Canada’s innovative brainchild, AcmeBarGig, have recently released the highly-anticipated Head Case into the wild. Head Case is the embodied culmination succeeding three years of deep-level programming, intense research & development, and exhaustive beta testing. Head Case is alone in its nebula. It unanimously has dominion of the sphere it occupies. There isn’t another for it to be aptly compared to. How do you spell ‘unique’? H-E-A-D C-A-S-E!
Head Case is not simply a guitar amp simulation suite; it’s a venerable nucleus for a group of ardent followers that more closely resemble a ‘culture’ than a simple user-base. Most nearly every known amp sim provides ‘modelled’ amps. A modern, quality amp sim furnishes a user with control over:
- Choice of various modelled amp types.
- Cabinet/speaker types.
- Mic types.
- Mic placement.
- Effects/Stomp box selection and effects parameters.
- Various virtual rooms (including size, surface, shape and mix/dry ratio).
Most nearly all modern amp sims feature a degree of control (some more than others) over ‘variac’, ‘sag’, ‘output tube type’, and the like.
Head Case gives a user all of this plus much more. By this reviewer’s consideration, Head Case is THE ONLY amp sim suite that provides a means of ‘building’ a custom configuration. We aren’t talking about configuring presets only (although this is included), but rather, the deepest level of user-control over gain structuring, tone stack configuration, component blending, etcetera. Head Case is truly one of those products that must be experienced, to be understood.
Head Case is housed in a kool, rocker’s, charcoal-colored GUI. This striking, somewhat ominous interface makes good use of contrast; crisp, anti-aliased light-grey labels against dark, textured backgrounds maintain clarity and legibility. Head Case features well-designed parts that approach photo-realism. The interface elements ‘represent’ physical gear in 3D perspective; however, they are not purely photo-realistic pictures, such as you would find with many SoftTube and UAD plug-ins. This is not a design flaw by any means. AcmeBarGig need not be concerned about any copyright infringement suits filed against them for flagrantly copying famous stomp-boxes or branding. ABG have keenly designed the individual components of this excellent virtual amp suite to be readily understood at a glance, by electric guitarists.
Like Guitar Rig or Amplitude, Head Case is a moderately-sized plug-in. It measures 750px wide by 680px high. Most home producer and small studio environments typically employ larger monitors that operate at native resolutions which can easily display this plugin. The developers of Head Case made very effective use of GUI-screen real estate. However, live-gigging musicians may have a little trouble with it fitting on smaller notebook or netbook screens. Folding, scrollable panels might be an interface feature that AcmeBarGig could consider for future releases.
Each sub section and element contained within the Head Case amp suite is intelligently laid out and well-organized. I found that as a general statement, controls, knobs and various configuration options are all located pretty much where one would intuitively expect to find them.
The default amp/skin that opens is called “MAHAKALI” and it sorely emanates a ‘dark ish’ vibe, being crested smack dab in the center with an image of the hindu goddess after which it derives its name. I’m not quite sure if the “glow” seen behind the mesh is caused by over-heated tubes or burning embers . . . . Tubes should glow with a gentle orange cast, no? One of the other amp heads is named “Guillotine”. “shudder”
Engl Powerball, yes; Acme “Guilotine”, no.
Marshall JCM 900, yes; Acme “MAHAKALI”, not so much.
It is this reviewer's opinion that these are not appropriate images for a professional-grade amp suite. Neither are the names of some of the amp heads very ‘pro’ sounding. I’ve been in touch with lead developer, Ken McLaren, about this and he agrees with my findings. He’s intimated to me that future releases of Head Case will feature a neutral skin for the default start-up amp.
** These graphics are found in the "Head Case Assets" sub directory; under the Head Case directory contained in your VST folder.
I downloaded some classic, traditional-looking amp skins from ampskindesigns.com. I opened up the "Old Fella" head in “Head Case Builder” and replaced the amp skin as well as the the knobs n' switches. I adjusted the gain-staging and the tone stack to my personal taste. Finally, I exported the ‘tweaked’ amp build (pictured at the left). I did all of this easily and quickly. I now have an amp head that ‘looks’ professional and as nice (for my tastes) as it sounds.
Granting the user a greater degree of control, the ‘FILTER CABS’ sub section allows for more specific cabinet selection and speaker configuration options via drop-down menus. The speakers are not labelled as “Greenback” or “Vintage 30”, but most electric guitarists will be able to discern what speaker models are being inferred. In this screen, the user can manipulate the microphone placement and distance. You can position the mic to aim at the cap, cap edge, cone, or cone’s edge. You can distance the mic from 0 to 6 inches, or 1 foot away from the cabinet.
** NOTE: IFACE™ is available as a stand-alone application. It used to list on the AcmeBarGig web site for $21.
Head Case emphasizes wide, well–dispersed stereo amplification. A producer or engineer can set up this prolific amp suite to output a dizzying amount of enthralling guitar-driven stereo soundscapes. Combinations of speaker/cab configurations, stereo modulation and delay effects, and complete panning control, collectively provide a plethora of interesting stereo expression.
Needless to say, Head Case functions very effectively as a typical single channel or mono amplifier as well.
Rugged. Solid. Robust and Strong. Head Case is NOT a ‘wannabe’. It’s very fit and can muscle its way into a rocking live session with the endurance of a 21 year old Angus Young. Swap out any of the high gain or crunch amps with the smooth, clean tones pleasingly produced by “Old Fella” or the pristine, round, Bassman-like quality of “Quarter II”. Head Case will then discretely assume the responsibilities befitting an immaculate, gentleman’s jazz amp.
The full array of effects, both the stomp boxed and also rack mounted, produce great quality results. Each of the effects units is highly configurable and very usable. Each effect’s parameter changes are dynamic and the range of control for each is very wide. Notwithstanding, the individual parameters are easily managed and offer smooth, even increments over their respective ranges.
Remember when you were a kid and you got your first ‘budget’ amp or effects pedal? The component would make noise, but very often the potentiometers were anything but smooth and seemed to have only two settings – nuthin’ or too much! You won’t have to try cope with abrupt changes or erratic alterations with any of this amp suite’s effects. The AcmeBarGig programmers have refined this aspect of Head Case exceptionally well.