Read Time 8 Minutes
Big value in small packages.
Considering the wealth of resources, it has never been a better time to be an electric guitarist. When the Line6 Pod was first released people were stunned that 16 amps and effects could fit into a 12” unit.
Now, the advent of tablet and cell phone technology allows for even more amp flexibility in smaller packages than ever. I tried Positive Grid’s JamUp XT and JamUp Pro and found these are the new essentials for modern electric guitarist.
JamUp XT is the Swiss Army Knife of guitar apps. In addition to providing an amp model and multi effects processing for guitar, JamUp XT houses a tuner, a metronome, two-track recording (expandable to 8 tracks total), a looper and a phrase trainer that interfaces with iTunes. JamUp XT is a free app but the company’s business model is similar to Amplitube, where additional upgrades can be purchased as bundles or individual components.
To use the unit, you’ll need an Audio converter to interface with the phone. Positive Grid has an inexpensive “plug and play” audio interface that sells on Amazon for $19.99. It’s tiny and functional and simply plugs into the headphone jack of your iPhone. They’ve updated the design to minimize feedback.
The unit was a good value, but since JamUp works with multiple iOS interfaces, I used a Line 6 Sonic Port for all testing on this unit.
The interface is dynamite!
Everything has a very logical layout. The metronome, tuner and guitar signal level sit along the top row of the app. To edit a sound or a preset, simply double click on an amp or an effect and scroll through the available options. The effects chain is drag and drop, so effects can be put before or after anything. The unit has space for 128 presets (and with the in app Share feature that accesses the ToneSharing community – you may fill them all!) The shopping cart on the lower left hand side access any kind of in app upgrade (effects, amps, bundles or recording functionality).
The amps and effects
JamUp XT has one amp and a few effects. The good news is that the amp is modeled on a Vox® AC 30, and the included effects are flexible pedals. With minimal tweaking, I got good tones right out of the box. The included effects are:
- Noise Gate (based on the Boss® NF-1 Noise Gate)
- Custom 4-band EQ
- Tube Drive (based on the Ibanez® Tube Screamer)
- Echo Tape (based on The Maestro® Echoplex EP-2 Tape Delay)
- Digital Chorus (based on the Boss® CE-1 Chorus); and
- Digital reverb (based on the Boss® RV-5 Digital Reverb).
Positive Grid cites their MESH modeling technology (which avoids the “snapshot” static curve method of modeling technology and instead looks at multiple aspects of tube amplification) as a differentiator in their approach. By and large, the amps sound good to my ears and you’d have to go to the level of the Scuffham Amps S-Gear plug in to find a more responsive modeled amp. Having said that, S-Gear doesn’t have an iOS platform as of this writing and costs $99 for version 2.2, so it’s not really a viable comparison.
The JamUp XT unit is expandable to 46 amp models and 40 effects.
The amps are modeled on:
- Various Fenders (Twin Reverb, ’57 “Tweed” Deluxe, a ’59 Bassman, ’65 Deluxe Reverb)
- Marshalls (Plexi, JCM-800 and a JCM-900)
- Low-gain amps (Roland® JC-120, and an acoustic simulator Amp)
- High Gain amps (Mesa/Boogie® Dual Rectifier, an Orange® AD30, a Bogner® Ecstasy, Peavey® 5150® MkII, ENGL® Fireball 100)
- Boutique amps (Matchless® DC-30, Dr. Z® Route 66, Laney® GH50, Hiwatt® DR 103)
- Bass amps (Acoustic 360, Ampeg SVT, Ampeg B-15, Fender Super Bassman, Gallien-Krueger® 700RB II, Gallien-Krueger® 800RB, Orange AD-200, SWR Redhead,
- Signature Amps (The Metal Signature pack features six signature amp models and six signature pedals developed by Positive Grid and guitarists Jeff Loomis, Ola Englund and Keith Morrow)
The effects are based on:
- Various distortions and overdrives: Booster (MXR® Micro Amp), Fuzz Face (Arbiter Fuzz Face), Overdrive (BOSS® OD-2 Overdrive), Loomis OD (signature overdrive), Merrow Drive (signature overdrive), Metal MT(Boss® MT-2 Metal Zone™), Black Op (ProCo Rat), Bass Muff (EHX Bass Muff Pi pedal), Bass Master Bass Brassmaster Fuzz)
- DI Driver (Tech 21® SansAmp), Mesa Boogie® 20/20™
- Noise Gates (Noise Filter, Merrow Gate)
- Compressors Red Comp (MXR® Dyna-Comp), Sustain Comp (Boss® CS-3 Compression Sustainer), LA Comp (Teletronix® LA-2A® Compressor)
- Modulation Devices: Chorus (Boss CE-1), Ola Chorus (signature chorus), Flanger (EHX Delux Electric Mistress), Tremolo (Mad Professor® Tremolo), Phaser (MXR® Phase 100), Vibrato (BBE® Mind Bender) Rotary (Leslie® 145 Rotary Speaker), Univibe (Shin-ei® Uni-Vibe)
- Filters Auto-Wah (Boss® AW-2), Cry Baby (Dunlop® Cry Baby), Tron (EHX® Q-Tron), Mutron (Musitronics ® Mu-Tron III), HPF Pro (High Pass filter)
- Pitch shifting devices: Pitch Shifter (Digitech Whammy pedal), Octaver (Boss® OC-2 Octave), Octa Bass (Bass Octave pedal)
- Delays (Digital (Boss DD-3), Echo Filt (Delay and Modulation filter) Ola Delay (Signature digital and analog combined unit, Boss® DD-7 Digital Delay, Roland® RE 201 Space Echo, Reverse Delay, Echo Delay )
- EQ (4 band EQ Jeff loomis signature 4-band parametric EQ)
- Reverbs: ’63 Spring (Fender® ’63Spring Reverb) Room Reverb (Room Reverb Simulator/Echo chamber)
JamUp doesn’t offer a way to mix and match cabinets or upload your own IR’s (impulse responses), but there is certainly enough tonal flexibility in the various amps and pedals that finding a tone for any genre shouldn’t be an issue.
JamUp XT only offers a single amp and a handful of effects, but spending $19.99 (as of this writing) on the Jam Man Pro upgrade gives you 5 more amps (a Fender® Twin Reverb, Fender® ’59 Bassman, Marshall® Plexi, Marshall® JCM-800 and a Mesa/Boogie® Dual Rectifier) and 10 more pedals (Arbiter Fuzz Face, BOSS® OD-2 Overdrive, MXR® Dyna-Comp, Custom Flanger, Mad Professor® Tremolo, MXR® Phase 100, Dunlop® Cry Baby, Boss® OC-2 Octave, Boss® DD-7 Digital Delay and a Fender® Spring Reverb Unit).
This is substantially cheaper than buying the individual components alone, but you don’t get any additional functionality out of the recorder by upgrading so the savings is purely on the additional amps.
The additional amps all had interesting characteristics, but I found the bundle packs (the Classic Expansion Pack, the Metal Expansion Pack, the Effect Expansion Pack, the Boutique Expansion Pack, the Metal Signature Pack, the Bass Expansion Pack I and the Bass Expansion Pack II – each selling for $9.99 per bundle) provided a comparable value.
I ended up downloading the Metal Signature Pack, and (in addition to the excellent high gain amps) I found the Ola Englund Peace Amp to be the most versatile sounding clean amp in the entire collection. I also downloaded the Dr. Z® Route 66 and the Ampeg SVT models, the LA Comp (Teletronix® LA-2A® Compressor) pedal and the Booster (MXR® Micro Amp) pedal, which all sounded good, but the LA Comp made EVERY one of my amps sound better.
To hear some of the amps and effects, you can check out my melodic minor pentatonic lesson or just listen to the short audio clip below, which features many of the amps in the Metal Signature amp series.
The Live View Display
Positive Grid was forward thinking enough to imagine a scenario where the app could be used live via seamless wireless integration with the Bluetooth footswitch AirTurn.
With a street price of $119 for the 2 pedal version and $159 for the 4 pedal version, the AirTurn BT-105 can be customized for a variety of functions in JamUp including switching between presets, toggling between amps or effects, tap tempo or recording or playback options in the recorder, sampler or playback function.
Online Tone Sharing
Sitting down with a new app and flailing between all of the different effects to search for a sound can eat up a lot of time, but access to other sounds to tweak can save a tremendous amount of time. Thankfully, Positive Grid included an in-app portal for uploading or downloading presets. In addition to Jeff Loomis, Keith Merrow and Ola Englund (of the Metal Signature Pack), artists such as Periphery’s Misha Mansoor are also uploading tones there.
The other in-app apps
This seems to be a good place to talk about some of the other functionality in the app.
Okay. I’ll say it here. This is the best sounding metronome that I’ve found. That might sound inconsequential, but when you’re listening to a click in your ear for hours the wrong sound will start to feel like an ice pick driven into your skull after a while.
This metronome sounds so good that I open up the app when practicing acoustic guitar, just for the metronome!
The chromatic tuner isn’t quite as accurate as my standard go-to (Cleartune) iPhone tuner, but it works perfectly fine with both guitar and bass.
8 Track Recorder ($4.99 for full functionality)
This is one of those things that sounds like an amazing idea, but doesn’t hold up well in reality. It’s AMAZING that you could record a full demo in app in your pocket, but the reality is that since the audio recorded is MP4 and the editing features on any DAW far exceed what this can provide, you’ll probably just use the two tracks to record to for in app use or send the signal out to another DAW.
It could be my iPhone as well, but I wasn’t able to export the files into iTunes cleanly and had to use an outside app (iFunBox) to get the audio files off the phone. Positive Grid states that “You can export your songs via email, iTunes or SoundCloud,” but the e-mail and iTunes export options didn’t work 100% for me. However, these are minor quibbles. The two tracks you get for free DO sound good, and paying $5 for a full 8-track recorder on your app is certainly reasonable.
Additionally, for people who typically play live with backing tracks, you could upload an entire set on the 8 track and play over the top of it in live performance meaning you could literally show up with a guitar, an audio interface and an iPhone and do a live set.
This is a great app that allows you to take songs from your iTunes library and alter the songs pitch and tempo on the fly while you play along. It’s a useful transcription tune that doesn’t have the complexity of Seventh String Software’s Transcribe!, but it’s still useful.
The sound-on-sound loop feature is pretty awesome! You can load or save audio, quantize loops and undo. Again, it doesn’t have the full functionality of some stand alone apps, but is the best IOS app I’ve seen and works seamlessly with the other components of JamUp.
Pros and Cons
Okay, let’s start to sum up by looking at the pros and cons of the unit:
Pros: Incredible flexibility, versatility and value as a practice tool. Also, some excellent amps and effects, drag and drop signal chain, tap tempo and very user friendly. Supports MIDI assignment, all major iOS adaptors, pedals, iPod Touch 4 and 5, iPads from version 1.0 on and iPhones from 3GS on.
Cons: No ability to change speaker cabinets with amps, can’t run dual rigs.
It’s easy to look at a product and nitpick and pine for what it can’t do, but the functionality of this unit is stunning. We are really in a time where a person can have everything they need to do a show fit easily in a guitar bag, and having an iOS app that can go directly into a PA is a game changer for me with regards to live performance. This app is an absolute no brainer for anyone with a guitar and an iPad or iPhone. If JamUp is any indicator, we can expect great things from Positive Grid in the future.