The proliferation of digital guitar gear grows by leaps and bounds every year as more players learn to love the world of tones and effects offered by the technology. You’ll obviously get no argument from us that tube amps and analog stompboxes are great, but for more and more musicians, digital is here to stay.
One great example is Avid Technology’s Eleven Rack, a unit that accomplishes two main jobs; it’s a full-blown guitar preamp with a massive array of amp simulations and effects, and it’s a complete recording interface for folks who enjoy laying down tracks on a computer (it comes bundled with Pro Tools software for Mac and PC).
The great news here is how guitarist-friendly the Eleven Rack is – it’s designed for guitarists who want to plug in and play without reading piles of manuals. As a preamp, the Eleven Rack can be deployed a few different ways: plug it directly into a PA system or powered monitor (like a keyboard amp or acoustic guitar amp), or send it to a power amp and speaker cabinet, just like a component amp rig. With these kinds of setups, it can absolutely be used for live work. In the studio, run the XLR outputs to powered monitors or use headphones. You can even send external pedals through the effects loop or plug in an expression pedal to control, say, volume or wah effects. The joy of digital is that there is more than one way to accomplish any goal.
If you’ve ever messed around with a basic multi-effects unit – the likes of which have been around for 20 years – you already know how to approach the Eleven Rack. A scroll knob to the right of an LED display accesses a massive library of presets. Run through just a few and you’ll find a world of amp simulations: classic Marshall plexi, Mesa/Boogie treadplate, Fender blackface or tweed, Vox AC30, and others. First up, however, is Big Blue, a V-shaped EQ curve with overdrive, creating a huge bottom end that Angus would dig. Other presets speak to famous players, like Browntown and Vari Volcanic (Van Halen), Austin Rotary (Stevie Ray), Irish Echo (U2), and Sandstage (Metallica). You can even combine amps virtually. Want a virtual Marshall/Vox, or a Boogie/Fender? You can do that.
Like many digital preamps, the best sounds are either heavily saturated or totally clean with effects – the more nuanced overdrive of vintage-style tube amps are always more difficult to replicate. Then again, Crunchy 50 is a Tube Screamer and 50-watt Marshall simulation that cooks. Purists won’t be swayed, but you have to remember that all these amps and effects are housed one single chassis versus the less-flexible design of traditional amps.
Guitarists also get antsy when you bring up the term “editing,” but Avid makes tweaking tones easy because the control layout is quite amp-like. Every preset offers a full complement of presence, bass, mid, treble, master. Plus, you can add and subtract effects at will and adjust the parameters of each. Jump into an effect, and the Eleven Rack’s knobs light up, showing you which parameters are tweakable and then displaying the information on the display screen. It’s all very visual and intuitive; when you find a sound you like, save it. There are also dedicated buttons for Dist, Mod, Delay, and Rev to cover your basic-effects food groups so you’re not diving through dreaded menus.
Other goodies include a built-in tuner and tap-delay button, wah controls, XLR microphone input (for vocals or an acoustic guitar mike), and line-level inputs (for example, if you also want to use a keyboard synth). Plug the USB jack into your computer and download other guitarists’ sounds via the online tone library, or use it to interface with Avid’s Pro Tools recording software.
The Eleven Rack’s greatest asset is that it’s a rack-sized device that contains tones of above-average amp simulations and digital effects and, better still, it’s dog-easy to use. It’s just amazing to think about the kind of “one-box power” we guitarists have access to. Thanks to Eleven Rack, the future is now.
This article originally appeared in VG September 2015 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.