Positive Grid Spark Amp: The perfect lockdown tool for guitarists
Bluetooth 40-watt amp with many great app-enabled features is an all-round star
Positive Grid Spark Amp
Product name: Positive Grid Spark Amp
Where to buy: www.positivegrid.com
I’m not much of a guitar player. A few chords here that I practised to death, a song or two that I could play (slowly) and that’s about it. It’s safe to say any dreams of nailing the perfect guitar solo are long since done.
Practice would probably help. That and good kit that can help you master your skills but won’t take up a huge amount of room. For budding, intermediate and skilled guitar players, the Spark Amp is probably the most useful bit of kit you can buy. The Bluetooth-connected 40-watt amp is an all-round star. Not only is it a standard guitar amp – plug the guitar in, twiddle some knobs, off you go – but you can also set custom effects, play along with your favourite tracks for practice and learn as you go. Positive Grid’s full guitar amp modelling and multi-effects engine, powered by its Bias software, is built into the amp, making it an extremely versatile device. You have access to about 10,000 tones, which is more than enough for any guitar player.
All of this comes in a package that is small enough to fit on your desktop but big enough to deliver great sound.
The amp is suitable for electric guitars, bass and acoustic guitars – as long as they have a jack to connect to an amp – can be used straight out of the box, with a number of on-device controls to help you customise your sound.
You can set it for high-gain or glassy, add crunch or opt for clean, depending on how you much distortion you’d like. You can also adjust the treble and gain, and add delay or reverb to your playing before you’ve even connected the amp to the Spark Jam app. There’s even tap tempo built into the amp. If you are looking for a powerful amp with all those features, you need never even download Spark Jam.
But it is worth getting to grips with the app, because the real power and compelling features of the Spark Amp come once you’ve paired it with the app on your smartphone or tablet.
Take Auto Chords for example. This smart feature automatically displays the chords for songs as you play, giving you the chance to learn new songs or polish your existing abilities. You choose the song, and alongside the video – if available – the chords will display. You can slow the song down if you are trying to master it, or play a section on a loop if it is particularly difficult.
The videos are pulled in from YouTube,and the chords scroll in real time, so you can play along with the video, recreating the sound of Rage Against the Machine, U2 and so on, by either building it yourself or accessing one of the presets already uploaded to Tone Cloud by the Spark Amp community.
There’s a lot to work with on Tone Cloud. It’s very detailed, offering not only signature sounds for bands, but even the sounds for individual songs. For example, if you wanted to play Foo Fighters’ Everlong, you simply search through the list, select it and the software will automatically apply the right effects. Switch it to Guns N’ Roses’ Sweet Child o’ Mine, and you can hear the difference in the sound as the digital effects kick in. Pedals, amps and effects can be added and tweaked to your liking.
You can also connect your Spotify or Apple Music account to the app, giving you a new source of music tracks to play along with. A small dial on the amp allows you to control the volume of the music coming through the amp, so you can dial it down when you want to hear your own playing more, and – more importantly for me – turn it up when you need to drown out your mistakes.
There are times, however, when you don’t want to imitate someone else; you just want to play at your own speed and in your own way. In that case, Spark Amp’s Smart Jam feature has you covered. The app works in combination with the amp, learning your playing style and creating a backing track with bass and drums to support you in a sort of virtual band. Choose your drummer, and the app will ask you to play a few chords so that the app can figure out what to add to create the perfect band.
It’s the perfect lockdown tool for guitarists.
Regardless of your skill level, the Spark Amp is good investment. The extras you get with the app – creating your own sounds with virtual pedals, auto chords – are what makes the experience so good. The Smart Jam feature is best if you just want to go your own way, providing you with a virtual band to back you up.
You don’t need to have the app downloaded to use the Spark Amp, but it certainly helps. All those smart features – playing along with your favourite tracks, creating impromptu jam sessions, emulating the sounds of your favourite bands – depend on the app. So the question is, why wouldn’t you?
THE NOT SO GOOD
You can stream music, but the list of services is limited. At the moment, only Spotify and Apple Music are supported, so if you have signed up elsewhere, you are out of luck.
The app will also respond to voice commands, such as asking it to open a metronome, or play the drums.
You can also use the amp as a regular Bluetooth speaker – and those four-inch speakers have some serious power.
A smart amp that earns every bit of its price tag.