As a guitar hero wannabe in the early 60s, I used to dream of owning a Fender amplifier. For a number of reasons it never happened but that’s okay, because now I have five of them in my shirt pocket for $17.99. IK Multimedia have made my dream come true by the recent release of their iOS app Amplitube Fender.
This is the first significant addition to their original Amplitube app which was reviewed in detail by James Galbraith in November last year. To briefly recap: Amplitube offers guitarists an amazing variety of authentic guitar, bass, and stomp box sounds on your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. You get five generic guitar amp setups – Clean, Crunch, Lead, Metal and Bass and a number of stomp box effects including delay, overdrive, chorus, flanger and phaser. Each amp and stomp box appears in brilliant detail, complete with fully adjustable EQ, volume and other settings of its real-world equivalent. Play around with all the sound variations and then store your settings as a preset with its own distinctive name.
On the iPhone/iPod Touch version (which is where I started) you can add up to three stomp box settings for each preset and you can customise any controls down to the nth degree by tapping on the relevant knob and then swiping vertically in an illuminated bar on the right of the screen to adjust the level. A numeric value tracks your input from 0 to 10. The only downside is that you can only see three controls at a time as the app is locked in portrait mode. Presets appear on a separate screen as 12 large numbered buttons with your chosen name. Very nice for quick switching with big fingers.
I’ve been using Amplitube on an iPod Touch at live gigs since late last year and I’m very happy. I’d previously used a vintage Korg effects board with four effects in a rather weighty enclosure. I mean, it is nearly 30 years old! But the ability with Amplitube to store up to 36 carefully tailored presets on a handheld device is paradise.
But I’m supposed to be talking about Fender. Well the Fender version, which can be added to Amplitube or purchased as a separate app, works in exactly the same way. But it’s even better. Instead of generic amp setups you get stunningly accurate recreations of the authentic Fender sound and look from five of their classic amps: the 65 Twin Reverb, the Supersonic, the Pro Jnr, the 59 Bassman and the Deluxe Reverb. As in the original Amplitube, Fender also gives you five different speaker cabinet set-ups for each amp to give you even more customisation options.
Included in the app are six classic Fender stomp boxes; noise filter, blender, overdrive, tape echo, compressor and phaser. Again all faithfully reproduced in stunning sonic and graphic quality. I was the proud owner of one of the early tape echo units in the 60s and to play again with the Fender version is a real hoot. And no broken tapes!
If you already own Amplitube it makes sense to add in the Fender range to what you already have. And there’s a free version with one amp and one stomp box which will give you the feel. If you’re new to Amplitube then you’ll still get the handy Tools features when you purchase the Fender version. These include a chromatic tuner, a metronome and a single track recorder – expandable to fourtrack as an in-app purchase. With Tools you can also import songs into the app from your iPod collection to play along with.
The easiest way to hook it all up is via the IK Multimedia iRig set up. This is a simple device which connects to your iOS unit and gives you an input for your guitar and output to headphone or amplifier. There are other connection options but I have found the iRig reliable and efficient in a live setting.
The iPad version has the same DNA but the extra screen real estate takes the app to a new dimension. A bit like the difference between a backpacker hotel and a four-star. For starters the iPad version is locked into landscape mode which shows you the whole control panel of the amp you have selected.
In the lower section of the screen. In the upper section are slots for four (not three) stomp boxes. All the app’s functions are in a control strip at the bottom of the screen. So everything is on screen, no swiping needed. There is however no illuminated bar on the right-hand side of the screen to make adjustments. You have to adjust the knobs manually, but the numeric value appears in the control strip. Otherwise the two versions work the same. By comparison the iPhone/iPod Touch version seems rather cramped. But I’ve found that once you get your presets setup the smaller version works just fine and it’s a lot easier to carry around.
I’d really like to be able to use my iPad as a one-stop shop at gigs by using the Song function of Fender to play items from my repertoire while my Strat uses the Fender presets. Unfortunately the the app has a 50 song limit and my repertoire is somewhat larger than that. Maybe down the track a little?
So much for the description – but what does it sound like? Well that’s getting very subjective, but to my ears and my memory the sounds are pretty authentic. Maybe there’s a little selective amnesia in there somewhere but for the price it’s a great way for an ageing, reasonably gracefully I might add, guitar ‘neverwas’ to indulge in a little nostalgia. But it’s not only for us mature folk. I’ve been impressed with how many young guitarists are keen to discover the roots of their craft. What an easy and affordable way to retrace the steps!
Because my repertoire is centred around the era when these amps ruled the world, I’ve now switched from the original Amplitube to the Fender version. Too many choices otherwise. I’ve got some really nice Buddy Holly backing tracks and the Fender sound certainly rings true in behind them. And my old Strat guitar seems, well, more at home. So its on with the headphones, in with the Strat and start building my preset library. Sonic heaven!