talk me out of buying any premium picks before I had a week with the ones I’ve got, but where’s the fun in that? I could get hit by a flying toilet seat and end up a grim reaper or something, I want to step it up quickly. So, I’ve got two of the premium picks headed my way now:

A Dimension (Buffed), and a Snake (Pointed). I’m really looking forward to the thicker picks, as comfortable as the 2.75mm picks are I can only imagine how easy the grip will be on the thicker ones, and they both have a similar edge quality to the pointed one that I like so much.

I know initially the concept of “boutique” picks sounds silly, but the main line of products are perfectly affordable considering the advantages they have over the Big Stubbies and how much those have been costing me due to wear; maybe the $10 ones seem a little silly to some, but I for one am a big fan of thick picks and I finally got tired of some issues my pick of choice was giving me. I found a great option that’s durable with very nice qualities for not a lot more in the Medium Pointed V-Picks at $4 a piece (plus $3 shipping that covers as many as will fit in the envelope, buy a few to justify the shipping charge and you’re probably set for life so long as you don’t have guitarist friends who steal your picks). So I’ll spend my tenner how I want, and I really can’t wait to get in the premiums. I imagine they are going to be some seriously comfortable picks.

I’ll update when they get in to let you know what I think, and I’ll be happy to answer any questions about the ones I have, if anyone is curious. They’re really different from each other in how they feel and sound thanks to the very different edges, though the grip is more or less identical since they’re the same thickness and material. 

Four fantastic freeware tools: SonEQ, NastyDLA, LeCto and TSE 808

November 5, 2010

First, Sonimus SonEQ 1.1
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SonEQ v1.1 is a superb, Windows AND Mac compatible preamp and equalization plugin that draws on some “vintage” flavor but with very effective controls and a crisp, modern look. Check it out at’s Download page! (That page is bilingual, but much of the site is in the developer’s native Spanish, great opportunity to put that 2-year language requirement to use!), There aren’t many cross-platform freebies around, but this continues the tendency for cross-platform freeware to be rather exceptional. Definitely a commercial-quality plugin, I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually the developer does release some commercial software. Try it and believe. You might notice that 1.1 looks pretty different from version 1.0; there were a number of improvements made (in a really short period of time, too, kudos to the developer) and a new GUI was added to highlight some of them. The “Drive” component is great, you should definitely give it a whirl and see what it can add to your track. “Woow” is a sort of psychoacoustic enhancement, gives a little bit extra perceived punch and clarity to the track. In my opinion the Drive section’s “WooW” function offers the same level of enhancement that, say, the BBE Sonic Maximizer is intended to offer, with the bonus that it’s free AND it’s just one small part of one single component in a really nice, robust, cross-platform EQ. Very cool.

Second, VarietyOfSound NastyDLA

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NastyDLA is Windows only as usual for the developer, but it really, really shines. Sorry, Mac guys. Bootsie, with no regard for “saving it” for any upcoming developer challenges – he won last year’s KVR Dev Challenge with FerricTDS – has released what I am finding to be easily the best freeware tape delay simulators, competitive with commercial tape delay simulators for sound quality: NastyDLA! Read the manual before use. I can’t believe it – you’ll probably think I’m dumber for hearing it – but this is actually the first time I’ve consulted one of Bootsie’s manuals, because I had a bit of confusion over how the knobs functioned. I found out that I’ve really been missing out. Bootsie’s straightforward explanations manage to take very abstract signal processing concepts and make them easily accessible to any user, without going on forever or meandering. A manual that could teach some of the big software companies a thing or two. But, hey, now I’m going on – the basic idea behind NastyDLA is to use what he created in FerricTDS (Tape Dynamics Simulator) to make a realistic, great sounding, versatile tape delay plugin. I am personally a huge fan of the way that tape delays sound, and I can comfortably say that he’s managed to capture something here that would fit right in with great tape delay plugins from commercial makers. Not to mention I’m sure he’s got more in store for the plugin, he’s not the kind of developer to rest on his laurels and there have already been a number of additional feature requests (including one from me, crossing my fingers he puts mine in). Another really high quality plugin from one of freeware’s true golden devs.

Third, LePou Plugins LeCto
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From the excellent freeware developer LePou, the LeCto high-gain amp sim is inspired by an American high-gain amp with a similar name. LePou’s credentials in amp modeling are very well established already, so you should know that you can expect extraordinary quality rivaling commercial plugins. It’ll need a cabinet IR after it for best results; LePou previously came up with an excellent freeware cabinet IR loader, LeCab, so nab it if you don’t have a preferred cabinet sim. Right now, all of his plugins are Windows only, BUT! He got a Mac last month, and he has expressed interest in porting many of his plugins to Mac VST or AU. I know there’s a real lack of cross-platform freeware due to the powerful development tools that Windows users have in SynthMaker and SynthEdit (granted, a lot of garbage comes out thanks to them, too – that’s just the nature of widely available toolsets – but the real stars of SM and SE, people like Bootsie and Ken at AcmeBarGig, write everything important in assembly and use SynthMaker for simplifying GUI elements and other such tasks). It would be fantastic if LePou were able to port his body of work over to the Mac side of things. One thing the developer notes, as is common with the amp that is being modeled in LeCto, you can get a really focused, aggressive tone by throwing a Tubescreamer up front to boost and tighten the signal. Enter…

Fourth, Onqel’s TSE 808
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TSE 808 is a plugin that isn’t super new, having been released in late September,  but which I haven’t commented on yet. Apologies, readers, especially because I believe to be decisively the best Tubescreamer emulation made so far. Download it here: Onqel’s TSE 808. It took awhile, but BTE Audio’s TubeScreamerSecret no longer holds the throne for most authentic TubeScreamer. This thing ROCKS. If you need a boost to go in front of an amp model, you need this plugin. Who knows what the future holds, but for now, this is the business! Again, Windows only, sorry Mac guys. At least you’ve got Core audio while we’re fooling around with troublesome ASIO, that’s some consolation, right?

I’m back, baby! Hardware I’ve got recently, and plans for the immediate future!

September 1, 2010

Got a few things coming!

First, from the Harmony Central Effects Forum’s own resident psychedelic madman Robopimp, a MOSFET boost pedal with his “OPM” artwork on top:

The gourd was not included in the purchase. 😦

Second, a pair of Wamplers that I’ll be reviewing. I have very high expectations based on my experiences with the Plextortion, Super Plextortion, and Triple Recstortion (which was a limited run, now he has the Triple Wreck to do the same tones and also a neat high-gain fuzz thing)- I’m very interested to see if these pedals pull it off as well as those ones do.

1. The new Black ’65 Overdrive, aimed at getting classic Fender clean and overdriven tones. No COSM here

2. A Plexidrive, a pedal I get asked about pretty often because I reviewed the Plextortion and Super Plextortion and people seem to want to know how this one compares. Well, I couldn’t tell them before, but now I’ll be able to.

So what else is new? Well, I’ve got a Digitech Hot Head Distortion

Pretty cool pedal, similar but not identical to some dirts in the Ibanez Soundtank distortion family. Digitech has cool pedal designers working for them. I’ve used this pedal before, and I don’t have anything else in my collection that has a similar sound. It’s less fizzy than a DS-1, in no small part thanks to the separate High and Low EQ controls that let you dial in the tone better than a stock DS-1’s tone knob.

I parted with my old Bad Monkey on good terms, and this is another quality pedal in the series. In fact, I think the Bad Monkey, the Hot Head Distortion, and the Screamin’ Blues (all pedals in the same series, along with the less awesome Death Metal and one-trick pony Grunge) are all three good pedals. They’re not particularly high tech, they don’t have the most transparent buffers around, but their buffers aren’t bad and can handle a line level signal without clipping like crazy (unlike, for example, Danelectro’s pedals) and their sturdy construction helps to ensure that they’ll keep making noises you like for as long as you own ’em. I think all three of the above mentioned pedals have b-stock units on sale at Zzounds right now, though the Bad Monkey only has one b-stock available. It’s been my experience that Zzounds’ b-stock products are every bit as good as anything you’ll buy new. I’ve owned several b-stock pedals, processors, and even some speakers from Zzounds and I’ve never had any issues at all (and if you do, their customer service has been great in my experience).

If you’re looking for a dirt pedal, you could do a lot worse than this, and it’s on sale cheap. I’ll be doing a more thorough review of it for FrugalGuitarist very soon, possibly published as early as next Monday. I’ll also be reviewing the …

Digitech Screamin Blues!

That’s right, another cheap dirt pedal. Hey, even though I’ve got some good OD pedals that I love dearly, I don’t have any BD-2 overdrives! Interesting to me is that it is basically a clone of the Boss BD-2, except instead of a Tone knob it has a Low and High EQ knob. That changes a lot about the sound, but it still has the same fundamental character of the Boss BD-2 and that makes it a very nice sounding low-gain overdrive for a very good price. I got it for $44ish from Zzounds. A BD-2 with more powerful tone shaping for less money. You’re not guaranteed to prefer it to the BD-2, by any means, but it is an excellent option if you find yourself a fan of the sound but without the extra money for the BD-2… Or if you want to try something that’s a bit of a different take on the same flavor.

You know… I mentioned the Bad Monkey I had earlier. I sold it about a year ago, and now I miss it, because I kind of feel like it ought to be in the little family of Digitech’s inexpensive analog pedals I’m putting together here. I might have to pick one up, to fill in the gap. They make an excellent trio. They even have rudimentary, separate cabinet simulated outputs for going direct to the board. They’re not going to knock your socks off with their authenticity but it’s a pretty cool feature that even works when the pedal is bypassed. If disaster strikes at a gig, it could save the day.

I also picked up another pedal not long ago when my wife and I were visiting family in central AR from my hut down in extreme southern AR. Of course I stopped in at my favorite music stores. Mostly the idea was to pick up strings; none of my guitars have had a string change in over a year now, and while I’ve grown to quite like the sound and feel of “worn in” strings, there’s a difference between “worn in” and “worn out” that a few of them are reeeally starting to show. Since returning I’ve started the process of re-stringing them, and also reconditioning the rosewood fretboards, some of which very badly needed it. I’m lucky there aren’t cracks.

Anyway, while I was poking around, I noticed that one of the shops had an MXR Zakk Wylde signature OD. I had my buddy the shop-keeper throw it in with $60 worth of strings for a pretty steep discount, came to about $85 total. Here’s a shiny picture of a new one; mine shows stage wear but is in perfect electrical shape.

I’m not really a fan of Zakk Wylde or anything, but a well made signature pedal for less than $30 was kind of a no-brainer.

Electronically, it’s basically a modded Boss SD-1. That was Zakk Wylde’s pedal of choice and when he got an offer for a signature pedal, seems they decided to basically start there and tweak a bit then put his signature and a premium on the result. My ears (and a few glimpses of the schematic) tell me it differs primarily in the tone shaping itself, with more highs and a much lower cutoff point in its frequency curve compared to the classic TS-1 or the SD-1. I mean, there’s basically a diode’s difference between the SD-1 and the TS-1 to begin with… Anyway, it’s a really nice sounding pedal. Not complicated or difficult to work with, plays nice with any of my amps or amp sims and sounds better (to my ears) than a tubescreamer or an SD-1 through a clean channel, too. The extended frequency range does mean that upper harmonics make it through pretty well, good for the squealies that the dude has made his career with, but also perhaps more noise-prone as a result too.

Reviews generally suggest that people feel this pedal’s place is in front of an amp that’s already overdriving. Kick it in, and the amp hits eleven, or something. I don’t know, in my opinion there isn’t a dirt pedal made that won’t do that job as long as it has a gain knob and a tone knob or better. I guess if you really want to sound like Zakk Wylde you could copy his rig and with this get the exact sound he drunkenly plays live with. Well, that’s fine, not for me – I brought it back to where we’re staying and plugged my customized Japanese strat into it. With singles it is really, really responsive and lively, characteristics you can expect from any well-made TS variant (look, I’ve owned a lot of overdrives, right, there are differences that matter in some ways but at the end of the day a dirt pedal either works musically or it doesn’t, and this one is definitely based on a thoroughly proved “working” circuit). You can set it up at a little under half its gain and get a pretty good range of dirt by just playing lightly or digging in; you can crank it for a much more saturated sound. Since it lets more lows through by default, you’ll probably want to keep your tone control set no lower than the midpoint or else you run the risk of squaring out your lower notes, sounds really bad with chords. I spent a little time getting to know it and it wasn’t long before I had it figured out for use by itself or kicking the crap out of another dirt pedal or overdriving amp. It works well like that. It’s simple and reliable, much like the circuit that inspired it, but again with a cool thing of its own thanks to the wider frequency response.

I kind of don’t like comparing pedals to amps unless they were specifically made to emulate this or that from the get-go, but if I were asked to, I’d say that if the stock Boss SD-1 sounds kind of like an old Marshall running into a 4×12 cab, restricting the frequency response somewhat and giving it a tighter low end, then the Zakk Wylde signature OD sounds more like a Bassman in a big open-backed combo. More frequencies present, for better or worse, and a different take on what is otherwise the same sound.

Anyway – I dig it, cool pedal, looks alright too. I like the bullseye motif a lot more on a little box than I do on a big guitar. I wouldn’t recommend it at new prices since it really isn’t all that different from the more affordable SD-1, but if you can pick up a used one for a good price, as far as I can tell the construction is great – the stage wear evident on mine along with its perfect electrical condition attest to that – and it has some cool mojo with its sound thanks to the extended frequency range.

I also got an ISP Decimator G-String noise reduction pedal. Strictly a utility purchase, it does the job exceptionally well. I can run ludicrous amounts of gain without any noise – and then click it all off, and still have perfect sustain. Really remarkable trick, though at $230 it is pricey for a noise management tool.

Tomorrow, some words on SOFTWARE!

That’s right, I’m bringing this blog off life support and kicking it in to full gear. I’ve got some cool stuff to post about, so stay tuned, and thanks as always to my readers for keeping the traffic going even during the long, silent stretches where I lack the inspiration or means to write.

db Audio Flying Haggis amp sim reduced from $99 to $10!

January 10, 2010

Bit busy today so this will be a fairly brief write-up for now, but I really dig this thing. $10 is a great price. I wouldn’t have bothered with it at $99 but at $10 (or even a bit higher) I think they’ve got a really solid product here. It excels at low gain and crunch tones, and the effects all sound great. With an external boost (my beloved PaulC Tim overdrive) and the OD and Distortion on Haggis dimed out, I’ve got some killer ’80s shred tones out of it. But I think it really wants to do some classic sounds instead. It’s simple, straightforward, flexible enough to get you a range of sounds but not so flexible as to be confusing. I wish there was a cabinet bypass button, but other than that I think it’s great. For $10, a total no-brainer. I recommend it, had a lot of fun playing with it last night, and I’ll try to get some clips up later today or tonight.

Buy it here, and let me know if you like it as much as I do. I mean, ten bucks, that’s a steal 🙂

Let me save you a little bit of trouble though, the purchasing system and the authorization web site are separate things. So if you register your email address and a password at the purchasing web site, it won’t work on the authorization site – you have to register again as a new customer after you enter in your serial number (if you haven’t bought from them before, anyway).  It took me a few minutes to figure that out, maybe this’ll save you those minutes.

ReCabinet Complete 2.0, my favorite guitar cab IR pack, is on sale for $14.99 indefinitely!

November 3, 2009

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Really kind of amazed, it was well worth the full price. Many of the sounds you’ve heard on this blog (when not recording software that has its own built-in cabinet simulation in a demo context) have come from combining the software out there with these great cabs. All of the freeware demo clips that I do (including a few I’m working on for this week) use ReCabinet Complete 2.0. I don’t know why it’s on sale for such a steal, but apparently it has kicked up huge interest in the product and so instead of being just a limited-time offer they’ve turned it into a fully-fledged sale indefinitely.

There are almost 2,000 cabinet IRs in this package, with lots of great cabinet/amp choices, classic mics and multiple positions for each microphone. The Recabinet Modern portion has a mixture of 4×12 and 2×12 cabinets, recorded with both an EL34 and a 6L6 power amp for the unique flavor that each contributes to the sound, making it easier to match up the right cab tone for your real amplifier’s direct out or your amp modeler’s output. Recabinet Vintage is an interesting and very pleasant collection of IRs taken through the clean pathway of classic amps, lending a beautiful coloration that complements amp modelers extremely well.

Check the product home page, they’ve got demos to download that will give you a good idea of how you’ll like the IRs!