Have you ever been onstage, half way through a song and realized you desperately needed to tweak your amp’s tone? We know the feeling too, and it’s a bummer, isn’t it? Well, it used to be – now there’s a new solution that lets you tweak your sounds wirelessly, wherever you are: on the stage, in the practice room, in the studio, or at home, and one of Blog Of Tone’s intrepid writers recently put it to the test for us…
Tweaking our guitar’s tone from the front of the stage is nothing unusual – volume and tone pots are our friends, after all, and FX pedals are also usually in a place where we can get to them in a second or two. But it’s different with amps.
Normally, they’re stuck at the back or side of the stage (read this post to learn where the best place to place your amp onstage is!), meaning (a) it takes precious time to get to them, (b) they’re probably not lit up, so you won’t be able to see what you’re doing anyway, and (c) you’ll almost certainly trip over the various leads and cables that are snaking all over the stage as you make the journey.
It’s not ideal, is it?
But amps are important sound shapers too, and it’s always useful to have easy access to their controls and functions.
Step forward the WMI-1, then. This Wireless MIDI Interface (see what they did there?) lets you wirelessly remote control all of the functions found in the Hughes & Kettner GrandMeister app for iPad, which in turn lets you manipulate all of the amp’s controls and features.
Plus, it’ll work or stages and in rehearsal rooms where there’s no Wi-Fi available, as it creates its own Wi-Fi network.
Here’s a brief video introduction to the WMI-1, just to fill you in a bit more:
So in theory, it sounds pretty amazing: imagine being able to watch and touch your tube tone from the front of the stage with an iPad on your microphone stand – and then being able to adjust reverb levels, gain or EQ settings without having to run to your amp five meters behind you.
But we wanted to know how it worked in practice, so we asked Blog Of Tone’s resident tech nut to take one home with him and see if he could put it to the test anywhere. As luck would have it, an opportunity came up pretty fast, so here’s his story…
“I’m an extremely happy man right now.
It’s actually the stuff of dreams (for me, anyway): a top Pink Floyd covers band recently enquired as to whether I would like to take over guitar duties for them.
They didn’t have to ask twice – I’m a huge David Gilmour admirer, and something of a Floyd fanboy. Still, I said I’d need a night to sleep on it first, even though before my head hit the pillow I was certain I’d do it.
But there’s one thing I didn’t think about until later, after I’d come down from the exhilaration of being asked if I wanted the gig.
And it’s this: damn, now I’m going to need to work on getting my tone as close as possible to Gilmour’s often legendary original guitar sounds. Because in a tribute band, your audience will demand nothing less.
Time for the tryout
But before all the happiness came that dreaded occasion, the moment of truth that separates the rockstars in waiting from the wannabees: the audition.
The band and I agreed to hit the practice room pretty much spontaneously to find out how Floyd-esque my guitar sounded, and how tight my chops were. I wasn’t in yet, after all.
Thankfully, I already knew some of the guys from projects past, and I’d also played Pink Floyd material in previous groups, so I thought I could handle it without any major issues.
This was also the moment a certain member of my old amplifier fleet revealed a whole new world of uses to me…
A fully portable rockstar setup
I showed up at band practice with what must have looked like a pretty lightweight, insufficient rig: my favorite Strat, a GrandMeister 36 amp, a matching 1×12 cab, and a compressor pedal.
That was pretty much all I needed, although the band didn’t know it yet.
And, just as importantly, its diminutive dimensions meant I could still show up the practice in my little cabriolet BMW.
Hell, it’s an audition. You’ve got to do whatever it takes to impress those guys!
Time to make a good impression
But, as I said, I wasn’t quite finished. Once inside, it was time to unleash my secret weapon. No, not that one.
Because I’d also stashed another dinky device into my convertible, one that’ll fit in your guitar case no problem but will open up a whole new world of tonal tinkering. I’m talking, of course, about the WMI-1 wireless MIDI interface, which allows you to control the GrandMeister’s tone-shaping iPad app – you guessed it – wirelessly.
To put it mildly, it was THE BOMB, because it would allow me to quickly and flexibly tailor my guitar sound to anything the band could throw at me.
Shine on, crazy GrandMeister
Anyway, I quickly got plugged in and tuned up, and it was straight into Shine On You Crazy Diamond – now, how does that one go again?
The first solo’s quite dry, with less treble in the tone. Using my amp’s clean channel (with the boost engaged), my Strat’s neck pickup, a bit of compression and just a feather touch of reverb, I managed a passable reproduction of Gilmour’s original hallowed tones.
I had the iPad right next to me, the GrandMeister was hooked up to the PA via the Red Box, and I had my 1×12 cab just loud enough so I could hear myself. Over the small PA system, the guitar sound fitted wonderfully into the overall mix – and, most importantly, I wasn’t drowning any of my potential new bandmates out! Score.
During the song’s first two passages, I used the iPad app to tweak the intensity of the reverb, the gain and the treble, and by the end, it was almost spot-on.
There was still a little something not quite right with the highs, but here the amp’s Presence and Resonance controls – also controllable via the app, by the way – helped me conjure up a tone that was just a whisker away from the original Gilmour.
Tone to go
The killer aspect of the wireless aspect of the app, though, was to come.
One of my guitar-playing friends showed up at the practice later on, and I took advantage of the opportunity to have him move round the rehearsal room, tweaking my tone on the iPad as he went. He was able to refine my tone until it was – and I don’t want to sound arrogant here – bang on, and fitted perfectly into the mix.
You couldn’t have achieved such perfectly tailored tones without making use of 21st century setup I did.
And by the way, I’m pretty sure Gilmour would’ve gobbled up such guitar-based luxuries if they’d been around back in the early 70s.
But the moral of this story is this: taking advantage of technology like this is worth it. Even if you’re a tube amp purist, you can still get yourself a (full tube) GrandMeister and the iPad app, and have it attached to your mic stand at your gigs, altering tones as and when needed, on the fly.
It just makes sense.
And of course this doesn’t just apply to covers bands who are recreating the tones of others – you can use it for your own tunes, or just for extra creative experimentation. I recently wandered round my kitchen with my guitar in one hand, and the app in the other.
Features like this make for happy guitarists – and we all know that happy guitarists play better!”
So there you have it: is this the future for guitarists who want to be able to control their amps’ settings wherever they are? It could well be.
But we’re interested to know what you think. Do you need that much control over your tone? Are you happy to make do with your amp’s onstage sounds as they come, or does the WMI-1 sound like your tonal savior?
Let us know in the comments as usual…
P.S. By the way, the band featured in the first picture above is The Pink Floyd Project, of which our esteemed colleague is now a part.
First published: July 10 2015. Most recent update: September 25 2015.