Technology

IK Multimedia Custom Shop Review

BUILD YOUR DREAM GUITAR RIG IN SOFTWARE 11/01/2011 5:00 AM Eastern

IK Multimedia Custom Shop lets you cherry-pick digital models of guitar amps, cabinets, mics, stomp boxes and rack effects from the company’s collection of guitar-amp simulation plug-ins and combine them to create your own “Greatest Hits” rig. A try-before-you-buy interface and à la carte pricing offer a risk-free shopping experience tailored to any budget.

STARTER KIT
IK Multimedia provides a free, downloadable, fully functional plug-in for operating all of your handpicked Custom Shop treasures. It’s called AmpliTube 3 FREE (Mac/Win) and is operationally identical to IK Multimedia’s flagship guitar-amp simulation software, AmpliTube 3 (Version 3.5 and later). The only difference is that AmpliTube 3 includes more than six times as many models as the FREE version, which comes supplied with only nine stomp boxes, four amps, five cabinets, three mics, two rack effects and a tuner. Both AmpliTube products’ installers include the Custom Shop application, and their GUIs interface with Custom Shop in the same way.

Both versions of AmpliTube can host all of your currently owned AmpliTube models and presets, making the legacy AmpliTube X-GEAR obsolete. If, for example, you already own AmpliTube Fender, all your models and presets for that plug-in are displayed and can be used in AmpliTube 3 FREE. The GUI also provides a clickable icon that takes you directly to the Custom Shop online store (provided you are connected to the Internet), where you can audition and buy additional models.

Even if you never visit Custom Shop, AmpliTube 3 FREE is yours to keep and a great little guitar-amp simulator. Its GUI accommodates eight serial and parallel-routing configurations using two separate amps and cabs—each paired with two movable mics—and up to 20 effects (12 stomp boxes and eight rack effects). The software comes in stand-alone and plug-in (RTAS, VST and AU) formats, and is compatible with 64-bit DAWs and operating systems. The stand-alone version offers instant preset switching (a boon to use onstage) and a built-in 4-track recorder (useful for recording rehearsals). The included SpeedTrainer lets you slow down or speed up backing tracks without changing their pitch. AmpliTube 3 FREE is fully integrated with IK’s StealthPlug, StealthPedal and StompIO hardware.

SHOPPING SPREE
When you click on the Custom Shop icon in AmpliTube 3 or AmpliTube 3 FREE, a Webpage launches, where you log into Custom Shop using the same user name and password you normally would use to access the IK Multimedia user area (or acquire newly by registering). If you’ve previously registered any AmpliTube-related plug-ins (AmpliTube 3, Fender, Jimi Hendrix, Metal or the bass guitar–centric Ampeg SVX), click the Account tab at the top of the Webpage that appears after logging in. Select Restore My Gear from the drop-down menu to make all your models and presets populate AmpliTube 3 FREE.

Inside Custom Shop, you can purchase Gear Credits that serve as currency to buy the additional models you want. (IK’s reward-based JamPoints can also be applied to purchases for up to a 50-percent discount.) Gear credits cost between $0.60 and $1 each, depending on how many you buy at once; large purchases offer the larger discounts. Models cost between five and 20 credits each (as little as $3). Amps run the gamut, while stomp boxes and rack effects command between five and 15 credits apiece. Mics and cabs each cost a mere five credits. Rotary speakers each sell for 20 credits.

Fig. 1: Custom Shop shows you which models you currently do and do not own in each category, and makes auditioning and buying new models a snap

Custom Shop offers more than 200 gear models for audition and purchase. These include officially approved models from Ampeg, Fender, Gallien-Krueger, Groove Tubes, Orange, Seymour Duncan, Soldano, T-Rex and THD. The models are organized in Custom Shop both by brand (for example, Fender) and type (amps, cabs, mics, stomp boxes and rack effects). You can also do a keyword search for the model you want. Choose a category from the pop-up menus in the upper-left corner of the Custom Shop Webpage, and you’ll see a list that begins with the models you don’t currently own and follows with those you’ve previously purchased in that category, all clearly delimited. (See Fig. 1.) There’s virtually no risk of unintentionally buying a model you already own. When you find a model that piques your interest, click on one of two buttons to either try it out for up to 48 hours or buy it immediately.

Fig. 2: Pop-up submenus in AmpliTube 3 FREE list models you own, those you’re trying and locked models. The remaining trial period for the 1x12 Tiny Terror cab is shown here (highlighted in orange). Two items down in the submenu, the 2x12 PPC OB cab’s name is grayed out and has a padlock icon next to it, indicating it is not currently owned or being tried.

Fig. 2: Pop-up submenus in AmpliTube 3 FREE list models you own, those you’re trying and locked models. The remaining trial period for the 1x12 Tiny Terror cab is shown here (highlighted in orange). Two items down in the submenu, the 2x12 PPC OB cab’s name is grayed out and has a padlock icon next to it, indicating it is not currently owned or being tried.

Models you try are fully functional, with one caveat: You must keep Custom Shop open (you can hide the window) and stay connected to the Internet while you use them; if you don’t, AmpliTube 3 FREE will intermittently produce broadband noise. (You don’t need to keep Custom Shop open when using models you already own.) Models you don’t purchase become non-functional after the trial period expires but can be auditioned again two months later for another 48-hour period. To avoid unpleasant surprises, the submenus that load models in AmpliTube 3 FREE’s GUI show the time remaining for each model’s trial period. (See Fig. 2.) Models you don’t own and aren’t currently trying are listed with a padlock icon next to their grayed-out names; you can see at a glance what new goodies are available to add to your custom rig. Select a locked model, and an alert asks you if you’d like to enter Custom Shop to try or buy it.

When you decide to buy a model you’ve been auditioning, click on the My Gear tab in Custom Shop. A list of all your installed models appears, beginning with those you’re currently auditioning and don’t own. Click on the Buy button next to the model you want, and within seconds it’s yours to keep.

AmpliTube 3 FREE’s browser contains all of the factory presets for every AmpliTube-powered plug-in in existence. There’s no indication whether a preset contains a model you don’t currently own, however, until you try to load it. Because such presets won’t load properly, their names should ideally also be grayed out to avoid minor annoyance, but they’re not.

AMERICA'S NEXT TOP MODELS?
New models are regularly being added to Custom Shop. I tested the latest ones in Digital Performer 7.21 and Pro Tools 9.0.5, playing a Strat and using an 8-core Mac Pro running OS 10.6.8. Most of what I heard really impressed me.

One of my favorite new amp models was the Fender ’57 Champ, which delivered warm-sounding tones ranging from clean to vintage-rock-crunchy. The Fender ’65 Princeton Reverb amp sounded more present than the Champ and produced very good clean and crunchy timbres. The Orange RockerVerb 50 MKII amp model rocked a bit harder than the new Fenders, coaxing beautifully warm, brown tones and smooth sustain for lead work; even with heavy treble boost, it didn’t make my single-coil pickups sound harsh. Channel A of the Orange Thunderverb 200 had the same tone stack as the RockerVerb and sounded similar. The Orange Tiny Terror also had a somewhat similar vibe, but sounded a hair less supple than the RockerVerb. The Soldano SLO-100 amp excelled at dishing out soaring lead solos with smooth distortion and sweet overtones. Matching cabs were available for all but the Soldano amp.

New stomp box distortion models include the Seymour Duncan Power Grid and the T-Rex Moller and Mudhoney. The oh-so-flattering Mudhoney was aptly named, as it readily produced warm and dark-sounding distortion. The Moller allowed me to blend clean and overdriven signals, enhancing definition. The Power Grid featured excellent 3-band EQ, useful for sculpting precise tones.

T-Rex Replica, an echo stomp box, sounded wonderfully warm on clean tracks, but sometimes added discordant overtones when chained after some of the aforementioned distortion pedals. The Seymour Duncan Shape Shifter tremolo stomp box sounded really cool; it let me select among different LFO waveforms and then reshape the output’s envelope to fashion a variety of head-warping sounds.

But don’t take my word for it. You can hear for yourself—risk-free—how all these models work in combination with your own axe. That’s the beauty of Custom Shop.

CLOSING UP SHOP
Custom Shop is the iTunes of guitar-amp sims. Instead of being locked into buying a complete plug-in (album), you can preview and buy inexpensive single models (songs) one at a time. User-friendly and loaded to the gills with great-sounding models, Custom Shop is the new paradigm for the digital age and these recessionary times.


Mix contributing editor Michael Cooper is the owner of Michael Cooper Recording in Sisters, Ore.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the IK Multimedia Custom Shop product page.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the IK Multimedia Custom Shop product page.

Custom Shop Demo Videos