DiMarzio’s Area J set is designed to sound as close to original J bass pickups as possible, but in a humbucking configuration to remove any background noise. Nobody likes excessive noise at the best of times but this is especially important today where bass distortion and biamped rigs seem so much more common than any other time I can think of. Who wants to plug into a multi-amp rig of doom, spend hours dialling in punchy clean low end and a growly, distorted treble, only to have the whole thing overwhelmed with 60-cycle hum? No-one, that’s who.
I installed the Area J set in my Fernandes Jazz Bass copy. It’s a great instrument with a very playable neck and an authentic natural tone, but the stock pickups were a little lacking in character. They were also noisy as all get-out despite extensive and very high quality shielding throughout the electronics and pickup cavities. See?
As you can hear from that sound clip (with both pickups at full volume), the bass didn’t exactly sound awesome with the original pickups… especially because there was a ground hum that needed to be repaired. It was there when I got the bass and I hadn’t had a chance to fix it yet. But if you can listen past that problem, you’ll hear a bass that has definite Jazz Bass character, but is a little one dimensional.
Installing the Area J set was extremely easy. After unsoldering each original pickup and lifting them out, it was simply a matter of sitting the Area Js (the back unit is slightly longer than the front one) on top of the pickup shielding plates, screwing them down, soldering the red wire of each pickup to the centre tag of its respective volume pot, soldering the green and gray wires to the back of the pot, then joining the black and white wires together and shielding them off. While I was in there, I diagnosed the cause of the ground hum – a broken wire from the tone control to the output jack. The pickup set came with a little instruction leaflet (also available for download on the DiMarzio website) which, in addition to a simple text outline of how to remove the old pickups and install the new ones, includes a couple of alternate wiring methods which take further advantage of the pickups’ humbucking nature. I just went for the standard Jazz Bass wiring. I left plenty of wire for future experiments with push-pull pots and the like, and plugged in.
The bridge pickup is bright yet warm. By itself the sound is clear but not sharp – especially suited to that classic Geddy Lee sound, where you want to jump out from a mix and leave some low-end real estate for the drummer and rhythm guitar to occupy. This pickup seems to respond especially well to playing with the fingers, especially when you get a little bit of nail involved for some clarity and definition. The neck unit sounds fuller and rounder than the bridge, which makes it useful for John Paul Jones-style fingerpicked lines around the 7th-12th fret region. The lows are not overwhelming, and the high end is smooth and clear.
Here’s a Rush-sounding clip using the bridge pickup:
Here you’ll hear the bridge pickup panned hard right, the neck pickup hard left, and both pickups (blended 100% neck, 70% bridge) in the middle:
Here’s the neck pickup, both as a main bass part and as a lead instrument (with unhealthy amounts of compression and a smattering of delay to play up a vintage vibe):
And finally here’s a big ol’ distorted demo – a little bit Chickenfoot, a little bit Audioslave:
After much messing about I found my ideal Jazz Bass tone with the front pickup at 100% volume and the rear one backed off to about 70%. This gave all the fullness of the front one but with a little more definition, especially when using a pick. I also really like the sound of this particular ratio when run through heavy distortion with the amp’s treble wound back a bit for that growly Billy Sheehan kind of tone. Billy’s tone is a lot more complex than this, of course, thanks to the special pickup layout of his DiMarzio-loaded Yamaha Attitude basses and the particulars of his amp rig, but the Area J set can get you somewhere in the general area thanks to its clear tone and lack of hum. You won’t get those hi-fi bass-and-treble-boosted slap tones without further processing, but you’ll get great natural jazz, soul, R&B, blues, classic rock and metal sounds with ease.
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A little while back I reviewed IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube 2, probably my most frequently-used program apart from Pro Tools. Well now I’ve got my paws on Ampltube Fender, which takes the basic AmpliTube premise and filters it through authorised reproductions of specific Fender amps.
Like AmpliTube 2, AmpliTube Fender’s interface is divided into five separate modules: Tuner, Stomp, Amp Head, Cab and Rack Effects. There are two series/parallel guitar rigs available with multiple routing options. This comes in especially handy when you want to combine a few clean amps, SRV-style. There are 12 amplifiers. 12 Cabinets, 9 Microphones, 9 Stomp Effects, and 7 Rack Effects.
There’s also a phrase trainer which allows you to import an audio track and change the speed while maintaining the pitch, or to change the pitch while maintaining the tempo, and a metronome. I really dig having such educational features built into such an already useful program. But the real good stuff here is the amp model set, so let’s look at those.
The Champion 600 is designed to have a little more gain than the original classic Fender practice amp, and it’s an amp of simple pleasures: One control (a volume knob), one power tube, one speaker. I like cranking this little baby up to meltdown levels and bashing out some Diamond Dogs-era Bowie. It really handles that brash, strummy, open chord aesthetic. It’s also great mixed in relatively low with another amp model to add a little extra something in the midrange.
The ’59 Bassman sounds tough and bright, with just the right punchy bass response and that glorious cutting treble. Plug in a single coil axe, wind the amp volume all the way up and pick with your fingers for some authentic 60s Chicago Blues power, or go easy on the volume for more restrained, subdued clean sounds that work really well with vintage-output humbuckers. Now, since this model doesn’t have an inbuilt reverb control, you could certainly be forgiven for pairing it with the Spring Reverb effect module, either before the preamp or in the effect rack. You might also like to try turning up the ambience control in the cab section. Careful use of this control is one of my secret weapons when using AmpliTube. Shhh, don’t tell anyone.
I really dig the ’65 Twin Reverb model for shimmering clean humbucker tones, and for turning up to the edge of the grunt zone for a tougher vibe. IK Multimedia says this is a good amp for ‘accentuating the character of external stomp boxes, making it an incredibly versatile platform to build on,’ and I couldn’t agree more. I would highly recommend selecting this model to get to know each of AmpliTube Fender’s effects modules before you start adding them to other amps. Now, as a longtime AmpliTube user I like to use X-Gear to combine modules from different AmpliTube versions (I also have AmpliTube 2 and AmpliTube Jimi Hendrix), and I really enjoyed using my Telecaster with the Screamer overdrive pedal from AmpliTube 2 into a pair of virtual ’65 Twin Reverbs from AmpliTube Fender, with some nice tape echo effects to spread everything out a little. Those who have heard Tommy Emmanuel’s excellent but less-known electric work would especially dig the creaminess and breadth of this sound.
The ’57 Deluxe is another one that really comes to life with my Telecaster. Adding a little slap-back delay, I found this model great for snappy country riffage and rockabilly. I also turned up the volume and combined it with a very pushed Bassman model for some cool blues vibe via my old trusty Strat copy. Set up a two-amp rig like the Bassman/Deluxe combo, don’t be shy about the reverb, flip to a neck single coil, and tell me you don’t feel like you’re in the middle of a Texas flood.
Speaking of Texas floods, the ’64 Vibroverb Custom model is based on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s own original Vibroverb as modified by the legendary Cesar Diaz. The amp model has the requisite Volume, Treble and Bass controls as well as a Bright switch, plus an effect section with controls for Reverb plus Speed and Intensity knobs for the vibrato circuit. There’s an on/off switch for turning the vibrato effect on and off, but hey, what’s this back over there next to the bass control? It’s a Mod/Stock switch based on Stevie’s amp. Flip the mod on and you get more gain and midrange grunt – great for kicking a single coil guitar up into the next level. I also had a lot of fun boosting AmpliTube’s guitar input level to really drive this model, somewhat akin to using a clean boost pedal with a valve amp. Try it out! This model – especially in mod mode – is also great for simulating Nuno Bettencourt’s ‘Waiting For The Punchline’ tone, if that’s your bag.
The ’65 Deluxe Reverb sounds a bit brighter and growlier than most of the other models in this batch. Edge up the input gain for some cool buzzy garage tones, and throw on a fuzz pedal model for good measure. I especially liked this one for shimmery indie tones, and in combination with the ’64 Vibroverb. Set one for more ambience than the other, play some choppy R&B chords, and you could lose a whole afternoon to the wall of sound that ensues.
The Vibro-King Custom is home to some browner classic rock tones, especially with the aid of a ‘FAT’ switch. It seems especially at home with humbuckers, but there’s something about its midrange that makes it great for clean-toned lead work as well. Crank up the reverb and some tape delay, reach for that whammy bar and you’re in Shadows territory.
Perhaps one of my favourite Fenders is the Super Sonic. I remember the first time I played through one – I was working at World of Music in Brighton East here in Melbourne, and the Fender rep told us about this killer new amp designed by Richie Flieger. If you don’t know that name, you damn-well should – Richie did some great work with Marshall and is known all-round as an amp guru. So a few weeks later when a Super Sonic head and cabinet arrived in the store, I excitedly hooked it up, dutifully opened the manual to the suggested settings, took a Fender John Mayer Stratocaster down from the wall, and proceeded to have my head blown away by the awesome toneliness. (Incidentally, if you get the chance, try out the Super Sonic combo too – it has an extra gain stage compared to the head version, and sounds even better – the AmpliTube model appears to be based on the combo, judging by the gainier tone and the picture of the combo version on the IK Multimedia website).
The Super Sonic has a clean channel designed to mimic the Fender Bassman and Vibrolux amps, as well as a high gain channel with two separate gain controls to really fine-tune the character and amount of distortion and saturation. Since AmpliTube Fender already captures some pretty awesome Bassman and Vibrolux sounds, the software model here focuses on the high gain channel. It’s quite uncanny how IK Multimedia has managed to reproduce all the things I love about the Super Sonic – thick growling top end, smooth round midrange, and a loose but not messy low end. Just like the real thing, the model is great for medium gain lead tones which clean up nicely with clever use of the guitar’s volume control, and some flat-out killer dirtied-up clean tones are lurking at the lower end of the gain range. Nobody should buy a Super Sonic to seek a death metal tone, and the model here is no different, but if you’re into the brighter, grittier end of the high gain spectrum there’s a lot to love about both the actual amp and the AmpliTube model.
Here’s a little blues clip with the Super Sonic model:
One of the amp models is something I haven’t yet tried in the real world – the MH-500 MetalHead. Good lord… if the real thing’s anything like the model, look out. This model in some ways represents the opposite of the Super Sonic’s tonal stamp: cutting treble, tight punchy bass, and solid midrange which can, of course, be scooped right out for the classic solid state death tone beloved of metal monsters everywhere, myself included. After a bit of tweaking, I started to notice some shared characteristics between this model and James Hetfield’s tone on Metallica’s ‘…And Justice For All’ album. The effect was enhanced with some craftily applied compression and by calling up a pair of MetalHeads panned left and right with slightly different EQ and gain settings, to simulate studio double tracking. How does it sound? Check it out for yourself here:
The lead sound that you’ll hear a little way in is also a pair of MetalHead models, once again panned left and right, this time with different delay and stationary wah settings on each. For the lead tone I was going for a Kirk Hammett ‘Ride The Lightning’ kind of sound. Oh and there’s no bass on this one, cos you can’t hear the bass on Justice… Hehe.
The Bassman 300 bass amp is extremely interactive and very addictive. Imagine two channels – clean and distortion – which can be used singularly or blended seamlessly. You can also independently compress the high and low end, engage a graphic EQ, bump up the lows and highs with separate switches, and, I dunno, pilot the International Space Station remotely. I have a 5-string Ibanez TR bass that I’ve never been overly happy with, but through the Bassman 300 it took on a great punchy fundamental tone with a heavily compressed Channel 1 (clean) in combination with a very musical graininess from Channel 2 (gain). The scoopable EQ and the fine-tuning abilities of the compressor make it good choice for slap and pop styles and it’s a killer model for blues, rock and metal.
The TBP-1 is an amp I’m quite familiar with via its sister amp, the TB-1200 head. Like the actual amp and preamp, this is a great all-round model, with a cool Tube Overdrive section and a tube-voiced Vintage Tube Tone channel. The AmpliTube model mimics the ‘cut only’ passive tone stack in the Vintage Tube Tone section, so this is a great one to enhance the quality of a great-sounding bass, rather than mask the shortfalls of a bad one. The Tube Overdrive section includes only Gain, Volume and Blend controls (for setting the ratio of Vintage and Overdrive channels), but further tone shaping is available with a smart semi-parametric EQ section. There’s also a Room Balance control which shifts the EQ to fine-tune the tone of the cabinet – a stage-friendly feature built into the actual amp to make it easier to hear on stage while sending an un-Room-Balanced signal to the house engineer. In AmpliTube Fender it becomes a handy tone shaping tool for its own sake.
But what of the pedals? AmpliTube Fender has some cool effects.
Fender Blender is a recreation of the classic fuzz/octave effect. It has a decidedly Billy Corgan-esque sound, especially when you use it for leads, and its particular splendour is best experienced with a very clean amp model like the ’65 Twin. It’s no surprise that Corgan himself is a well-known Fender Blender user, as is Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine. The range of tones is huge, from subtle to freaking sick, and I had a lot of fun using a Radial ProRMP reamp to use AmpliTube Fender’s Fender Blender model with my Marshall DSL50 head.
There’s a volume pedal with a selectable minimum range, which is very handy but would be even moreso with some kind of MIDI control like IK’s StealthPedal. Likewise the Wah and Fuzz Wah pedals. The former has is switchable from ‘Cryin’ to ‘Clyde McCoy’ modes and has minimum and maximum frequency controls to really dial in your tone (especially cool for fixed-wah sounds in Clyde McCoy mode), while the latter has a selectable fuzz effect which is satisfyingly dirty and authentic. I really dig using this fuzz sound by itself with single coils for some serious ‘old tone.’
The Fender Phaser is a recreation of this pedalboard-oppressing megapedal (seriously, have you seen one in person? The damn things are huge), and you can fine-tune the frequency and set the phaser sweep to follow the tempo of the music if you choose. Its stroberriffic pulse is hypnotic too, in the best, most psychedelic way. I especially like combining this model with a delay model.
The Tremolo circuit is based on Fender amp tremolo, so you can look at it as a way of adding awesome Fender tremolo to any amp you like (especially handy if you use X-Gear).
The ’63 Reverb is based on those cool old tube-driven external reverb units – you know the ones that look like a tweed shoe box and go for big money on eBay? Here you get controls for Mixer, Tone and Dwell, great for those Hank Marvin moments. Try it with some of the blackface models at around medium volume for some great indie tone.
The Fender Tape Echo model is based on the tape echo simulation from the Fender Cyber-Twin amp, yet another Fender amp that I’ve been lucky to spend a lot of time with – seriously, all we really need’s a G-Dec sim and that’s pretty much my entire Fender experience wrapped up in a single program! There’s a huge range of control here and while I’d love to have a stereo option, it’s certainly more than able to handle all your mono delay needs from the warmest straightforward repeat to the warbliest modulated stretchy tape sounds. Try it in a chain with the ’63 Reverb model placed after it.
Finally there’s a Compressor based on that within the Cyber-Twin. It has four levels – Low, Medium, High and Even Higher – and is good for either subtle dynamic processing or the kind of ultra-pinched compression that works extra well for single coil country playing.
Most of the cabinets and mic choices in the Cab section are pretty self-explanatory: each amp has a matching cabinet that you can use as intended or substitute for any other cabinet. It’s great fun seeing what would happen if you ran the MH-500 through a tiny Champion 600 speaker, for instance. And there’s a wide range of mics: Condenser 87, Condenser 84, Condenser 414, Dynamic 57, Dynamic 421, Dynamic 441, Ribbon 160, Velo-8 and MD1-b, which are all useful in different situations (especially when combining multiple amps). But wait, what’s this? A Fender Vibratone rotating speaker? You can combine this beauty with any other speaker cabinet in the arsenal for authentic Doppler tones. Being a Mike Keneally geek I set up a Super Sonic tone that reminded me of his sound on the track ‘Own’ from the ‘Sluggo!’ album, called up the Vibratone model, and vibed out on the wobbly goodness.
By the way, speaking of the Cab section and as hinted a little way back, make sure to explore the Ambience control, which appears to increase the simulated distance between the virtual mic and virtual speaker. This adds some great stereo spread to the sound, as well as lending a further layer of complexity to the reverbs in the Stomp, Amp and Rack sections.
There’s a suite of seven rack effects, some of which are shared with the Stomp section: Tape Echo, Compressor and ’63 Reverb, albeit with a different layout. Others are Pitch Shift (particularly great for grainy, dirty effects in combination with the Fender Bender as well as subtle pitch widenings on cleaner tones), Sine Flange which I liked using with a clean sound for a Metallica ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’ sound, Triangle Chorus which adds some Satriani-esque bounce to high gain tones and some bright shimmer to clean ones, and Fender Wah, an auto-wah which shares a feature set with the wah in the Stomp section, but here it has a different feel, especially on bass.
So is there anything I’d do differently in AmpliTube Fender? Well, like I said, I’d love a stereo delay – while I’m glad I can achieve this by using the delay module from AmpliTube 2 in X-Gear, I’d love to be able to do so with the exact feature set of the Tape Echo module in AmpliTube Fender. And I’d especially love some kind of intelligent software which models various famous Fender pickups for even more accurate classic Fender tone. But apart from that, I couldn’t be happier with AmpliTube Fender. I don’t particularly feel the need to zap out the midrange in the mix like I do with AmpliTube 2, because the Ampltube Fender models sit well enough as it is.
AmpliTube Fender may not be for everyone – while the Metalhead and Super Sonic models are great, they offer very niche tones which may not be for every metal player. But for those players who really love the Fender tone – and there are a lot of them – this is as close as you’re likely to get to the real thing without spending all day in a music store and earning the ire of the staff for your 12th straight rendition of ‘Couldn’t Stand The Weather.’ The fact that Fender have given their official stamp of approval is proof enough that IK Multimedia has delivered a killer reproduction of those classic tones.
Just a heads-up, I’ve been chipping away at a huge review of IK Multimedia’s Amplitube Fender. It’s such a big program that it’s taking a while, but I should have it ready this week. It’ll be about 4,000 words when it’s all done, so you might want to go stock up on popcorn before then.
I’ve been using IK Multimedia‘s Amplitube 2 for a while now, and I find it an especially handy songwriting tool which allows me to test parts out with a variety of different amp and pedal combinations before settling on how the hell to do it live on stage. Fender was already bitten by the modelling bug a couple of years ago when they paired up with Boss to release a few pedals which emulated Fender amp tones. Now the modelling bug has well and truly sunk his fangs into Fender’s tweed-covered hide in the form of Amplitube Fender.
AmpliTube® Fender® is the only official Fender® guitar/bass amp and FX software suite, made by IK Multimedia in cooperation with music icon Fender® Musical Instruments Corporation. With a collection of 45 pieces of gear, including some the most sought-after classic and modern Fender® amps (Twin Reverb®, ’59 Bassman® LTD, Super-Sonic™, Metalhead™ and many others), cabinets, stompboxes and rack effects, AmpliTube Fender® sets the new standard for software amplifiers. From guitar to bass, and from country to blues, rock, punk and metal—whatever style you play—AmpliTube Fender® is the only amp suite that gives you the world’s most influential guitar and bass tones right on your desktop.
AmpliTube Fender® is the result of years of intense research and development by the tone gurus at Fender® and is handcrafted by the software and audio engineers at IK Multimedia. Seldom has there been such close cooperation between two leaders in their respective fields, with the goal of producing the most advanced and realistic-sounding software recreation of the world’s most renowned amplifiers and effects. The results have been amazing, as Fender’s Shane Nicholas, senior marketing manager for guitar amps said:
“An electric guitar is nothing without amp tone, and Fender® amplifiers are the standard by which great amp tones are measured. We’re confident that the thrill of plugging into a great tube amp will never die, but we are proud to give digital recording enthusiasts the opportunity to discover and utilize many of the best Fender® tones, old and new, with the convenience of PC recording. Unlike other guitar modeling software, IK Multimedia developed the realistic sounds of the AmpliTube Fender® edition with the master tone-team at Fender® Musical Instruments. From the legendary Tweed Deluxe™ to the modern high-gain Super-Sonic™, this is the real-deal palette of tones you need to make great music in the digital domain.”
The extremely accurate Fender® tones achieved by this collaboration, together with the large variety of gear included, covers the widest range of tonal palettes and makes AmpliTube Fender® the ideal choice for those who are recording guitar for the first time or for DAW users who demand nothing less than tonal perfection.
Features Stand-alone and plug-in software for all the most popular platforms, including VST/AU/RTAS plug-in formats. 12 of the most influential guitar amps of all time. 12 original matching cabinets and more, with nine microphones. Six signature classic stomp effects and six rack effects. Incredible tone flexibility; mix and match amps, cabinets, mics and more. Sound-certified and approved by Fender®. Five separate modules: tuner, configurable stomp pedal board, amp head, cabinet plus mic, and rack effects. Two fully configurable rigs with up to 32 simultaneous effects. Digital tuner. Includes SpeedTrainer™ and Riffworks™ T4 recording software. Can be expanded with additional “Powered by AmpliTube” models using AmpliTube X-GEAR. Can be controlled live with StompIO, StealthPedal™ and any traditional MIDI controller. Hundreds of presets included, with more that can be downloaded from the AmpliTube preset XChange area. Powered by AmpliTube® with exclusive DSM™ (dynamic saturation modeling) and new VRM™ (volumetric response modeling) technology. Pricing and Availability AmpliTube Fender® will be available in 2 versions:
AmpliTube Fender® The official Fender® guitar and bass, amp and FX software with 12 amps, 12 cabinets, six stompboxes, nine mics and six rack FX. Also includes Riffworks™ T4 for guitar recording and AmpliTube X-GEAR for full expandability with any “Powered by AmpliTube” software and live control. MSRP €169.99 / $229.99 (excluding taxes).
AmpliTube Fender® Studio: The easiest way to plug your guitar into your computer and get the legendary tone of Fender®. Including StealthPlug USB audio cable interface and AmpliTube Fender® LE (four amps, five cabinets, two stompboxes, two mics, two rack FX), plus Riffworks™ T4 for guitar recording and AmpliTube X-GEAR for full expandability with any “Powered by AmpliTube” software. MSRP €109.99 / $139.99 (excluding taxes).
AmpliTube Fender® and AmpliTube Fender® Studio will be available through the entire IK sales network of dealers and distributors by the end of February 2009. Preorders are already available through selected dealers around the world and in the IK online store.