The reason to carry on working on a virtual amp was a private issue: My V-Amp 2 was okay, although not perfectly suited for guitar AND bass. Something was missing. Not in terms of features, it was more about ‘tone’. Same with the other native amp sims, always way too sterile, one-dimensional. Or they put too much strain on my ancient Athlon XP. Plus, bass players rarely get as much attention as the guitar people.
‘At least, any work on this is going to be fun and there’s tons of things to learn ‘, I thought.
So I started more in-depth research, studied all kinds of amp schematics, made measurements on unit I could get my hands on, set up some basic circuits in PSPICE (a simulation software) and finally… trashed the prototype. By design, it didn’t behave even similar to the real thing. How disgusting.
Then came the most important question: what am I supposed to build? Do I need a clone of something, a sounds-like-xyz-plugin? What for? This leads to even more questions:
- How many controls do I personally need? Would such a thing even be suitable for a general audience, feature-wise?
- Isn’t most guitar software more focussed on the producers and studio guitar players, as opposed to ‘ordinary’ players like me?
- Why do I need to step through 237 presets, just to find 1 or 2 sounds that fit in a particular situation? How LONG does that take? (And how FAST are people with real amps…)
- Or even worse: why are there so many options when all I can do is to constantly fear I’m missing something as soon as I dare to make a clear decision?
- And the worst: why does that all buzz like an electric shaver and not scream & breath like a real amp? Is there a trade-off between quality and quantity?
After all: who needs digital equivalents of all the AC30s, Fenders, JCMs, Boogies, whatever? Is this about names and fancy UIs or are we mainly heading for TONE? I guess the latter is valid for most people. There’s no point in trying to model a specific piece of hardware when you know you’d have to make all kinds of compromises because of real-time numbercrunching issues.
So, why not try to deliver tone in the first place, regardless of the underlying technology or modelled circuits.
When it comes to tone, it also comes down to attention to details. This is a crucial thing in development, because details easily lead you off-track and mess with your time schedule. But it’s the details that decide over the true ability of something that attempts to do rock’n roll by means of ones & zeroes. Always being keen on details is certainly of great help here.
The mission is, don’t stop until you’ve nailed it. So better concentrate on just a few things (first).
Just as the makers of great analog equipment were heading for unique tools, our digital thing should also be unique. A new classic, so to say.
Something that thrills people. Causing a rush of blood.
Something that enters your world and just takes over.
Something PHYSICALLY present (still talking software here…).
Something of heavy weight, delivering heavy-weight sounds.
Something that knocks your socks off. Perhaps with VIRTUAL in its name, or just V…
… V A N D A L .
OK, name: check.
Sound: … still not quite there…:
Doesn’t sound as ugly as the first prototype, but still far from being a ‘guitar amplifier’.
This version already had an own GUI, although almost all graphics were still dummy bitmaps/placeholders that were should get replaced by ‘real’ graphics ASAP.
Furthermore, the idea came up to develop a whole ‘amplifier suite’ which represents the entire signal chain, such as guitar input -> tuner -> stomp boxes -> amp -> cabinet -> post effects -> output.
At this point, the ‘project’ really became one and got discussed in a larger group of people.
Well, there’s are already quite a bunch of such amp modelling tools on the market. But VANDAL should basically excel at tone. So the focus was not ‘features’ primarily. This resulted in a pretty much un-fancy/direct approach UI prototype:
All components should be visible at once. No hidden windows, no tabbed views. When you’re in front of the screen, having your guitar on your knees, it should be possible to make adjustments with as less mouse clicks as possible.
The DSP part of this version already allowed loading code for 2 ‘stomp boxes’, which was not very ‘sophisticated’, but certainly ‘okay’. The amp itself already had quite a mature feature set, which we decided to keep more or less. Although the ‘circuits’ should change dramatically in future… but that was unforseen at that time…
The user could already make a few drastic tweaks by ‘opening’ the amp. Similar adjustments were possible with the cabinet simulation part.
The amp & cabinet section surely need further explanation. This will follow shortly…