By Craig Anderton
The audio example for the '57 Deluxe also includes the Fender 63 Reverb effect in Stomp A.
If you're not familiar with the backstory, here it is. In 2001 IK Multimedia introduced AmpliTube, which was the first native program to model an entire guitar setup, including effects. The follow-up was AmpliTube 2, which created a sort of template for IK guitar products to come: Eight pre-configured series/parallel/series-parallel routing options combining two sets of six stomp boxes, amps, cabs, and "rack" effects. Of course, you also got a tuner, the usual cool IK graphics, automation control, and some other extras.
This was followed by three special-purpose versions, AmpliTube Jimi Hendrix, Ampeg SVX (for bass), AmpliTube Metal, and a streamlined version for live performance called AmpliTube 2 Live. And to tie it all together, you also have X-Gear software, which comes free with the various versions of AmpliTube. X-Gear creates a "shell" for AmpliTube that lets you mix and match modules from various AmpliTubes, so you could have, for example, a Jimi Hendrix effect with a Metal amp and a cabinet from AmpliTube 2. Also, there's StompIO - a rugged, extremely capable footswitch controller for real-time control over all this virtual gear.
The latest addition to the family is AmpliTube Fender. But this isn't just your typical emulation of Fender amps; Fender began working with IK on a collaboration two years ago, making AmpliTube Fender the only Fender amp sim that's officially approved by Fender itself.
As you can get all the specs, pricing, and features from IK's web site, we'll concentrate on applications and - of course - audio examples. Note that the screen shot for each amp shows the settings for audio examples using that amp.
AmpliTube Fender works as a cross-platform plug-in for VST, AU, and RTAS hosts, or in stand-alone mode if you want to load it in a laptop and treat the AmpliTube/StompIO combo as a very cool guitar setup. The software has three oversampling options (for the stompboxes, preamps, and amps) that can be enabled for sweeter distortion sounds, or disabled to save CPU power. There's also a "high resolution" mode that improves the overall "feel," for lack of a better term. (By the way, call me crazy, but I think amp sims in general - not just AmpliTube Fender - can justify recording at 96kHz. With heavy distortion, the higher sample rate seems to give a creamier, more natural sound.)
Enabling all these options and running at a high sample rate means serious CPU consumption, but remember: An amp sim plug-in affects a track's dry recorded signal, so you can alter the amp settings at any time. As a result, it's not a big deal to bounce the processed signal to another track but if you want to change the sound, simply re-insert the sim, edit the sound, and bounce again.
Of course, you'll also want a fast computer to minimize latency - I find that 6ms or so of input latency (12ms round-trip, or total, latency) is not a problem, and most modern computers with decent interface drivers can do that. Once the round-trip latency gets over 20ms, I find the delay distracting. (I tested AmpliTube Fender with the Sonar V-Studio system, using a 144 sample buffer.)
Here's the Deluxe Reverb screen shot.
This shows a Fender Bassman's cabinet being miked, with the mic on-axis and set to "near."
You can download a demo version from the IK web site that will work for 10 days, so there's no point in going too far into the details - but we'll cover the basics.
Each stomp section allows adding up to six effects, and the amps have the same controls as the amps being modeled. The cabinets include nine miking options, with a choice of off-axis or on-axis response, near or far placement, and an ambience control. You can also bypass the cabinet, just in case you want to use everything except the cab, and run the output through a physical cabinet so you can get the "air-pushing" feel of real speakers. There are also two effects racks that are intended to provide the kind of functionality you'd get from adding effects in the studio.
Fender was never known as an effects powerhouse, and AmpliTube Fender isn't, either. I'll get my main complaint out of the way: Why isn't the tremolo effect available separately from the amps? While I appreciate authenticity (amps with tremolos have tremolos, amps without don't), Fender's tremolo sound is so iconic it deserves to be available separately.
What you do get are six well-known Fender effects (with, I might add, excellent emulation): Fuzz Wah pedal, Tape Echo, Fender Blender, Volume pedal, Fender Phaser, and Fender 63 Reverb. I wish the reverb dwell time could be made a bit shorter, but that's not a huge problem.
Compression before the amp chain is conspicuous by its absence (I often want compression ahead of the amp to give a more responsive kind of distortion), but still, the effects pretty much cover the basics. There are also IK's "rack" effects you can add downstream from the amp: Phaser, Flanger, Tape Echo, Chorus, Wah, Compressor, and Pitch Shifter. Note there's no rack reverb effect; granted, if you're using AmpliTube Fender with a host program, you almost certainly have a reverb available. Still, I would have liked a "studio" reverb as well as a spring model as part of the package.
The Pitch Shifter isn't a "hi-fi" model, but more like the old ADA Harmony Synthesizer or MXR Pitch Transposer, including a pre-delay so you can get climbing and descending arpeggios - very cool. Having sold both my ADA and MXR pitch transposers a while back, it was a pleasant (and unexpected) bonus to get those sounds back.
The stomp effects can also be controlled via MIDI or Stomp I/O, which allows for more expressive use of the effects.
The MetalHead models one of Fender's more recent offerings.
Aside from the "realistic" features, there are some other goodies. In addition to the tuner, there are pan, volume, phase, and mix controls when blocks like amps or cabinets are used in parallel. These parallel options provide some of the spacious, wide-open stereo sounds featured in some of the AmpliTube Fender presets. There's also a noise gate, and in stand-alone mode, a metronome as well as a phrase trainer/file player with variable pitch and tempo.
At this point, I'm sure the question on everyone's mind is whether we're really getting a Fender sound. But let me preface my evaluation with two comments.
First, before I stopped using guitar amps and went over to keyboard amps, then evolved into going direct through modelers, Fender amps were my amp of choice. I've spent a lot of years playing through (in particular) their Twin Reverb, mid-60s Bassman, and Bandmaster amps. Why? Well, I always liked the "tightness" and clarity of the Fender sound. I also liked the way you could overdrive them in a "brash" sort of way. They also fit in my car! So basically, the sound of Fender amps is burned into my brain.
Second, I'm not a big fan of using amp sims to emulate specific amps. To me, the true value of an amp sim is being able to make sounds that you can't make by miking a "real" amp. I've always felt that if you really want the sound of, say, an AC-30, then mic an AC-30 because no sim will sound exactly like that amp. But if you want the sound of an AC-30 being fed with an effects chain that consists of step-sequenced synth filter effects in parallel with a Twin Reverb being further split into stereo via a Fender cabinet coupled with a Marshall cabinet...well, that's when amp sims are the ideal solution - and the results won't be compared to "the real thing" because there is no "real thing." You accept the sound for what it is, and frankly, I've gotten some sounds with amp sims that (at least to my ears) are way better than what I could have gotten by trying to create the same setup with actual hardware.
Having a model of a smaller "practice" amp like the Pro Junior is a very useful addition to the arsenal of amp sims.
The Supersonic amp provides some excellent "crunched" sounds.
So, bearing all that in mind, the answer to "is it really a Fender?" is yes: The sims do indeed sound like Fenders, not just in terms of tone but perhaps more importantly, in terms of "character." I would assume that having Fender involved, and looking over the shoulders of IK's programmers, accounts for much of this; but also, IK's modeling technology is quite mature by this point.
I've always felt there is no best amp sim for the same reason there is no best guitar amp - amp sim designers are every bit as individual as amp designers. There are sounds I can get out of NI's Guitar Rig that I can't get out of Waves GTR which has sounds I can't get from AmpliTube...which has sounds I can't get from Guitar Rig or GTR. Far from being a problem, I see this as providing a rich palette of options that has radically changed the way I approach guitar.
However, although AmpliTube Fender is about respecting tradition, it wisely uses the Fender sound as a base to add effects and other options that go way beyond physical amps. There are plenty of presets that having nothing to do with traditional Fender sounds, but nonetheless retain a very "Fenderish" quality. For me, this is the real turn-on about AmpliTube Fender: That it has the flexibility to get truly adventurous within the confines of the "Fender sandbox."
It's the sound that launched a thousand singles: The Twin Reverb, but in virtual form.
The Vibro-King amped is being miked with a "condenser" mic; the mics can contribute very different "flavors."
Those familiar with the AmpliTube product family know that IK has its act together when it comes to amp sims. AmpliTube Fender is no exception, and it really does get the Fender sound. Of course, the standard cautions apply: Make sure you're not overloading the sound internally (it produces nasty digital distortion instead of the nice amp sim distortion), remember that you'll likely need to tweak the presets because they weren't designed with your guitar, pickup choice, and playing style in mind, and that making changes in how the cabinets are miked can make a huge difference in the overall sound. So, experiment!
You can almost smell the Tolex on this Vibroverb.
To put things in perspective, if I could choose only one AmpliTube, it probably wouldn't be AmpliTube Fender (unless I was a 100\% full-on Fender fanatic): I'd still choose AmpliTube 2 because of its wide variety of sounds. But if you're a Fender enthusiast with the bucks to add a second AmpliTube family member, AmpliTube Fender is a great addition. In this scenario, X-Gear is the "secret weapon" as it basically turns your system into a super-modeler with all the AmpliTube 2 and AmpliTube Fender options. However, if you're new to amp modeling, AmpliTube Fender might be ideal: It's $100 less street price than AmpliTube 2, but provides a really well-rounded collection of sounds.
A lot of how I feel about a product relates to how much fun I had using it, and whether I found it inspirational or not. While doing the audio demos, I had a blast - particularly with respect to re-discovering all those vintage Fender sounds that defined so many classic rock and roll records. This is cool stuff; download the demo, and judge for yourself.
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.