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About Slartibartfarst42

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  1. Let me say from the outset that I am not a great fan of modelling technology and for a number of years now I’ve clung religiously to my precious valve amps so I’m not naturally inclined to be sympathetic to such an approach. In the past I’ve owned both a Digitech GNX3000 and a Digitech RP1000, both of which, in their day, could be considered units of very good quality. I wasn’t impressed with either of them particularly. They both had their good points and I could see why people liked them but ultimately, to be brutally honest, regardless of how much you tweaked them, in the real world the tones weren’t a patch on a ‘proper’ valve amp. Over the years since I’ve read stellar reviews on offerings from Boss and particularly the Line6 HD series so I’ve tried them with great anticipation that finally I could have a more compact and versatile rig but the tones just aren’t there. To me, using a good valve amp is like driving a Ferrari whereas using most mid-priced modellers is like driving a Toyota GT86 at best. It’s generally aimed at a market with similar tastes and is good in its own way, but ultimately it’s a cheap and poor copy of the real thing. So how have I come to be reviewing an Atomic AmpliFire? Pure chance and a unique set of circumstances is the answer! I’d honestly given up on ever finding a modeller that I actually liked but a few months ago I was offered a job working abroad and this forced me to completely rethink my rig. Taking a valve amp with me was a non-starter, partly due to the practicalities of transport but also because for the next few years my playing will mostly be in the home. After much deliberation I decided to invest in a BluGuitar AMP1 and I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the tones I could get. It’s not as good as a full valve amp but the tones were very good and very valve-like; certainly good enough for 99.9% of an audience and certainly a huge improvement on anything I’d tried before. This got me thinking – the AMP1 is essentially modelled preamp voicings going through a 100w Class D power amp with a valve in it to generate some valve warmth and if the tones were that good, what could a modeller achieve with even more processing power? I knew the likes of Line6 HD units wouldn’t get me there and I can’t afford a Fractal Axe-FX so I needed something in the middle ground that was a bit of a stripped down Axe-FX and surprisingly, the AmpliFire is the only option that I could find that seemed to offer what I was after. It doesn’t offer the range of options that either Line6 or Fractal do but I really don’t need that many options. What it does offer is processing power that is far more like Fractal than Line6 and that makes all the difference because it focusses on quality rather than quantity. Layout The AmpliFire is a floor unit that’s not much bigger than two good sized pedals or to put it another way, about the size of my AMP1. There is a small display screen on the top and a number of knobs for key controls like Gain, EQ and Level. Working these knobs is very like a conventional guitar amp in many ways. There’s also a control to adjust patches, which is pretty straightforward, though using the Editor on your PC is easier. At the front of the unit are three footswitches that can be assigned to control whatever you want. With the A/B function these three footswitches can move you between six different presets or you can use a Midi controller like the Midi Mouse to move between presets and use the footswitches on the AmpliFire for any three effects you want, just like conventional stompboxes. The connections on the unit will allow you to connect to virtually anything and you can also route it so that cabinet models are bypassed and you use your own cabinet or you can have cabinet models sent to the PA while you can have no cabinet models going to a normal guitar cabinet or you can have cabinet models going to both. There’s certainly flexibility here. Editor Software As with all of these units, although you can edit your parameters on the unit itself, life is an awful lot easier when you use the associated computer software. It’s not just that more parameters are available to you; it’s more that the whole process becomes much quicker as everything is available on one screen. As far as these units go, the Editor is very accessible and straightforward to use so I can see lots of people liking it but at the moment I find there is a real issue, at least to someone of my limited technical ability. The latest version of the Editor that you download is not the same as the one referred to in the manual as it has many more parameters that you can adjust. This creates a real problem because you’re suddenly faced with a load of terms that might as well be written in Latin for all the sense it makes to me and these terms aren’t explained in the handbook, where the editing information is based on an earlier and far more basic Editor. At first I thought it was because the unit I bought had an old handbook so I downloaded the manual from Atomic’s website, only to discover it was the same as mine and related to a much earlier version. If you’re going to have a manual, it needs to relate to the product people are actually using! While I can see that many people might like to use these extra parameters to precisely tailor their sound, I’m afraid I’m inclined to question the wisdom of such an approach. Not only do I have to make sense of a load of technical terms I don’t understand but when I use a conventional stompbox, how many controls do I have to adjust? Even professional players, using professional quality stompboxes, have only a handful of controls that can be adjusted to get a fantastic sound, yet when trying to use something like the Echo effect on an AmpliFire, I have 36 different parameters that require attention to dial in the sound I’m after. Why? If you can buy a Delay pedal in the £100-£150 bracket that produces a really good effect with only 3-5 control knobs, why do I need 36 different controls in the AmpliFire? I want good quality effects and the effects here are good, no doubt about it, but I don’t want to have to spend the rest of my life tweaking settings and researching terms I don’t know. To me, this is exactly what’s wrong with all of these modellers and while the AmpliFire is better than many in this regard, the editing software is still needlessly complex and probably quite daunting to many users. In the case of the Echo effect I’ve already mentioned, once I’ve selected the type of Echo I want, all I really want to do is adjust the level, mix, delay time and number of repeats – keep it simple and keep it effective. Amp Models To me, this was the acid test of the unit because this is where most multi-fx units really disappoint with tones that are far too digital and artificial in nature. On first firing up the AmpliFire I was tempted to think that this unit was an improvement on others but essentially suffering from the same problem but that was before I made a key discovery. My initial thought was to either use the factory presets as a basis for developing my own patches or to download presets made by other people and use those as the foundation of my own sounds. The problem was that they invariably had a number of effects in operation and there was too much going on for me to determine where the problem lay. Instead, I turned all of the effects off and started from scratch – it works a lot better. I started by selecting a model of an amp I knew I liked, such as a Fender Twin, Plexi and JCM800 in my case, and then adjusted things in a logical order so I determined gain and EQ first to get the basic tone before going on to adjust the more obscure parameters that exist. I found it most effective to fully engage the power amp simulator, which is designed to emulate the valve warmth you get from a real valve amp and I did this even though the power amp I’m using from the AMP1 already has a small valve in it for just such a purpose. I guess the two combined just increases the valve-like tone but either way, it works very well. Having said that, I don’t always leave it at 100% because I discovered that by backing it down it can have a beneficial effect on the tone with some amp models. Once that was to my liking, I moved on to selecting modelled cabinets. I’m running my AmpliFire through an Orange 1X12 loaded with a Vintage 30 speaker so at first I naturally selected ‘None’ but I soon discovered that if I selected ‘Matched’ instead, I was rewarded with a much bigger sound and although it could initially be a bit boomy, with some tweaking to the EQ and cabinet settings, I could get a really good sound that was actually an improvement on using just my own cabinet. After that it’s just a matter of adding effects as you like them in much the same way. So what’s the bottom line on these amp models then? Well, as with most things, there are pros and cons. Getting a really good amp tone out of the AmpliFire takes quite a bit longer than doing so with a conventional valve amp due to the myriad of parameters that need to be adjusted but once you get there, the results are very impressive. This unit does not give you a 100% accurate representation of real valve tone, but it is VERY close and significantly closer than anything else you’re likely to try below £1000. The Line6 HD unit doesn’t come even remotely close so I’m inclined to see this as more of a competitor for the Helix. Inevitably, some amp models are better than others but they’re all very good. Of the three I used first, the JCM800 was the weakest, even though it was still impressive but the Twin was excellent and the Plexi model was absolutely sublime. I’ve added other amp models to my presets now and every one of them has been impressive. The Vox AC30 patch I created was particularly effective and takes a Boost pedal beautifully. I find that usually with modellers, the more gain you try to use, the worse it gets but today I created a patch for a Rectifier sound and it’s so good I could easily see me using it live or for recording. Effects As I’ve already touched on the annoyingly long list of parameters that need to be adjusted, I’ll restrict myself to talking about the quality of the effects on offer. I find these to be very much like the amp models in that they are all very good, even if there isn’t the range of options offered by rivals like the Line6 HD. At the moment, for instance, you either have the Chorus on or off, with no facility to select a particular type of Chorus but as you might guess by now, that’s fine by me; a Chorus is a Chorus. This isn’t the same for all effects as there are a few different types of Boost you can choose and a few different types of Echo etc. and more are promised with further firmware updates but it’s fair to say that the selection isn’t as extensive as some units. I don’t find that a problem but I accept that some might. What is on offer here is all of the fundamental effects you’re likely to use and all of them are excellent. Conclusions I don’t have a major issue with anything about this unit as it’s all excellent quality in a compact package that works well but if I was being picky, there are a few things I would look to change on any future incarnation. Even though it would make the unit bigger, I would like to have had an assignable expression pedal attached so that I didn’t have to cart around an individual pedal to have control of my own Wah sound when the Wah that’s in the AmpliFire is basically very good as long as you don’t want to adjust it while playing. I also don’t see why the only way you can attach an expression pedal to the device is by using the Effects Return, thereby removing your ability to use an effects loop with the AmpliFire. Finally, I would have liked to see the USB connection doubling as an audio interface, as it does on the Line6 but I accept that each of these modifications would have price implications and I’m equally sure that I may not want to pay that much more. It’s a balancing act for Atomic and overall I can’t complain. The BluGuitar AMP1 isn’t a modelling unit in the conventional sense but it was the first unit I’ve ever tried that hasn’t had me longing to return to a valve amp and the AmpliFire has moved me even further away from that desire with even better amp tones and greater diversity. It’s still not exactly the same as a real valve amp and individual pedals but it is very, very close, offers far more tonal possibilities and is significantly more compact and portable. On my pedalboard at the moment I plug into a tuner, then a 535Q Crybaby and then the AmpliFire, followed by the effects return of the AMP1 and then my cabinet. That gives me everything I need and more, it weighs very little and takes 5 minutes to set up. The tones I get are excellent and while I was very happy with the AMP1, I’m even happier now it has the AmpliFire in front of it and I have absolutely no desire to start lugging around a cumbersome valve amp again. The best way I can describe it is to revisit the analogy I used at the start of this review. I still don’t feel like I’m driving a Ferrari because like a real valve amp, that car has something special about it that is more than the sum of its parts but I equally don’t feel like I’m driving a Toyota GT86 in comparison either. Now it’s more like driving a McLaren because in all sorts of ways it’s as good as, or better, than the Ferrari, yet somehow just misses that little bit of magic that you get from the original. I’d love a Ferrari but I’m more than happy with my McLaren.
  2. I recently picked up a used BluGuitar AMP1 that I now have sat on my pedalboard and while it's not quite as good as my old Orange TH30, it still offers some great valve tones and the compact nature of the set up is something I REALLY love. As most of my playing will now be in the home due to moving to The Falklands, I'd like to experiment with a bit of recording. My original idea was to keep my compact amp and effects for playing live and use a Presonus iTwo as an audio interface to record to my computer. However, because the AMP1 is proving to be better than expected, recently I've been wondering about the possible wisdom of going the whole hog and buying a Pod HD500X to use for everything. This idea raises a few questions: 1) How do the amp models on the HD500X stand up to a real valve amp or the AMP1? 2) Can the HD500X be used for recording as I want? 3) What's the best way of getting a live sound from the HD500X - hooked up to a traditional guitar amp, connected to a power amp and then into a guitar cabinet or into an FRFR system like an active PA speaker or keyboard amp? 4) If the answer to the previous question is a PA speaker then what sort should I be looking at? I seem to vaguely recall in the past someone saying that active PA speakers with a 15" speaker was best or is it better with a 12" speaker like a traditional guitar cabinet? Thanks
  3. Could anyone tell me what gauge of wire is used on the 498T? I always assumed it was 43AWG but the other day somebody told me it was 44AWG instead.
  4. I know what you mean about the build quality. I bought my Les Paul Studio in 2013 because I specifically wanted a mahogany neck that wasn't on the 2014 models and the first one that arrived had absolutely no adjustment left at all in the truss rod. It went back and fortunately the replacement was fine. I really love my Les Paul because there's just something about a proper Gibson but looked at objectively, I find my PRS SE Custom 24 to be a far better built guitar than my Gibson.
  5. Right, I've played both the 60's Tribute and the 2014 Special and while they were both good guitars, I really didn't find they inspired me. Frankly, my PRS is better. I was going to just keep the PRS but then I did find a couple of guitars that interested me. One is an EVH Wolfgang Special and the other is a Sterling JP100D. The EVH played really well and felt like a quality instrument but the Sterling wasn't in stock and nobody around me has them. Does anybody know anything about these guitars and which would you say is better?
  6. Looking at different guitar stores, it seems that I can get either a 60's Tribute model or a 2014 Special for about the same price. I was originally drawn to the Tribute because of the traditional mahogany neck as opposed to maple but perhaps it makes little difference in reality. I'm unsure exactly what the differences are but for much the same price, would you say one is a better bet than the other? In actual fact, I can get the Special for about £60 less but it doesn't have the Min-Etune system on it, which isn't the end of the world for me as my LP uses normal tuners too.
  7. I realise this is probably the wrong place for a really unbiased view but what the hell, I assume you know SG guitars better than most people! I own two guitars, a 2013 Gibson Les Paul Studio and a PRS SE Custom 24 in quilted purple. I love them both but you know what it's like as a guitarist - you get these sudden GAS attacks and sometimes they work out and sometimes it's the daftest thing you've ever done. Well I'm having one of those moments and I really would appreciate an opinion or two. Because I love my Les Paul so much, it has crossed my mind that I might want a Gibson SG and I've been looking at an old stock but new 2013 60's Tribute model. I like the fact that it has the mahogany neck as opposed to the maple they seem to use more these days and it's the right sort of price bracket. The only way I can afford it is to sell the PRS so I tested the water last night and I have a buyer already so now it's decision time. Is this a sensible move? How does this model SG stand up to the PRS in terms of quality? Is there another model at a similar price point I should be looking at or is this model the best option?
  8. Like most people I've been a real fan of valve amps for many years but unlike most people who seem to write reviews for this amp, I was looking at the CR60C to replace a more expensive valve amp for both home and gigs. The valve amp in question was a Blackstar HT60 Soloist so a very good amp and my reasons for this change should become evident as this review progresses. Throughout the review I will be using the Blackstar as my reference point. Physically, the Orange CR60C looks tiny compared to the Blackstar, which is unusually big for a 1X12. I've read reports saying the CR60C is heavy for a solid state amp but I found it positively featherweight compared to the Blackstar. Build quality is excellent with sturdy switches and dials, high quality materials and an overall ‘high end’ feel to the package so that’s a good start. I've been very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the tone on the Clean channel. It’s clear and warm and while it doesn’t quite have the richness of a good valve amp, it’s still good enough for me. That's partly because I don't use the Clean channel much but mostly because I've never been that struck on the Clean channel on my Blackstar or indeed, any of the valve amps I've owned previously, all of which were designed more for distortion. Treachery as it may seem, I prefer the Clean channel on the Orange to the Blackstar. Setting the Clean channel just to the point of break-up again yields very good results, especially as it seems to respond very like a valve amp. When I was in the shop I asked them to give me an Overdrive pedal to put in front of it and they brought a Marshall GV-2. The result was reasonable but hardly spectacular and I was left somewhat disappointed that I couldn't get a better crunch tone that way. At this point I decided that the GV-2 might just be a poor pedal so I brought out my Carl Martin Quattro that I'd taken along just in case, which has two Overdrives onboard. Hooking this beauty up to the Orange made a huge difference. Engaging OD1 from the Quattro on the Clean channel produced a drastically improved result and OD2 just gave me more distortion with the same good quality tone. Ironically, I've never liked using the overdrives on the Quattro with the Clean channel of the Blackstar but on the Orange it was a revelation and I loved it. I was initially disappointed with the Drive channel because on the Blackstar, setting the gain to '3' gives me plenty of distortion for a good AC/DC sound but on the Orange the sound was still pretty much clean. At the other extreme, moving the gain to maximum gives you plenty distortion and with it comes a noticeable 'fuzziness' that you may have read about in other reviews of Orange amps. It’s not the same as the tone being mushy because it’s not and it’s not necessarily bad because in a way I quite liked it but it is certainly ‘different’. Setting the gain to between 50% and 75% is where this amp likes to live. The distortion is really quite impressive with very good articulation and even a relatively cheap Overdrive pedal like the Marshall GV-2 produced some pleasing results, giving you some extra dirt without the fuzziness. Using my Carl Martin Quattro produces even better results. Set the gain on the Drive channel at 50% and engage OD1 on the Quattro for sonic heaven. Mmmmmmmmmm; a REALLY nice sound and once again, moving to OD2 on the Quattro did nothing to remove the quality of the tone. Smooth, very articulate and very 80's Metal in style but with more gain. Once again I found myself very impressed and I wasn't the only one. The combination of the CR60C and my Carl Martin Quattro produced such good results in the store after virtually no tweaking that a couple of the sales guys came over to see what I was using! What about a back to back comparison with the Blackstar? This is where it gets tricky. God I love that amp and in the cold light of day, the tone from the Blackstar is definitely superior. It has more depth, more richness and more complexity in the tone compared to the Orange BUT the Orange amp does have numerous redeeming qualities, not least of which is the fact that the Blackstar, being a valve amp, needs to have the valves both hot and driven to get that awesome tone whereas the Orange will give you its tone at almost any volume with far more consistency. If you approach the Orange looking for a perfect valve tone, you’re going to be disappointed. While it certainly has some valve-like qualities to it, that doesn't make it a direct substitute for valve tone. If, however, you approach the Orange just looking for a good quality tone that has its own thing going on, then I think you may be pleasantly surprised as the tone is excellent. It certainly has a lot more to it than other solid state amps I've tried and for me, works a lot better than all these modelling amps that try (and fail) to reproduce valve tone. I don’t get the impression that Orange were trying to emulate a valve amp, even if a lot of this amp is taken from one of their valve models. Instead they've simply concentrated on producing an amp with a really good tone in its own right and in this, they have certainly succeeded. It may not quite have the harmonic richness of valves but I still love the tone. Furthermore, strange as this may seem, the Carl Martin Quattro seems to work even better on the Orange than it did on my Blackstar! I have the two channels on the Orange set up so the Clean channel is just on the edge of break-up and the Drive channel is set to 50% gain and if I use it this way with the two Overdrive options I have on the Carl Martin Quattro, I end up with six very usable tones whereas I could never get that many using the two channels on the Blackstar. I have absolutely no idea at all why that should be the case as I know nothing of electronics and I would have thought that effects from Carl Martin would be tailored more to higher end valve gear but to my ears it just works better with the Orange. In buying this amp I really struggled to get past the fact that the ultimate tone on the Blackstar was better and if you’re in the same boat, wondering about either buying the CR60C or a cheap or used valve amp, you will have the same quandary. This is a real world issue because my Blackstar will sell on the used market for almost exactly what the CR60C costs new but for me, the ultimately superior tone on the Blackstar wasn't enough for me to keep it. The Orange is smaller, lighter, works better with my primary pedal, has a far more consistent tone in relation to volume, will be far more dependable without the fear of a valve giving out during a gig and I no longer have to fork out a chunk of cash to replace valves! I had to do that a few months ago and by the time I’d bought a full set of valves and paid someone to bias them properly I was about £100 poorer. That’s almost a third of the cost of the Orange CR60C!! On top of that, I do really like the tone of the Orange and while the valve amp may have been superior when it’s being driven reasonably hard, it wasn't by anything like as much as I'd feared. Once you get your head around the fact that the tone of the Orange is just ‘different’ to a valve amp, the difference in the quality of tone becomes relatively marginal and all of its other virtues start to look even more compelling. My only real gripe is that the footswitch isn't included and quite honestly, it should be. It’s also a reasonably chunky footswitch for what it is but overall I have no complaints and no regrets about making the change to give up on valves to move to the ‘dark side’ of solid state. I still don’t like modelling amps and I still don’t like digital amps but the Orange is neither of these things; it’s a high quality analogue amplifier that's based heavily on their Rockerverb 50 but doesn't use valves. It gives you most of the quality of a valve amp’s tone and in many ways the tone is just as good or even better without any of the negatives associated with using valves. Pair it with a good quality Overdrive pedal and there’s not much you can’t do with this little beauty.
  9. Yes, I agree but like you, it's the 'for now' part that has me asking the questions. I kinda suspect that sooner or later that 490R is going to irritate me enough to want to change it and then it's like dominoes!
  10. I have a 2013 Les Paul Studio and I absolutely love it. I expected to change a number of things about the guitar almost immediately such as pickups, pots and caps but having played it for a while, I'm now not so sure. The guitar resonates so much more than any other guitar I've ever owned, it sustains forever, for some reason it's louder than my other guitar even though the pickups on my PRS are hotter and it just has this unique Gibson 'vibe' about it. As a result I'm very wary of changing anything in case I lose what the guitar already has. Let me break this down more: Pots I expected to immediately change the pots for 500k units as I've always felt they were better for humbuckers and I was under the impression Gibson use 300k but the guitar is reasonably bright anyway and surely 500k pots will make it brighter. Caps Again, I usually use caps I get from Bare Knuckle and they're generally an improvement but I'm loathed to change in case it loses what makes it great. Wiring Initially, I wanted to use one tone pot to coil split both pickups and wire the other one to put them out of phase for the Peter Green tone. Generally speaking this is easy enough but when I took the back off the Gibson, instead of finding the loose wires etc. I find in my PRS and other guitars I've used, the Gibson wiring is all on a PCB and the pickups plug in rather than being soldered. I had no idea where to start so I just abandoned the idea. This raises a couple of questions. Firstly, how on earth do I make the alterations I just mentioned? Secondly, if I were to change pickups, would I need to rip out the PCB and install all new wiring like my PRS? It seems to me that if I do that I'm introducing a lot of variables to the tone. Pickups Before I got the guitar, loads of people told me that the 498T and 490R are awful pickups and I should change them immediately but I actually quite like the 498T. It does pretty much what I want and although it's a bit microphonic, I still love the tone. If I were to replace it with something from either Bare Knuckle or The Creamery, I'd be basically looking for an improved 498T. The 490R isn't as impressive. It's very bright, it's brittle, the clean tone is absolutely terrible, it's microphonic and the ultimate tone is nothing at all to write home about. It improves a bit if I keep the tone down at 6 or 7 but I know I can buy better than this. The trouble is that such a move would bring me back to the wiring issue. The Gibson pickups simply plug into the PCB but replacement pickups won't so I assume I'd have to strip all that out and will changing pickups also destroy the 'Gibson' feel the guitar already has? Does anyone have any experience of any of this and can offer some advice? Thanks
  11. I just bought my first Les Paul and it's a Studio but I went with the 2013 model to get the mahogany neck. Overall I really love it. Normally the first thing I do with any guitar is rip out the pickups and install Bare Knuckles but I actually quite like the 498T that's in there stock. The 490R is a different matter entirely and is a really horrible pickup. Even the cleans are awful, which I didn't expect on a neck pickup with an alnico II magnet. They're just overly bright, brittle and completely without soul. That one will certainly have to go but as I say, overall the guitar is incredible.
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