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Skunk Anansie guitarist Ace reviews IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube X-Gear series: “There are all these sounds that you’re just not hearing on other pedals”

Martin 'Ace' Kent
(Image credit: Francesco Castaldo/Archivio Francesco Castaldo/Mondadori via Getty Images)

IK Multimedia’s new AmpliTube X-Gear Series harnesses the power of the brand’s digital algorithms, placing them neatly into four sturdy, road-ready hardware pedals that are geared towards being at home both on stage and in the studio.

The X-Gear line is split into X-Drive (OD/dist/fuzz), X-Vibe (modulation), X-Space (reverb) and X-Time (delay), with 16 models per-pedal based on classic and contemporary pedals, and the whole range offering a comprehensive pedalboard solution when combined.

Add-in what IK says is “state-of-the-art” DSP, USB audio capability, MIDI, hardware and software control, plus slots for over 300 presets per-pedal, and these appear to be some extremely powerful effects units.

With that in mind, IK Multimedia sent a set to Skunk Anansie guitarist, Ace – a man who knows a thing or two about effects. As an avid collector of pedals throughout his career, if you can stamp on it, he’s most likely owned, played or sold one. Indeed, he even once held the world record for the highest number of stompboxes played simultaneously! 

We caught up with Ace a few days after he received the pedals to get his initial thoughts on them, and on the growing trend that sees guitar players ditching their amp in favour of going direct via an amp modeller

Unboxing

“First of all, they look great, they do look really good! A good-looking pedal is always really exciting because if it looks good, your mind already thinks it’s going to sound good!

They’ve got hardware controls, too, which is really important for a multi-effect because sometimes with these pedals it’s like, ‘Press save twice, soft button F1 and 2’ with a tiny little read out. There’s none of that! It’s a multi-effect pedal, but with the old school, hands-on knobs which is great, so you can quickly dial stuff in.

“I use a lot of multi-effects and rack units and stuff, and when you have to dial through menus to find the settings you want to change, you’ve kind of forgotten what you’re looking for! So, hands-on wise, they’re great. They look really nice, they’re all-metal, so they’re properly solid, and the switches feel like they’re going to last. 

“It’s got true bypass too which is pretty essential for me on a pedal, especially when you’re using a lot of them. I’ve got the X-Gear pedals all connected in a line, and it’s barely noticeable that I’m running through four pedals running into an amp. When I plug straight into the amp it’s practically the same. What I haven’t done yet is plugged them all in in buffered bypass mode, they were in buffered mode when I got them, but I turned it off because I wanted true bypass.”

“Another cool thing is they’ve got lots of presets, and I think the presets are awesome. When I first got them I was like, ‘Right, I’ll get them onto something I know – Green, that’s a Tube Screamer, I know that sound’. I started tweaking, and I thought ‘Yeah, that sounds really good, like a Tube Screamer, like I use…’. 

“It took seconds to dial it in and save it with a name. But then I thought ‘I’ll just whiz through the presets on it’, and the presets were wicked! I was like ‘D’ya know what? I’d just use most of these out of the box’ and marginally tweak things.

“With the X-Vibe I was looking through all the wobbly-type sounds, and I found one that was pretty much exactly what I was after, I just changed the speed and the depth a little bit, the control is right in front of you where it needs to be, and you can just save it as a preset of your own. So for laziness, they get a score of 10, because they’re really good presets.

“I’m going into the studio today, and the way I usually work is I’ve got all my little old boxes there, I twiddle them all and hook them all up and that’s the sound. But with these, you’ve got all that in there and you can save your sound and recall it instantly. And you can have 300 of them!”

IK Multimedia X-Gear pedals

(Image credit: IK Multimedia)

“I love the tap-tempo on the Time and the Vibe pedals. These days a lot of people are recording at home, to a grid, and being able to tap that it will save a lot of time for people who are recording at home in that way.

“As individual boxes, I think they’re fab. I think they’re going to cut out a lot of heavy-duty carrying, plugging in, signal loss and stuff like that. They look really awesome in a line! If they can do a filter version, and maybe a pitch one, it’d be the ultimate setup!”

On multi-effects pedals

“Normally I don’t like multi-effects pedals, because i think ‘They’re just using the same circuit, and it all kind of sounds the same and it’s a bit thin”, right? But these ones aren’t like that, they actually do sound good. 

“For instance the X-Drive has got some really great models in it like the Sweet Cat which I think is supposed to be like a Bad Cat, and the Hi Boost is really nice, the Green which is obviously supposed to be a Tube Screamer sounds great. Some of the fuzzes are ridiculous! But it depends what you like. I’ll be taking these to the studio this week and I’ll tweak them while I’m recording to make a new small setup. 

“If you’re the type of player who’s quite full-on, running around stage and always changing stuff, you have to get yourself into a different mindset [with multi-effects pedals]. There’s enough space between the switches, you have to be a bit more focussed when you’re looking down. The great thing about these is that they’ve got a great big read-out on them, so when you put a name in, they’re all different colours. 

“When you see the read-outs, I’m looking at mine now – I’ve got Universe, Old Tape, High Boost and Flangey – one’s green, one’s yellow, one’s red and one’s orange. It’s really easy to read and you know exactly what you’re stepping on. It’s not like the old rack units where you’ve got a tiny little screen.”

IK Multimedia Amplitube X-Gear software

(Image credit: IK Multimedia)

Portability/Connectivity

“If you’re a travelling player, and you’ve got four of these – which is definitely enough to do a really good rock set – you could put them on your back when you go on a plane. I’m looking at them going ‘I wonder if I could make a new pedalboard that I could check-in’. Because my giant ‘board in Skunk, you can’t check it in anymore, it’s too heavy! 

“And that’s the way music is going now, it’s about travelling light. Going in, doing a gig, hiring an amp, getting on a plane and getting out again. Or people playing in a club, sitting on a bus or the tube with their guitar on their back, some pedals in a gigbag and not even using an amp sometimes.

“People talk about Klon this and original blah blah… all these different pedals, and everyone is trying to copy them. But I think as long as you get something that sounds good, and works for your sound then that’s the right pedal. And this X-Drive has got everything in there. 

“I’ve got a system that I’m going to try in the studio where I’ve got no amp, and I’ve been using at in my home studio. I use a Koch Pedaltone, which is like a valve front end, without the power amp, and it’s got a recording output on it. I’ve been putting that up against my Marshall, and I can’t tell the difference. I plugged these into it and they sounded great, so if I can take a rig like that straight onto a plane or straight into a studio, then what’s the point in taking amps and cabinets?”

Ace’s favourite tones

“For people that don’t know how to get a good sound straight away, the presets are fantastic. Sound-wise, they’re actually really, really good. I do have to say, they’re properly good sounds. 

“You’ve got 16 different types of pedals on each, I’m looking at the Vibe pedal right now and I’ve got most of the pedals that this is based on – the Small Stone, the Electric Mistress, all that type of stuff – and it does sound like them. The sounds are the most important thing.”

X-Drive

IK Multimedia

(Image credit: IK Multimedia)

“There’s the Sweet Cat, Angry Cat and Crazy Cat, that’s one of the banks of presets, and they sound great. They’re really thick, and I’m using them on an overdriven amp, and they sound really modern, fuzzy, punchy, thick and exciting.

“The Orange models sound really good. There’s one, two three, and [IK Multimedia’s] Orange stuff always sound really good. The models in AmpliTube sound good, and so do these.

“Then the three Green presets, that’s a Tube Screamer, sound really nice. Like I said, I’m using them on an overdriven amp so I have to take the gain down a bit on the presets, because it is pretty full on.

“Diode, I think that’s supposed to be a Rat or something. But the Diode model sounds really good, really modern and grungy and sticky. Kind of like that band The Blue Stones, or The Black Keys. That sort of thing. It’s really nice and there’s three of those, and they go up in intensity as you go through the presets.

“There’s the Booster, which is like a Treble Booster, but I really like High Boost. it puts this proper top end treble on your sound, it’s almost a little bit like having a wah-wah on wide open. It’s toppy and nasally, but what it’s really good for is doubling riffs. So if you play something on the Angry Cat or something, you’ll have a fat riff. Then if you double it with the High Boost then it just pops it out. It’s really punchy.

“I’ve been toying with the Octafuzz model too, but I need to delve deeper into that one. So those are my favourites on the X-Drive that I’d use right out of the box.”

X-Vibe

IK Multimedia

(Image credit: IK Multimedia)

“I really like all of these, but I think the Fox is really nice as a phaser. Electric is great too. The Step Slicer is brilliant, sort of a step phaser type sound. Every single pedal that they’ve included in the X-Vibe sounds very close to the original. If the original sounds toppy and hollow, then the IK one does too. In terms of the presets, the Jimi patch is really nice, basically a 60s vibe. 

“Spinner is a really fast phaser. Rooster is like the really fast swirly Alice In Chains sound. If you want something really crazy then Copter is great, and you can speed all of these up and slow them down to fit your track.”

“The cool thing is, when you go into the presets, it’ll tell you which model it’s made from. The thing I like about it is that all of the base models will give you a great sound straight out of the box, then if you want something crazy you can just call up the presets, because they are quite extreme.

“I’ve been using IK’s MixBox software a lot recently for this new project I’m working on, and I’ve been using the plugin version of the Step Slicer on there. So having that in a pedal and being able to tap in the tempo is going to be great.

“The only thing you need to remember with digital pedals like these, is that when you’re working with a preset and you want to change a setting like the depth, is that you have to get the hardware control to catch up to where the digital position is set before it changes. So you’ve got to remember that where the knob is set is not necessarily where the control setting is. It’s all about the ear, you’ve got to listen to it.”

X-Time

IK Multimedia

(Image credit: IK Multimedia )

“With the delay, the presets are crazy! But the tape ones are really good. There’s wow and flutter, and New Tape, and they’re all really, really good. Then they have a few nutty ones, like the ping-pongs, but Pattern is mad. It depends on what you like, but it basically gives you delays in all these rhythmic patterns. 

“Years ago DigiTech made a pedal called the Time Bender, and one thing it had on there was the pattern delay which was really good, but it was really complicated. Whereas the X-Drive will sort of create the pattern for you. It’s a good one to look on the presets for. But you have to get in time with it because it’ll do your head in if you’re not.

“Then there’s a reverse delay, that’s written backwards which is quite funny! So there’s all these nutty ones - fifth-up and all of that sort of stuff - but with the delay, what I’d say is go through the models [rather than the presets] first.” 

“Use the model button and just scroll through them and get to know what the models sound like, because with delay, going crazy straight away is a bit confusing. I really like the Old Tape model, for instance, and there’ a preset using that called Dirty which just decays and decays and sounds crazy. 

“If you want something that’s kind of modern and just repeats, then just go for a digital delay model. Pluck Delay is fantastic for riffs or solos that you don’t want to make all muddy. So my advice is to go through the models first, because they all sound good and you can tap your tempo in, and you can also get to know what each one does. 

“Then, if you’re a bit devoid of creative ideas, dive into the presets, because they’re all mad! But having the tap tempo on there is brilliant, because I feel like if you didn’t have that, getting things in time would drive you mad.”

X-Space

IK Multimedia

(Image credit: IK Multimedia )

“This is a reverb in that it’s got rooms and springs and stuff, but it’s also way more than a reverb. It has all these weird things in it that regular reverb pedals don’t have. So with this one – reverb is reverb, go through and get all your basic reverb sounds. 

“But then go through the presets! I haven’t programmed anything on this one yet because I’ve just been playing with the presets. They shimmer and shatter, and stuff like that. You play a chord and it’s almost like a delay with a reverb on it and swells. If you’re in the studio and you need some mad sounds, where you want one chord to just erupt all over the place, then this will do it for you. 

I never normally use reverb pedals because we’re usually playing in halls anyway, but I can see myself using that pedal a lot for the mad stuff

“So you can have it as your standard, ‘Here’s a guitar solo, here’s a roomy-sounding reverb’ sort of thing; I’m going to program some bluesy type stuff in there. But then there are all these sounds that you’re just not hearing on other pedals. They’re really quite original. Things like Glitter, Liquid, Universe and Enigma, they’re all really interesting.

“There’s a track on [Led Zeppelin] In Through The Out Door called Carouselambra where it all slows down and Jimmy Page hits this chord, and I’ve never heard anything that really does it. But this pedal has hints of that; you can do something that sounds completely expansive with one chord that swells up into this huge mass. I never normally use reverb pedals because we’re usually playing in halls anyway, but I can see myself using that pedal a lot for the mad stuff.”

Final thoughts

“If I owned no pedals, and I had these and thought ‘I’m going to really get into them and program them,’ I can see that they’ll absolutely slaughter it in the studio and on stage. It’d be quite pricey to buy the complete set, it’s like £1200 of pedals, but you could definitely model an entire setup with just these, and that’s your setup. It’s great in that sense.

“Usually when we’re in the studio, I get a lot of time to experiment because everybody is busy doing something. So while the rest of the band are doing their thing, I’ll usually go off into another room and start experimenting programming pedals and stuff for the next wave of stuff, or tours or whatever. So hopefully I’ll get a chance to really get into them. Then once I’ve got them down, it’s not like I’m so old school that I need to carry a whole bunch of metal around with me, I totally welcome having a smaller rig!” 

“You could get any pedal, scrape all the stuff off it and say, ‘That’s a Klon.’ and someone will go ‘Oh my god, Klons sound so great, I want one of them!’ But it’s the sound, if it sounds good then it sounds good. I’ve got original Tube Screamers, and I use them all the time.

“But if I didn’t have one, I’d go, “This is a great pedal, this Green model!”. So, for me, if I’m replacing something with something else, I’ve just got to make sure I can still get those sounds. But at the same time, I’m not precious. I’ve had millions of pedals in my time. I’ve still got a lot, but I’ve sold a lot too, I must have sold as many as I own now.”

  • See IK Multimedia for more details on the AmpliTube X-Gear range of pedals.