Vox has come up with a new product that aims to give guitarists an instant no-brainer. JamVOX is the result of collaboration between Vox's guitar amplification and modelling engineers and a team of Korg electronic musical instrument and PC software developers.
It's a hardware and software package that couples a combined speaker cabinet/audio interface with some amp simulation and effects software that includes some very unique features designed for learning and practice.
The JamVOX software is primarily a rig with amp, effects and speaker simulation. There are models of 19 guitar amps and 54 vintage and modern effects to choose from to build your rig, as well as a dozen different speaker cabinets.
Plenty of sounds on tap then, if you just want to play, including a whole library of over 100 presets that have been programmed to perfectly replicate guitar sounds from specific songs, players and bands.
"The monitor might be small but the sound certainly isn't."
It is the extra features that Vox has added, though, that make JamVOX such a powerful tool. What you get is a music file player that can load files in a number of different formats. You can load them from CD, mp3 player or directly from your iTunes library, and with one button click JamVOX will import the whole library in seconds.
The music player lets you hear the songs while playing along and has facilities to loop a section of the music, to change the playback tempo while keeping the same pitch and to change the pitch without affecting the tempo of the song, thus allowing the correction of slight discrepancies in pitch between your guitar and the song or to play along with songs that use a dropped tuning.
There is also a facility to cancel or extract the guitar part of a particular song. This is parent company Korg's newly developed GXT (Guitar XTracktion), which is not the usual conventional 'centre canceller' that subdues sounds in the centre of the stereo picture by phase cancellation resulting in a mono image.
Korg says that the sound is analysed by "stereotactic position" and "frequency band" spatially, and an adjustable filter is used to create the cancellation effect. Hmmm… sounds about right.
Technological gobbledegook aside though, the upshot of this, according to Korg, is that the song's stereo image remains intact with the desired sound removed or reduced so you can replace it with your own playing – you can even record your own performance by pressing a 'record' button. Now that's cool.
Besides being able to extract guitar from your own favourites, Vox also supplies two CDs containing 28 songs for guitar karaoke – complete backing tracks that you can play along to, all of them well-known guitar classics from the likes of The Beatles, Cream, Hendrix, Zeppelin, AC/DC etc. On top of that there's a metronome and the music player also has 100 drum patterns for practice or to aid songwriting. Guitar and vocal performances can be layered onto these.
The hardware part of JamVOX, the monitor, is a small wooden speaker cabinet that connects to your computer via a USB 2.0 connection. You can plug in a guitar and set the monitor level for the pair of three-inch speakers or any headphones that you wish to connect up.
A mic input with its own input level knob allows you to record your own vocal or have a session together with a vocalist. The monitor doubles as a standard USB audio interface that is compatible with ASIO/CoreAudio software, and it can also usefully be used as a monitor speaker for your computer.
Check out the video below in which Guitarist's Simon Bradley talks you through the JamVOX's functionality and puts it through its paces:
Installing JamVOX from the supplied disk is a completely hassle-free process with no registration or anything involved – the monitor effectively acts as a protection dongle as JamVOX won't work without it plugged in.
All you have to do once the software is installed is connect the monitor to the computer with a USB cable. This instantly causes the program to load and you are in business. If you keep the hardware speaker permanently connected, JamVOX will start automatically every time you turn on your computer, which is brilliantly convenient.
If you don't want to use JamVOX a single click will quit the program and you can call it up later like any other piece of software.
Everything in JamVOX is there in a single screen delineated in sections for the different functions. It's not really complicated anyway, but clicking on just about any icon opens a small dialogue box that tells you exactly what its function is.
The main amp and effects rig has the largest window with the amp, tuner and up to six stompboxes that can be dragged and dropped into any position in the signal chain. You get two pedal-type effects, one modulation, one delay, one reverb, and noise reduction.
"Many of the effects are instantly recognisable, such as old favourites the Tube Screamer and Fuzz Face."
Clicking on any (except the noise reduction) allows you to choose a particular pedal for the genre. The amp controls (including cabinet) are always on display, as are the controls for whichever of the stomps you choose to click on.
The first stage in getting the sound is an optional pickup selector complete with tone control that is designed to transform single-coils into humbuckers (or vice versa) and is very effective. Then it's on to the amp and effects and some playing.
The three-inch speakers in the monitor might be small but the sound certainly isn't – it's not massively loud but is impressively full-bodied and feels a lot like playing through a real amp. That has to be partly down to the design of the monitor, but also due to the software using the Virtual Valve Reactor technology found in the Vox Valvetronix – the resulting sound is up there with the best computer-based sims.
As this is a Vox product you get AC30 and AC15 amp models but there are also Marshalls, Fenders and several instantly recognisable boutique models. Many of the effects are also instantly recognisable, such as old favourites the Tube Screamer and Fuzz Face.
As far as versatility goes, there is not much missing – the number and variety of amps and effects should cover most possibilities. The initial 106 presets are quite specific in their aims and cover instantly familiar tones, but creating your own only takes a few mouse moves and clicks and if you want to get into real wah playing and effects switching there are facilities to connect up an expression pedal and footswitch.
So far so good but it's the music player that may prove the most useful feature for many users. The whole music player/phrase trainer concept is nothing new in this type of computer-based program, but it's the GXT technology that sets it apart.
No software for removing or extracting guitar parts from recorded music is going to do a perfect job, but this one takes the process that bit further. There are 10 templates that offer variations in reducing solo guitar or backing track in right, left and centre positions, but then there's a whole bunch of parameters to be grabbed with the mouse and adjusted to really home in on the required result.
You can either make a space without the original guitar in the music to add your own playing or get rid of the backing and just hear the lead guitar so you can figure out the notes. It might take practice to get it as close as you want, but it's an excellent learning resource.
For playing guitar along with the music player, a small mixer window lets you set the relative levels of guitar and backing (and vocals if you are singing as well) and the results can be recorded – with three record buttons letting you choose which of the three elements you will record, so it's easy to record drums and a chord sequence for playing lead over. Overall, JamVOX provides a great facility for playing, practising and learning guitar.