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Line 6 Spider Jam Guitar Amp ($500 street)


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I’m accustomed to using my amps for one thing: getting good tone. If I need complex effects or want to play along to jam tracks, I take care of all that before plugging into the amp. For example, with effects, I typically strap on a couple of stomps or a multi-effects; for tracks, I have several options: playing along with a boombox or my home stereo and some jam CDs (which separates the sound of the guitar and band), using the computer to play jam tracks (for greater selection and programmability), or hooking my audio player (DiscMan or iPod) into the amp (neither my Vox ToneLab or Line 6 Pod multi-effects offers an aux in, so I have to join outputs at the amp). None of these hook-up scenarios is ideal, as it involves setup and cabling, which can throw cold water on inspiration when I just want to play—now.

 

But Line 6 is threatening to put an end to my inefficiency with one amp that provides me with guitar tone, jamming tracks, and auxiliary inputs—including a microphone input with individual effects!

 

They do this with the Spider Jam, the newest of the several models in the Spider series.

 

SJ_002.jpg

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The Spider Jam is a single-channel guitar combo amp that boasts 75 watts, a full-range speaker system consisting of a 12" woofer and a tweeter, and is as much about features as it is the Spider sound.

 

Line 6, of course, is the amp maker that broke ground in the digital amp arena, and continued with the wildly successful Pod multi-effects series, so there are no missteps with the interface and there’s a full complement of digital sounds coming from the Spider Jam. Every tweak of a knob—and its interplay with the display—evokes a response that says, “Yeah, that makes sense,” whether the control at hand performs as expected or adjusts the parameter in a new and novel way.

 

Simply put, the Line 6 Spider Jam puts effects, jam tracks, and a recording engine in a single box, and throws in a great-sounding amp to boot. It’s just about the simplest way to get jamming into your daily practice regimen, and all you need is your guitar, a single cord, and the amp. For a really liberating experience, you can add one of Line 6’s foot controllers (e.g., the FBV Shortboard, covered later).

 

For those of you who might be thinking the Spider Jam is half amp, half Karaoke box--and neither fish nor fowl as a result--forget that bias right now. This amp stands on its own as a versatile guitar amp with great tone and effects. It just happens that the designers added on the jam features and incorporated their controls into the interface without mucking up the process of getting good guitar tone.

 

But the input section, with its XLR mic and aux jacks, does give it that Karaoke vibe, as do the large transport controls on the top panel. But a quick look at the front panel reveals all the familiar knobs and controls you’d expect from a small, single-channel combo amp—plus an effects section that includes tap tempo and an onboard tuner. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s visit the different regions of the amp.

 

SJ_001.jpg

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The best way to grok the features of the SJ is to look at the front panel, which breaks up the different roles into sections on the control panel. You can’t really see these very well in any of Line 6’s existing photos, so I’ve shot close-ups here and have provided a section-by-section tour.

 

SJ_01.jpg

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Inputs

 

This is where you plug in—and not a guitar, either. You can plug a regular three-pin XLR mic, an auxiliary input (including another guitar) and an 1/8" Stereo plug like those found on iPods, DiscMans, and other portable audio devices. The level knob controls the input of the mic jack.

 

SJ_02.jpg

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Here’s a view of the top panel, where all the rhythm controls live, and descriptions of the buttons from left to right.

 

SJ_05.jpg

 

Guitar/Mic/Aux allows you to choose what gets recorded with the rhythm tracks—the mic/aux or the guitar. Using this button, you can record just a rhythm track if you choose mic/aux first, and then overdub with your guitar. If you hold down the button, the Record Select mode appears, where you choose whether the aux should feed the guitar tone and get recorded with the guitar, or feed the Mic FX and get recorded with the mic. If your aux input is another guitar, then you’d choose the guitar-tone option.

 

Drums/Song gives you access to the song, drum kit, and record-ready mode.

Inputs/Level for song/drums balance, mic/aux/CD level; playback, overdub level; aux input recording.

 

Settings/Tone: artist, style, user presets; mic presets, mic/aux EQ, mic/aux reverb & delay; mic/aux compressor; various utilities and system settings.

 

The large knob at the right rotates to offer continuous control of parameter values, and the smaller button to its right has four compass points that you can use to select various options.

 

Save enables you to save your recording or guitar tone; erase recordings; and upgrade the firmware.

 

The big transport-style buttons below the display (REC/Overdub, [PLAY]/Stop, UNDO/Hold To Clear) perform intuitively, and also light up in different colors to indicate their status (red for record, green for play, blinking amber for tap tempo rate, etc.).

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It goes without saying that the transport buttons light up to show groove tempo and status (red=record, amber=play, etc.). They are bright and clear, so I thought just for fun, I'd show you a photo of the illuminated transport buttons taken in the dark. (Note the readability of the display, too.)

 

 

SJ_06.jpg

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Most of the amp functions are here, and it’s nice they have their own space which isn’t shared with the rhythm or input sections. From left is the Amp Models selector, which shows 6 categories, but each has two versions, indicated with a red or green light on the LED.

 

The Drive, Bass, Mid, Treble, and Channel Volume knobs allow you to shape your core sound, and the display on top gives you the exact read-out of the numeric values. Of course, you can use a pedal to change the amp model types or programmed models.

 

 

SJ_03.jpg

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Here’s the Effects section, plus the master volume and additional connections.

 

The Spider puts the mod effects first, and groups them logically. By turning the knob you select first the Chorus/Flange, and then (if you keep turning the knob) increase its effect level. If you turn the knob past the max level, it switches to the next effect (Phaser, Tremolo).

 

This is very clever and in practice works beautifully. If you want to change the effect quality (or the effect itself) you can do that via the editing menus, but the knob here offers you the quick, onstage control you’ll most often need. Note that the Delay/Echo control has its own knob as does the Reverb. Nice. The Tap Tempo button blinks at the appropriate rate, and does double duty by invoking the Tuner. Naturally, these options are available via a footpedal.

 

At the end of the line is the Master volume. This being a digital amp, you wouldn’t use this for tonal purposes (that’s what the Drive and Channel Volume are for) but to bring up or down the overall level. The jacks at the end offer input for the Line 6 brand of pedals (note the RJ-45-type connector) and for headphones.

 

SJ_04.jpg

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Interesting.... I own 2 of the Spider II's. I like the amps for "practice" but have found one thing that drives me bonkers and it would keep me from ever using a Line 6 for anything but practice.....

 

Channel volume. Set up a channel, save it. Go work another channel, come back and the channel volume is NOT what I set and saved. So say you've got a tone set for a lead... stomp the short board to switch...and the volume maybe close but not quite where you set it....

 

Two other friends with the Spiders have the same problem. We all use'm for practice but that's it....

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I like the amps for "practice" but have found one thing that drives me bonkers ... Channel volume. Set up a channel, save it. Go work another channel, come back and the
channel volume is NOT what I set and saved
.

 

 

I just checked that very issue, and I can tell you the Spider Jam DOES in fact save the Channel Volume part of the preset. I can't imagine it working any other way, but I believe you.

 

I wonder if this has been fixed in other Spider models through a software update? I've contacted Line 6 on this, but does anyone know the answer?

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I own 2 of the Spider II's. I like the amps for "practice" but have found one thing that drives me bonkers.....

Channel volume. Set up a channel, save it. Go work another channel, come back and the channel volume is NOT what I set and saved.

 

I might be wrong, but you might be experiencing "pot jitter"

as the knobs (or potentiometers) age they can become prone

to noise. This noise makes the Spider think that the knobs

moved (thus changing the sound) when they have not.

This is faulty behavior but lots of gear with digitally scanned

potentiometers can be prone to this. Might be a customer service issue.

Or it could be something else, just a guess.

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Hey Jon, I have been playing the Jam for about 4 months now and I love it. What I like about it is that when you get a sudden inspiration, you can record it instantly without any hassle, and then come back to it whenever you want. I probably have 10 different instances where I was playing one thing and another idea popped into my head, I recorded it and forgot it while I went back to the original, and then found it later and worked on it. Very neat and clean. Love this amp.

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Hey Jon, I have been playing the Jam for about 4 months now and I love it. What I like about it is that when you get a sudden inspiration, you can record it instantly without any hassle, and then come back to it whenever you want. I probably have 10 different instances where I was playing one thing and another idea popped into my head, I recorded it and forgot it while I went back to the original, and then found it later and worked on it. Very neat and clean. Love this amp.

 

I have had that similar experience. When I improvise, I will often have one or two brilliant (to me), fleeting moments in an otherwise sea of mediocrity. But they all happen while I'm playing, and if you stop every time you go, "Hey, that was good," you break the groove. So I go back later to find those parts. I sometimes write them down, or I loop them to see what the heck I did in the first place.

 

Lately, I've been working out with Cajun Blues. Here's just the groove (without my soloing):

 

Cajun_Blues.mp3

 

_

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I have had that similar experience. When I improvise, I will often have one or two brilliant (to me), fleeting moments in an otherwise sea of mediocrity. But they all happen while I'm playing, and if you stop every time you go, "Hey, that was good," you break the groove. So I go back later to find those parts. I sometimes write them down, or I loop them to see what the heck I did in the first place.


Lately, I've been working out with Cajun Blues. Here's just the groove (without my soloing):


Cajun_Blues.mp3


_

 

Thanks for the clip, Jon.

 

I guess my big question is, "Will it hold my attention long-term?" IOW, will it get boring or tedious quickly, or can you foresee using it as a practice aid for quite a while into the future?

 

I appreciate your work on the reviews-it's nice to hear things from a player's point of view. :thu:

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Thanks for the clip, Jon. I guess my big question is, "Will it hold my attention long-term?" IOW, will it get boring or tedious quickly, or can you foresee using it as a practice aid for quite a while into the future? I appreciate your work on the reviews-it's nice to hear things from a player's point of view.
:thu:

 

Thanks for the kind words, Larry.

 

There's something to be said for the ease at which the amp lets you jam--instantly and without any other hardware or setup. Musically, the grooves are quite good. I think you can hear that in "Cajun Blues," the medium-funk 12-bar blues. (I can't write bass lines that good--even with a decent drum loop to work off of.)

 

The one thing that computer-based groove solutions have over this is that you can change keys w/o changing the tempo. (Think ACID, Ableton Live, ReCycle, etc.) That is NOT the case here. Going up or down in half steps changes the tempo. So in a worst case situation, you'd be a tritone (half an octave) away from your intended key--assuming the default tempo was the desired one. (You can transpose up or down, so that's why a half-octave is the worst case.)

 

So there; you have the worst of it. Otherwise, the Line 6 folks are so dang clever at interfaces and programming that I just keep coming back to this--when I have to reboot my computer, when I'm on hold on speakerphone, when I'm waiting for a video to render, etc.

 

I thought at first that I wouldn't like my guitar and backing tracks out of the same source. A combo amp speaker isn't suited for full-range material, and there's no separation of guitar and band. But truthfully, this is a jamming instrument. Often as not, I'm on headphones anyway. It works. I'm constantly dialing through the grooves, playing through a couple of choruses to get the arrangement, and then hitting Record.

 

Will you tire of it? If it remains a closed system, then possibly. I don't even jam to some of the grooves (e.g., death metal), so not all the grooves are usable for everyone, and that reduces the inventory of usable material. I'm curious to see if you'll be able to import grooves the way some L6 gear accepts firmware updates, but I'm not sure how that would happen as there's no USB or network port.

 

The other issue, other than "tiring" of the existing grooves, is not being able to find a close-enough groove for your particular situation. For example, I have to work on a country two-beat thing in C (I, IV, V), and I can't quite find anything that will help me here. I don't expect a pre-programmed groove to be exactly what I'm looking for, but I can't find anything remotely close to this eight-bar phrase: [2/2]||:C///|////|F///|////|C///|////|G///|G7///:|| For that, I have to turn elsewhere. (There's not even the most rudimentary means for pattern arrangement.)

 

But that said, I haven't begun to scratch the surface of the existing grooves. To put a positive light on it, if I worked out with the grooves L6 has here, I would be forced to learn some new tunes and go in directions my normal instincts wouldn't take me.

 

Shopper's hint: When auditioning this amp at the music store, first go through the grooves. Don't even plug in the guitar. (Do that on another day, if necessary.) Check the musical efficacy of the grooves, and play around with the transpose feature to make sure you can brook the whole key/tempo thing. Remember, you can selectively turn off the bass or the drums and you can mix the balance. Make written notes of the grooves if you're inclined, because L6 (as yet) doesn't provide a sheet of the grooves.

 

Then on another day, plug in the guitar and check out the recording/looping features, and just see how you respond on an emotional level. This is important to do, as my attitude completely changed when I did this, and this is where I truly appreciated the interface and the concept: in situ.

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Awesome write up
:thu:
Can you run a bass through this? On MF site it says it has another input for keyboards or bass. A bass guitar won't damage this amp at high volume?

 

Excellent question. Theoretically, you can plug in a source other than a guitar, including full-range material like a band mix (via iPod or DiscMan) or a bass. If it were me, and I was plugging into an input that accepted a line in jack (iPod, DiscMan, etc.), I'd use a D.I. box. Can't hurt.

 

But just because it will handle the frequencies doesn't mean it can be used as a bass amp at a gig. But because the Spider Jam allows you to turn off the bass in the grooves, you can certainly use a bass as well as a guitar for creating and recording your own grooves. (After you lay down your bass part, the guitar can overdub over that.)

 

For practice and for low-volume rehearsal (acoustic duo or trio, etc.), yes. For high-volume bass work at a gig? Not advisable.

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Awesome. Thanks Jon. So for recording on DAW or a standalone; does this thing have what it takes to replace a POD?

 

No. But not because the Spider Jam is inferior to the Pod. It's just an apples-and-oranges thing. They're two completely different animals serving two completely sets of needs.

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Thanks for the review! I had been considering trying this amp out, it has loads of options.

 

It does have loads of options--something Line 6 is well known for. But I like the raw guitar sound too (when I'm not using the grooves or recording features).

 

Also, it's loud and lightweight, two attributes that don't necessarily go together. So if you check it out at a music store, try going high gain with a clean sound (if only for a moment so you don't get kicked out of the store!) and of course, lift it up off the ground.

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The flash patch is out ...best to use a 1 or 2 gig sd card, download patch, put it on card, insert card into the amp,turn amp on while pressing the save button. It takes a few minutes for the amp to reregulate itself and you will be left with (after formatting the card) a place to send your jams so as not to overstuff the built in ram besides the ability to change keys of the songs and slow down the drum effects etc...

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