Last year I finally got my hands on an AX8 from Fractal Audio Systems. For those that don't know, the AX8 is a floor-based amp modeler and effects processor that is incredibly powerful, extremely versatile, and given the quality of the seemingly innumerable amp and effect algorithms, fantastic value for the money. It is easily one of the best pieces of gear I have ever purchased and I love playing through it.
(I'm only slightly obsessed, I swear.)
Also, this post is not bass-related but guitar-related.
Why Did I Get An AX8?
Before I delve into a rundown of my main preset, I suppose it might be worth talking about why I got the AX8 and how I use it.
About 10 years ago, I first learned about Fractal Audio Systems and their Axe-Fx line of rack processors from the guitarist Pete Thorn. His YouTube demos of the Axe-Fx II blew my 14 year old mind and left me thoroughly enamored with the company and their products. I couldn't believe that one device could hold all the guitar rigs I could ever dream of for the price of one or two decent amps.
Still, the price of the Axe-Fx put it out well out the budget of most high school guitar players and given high school was when I decided to pursue my dream of playing upright bass, I kind of forgot about Fractal Audio until I started playing guitar again a couple years ago. That was when I learned about the AX8, a scaled down version of the Axe-Fx II crammed into a single, portable floor unit. With all the same algorithms as its rack-mount older brother for a fraction of the cost, I knew this device would be the perfect piece to fulfill my high school guitar rig dreams.
So I got one.
I now use it almost exclusively in lieu of my amp and I have since sold most of my effects pedals. I no longer feel inclined to fiddle with gear as the sounds I hear in my head are finally a reality. I was able to virtually build my dream guitar rig without the excessive expenditure of time, space, or money that would come with building it in the "real world." It's a fantastic solution and I am thankful to have one.
What Kind Of Rig Did I Want To Build?
I have dreamed of building several different guitar rigs through the years- everything from basic pedalboard setups to multi-amp rack systems. None of them ever came to fruition due to the time and money it would take to build what I wanted, but they were all meant be as versatile and easy to control as possible. I wanted a setup that allowed a single button-press
to change all the parameters necessary to get sounds I wanted, so I naturally planned out multiple rigs with MIDI functionality to control amp and pedal changes. I also wanted each amp/effect type to have at least two variants that could be easily toggled between. These are things I knew the AX8 could handle with ease. I ultimately opted to build a preset with a fairly simple signal chain (everything is running in series), but a wide array of sonic functionality and versatility.
How Did I Set Up My Preset?
The signal chain I chose is as follows:
Compressor - Overdrive - Overdrive - Amp - Delay - Cab - Chorus - Rotary - Looper
Compared to some other presets I have made, this signal chain is pretty basic. I chose not to do any fancy parallel routing to keep the complexity down and make operation more streamlined. I also didn't fuss too much with any advanced parameters and instead tried to just get sounds using the first page of parameters.
The AX8 (and the Axe-Fx) also has a feature called Scenes. A scene, as per the manual, "controls which blocks are on, which blocks are off, which blocks are set to X or Y, overall preset level, and other settings too." Each preset has 8 scenes, thus giving you 8 easily selectable "mini-presets"per preset. I decided to only use two scenes for this preset, something I may change that in the future. Additionally, all blocks (blocks are individual effects/amps) can have two states, X or Y, giving you two unique effect settings per block. X/Y switching, when paired with scenes, greatly expands the functionality of a given preset.
I will run through my preset in signal chain order, but I will start with explaining my two scenes. I also name all my presets based on the amp model(s) used, in this case a model of a Fender VibroKing and a Carol Ann OD2 . For now, this is optimal for my workflow as I don't create presets for individual songs and seeing the amp model in the preset lets me know what general tone that preset provides.
I included screenshots from AX8-Edit to make things easier to understand. Taking photos of the device itself was too tricky.
Scene 1 is my main clean tone with a subtle compressor running into the Vibra-King Fat model (based on a Fender Vibro-King). There is a mild delay setting and nothing else. I have footswitches dedicated to each effect so I can easily turn on other effects if necessary. The first Drive block (more on those later) set to the Y state on this scene because I really like particular overdrive with the VibroKing model.
Scene 2 is my main overdrive/distortion sound. The amp model is the CA OD-2, based off a Carol Ann amp I have coveted for years. The delay switches to a slightly longer delay with more repeats and the first drive block kicks on to the X state. Plenty of gain with options for reven more. Other effects are still easily footswitchable if need be.
I will now run through each effect on this preset:
The compressor I have on this preset is really mild with subtle compression and a slight volume boost. I don't really notice when it is on, but I certainly notice when it is off. The Studio Comp algorithm is my favorite compressor in the AX8 and I kept the settings mostly as default.
Drive 1, X:
I have a total of four overdrives programmed into this preset- two per block. The X-state of drive 1 is a Fractal Audio custom algorithm called Fet Boost which I have for set for fairly hefty amount of overdrive. It doesn't have a huge effect on the tone, except for maybe a slight boost in the midrange and a slight cut in the bass. I really enjoy how this algorithm feels- soft but articulate and musical.
Drive 1, Y:
This overdrive is the Y-state of drive 1 and is very much the opposite of the X-state. It's a model of the ubiquitous and inexpensive Boss Super Overdrive. Almost no overdrive is added, but there is a ton of midrange and a healthy cut in both low and high frequencies. It pairs really well with the scooped VibroKing model and less so with the Carol Ann.
Drive 2, X:
The Drive 2 block is mostly reserved for "special occasions." I really enjoy Octavia-style pedals, so I pulled up the Octave Distortion algorithm to add an extra octave and some fuzz to my guitar sound. I know Jimi Hendrix is the name most commonly associated with this effect, but my inspiration to add it to the preset came from Kenny Wayne Shepherd's solo on Blue on Black. Settings are stock (I think) apart from the drive I kicked up a bit.
Drive 2, Y:
This one was a bit of an after-thought. I felt like playing with fuzz (something I rarely do) so I added the Face Fuzz algorithm to the block and left it. Infrequently used but worth having just in case.
I love Fender Vibro-Kings but I haven't yet had the chance to acquire one of my own. I based this preset around the model of that amp to fill that void. It's set loud and clean with is a little scooped-sounding. I added some top-end and presence to brighten things up and cut some bass to reduce neck pickup boominess. The Boost function is also assigned to the Control Switch 2 modifer that I then assigned to a footswitch. This lets me add some more volume/punch/drive to the amp without coloring it with a drive model.
I love this setting. CA-OD 2 algorithm, tons of overdrive, plenty of midrange, not too bright, and nice and tight. Kind of inspired by Joe Bonamassa, but not too much. It's also the opposite of the Vibra-King model I have setup and the Control Switch is assigned in the same way. I also left the bright switch on as the stock settings were pretty dark.
I set this delay to barely discernible when playing. I tend to default to delay settings of ca. 250 milliseconds and I like to keep the mix low on clean settings. Similar to the compressor, I notice this more when it is off versus when it is on. The Vintage Digital algorithm is very tasteful.
The second delay on this preset is longer, has more repeats, and is set to a higher mix ratio. I use it mostly on lead settings when I feel like being vulgar. Not much else to say about it.
Fractal Audio products really excel in the cab department. They use Impulse Responses to produce extremely accurate recreations of real cabinets and include hundreds of fantastic stock IR's to choose from. I tried a bunch of them when designing this preset, but I ultimately settled F007, an IR of a 1x12 cab with a Celestion G12-T speaker mic'ed with a Royer 121 ribbon microphone. It's maybe not the most authentic cab to use with a VibroKing (they come in a 3x10 configuration), but it plays well with both amps on this preset.
I use a lot less chorus these days than I used to so my first chorus is set more for texture than anything else. I set the Dimension 1 chorus to 2 voices with a low rate and a moderate mix just to add some shimmer and body to fancy chords. It doesn't see much use but I like having it at my disposal.
This chorus is inspired by the tri-chorus found in the racks of old LA studio players. Although I don't use chorus very much anymore, I still sometimes crave the dense, wet sound this algorithm provides. It also lets me pretend I am playing through one of those revered rack units.
I love rotary speaker sounds a little too much... I think Eric Clapton was the first guitar player I ever heard use one and since that day there has always been a method of producing rotary sounds on my pedalboards. I can't remember how much I changed the stock settings on this block but I did do something clever to simulate the brake function of a Leslie. I assigned the rate to Control Switch 1 modifier and assigned the modifier a footswitch on the unit. Pressing this switch gradually slows the "spinning" effect and gives me a smooth, seamless way to switch between rotary speeds. Very cool and very functional.
I didn't get a screenshot of my looper settings but operates exactly as one expects. I like having a looper available for practicing as it lets me a) play with myself b) make quick recordings of parts I am working for my own reference. Not used too often but handy nonetheless.
The AX8 has a total of 11 footswitches- 8 for scenes, effects, et cetera and 3 for general utility functions. I lay my footswitches out in a typical pedalboard manner. Footswitch 1 is the one I use the most as it lets me toggle between the two scenes I use most often. The rest of switches are setup to access effects and their Y-state via hold functions. Switches 4 controls Amp Boost via Control Switch 2. I have it next the Drive blocks to keep drive/gain functions grouped together. Switch 8 controls the "brake" function I assigned to Control Switch 1. I placed it by the Rotary for ease of access.
The other 3 footswitches I laid out in order of most commonly accessed, with more frequently accessed functions assigned to F3 and less commonly accessed functions assigned to F1. The same also applies to to tap and hold functions- tap functions are more likely to be used than hold functions, with the notable exception of the tuner. I only have tap tempo assigned to F3 as it allows me to quickly turn the metronome on/off when practicing. Other than that, I never use tap tempo and just use that switch to access my tuner. F2 tap gets me quickly to the looper screen and the remaining functions just let me access other scenes or presets, something I do infrequently. I very much prefer to "plug and play" as much as possible.
I think that covers the extent of how I setup my main preset. I could easily go into greater detail with other "advanced" options but that would put this post at novel length. I would love to hear from you if you have an AX8 and find out how you like to setup your presets!
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