IN THE BEGINNING….
Pocketlabworks ought to know a thing or two about killer bass sounds. I mean its founder and president, Kevin Robertson, has had a lifelong passion for all things audio, not to mention he previously worked for amp legends Bob Gallien and Richard Krueger, on designing their world famous bass amp products.
Set up only a few years ago to develop music software and hardware products for smartphones, tablets and the likes, Pocketlabworks already has an impressive portfolio of iOS titles, which naturally include electric guitar and bass amp apps, plus some titles aimed at vocalists too.
Not content with developing just software, the company has also released the iRiffPort digital audio guitar connection, which allows you to plug your guitar directly into an iOS device.
Formally unveiled earlier this year at NAMM 2012, Pocketlabworks’ latest product is a custom branded bass and guitar amp app, which they’ve created in partnership with founding member and bass player of metal legends Megadeth, David Ellefson.
Launched today, the David Ellefson Rock Shop (DERS) app, is a universal iOS app featuring a series of virtual amps and speaker cabinets to play through and customise the sounds, along with a versatile music player, and handful of other features fans of Megadeth will enjoy.
ALL FIRED UP…
On firing up the DERS app for the first time, you’re greeted by a short personal video message from David. I won’t spoil it by giving anything away, but it’s a nice touch, although you can choose to skip it, which no doubt some will do after a few weeks of using the app.
Within a few seconds of the app loading, you’re then greeted by a splash page promoting Pocketlabworks’ iRiffPort. You can click a link to order one, and also click a button to disable this message.
Then depending if you’re using an iPhone/iPod Touch or an iPad, you’ll see slightly different versions of the app’s main interface. I’ve only experienced the app on iPad so far, so any visual descriptions I offer will relate to the experience on this device. There are no differences as far as features go between devices, there are just slight differences in the interface layouts to allow for the different screen sizes.
FRONT & CENTRE…
If you’ve already played with Pocketlabworks’ PocketAmp and PocketGK apps, the user interface of DERS will be instantly familiar, with main amp controls on the left side, and cabinets located on the right side.
As I’ve mentioned about these apps in the past, while the adjustable controls don’t look like traditional ‘knobs and dials’ on guitar amps, the fact they are clearly labelled large sliders, make them not only easier to see, but quicker to access.
THE FIRST SOUND YOU HEAR….
In the lead up to the launch of this app I’ve been fortunate enough to talk at length with both Kevin at Pocketlabworks, as well as David about his involvement with the app (and you’ll be able to catch my interview with him here in the near future).
It became clear to me early on, that this app was never intended to be some cheap branding/promotional exercise, where David had little input.
From the very first conversations about developing the app, David and Kevin have worked together closely on the features that David wanted in this app, but more importantly the sounds that the app produces.
Anyone familiar with David’s bass guitar sound, and indeed Megadeth’s sound, will know that over years he has developed a distinctly unique signature sound, and it was a priority for everyone involved that this was readily available within the app.
So the very first time you load the app, with your bass guitar connected, the default setting has been specially configured to sound like David’s signature tone, which is a clean, tight overall sound designed for playing punchy bass lines with a pick.
This signature tone actually has all the EQ set flat, and no other effects enabled. I mainly wanted to mention this, as this setting is not saved in the presets area, and each time you fire the app up, it recalls the last settings you were using, and not the signature tone settings. I actually went ahead and made a custom preset with these settings and called it ‘Junior’s Bass Sound’ (of course) just so I can quickly recall it whenever.
TIME TO CUSTOMISE…
Of course, David understands that we all like our own sounds, so all the amp settings are tweakable and you can save an unlimited number of custom user presets.
The bass amp section features adjustable 3 band EQ, plus Brite and Limiter effects which act similar to their function on Harke amps, which David uses on stage.
There’s also a modulation section including adjustable Chorus and Flange effects. The rate, depth, and slapback of these can be modified. There’s also a handy gate feature to help keep some of the wilder sounds you might come up with under control.
As far as cabinets go, you can choose between a 4 x 10” or 1 x 15” speaker box, which again, help you to sculpt your ideal sound even further.
As part of the app, David also wanted to include some classic sounding guitar amps. so also available are 3 fairly classic sounds including Clean, British, and Metal amps. The amps feature adjustable volume, overdrive gain, and 2 band EQ, plus similar Chorus and Flange effects, with the addition of a Reverb to help fatten solos. There’s also a noise gate feature, and a selection of two cabinets, one classic and one more modern sounding.
Now I’m not much of a guitarist (or bass player for that matter), but as an experienced sound engineer, the thing that stood out about the overall selection of amps on offer here is how full bodied they sound, from super clean, warm bass tones through to dark, heavily distorted power chords. The amps all respond well to different styles of playing too, and whether you’re just practising along to a song or even recording some demo tracks, the selection of quality sounds are going to be well up for the task.
WHATS IN A RIFF?..
The second key ingredient to the overall sound of this app is Pocketlabworks iRiffPort. Yes, you can use other interface products with the app, but from my experience with some of the analog solutions, you simply can’t beat the superior sound you get through a digital connection, like that offered from the iRiffPort. It’s a quality built product that not only features a headphone output, but also a line output that isn’t affected by changes to the headphone volume. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m still not so sold on it being white, but for what it’s worth, I guess it does make it easier to see in pile of black cables.
This is probably a good time to mention that iRiffPort also works perfectly with the Dave Mustaine Rock Prodigy app, who of course is also of Megadeth fame. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you can find more details out by clicking here.
Amps and cabinets aside, another excellent feature of the DERS app is the integrated music player, which provides access to the music stored on your iOS device. You have the option of selecting from single tracks or existing playlists to jam along to. The player also supports album art.
What really stands out on the player though is the Song Trainer feature.
In this mode, you can not only adjust the balance of the mix between your guitar and the song you’re playing along to, but you can change the speed of the song, without it affecting the original key. This feature is ideal for slowing songs down to work out and practise technically difficult performances.
But there’s more. You can also adjust the pitch of a song without it affecting the tempo, which saves having to re-tune your guitar to play along to a song that was recorded in a different key. David has already pointed out how handy this feature is if you plan on playing along to Megadeth’s 1986 hit album, Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?, as it was recorded slightly lower than standard guitar tuning.
The other key feature of the Song Trainer, is the ability to manually set up a section of a song into a loop, allowing you to go over the specific section of a song repeatedly. Again, this is ideal for learning tricky solos and technically challenging parts of songs.
Whether you make use of these ‘training’ features often or not, it’s still nice to have them available.
Anyone that follows the latest things David is up to will know, like many artists, he has embraced social media in a big way. He has a dedicated Youtube channel called Rock Shop which features everything from behind the scenes footage of Megadeth on the road, through to music industry advice for young bands, and bass guitar workshops.
The Youtube channel is conveniently available directly from within the app, and provided you have net access (obviously), you can flick through the list of videos available and watch them without leaving the app (they actually appear when the cabinet is located).
In addition to the online videos, The Deck social area of the app also provides external links to David’s Facebook page, his official website, his twitter feed, and Google +. Each of these load-up through the iOS device’s web browser, which takes you out of the app when accessing them. OK, this is all content you can access without the app, but to have them all neatly integrated, really helps give the app a more personal touch. It’s something I’m sure fans will get as much use out of as they do the amps and music player.
Sure, there are already some great guitar apps out there for iOS devices, and some even include more features than what’s on offer here. (If you’re listening Kevin/David, how about an integrated guitar tuner and recording function sometime in the next update?) But none, offer the same charm and personality you get from the DERS app. Every aspect of this app has David Ellefson stamped all over it, from the look and feel, and his all-important signature sound, through to the way you can reach out to him via social media. Nothing feels out of the place or forced, and it all just works harmoniously together.
As I understand it, this is just the start too, as both Kevin and David aim to continue development on the app, bringing improvements and new features over time. Bring it on I say.
The David Ellefson Rock Shop app is available now for US$9.99. It is compatible with all models of iPad, iPhone 4/4S, and iPod touch 4th generation. For the best sounding result, it is recommended to be used along with Pocketlabworks’ iRiffport.
The official page – http://www.pocketlabworks.com/David-Ellefson-Rock-Shop.html