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Apple Garageband


Audio Interface

An Overview of Amp Modeling in
Apple's Garageband

Virtual amps and stompboxes
by Joe Schlicht

In GarageBand '09, new and improved amp modeling (hear audio examples below) was introduced. It uses a fun new GUI that is closer in resemblance to real amps much like 3rd party software such as AmpliTube or Peavey Revalver do.

Like those premium modelers, you can tweak the knobs of these virtual amps to change your sound rather than adjusting sliders like you had to do in the previous version of GarageBand...


Don't get me wrong though, this new feature in GarageBand is still quite limited compared to what you would get with these other more expensive plug-Ins.

What you do get, however, is a handful of virtual amps and stompboxes that emulate some of the most popular guitar amps and effects out there, and in my opinion they sound pretty good, at least a step up from GarageBand's previous version of amp modeling.

Included in the arsenal are simulations of:

  • Vox AC-30
  • 60s era Blackface Fender (looks like a Super Reverb)
  • 50s era Tweed Fender (Deluxe)
  • Marshall head with a 4x12 cabinet
  • Mesa Boogie head with a 4x12 slanted cab.

Apple gave these amps generic names I assume to avoid liability. The control layout for each amplifier matches the real one it was designed after - for example the chicken head knobs on the Tweed and Vox amps, the Fender numbered knobs on the Blackface amp etc.

Each amplifier has the same identical knob configuration. They all have Gain, Bass, Mids, Treble, Presence, Reverb, Tremolo rate and depth controls, and a Master and Output controls regardless of amplifier make.

Every vintage amplifier aficionado knows that none of these real amps had a master volume (except the Mesa Boogie - I think - I don't really know much about Mesa Boogie amps) but I guess Apple wanted to keep these features consistent throughout for ease of use, particularly for those users who could care less if a 50s era Tweed Deluxe didn't have reverb.

With digital - there's no rules or limitations, right?

Additionally you have some generic stompboxes models you can choose to help paint your sound. Included are the staple dirt boxes:

  • Overdrive
  • Fuzz
  • Distortion

As well as some of the usual modulation effects:

  • Phaser
  • Delay/Echo
  • Chorus
  • Flanger
  • Uni -Vibe
  • Envelope Filter (or Auto Wah)
  • Compressor (named Squash)

Like the amplifier models, these virtual pedals are fully tweakable and you can use up to five at a time. Pretty sweet!

People who know me know that I am a huge tube amplifier nut, especially boutique or vintage amps - so to see this new amp modeler in GarageBand got me pretty excited.

Now I know that these emulations aren't quite the real thing, but they give a nice flavor of what the real thing would be like, particularly the Vox, Marshall, and Fender models.

Now for example, with the Blackface combo did they nail the tone, dynamics and nuance of a real '64 Super Reverb? Probably not, but it certainly gives you the general characteristics. These amplifier models would do fine for scratching out song ideas, or even completing a finished song if you aren't so picky with your guitar tones.

I am though, and I prefer to record with a real tube amplifier, but sometimes I just want to lay down some scratch ideas and I don't feel like taking a half hour to set up my mics just to lay down one riff idea.

So by recording direct and using some of these new amplifier models I am able get my idea across very quickly and effectively, with editing capabilities if I decide to change my mind for a certain sound later.

Hear the Amp Models in Action

Included below are some audio samples recorded direct through my Focusrite Saffire audio interface. I used my Strat with the bridge pickup only. My playing isn't the best so bear with me, but at least you can hear what the different amp models sound like using the same guitar to keep it all relative. I also tried to keep the track levels matched the best I could by ear, to keep the volumes somewhat uniform.

Example 1:
With the first set of audio samples I used the GarageBand default Clean Combo.

Example 2:
In the next set I used the same chorded riff through all the amplifier models but turned the gain knob all the way up.

Example 3:
In this set again I used the same chorded riff with all the amplifier models but put the gain back to 5 and dialed in the tremolo knobs for some pulsing trem.

In these next two sets I recorded a lead riff, if you can call it that - don't laugh!

Example 4:
The first lead set I recorded again with the Clean Combo settings through all amplifier models.

Example 5:
The last set is the same recorded lead riff through all amplifier models with one of the virtual stompboxes.

I hope this article and these sound samples give you a good idea of what to expect when using the new amp models in GarageBand '09.

Have fun with them and stay tuned for my next article where I quickly show you some of the amp and stompbox model presets that are included within the new amp modeler.

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