Guitar tones are, of course, a very personal thing and, what one player likes another may not. Guitarist’s ability to experiment with different tones has been transformed by digital modelling of guitar amp, cabinets and effects pioneered by the likes of Roland, Digitech and – perhaps most famously – by Line 6 with their ground-breaking POD desktop modelling devices. Whatever your position on whether amp modelling gets close to the sound of a real valve amp, the latest incarnations of the software-based approach are very impressive and, at a relatively modest price point, put an array of modelling equipment in the hands of guitar players that only the mega-rich could afford in a genuine hardware format.
Guitar amp/cab/effects modelling didn’t take long to arrive on the mobile/tablet platform and there are a number of very respectable music app packages that are already well established including Amplitube, AmpKit and Overloud. All of these offer a range of different amp models, cabinets to match and a scattering of stomp-box or studio rack-style effects. In addition, there are also additional ‘add-on’ items that can be obtained through in-app purchases (for example, the Fender, Slash or Jimi Hendrix add-on packs for Amplitube).
And as with the real thing, different players may find they prefer the sound or functionality provide by one of these packages over another. Price may also be a consideration for some and, if you get in fairly quickly while it is currently discounted (£6.99 at the time of writing or the equivalent $/€ price), there may be an alternative to some of the better-know modelling apps well worth considering – JamUp Pro XT by Positive Grid.
In terms of the general feature set, JamUp Pro XT follows pretty familiar lines. So, in the basic package you get six amps styles and a decent range of stomp-box-type effects pedals. From the graphics, the amps offer a couple of Fender-inspired models, a Vox AC30 lone, two Marshall types and a Mesa-Boogie. This combination provides you with a very broad sonic palette, from sparkly cleans through to metal. The bottom half of the Amp/Fx screen shows the amps controls which offer the usual range of volume and tone knobs plus channel switches on those amps that feature them (for example, the Top Boost/Normal switch in the Vox-inspired AC Boost amp model).
One difference with some of the competition is that there is no separate cab modelling; pick the amp model and (presumably) the associated speaker qualities come with it. Equally, there is no microphone modelling included where you can chose between different virtual microphone types and adjust the position of the microphone relative to the virtual speakers. Some may miss this while others just see it as unnecessary clutter in a compact iOS app.
Along the top of the Amp/Fx screen is a signal chain display. This allows you to instantly see which of the six effects slots are currently active. Tapping once on any of these brings the controls for the currently selected effect to the base of the screen. Tapping twice brings an effect selection display to the top half; you can scroll through all the available effects that can go into the slot and make your choice. You also get to see all the additional effects that can be purchased through the in-app store; these are displayed faded-out. Usefully, the signal chain order can be adjusted to taste; simply hold a finger down on any element and drag it to where you want it to appear.
Once you have a setup you like, the app includes a straightforward preset system so you can save your combination of amp/effects. There are some nice default presets in here to start with that demonstrate the range of tones possible. Under the Share tab, you can also access an online archive of presets created by other users. This could be fun if JamUp develops a good following and there is already some interesting looking content.
There is a wide range of additional (and very tempting) amp and stomp box effects available via in-app purchases, including some bass amp models but, as a general starting point, I think Positive Grid have struck a good balance here between choice and flexibility but without it becoming bewildering to the novice user. In short, the amp modelling section of the app is very easy to get to grips with and there is plenty here to get your teeth into if you don’t want to spend extra on some of the additional toys in the store.
It must also be said that the app sounds pretty good. In terms of the basic modelling, to my ears at least, JamUp XT Pro is on a par with that provided by the obvious competition such as Amplitube, AmpKit or Overloud and I’d happily use JampUp XT Pro alongside these other apps. If you want to hear some audio examples, then check out the video demo at the end of this review.
More Jam Please
One of the roles that amp modelling on an iPhone or iPad has is as a convenient practice tool and JamUp’s Jam option is a neat addition in that respect. This allows you to load a song from your iTunes library into the app and then play along with whatever guitar tone you have selected. You can balance the relative volume of the track vs the guitar and, very usefully, you can also adjust both the pitch and the playback speed of the backing track.
The pitch shift is great if you want to play along to tracks where the original guitar performance was, for example, down-tuned (as with Thin Lizzy’s Emerald from Live & Dangerous shown in the screenshot). Yes, if you go too far with either of these functions then the playback quality gets a little rough around the edges, but as a tool for learning a new track, it is both very useful and pretty cool.
The Sampler tool is useful for both practice and performance. This allows you to record a guitar performance (this can be either a short loop of a few bars or something much longer) and then play that back as a loop while playing live guitar over the top. Via the Dub button, you can even overdub a live part on top of the current recording to build up something more complex (although a DAW would be a better bet for anything more complex than a couple of layers). The recorded phrases/parts can be saved for later recall if required.
This opens up all sorts of useful practice options, most obviously laying down a chord progression or riff and working up a second guitar part or solo to play with it. Alternatively, if you wanted to use it in a performance context, you might have a loop playing in the background while you layer that with a second part. The large volume knobs allow you to balance the levels of the loop and the live guitar.
As well as a useful metronome, JamUp also includes a very nice tuner with a virtual tuning dial. This works pretty well and is a doddle to use. And as mentioned earlier, if you want to add some additional amps of effects, the Store has plenty to offer with either individual components on offer or various bundles. Currently, there are over twenty amps (including some nice bass amps) and around thirty effects pedals to choose from.
If you don’t aready have a budget audio I/O suitable for guitar practice with your iPhone/iPad, Positive Grid also offer the JamUp Plug – similar in function to the iRig or AmpKit Link devices – and available via Amazon (although, at the time of writing, only in Amazon US I think). I haven’t tried this device so I’ve no idea of the comparative quality. However, at this price, it probably won’t be of the same standard as, for example, the Guitar Jack 2 or one of the more recording orientated audio I/O device such as the Alesis I/O Dock or Focusrite’s iTrack Solo. As a budget means of getting your guitar hooked up to your iOS device, however, if it is up to the same standard as the app, then I expect it will do a decent job.
On the buses
So, the amp/effect modelling is pretty good, the user interface easy to use and with the Jam and Sampler options, JamUp XT Pro offers a nice set of features. However, if you are wondering whether to buy JamUp or one of the more well-known alternatives, Positive Grid’s offering has one further trick up its sleeve that, at the time of writing, none of the competition do; it already has Audiobus support.
If you know about Audiobus – A Tasty Pixel’s very elegant app that allows you to pass audio between iOS apps – then you may appreciate that this is quite a big deal. If you don’t know about Audiobus, then find out a bit more about it here :-) . Anyway, I had no problem using JamUp XT Pro in the Audiobus effect slot, whether to create guitar tones or to run a few synth sounds through a Marshall clone.
In fact, JamUp has a second trick. Or rather, Positive Grid do because, as a separate purchase, you can also buy a plug-in version of JamUp from within the Auria store. So, if you can’t wait until Auria provides Audiobus support, then you can still get at the JamUp tones in a convenient format from within Wavemachine Lab’s excellent iOS DAW.
JamUp XT Pro might not have some of the detailed bells and whistles that both Amplitube or AmpKit offer but, for me, the modelling is on a par with those well-established apps. It will, ultimately, be a personal choice depending upon which you prefer. However, in adopting support for Audiobus, JamUp has got one feature that, for the moment at least, you could argue gives it an edge over its closest competition. JamUp XT Pro is well worth a look for guitar geeks everywhere.
for readers in North America for readers in Europe
Version 2.2.0 of JamUp Pro has just been released and introduces some nice new features. Top of the list for me are (a) the ability to use the app in any of the Audiobus slots (input, effect or output) and (b) the ability to use more than one of any effect type. The latter features is neatly implemented. While you can still only use a total of six effect slots alongside your amp model, if you go to the usual effect choosing section for a given slot and then tap on the three large dots at the left-side of this area, it allows you to select which effect group you want to use for the currently selected slot. So, if you want two modulation effects or multiple distortion/overdrive pedals or even a noise gate at both the start and end of your signal chain, you can now get it. Very neat.
June 19th, 2013; Positive Grid’s JamUp Pro has just been updated to v.2.4.1. This upgrade brings both new features and some significant new in-app-purchases including a new metal Signature pack. Full details can be found here.
If you want to hear some audio examples of the tones JamUp Pro can create, then check out this video demo.