Brainworx Rock Rack - Sonic Precision with Blue Collar Attitude
Have you ever experienced a truth so evident that you barely have to practice what you’ve learned from the experience to make it a profoundly effective tool in your life? The team at Brainworx have thoroughly applied this concept to the creation of their release, Rock Rack avaiable June 15th, 2012. Rock Rack puts into software format a workflow pattern that most professional studios practice. That is to have 3 or 4 GREAT amps and cabinets to get effective results quickly.
Rock Rack gives you five amazing sounding amps and 12 cabinet and microphone signal chains that have been professionally enhanced at The Mix Room in Los Angeles, California and in the Brainworx studio. The bold intent of the software as stated in the Rock Rack PDF manual is to create guitar sound equal to the sounds you hear on professional recordings without the need for further processing.
Forgive me while I start out a bit unconventionally. I have to say, for the first time ever in my experience with audio software, I sincerely enjoyed reading the manual to Rock Rack. You get a very descript and matter-of-fact breakdown of the intent of the people behind the software instead of a clinical sequential outline of what the software does. The manual of a product is an odd thing to spotlight, but these guys say what they mean and mean what they say with an informative and entertaining narrative.
The amplification section of Rock Rack model the best characteristics of a clean tone Marshall® JCM800®, lead tone Marshall® JCM800®, clean ENGL® 530, lead ENGL® 530, and a Mesa Boogie® Rectoverb®. The front face of the GUI is clean and comprehensive to anyone who has ever plugged into a traditional amplifier. The amp model and recording chain options sit to the bottom left and a very responsive optional 5 band graphic EQ sits to the right of the tone dials. The Metal 530 model adds extra lo-mid and high-mid frequency control dials for increased versatility and articulation in high gain settings. Clicking on the FX rack tab at the top mid-right of the interface exposes a rack view of 4 essential tools in the form of a noise gate, delay, tuner and preamp filter. One option I found to be very useful on the noise gate was the SC filter which assists in cutting out unwanted low end frequencies or idiosyncratic behavior from poorly shielded pickups. To my ears it produced a cleaner percussive attack to palm muted high gain rhythms.
The filter section section is divided into 3 dynamic controls. Placed in the chain before the amplifier are the Tight and Smooth controls. Placed in the signal chain after the amp is the Shred control. Shred is unique in that it’s pulled from the the Brainworx guitar saturation and stereo enhancement software Shreadspread. The end result is a bit hard to explain as reinforced by the Brainworx team in the manual which states to “use your ears” to hear the warming boost of the Shred filter. After choosing an appropriate cabinet and mic recording chain for your amp, the preamp filter section was the next most critical element of shaping tone in Rock Rack. The tuner and delay are somewhat self-explanatory except to say that the delay is very rich sounding and worthy of use in a recording scenario. The tuner has a mute switch to bypass the amp sound while you’re tuning.
Tight: Sweeps from 30hz to 3000hz to helps eliminate low end frequency hum or rumble.
Smooth: Cuts away brittle or harsh sounding frequencies of the guitar before the amp and helps to
eliminate hiss or interference noise in the guitar or signal chain caused by bad cables, etc.
Shred: Augments the tone of the guitar gently boosting and saturating the signal for a more robust,
warm tone that cuts through in a mix while still filtering out harsh and brittle frequencies.
Plugging in with a 1992 Les Paul Standard I found the clean tones to be very robust with more than enough bottom end to produce rich and articulate jazz tones. With coil split pickups on a Muter Instruments custom guitar I was able to achieve percussive and snappy funk to SRV style out of phase sounding tone. All clean tones were able to be dialed in to sound very articulate without sacrificing bottom end or sounding flubby. Playing lead lines using the clean tones was outright addicting when adding a touch of the onboard delay.
While it’s immediately apparent that the cleans are ready to be utilized in even the most critical recording, Rock Rack truly excels at achieving classic gain and high gain tones. It actually produces some of the best simulated high gain tones I’ve ever heard and does so with an alarming lack of restraint! Plugging in with a Schecter Hellraiser 7 string with EMGs and the Les Paul, the musicality, percussiveness, and personality of this software became explosive. This is where it became evident that the Brainworx team truly means it when they say no further post processing should be needed. Dialing back the gain presented a punchy AC/DC style aggression, dialing back further produced a colorful breakup that would fit in a modern blues setting . However, cranking up the Metal 530 is perhaps one of the most satisfying moments I’ve had since using my first amp sim in 2006. The lo-mid and hi-mid dials and the gain structure tools were extremely useful in facilitating a very realistic feeling of standing next to a boutique, high gain tube amplifier in ideal situations. I hesitate to say this, but it actually made playing the guitar easier. It has a very transparent and natural compression that keeps rhythm and lead tones punchy, dynamic, and ultimately inspirational. I can’t think of a sub-genre of extreme music that wouldn’t benefit from Rock Rack or at least make the production process radically streamlined.
There was a time in my musical maturation process where my dad asked me, “What do you need all those effects for? A guitar player can pick up a guitar… and play.” That statement has helped propel me through some plateaus. Simplicity holds true here again as we see Brainworx making a tremendous statement with a piece of software that not only streamline the recording process, but keep the vibe inspirational. As a final nod to the efforts put in to produce a high quality, I should include that the tones were captured and processed using vintage Neumann® CMV-563, Royer® 121, and Shure® SM57 microphones through a NEVE® VXS72 (Brainworx studio) console. Additionally used was a TAB® V76 mic preamp, SSL 9000K (TheMix Room LA) with Vintage Neve 1073 preamps & EQs. These guys seem to know how to capture the important nuances of music production. Please check out their website and survey the other high quality plugins they produce. Look for my review of their other bit of guitar software Shreadspread very soon.
Big Warm Jazz