Aug 11, 2013
Recently, I’ve been battling with touchy neighbours and a landlord who is an extreme tool, who have decided that even though I mostly confine my guitar playing and recording to the late afternoon/early evening when hardly anyone is usually home, I am apparently causing “excessive noise and disturbance”…
Well, when life gives you the finger even though you’ve been trying to be a nice person and play at considerate times only… you turn on your Fuzz God II on its most catastrophic sounding self oscillating “world is ending now” setting, and leave it on while you’re making breakfast at 7am. \m/
And then you try and find some alternatives, because you don’t want to get kicked out!
Welcome to the Matrix
The simulated world. Personally, while I’ve always been interested in amp modelling tech like the Line 6 PODs, Fractal Axe FX and Kemper Profiling Amp, I’ve never really gotten into software plugins that purport to do a similar job. I always felt that surely a little VST wouldn’t be equipped to perform as well as these standalone units which have dedicated processing power and memory to produce their amp modelling.
Unfortunately, I recently sold my HD500, so when my douchebucket landlord started hassling me, I had to think about other options – ones that were cheaper than buying a new HD500, or an Axe FX (as much as I’d love one!).
I asked around on our forums (http://forum.sixstringsamurai.co.nz/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=242) to see what was popular and had a good reputation these days. The usual suspects like Amplitube and Guitar Rig were mentioned, as well as the Peavey Revalver software for 5150/6505 tones… but the one that took my interest to start off with was the Scuffham Amplification offering called “S-Gear”.
What got me interested in Scuffham Amps’ S-Gear plugin was the fact that it was the brainchild of Mike Scuffham, who had previously been a product designer with Marshall Amplification, bringing us products like the classic JMP-1 rack preamp unit. Additionally, the S-Gear suite seems to be very well regarded for clean/medium gain tones on more boutiquey boards like The Gear Page, which is usually a good sign.
I also like that they’ve concentrated on quality rather than quantity. Instead of having a huge suite of amps and effects, they’ve concentrated on 3 main amp models, and a small number of studio quality delay, reverb and modulation effects. Here’s the spiel:
I have always loved the Robben Ford guitar tone, whiplash snappy rhythm and beautiful dynamic, articulate leads – always warm and full of soul. This is my benchmark and starting point for The Duke.
The Duke’s tone stack has a subtle mid-range scoop and warm treble lift, giving the amp a sweet tone even when driven with a bridge single coil pickup. Three voicings on the overdrive channel (Normal, Thick and Bright) provide extra versatility.
Like all the S-Gear amps, the Duke really shines when you control the amp with the guitar volume. Back-off and indulge in those complex in-between tones, then bring back the volume and dig in to a singing lead overdrive.
Don’t be misled by the gold front panel – the Stealer is a very versatile amp. Back in my days at Marshall Amps, we had an old red Park 75 Head that sounded like no other amp you have ever heard – like an un-teathered wild horse with screaming tones and a great dynamic. My memory of this Park amp serves as an influence for the Stealer.
This is a simple design, keeping the signal path pure in order to extract as much as possible from the guitar pickups. Raw and wild, this amp is at home with Texas blues as it is with classic British rock.
An important design feature is the ‘Bright Contour’ pot; this lets you tailor the bright slope of the amp independently of the gain, allowing you to push the power amp hard with whatever level of brightness you choose. Raise the bright slope, select the middle pickup on your Strat, then roll back the guitar tone – you are in serious SRV territory! On the other hand, plug in a Les Paul, dial back the Bright Contour and enjoy some classic British rock tones.
Our take on the modern high gain amp. I guess the purple tolex is a nod in the direction of Mike Soldano’s classic amp of the 80’s. The Jackal flies the flag with super crunch and outrageous liquid leads.
Multiple gain stages, and the crucial ‘cold biased’ tube stage, deliver a very articulate and responsive high gain sound. Keep adding treble and the amp will just overdrive more – without crushing your tone. But this amp has subtlety too, back off the gain and roll back the volume on your guitar – there are some lovely blues tones to be enjoyed.
Plug n play
Interest piqued, I quickly downloaded the free 15 day trial version, and loaded it up. The user interface is simple and straightforward, and navigating your way through amp and effects models is a breeze.
In an unexpected turn of events, S-Gear does not suffer from the usual terrible presets that seem to be loaded by default into many modelling/simulation packages – in fact, the stock presets are GREAT. Most are loaded with subtle studio effects like stereo delay and reverb, maybe a bit of chorus where appropriate, but none are overpowering and overly cheesy. All I really felt like I had to do was find a ballpark tone, and with a bit of an EQ tweak, I was away!
So… what I want to do with this series of posts is to explore the world of plugins, testing their limits from slightly driven blues all the way up to crushing high gain. To start off with, we’re going to feature some noodling to a Jimi Hendrix backing track to see how S-Gear suits bluesy bends and single coil squish.
I chose the “Steely Ray Blues” patch to begin with – no prizes for guessing who that’s in homage to!! Signal chain is simply my recently acquired American Strat into my Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface. Setting buffer values appropriately, I had minimal discernable latency, which was great – noticeable latency has been a huge buzzkill for me in the past when I’ve tried to use plugins.
Personally, I was pretty damn impressed by the tones (not so much by my playing though, I’m still getting to grips with the Strat world!) – the squishy, scooped single coil tone was present in spades, and I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything dynamically. My ONLY comment really would be that the drive felt ever so slightly too compressed, but I believe that can’t really be helped with plugins like this. Overall – really really happy.
Mix n match
Now the other cool thing I’m looking forward to during my plugin journey is reamping! Being able to record the dry signal and then completely change the fundamental amp tone is something I can see myself getting used to – no more screwing around re-recording stuff if the guitar tone doesn’t sit well in the mix. Just pick a different preset!!
To test that theory, I used the track above and monkeyed around with two different presets just to see what it might sound like. First, the “Plexmonster” preset – I think you know what that’s meant to be based on.
Next, I thought it’d be fun to see what an 80s rock guitarist’s take on the tone might sound like – conveniently, there’s a patch called “Luke Lead” which I assume is based on a Steve Lukather tone. It’s loaded with a lush chorus and stereo delay straight out of the aquanet and spandex decade. With a bit of an EQ tweak, as well as taming the extreme chorus just a little, I got this:
Well… my sloppy playing sure does sound better with gobs of gain, hahaha.
Next time, on SamuraiTV
This is pretty fun so far!! I’m going to continue to explore the S-Gear, and get an idea of how it copes with rock and metal tones – that’s next time’s assignment!
In the meantime, please feel free to chuck me suggestions of what plugins I should be checking out, as well as subscribing to our Youtube channel – I really want to put more emphasis on putting up videos this year, so stay tuned!!