Amplitube Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix remains of near obsessive interest to guitarists of all ages four decades after releasing his first record, and for good reason. The man re-invented the electric guitar and revolutionized rock and pop music in ways that still reverberate today.

IK Multimedia’s Amplitube has been part of a revolution, as well, as the first widely used amp modeling software in what has become an expanding field that includes Line 6’s Amp Farm, Native Instuments’ Guitar Rig, Waves GTR, and Izotope Trash. With the recent Amplitube 2 upgrade, the company took a quantum leap in versatility and verisimilitude, and IK has taken these improvements and injected them into Amplitube Jimi Hendrix—a software application that sports the same twin rig series/parallel structure as the AmpliTube 2 with five separate modules: tuner, pedalboard, amp head, cabinet and mic, and rack effects. It purports to supply “access to the authentic software reproduction of the entire Jimi Hendrix Rig in a single product.” So let’s take a look and see if this software offers love or confusion.

Installing and authorizing Amplitube Jimi Hendrix is relatively simple. Realizing that users are running out of USB ports, IK has thankfully eliminated the iLock key requirement that accompanied Amplitube 2. Once duly authorized, you have a choice of running the software as a standalone, or as a plug-in within your DAW of choice. In standalone mode, the top row of the interface offers a SpeedTrainer (Fig. 1). Here you can import audio files—either backing tracks, or full tunes that you want to learn—and can loop licks within tunes for closer study. The trainer allows you to speed up or slow down the tempo, and raise or lower pitch independently. This last feature is a boon, as Hendrix normally tuned down a half step, and his tuning could often stray as much as a quarter-tone from concert E or Eb.

The next row holds the Preset Manager (Fig. 2), where you can choose one or more rigs for each tune (verse, chorus, solo) on Jimi’s first three ground-breaking records: Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold As Love, and Electric Ladyland, as well as “The Star Spangled Banner” presets and some basic amp setups. Unfortunately, instead of just a list of songs, you have to first go to an album menu, then scroll to a sub menu listing the songs from that album, and then to another sub menu with the song sections. This is one of the few awkward functions in this otherwise elegantly simple user interface.

Buttons 1-8 allow you to create your own series and/or parallel module-routing combinations of tuner, two six-space pedalboards, two amps, two speaker cabinet and micing setups, and two sets of rack effects. As with Amplitube 2, you cannot perform radical routing—such as placing pedals after amps, or placing the racks in front of amps. When called up by clicking on the appropriate module in the Preset Manager, the graphic representations of the pedals, amps, etc. appear underneath. You can also toggle between the pedalboard and amp graphic pages with two buttons on the bottom Interface row (Fig. 3). This last row also contains the input and output gain adjustments, pan controls for the amps and cabs (when run in stereo), a Preferences tab that lets you choose oversampling for the different modules (oversampling provides more accurate sound, but uses more CPU), and a noise gate. The row also holds Master Volume, and a separate and simpler tuner, so you can tune without returning to the tuner module when working with another module.

Amplitube Jimi Hendrix only provides amps and cabinets that were associated with Jimi—no Soldanos here—but, nonetheless, affords a wealth of tonal options. It includes models of Fender’s Twin, Dual Showman, and Bassman amps; as well as a 1959 Marshall JTM 100W Super Lead. The preamps, EQ stages, and power amps in these amps can be mixed and matched (Fig. 4), and the heads can be routed through their original cabs, or combined with anything from a Sears Silvertone 2x12 to a Marshall 4x12 loaded with JBL D120Fs. The cabinet module (Fig. 5) allows you to choose one of five different microphones, position your choice on or off axis, and place it near or far. An Ambience slider control adds varying degrees of “air” to the sound.

The big fun is in the vintage effects that played an important part in the Hendrix sound. Each of the two Stomp modules supplies slots for six effects (Fig. 6), allowing you to run a total of twelve. You can choose from among the Class Fuzz (modeled after Roger Mayer’s Classic Fuzz), Fuzz Age (based on the Arbiter Fuzz Face), the FuzzOne (after the extremely rare Maestro FuzzTone), the Octa-V (that apes Roger Mayer’s Octavia), XS Fuzz (copies Roger Mayer’s Axis Fuzz), and the RightFuzz (that mimics the delightfully obscure Mosrite Fuzzrite). Also included are a Fender Super Reverb-style Opto-Tremolo, a Uni-V (for a Univox Uni-vibe sound), and a Wah 46 (a la the Vox V846 wah). The Wah was easily MIDI mapped in Ableton Live, and can be controlled with a MIDI footpedal (as can almost all of the software’s functions). The pedal also contains an anachronistic Auto-Wah function for those who don’t want to bother with MIDI. In addition, the two rack modules (Fig. 7) have slots for up to four post-amplifier effects, including Rotary Speaker, Parametric EQ, Stereo Reverb, and Tube Comp for further sound sculpting.

Booting up Amplitube Jimi Hendrix in standalone mode, I first imported an mp3 of “Fire” into the speed trainer. This involved merely clicking on its Open Audio button, browsing my computer’s iTunes library, and clicking on the mp3. Any pitch or tempo changes I made were clearly indicated on the display. Setting a loop for the first two bars of the solo was as easy as hitting button “A” for the start, and “B” for the end. Moving my computer cursor down to the Preset Manager section, I chose the patch for the “Fire” solo sound. This called up a rig with an Octav-V pedal, a 1959 Marshall JTM 100W Super Lead into a 4x12 Marshall cab with JBLs, and a parametric EQ in the rack. Through an M-Audio Firewire 1814 interface, I was able to run the buffer at 256 in both standalone and plug-in mode, experiencing negligible latency, and no dropouts or crackling.

So now comes the million-dollar question: Does it sound like Jimi Hendrix?

The first question to ask is how much do I sound like Jimi Hendrix? I was playing a 1965 Fender Stratocaster with DiMarzio Virtual Vintage pickups, and my guitar is strung like a normal right-handed instrument, so all of my string tensions are different than Hendrix’s. All of that being said, when the volume was balanced equally between Jimi and me, it was often hard to tell who was playing what. You will need to experiment with using different pickups (neck, middle, bridge, and all combinations) as no information is given as to which pickup position he might have used. A Les Paul or Gretsch may sound less authentic (IK has provided some alternate rig settings to compensate), but the majority of the sounds were extremely close to the tone and vibe of the originals.

My favorite sound was the “Hey Joe” intro preset (the XS fuzz set with the drive almost off into the Marshall). Playing the lick through my neck pickup, I could almost smell incense. Keep in mind that, to a certain extent, to sound like Jimi you have to play like Jimi. Kudos to IK for not artificially jazzing up the sounds by adding extra gain to any of the rigs. Hendrix achieved many of his glorious tones by laying into a relatively clean setting—or a fuzz with the gain set low—and IK has set up the sounds to reflect that reality. This is part of the educational value of this software—you have to work on your attack until you approximate the tones of the master.

As with any modeling endeavor, debate will range as to exactly how close these tones come, or whether the equipment choices are all historically accurate. I have to say that with very few exceptions these settings truly capture the spirit of the tunes for which they are named. This realism is not without a price. The software is memory hungry, as three pedals, one rack effect, and the amp hovered around a 30 percent CPU load on a G5 Dual Processor 2.5 GHz MAC with 2.5GB of RAM.

This software’s appeal is not limited to guitarists attempting to recreate the sound of Jimi Hendrix, though. These effects and amps simply sound great, and they can be terrific tools in making your own music. For example, I enjoyed chaining five or six fuzz pedals together for some unusual electronic noise pads. You and I may never get a chance to play through a real Mosrite Fuzzrite into a Marshall JTM 100W Super Lead, but if we crank up our computer speakers, Amplitube Jimi Hendrix will get us pretty darn close.