Zen of Recording
A Cool Amp for Hot Tracks
I don’t think I need to add my voice onto the heap-pile of mid-pandemic, end-of-the-year, holy crap, “can you believe what a year it’s been and it’s still going on?” pontifications, so I just won’t.
Sure did spend a lot of time at home in the studio though.
A lot of it trolling through the goldmines and badlands of the internet; searching and exploring. Looking for tools that help and toys that inspire. Because I was spending my own dough, I tried to narrow it down to the affordable.
I succeeded. Wildly, if not often.
Chief among the problems that needed solving was the fact that my neighbors were home a lot more. Like…always. They seem patient. I mean, they never complain or give me hard stares or any of the other signs that living near a record producer might be impeding their happiness, but I have learned to never take that lack of friction for granted. Rather, I assume that I get on their nerves as much as their barking dogs, screaming children, huge motorcycles and evening basketball tourneys get on mine.
So, tracking drums went remote (God bless you, www.billraydrums.com), my extensive loop library is getting a great workout and my drum programming game is picking up the slack from there. A lot of other talented folks have been emailing cameo performances and the like as well, so it’s all going great.
Vocals and guitars are really the most in need of the immediacy provided by direct communication to fuel the intimate relationship between artist and producer, so that’s where the focus has been this year for me and my clientele.
Considering the depth of my experience with rock, blues and Americana artists, it’s no surprise that when it comes to recording electric guitar, I’m a tactile “stick a mic in front of the amp and let’s get a tone” kinda guy. But I decided to see if I could veer off into the world of “virtual amp recording” for the sake of um… world peace.
There are other benefits as well, like the ability to subtly or drastically change the sound, character or even genre of a guitarists’ performance instantly, or even years after the fact.
The guitar signal is usually just the “naked” sound coming from the guitar itself, but instead of your amp’s preamplifier, volume, gain, EQ, and speaker(s) shaping the tone, that unaffected sound is what’s recorded and your computer reproduces and applies all of these sonic and electronic interactions virtually.
Now, I could get into the all of the technical complexities and nuances and black magic that take place between the player and the amp, but we’d be here for days. If you’re an electric guitar player, you know what you’re after and if you don’t quite get what you want, you will eventually get close enough to get the job done. In the digital domain, however, the simple and often heartbreaking truth is that it either works or it doesn’t.
Audio latency has long been the main culprit. You play a note or strum a chord and that sound winds its way through your signal path (mixer, DAW, plugin, amplifier, cabinet and effects) and back out through your studio monitors. This takes time. If that time is not instantaneous, there is a physical and emotional disconnect between the player and their instrument. No bueno, amigo. Fortunately, a lot of research and ingenuity have been dedicated to this problem, so most of the major DAWs can now easily handle this. That leaves the sound itself.
In the past few months I have tried out literally dozens of guitar amp simulators in addition to the ones that come stock with many DAWs. I’d like to say that’s regardless of price point, but I don’t want to find out that the Holy Grail amp sim I’ve been looking for costs about the same as the real thing and they’re out there, believe me. Time after time, I would find something usable for sure, but not quite as versatile or inspiring as the perfect combo can be. I mean, I’m makin’ records, baby. I don’t have patience for less than perfect.
Finally, I happened upon one amp in particular that could handle just about any non-metal situation I placed before it: The Amplifikation Matchlock ($48, on sale for $25) all the way from West Java, Indonesia’s Kuassa (www.kuassa.com) for PC/Mac, with AAX Native, AU, AAX AudioSuite, VST2, VST3 and Standalone versions. Kuassa also has A360 MODULES for their amps and effects.
I found this amp displayed very desirable characteristics that most guitarists seem to be looking for, with lifelike responsiveness to volume changes being chief among them. Leaning into it with your guitar’s volume knob gives you that wonderful interactive expressiveness that can often be so elusive in either the analog or digital realms. It absolutely feels like you’re playing the real thing.
The Amplifikation Matchlock is based upon time-honored Fender amp tones: (a)Twin Reverb, (b)Super Reverb, and (c)Custom Vibrolux Reverb. This may seem odd when one considers that I just used the word “reverb” three times in a row and none of these Matchlock amps even have one!
What it does have is an amazing amount of versatility, features and personality. Each amp model has both a “Clean” and “Boosted” channel, with Low, Middle and High and Volume knobs, a Bright switch and Bias and Sag controls for those like me who want to deep dive into the amps’ tonal and performance possibilities.
There is also a DAW input select for L, R, L+R, and Stereo sources, great Presets to get you started and save your favorites, A/B switching and swapping, and a really useful and functional Noise Gate, as well as a limiter. You can even get those classic “parked wah” tones via a Filter section and there’s a 1-8x oversampling feature, so you can get the highest fidelity from the amp that your system will allow, including up to 192k sample rates.
The cabinet models are amazing as well and are employed in an ingenious fashion that provides an incredible amount of flexibility. There are five different Cabinet/Speaker choices: Concerto 1×12, Black Deluxe 1×12, Hot –Rodded 1×12, Black Twin 2×12, and Tweed Bass 4×10 and each of them have a very distinctive appeal. Have impulse responses of different cabinets you’d rather use? It’ll load them.
Two different speakers can be used at once and set on either side of the cabinet for either a mono A/B summed mix or true separate stereo miking by any two of the seven mics included: The Shure SM57, Sennheiser MD421, Sennheiser MD441 dynamic mics, ShureKSM313 and Royer R121 ribbon mics and AKG C414 and Neumann TLM103 condenser mics. These mics can be placed close to the grill at any position in front of the speaker, on or off-axis and even pulled back into the room a bit. My favorite guitar sounds were often miked in just this fashion, giving them a sense of depth and dimension that really brings a mix to life!
Long story short, I’m having a ball using the Amplifikation Matchlock with my Gibson Les Paul and Ibanez Roadstar II Strat-style guitar. From bell-like chiming clean tones to grimy blues, ballsy rawk, and retro Vox grit this thing checks just about every box for me.
Five minutes into playing through it, I shouted the three words that sum up my review:
I FOUND IT!!
Sven-Erik Seaholm is a producer, recordist, singer, songwriter and guitarist. Hit him up at firstname.lastname@example.org