I've posted about Tonestack a couple of times mostly about sales or updates. I hadn't tried it. But a week or so ago Yonac threw their wallet to the winds and had a one- day sale offering the core ToneStack App amp for 99c and the "MotherLoad" ... all the amps and FX ... for $13.99 as an IAP. The same day, Positive Grid let Bias FX loose for $29.99 ... so I went with ToneStack an its load of mother.
Over the weekend I finally got to sit and have a play with the App with a real guitar ( a Stratocaster ) running through an Apogee One for iPad interface. And it was good.
There is no doubt that the depth of what is on offer here is er... deep. No kidding, there's 24 vaguely disguised amp models each with its own associated speaker cabinet. Then add some effects from a choice of over 70 pedals which can be chained, split and mixed together until there's no actual guitar signal at all! Roll in a tuner ( always active and visible!), a metronome, a mode for storing and recalling live setups and an 8 track recorder ... well, you should be covered for most situations.
The amps sound pretty darn good too. Do they sound exactly like the real item? I have no clue ... I've owned Marshall, Fender, Roland and a couple of hand made units ... plus a sampling of the effects ( Space Echo, Boss Yellow Over Drive, Purple Flanger, Blue Chorus ) and I can certainly detect the Fender / Marshall tones from the appropriate looking amp icons , but as for Mesa, Orange, Vox, HiWatt and so on ... if you are a fan of a particular amp you'll have to be the judge. But what's certain is that there's a good sound in there somewhere for you! Mix and match the Cabinets, tweak the 'mic' type and position, chain some effects ... there really isn't any limit, the variations are endless
My only observation was that for me, being that weird guitar player who likes clean tones, there weren't a few more options for sparkly, shiny, ice-pick joy. Unless I'm mistaken there's no Roland Jazz Chorus 120 amp ... but it was solid state and maybe this a valve purist zone! I noticed most of the amp models tended towards crunch very quickly. I imagine that's what most users want ... but I know for a fact that my old Marshall 50w head could play clean as a whistle with low preamp gain. It's harder to reproduce in ToneStack.
The interface is easy and really fun... pretty much drag and drop any component where you want it to be. I stick to the tried and tested guitar- pedal-amp-speaker chain but you can mess this around endlessly! In real life I've generally found that the main battle is to coax a good sound from the guitar-amp-speaker combination. Once this is dialed in, extra effects tend to build on this tone, adding the required extra sauce. In these virtual environments things are far more reactive. For instance a nice Guitar - amp- speaker set up can go completely to hell with the addition of say a distortion pedal. This being the case it's much harder to predict the final result as components are added and subtracted. Over all I find that the most valuable processor in the chain is an EQ right after the guitar input as a 'master tone' compensator to balance the effect of all that follows. With this in place it's much easier to sculpt a sound that doesn't rip your ears out!
Tone stack also has a built in 8 track recorder. It's simple ... arm a track, play and record! The module is based on an analog mixer and effects in ToneStack can be used as inserts and sends in each of the tracks before exporting the mix. There's basic editing tools ... but that's not the point. The recorder's simplicity and direct access is very refeshing. Before I knew it I was 5 tracks into a little ditty and having a blast. Very cool.
Grumbles? Well I can't get the hang of 'grabbing' components in the signal chain to rearrange or remove them. It requires a sort of long tap/ swipe down, but it takes me three tries each time! Still on the GUI front, the entire signal chain is visualized along the top of the ToneStack interface. Here components can be muted, exchanged , deleted or augmented with extra stages. The controls of each piece of gear appear underneath in large graphic versions of the equipment. A signal chain almost always exceeds the width of the iPad , thus must be scrolled as the guitar tone is refined. That's fine ... but I can't simply swipe across the chain to invoke the scroll! Instead there's a small menu style scroll bar beneath the chain of devices which has to be dragged left and right. Very frustrating.
Soundwise my main gripe so far is that the Spring Reverb effect is very pingy ... not like any I've ever used ( admittedly only on a Fender Amp ... or once a Great Britsh Spring in a studio) but the other Reverbs make up for it fine. I do like a nice spring though....
So for $14.99 the Motherload is ( was ) absolutely the best value for a Guitar Player in the App Store. The Regular price of the core App plus the Motherload is about $59.99 and that puts it on par with the basic Bias plus Bias FX combo... although you won't get all the content for that! Perhaps writing to Yonac to beg for another sale might be in order? I'll keep an ear out and let you know if I hear anything in advance!