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Quick first impressions of the Axe-Fx III

hippietim

Fractal Fanatic
First, why this is a quick impression only. UPS arrived in the evening on Friday. Within minutes (before I even unboxed it), an urgent issue dragged me away until late. Saturday I wake up to a scramble because the singer in my drummer's other band was hospitalized and could we fill in for a gig Saturday night - after a few phone calls and a bunch of messages we had a "band" for Saturday night.

So Saturday afternoon I finally unbox the Axe-FX III. The first thing that struck me is that it seemed lighter than the II. But according to the Dimensions and weight thread it is actually a few ounces heavier. Maybe it's because it is not as deep. In any case, it seemed light.

My monitors and stuff were loaded up for the gig. So I plugged the III into my Korg Stageman 80. It's not the ideal speaker setup but I wanted to play through this thing. I turn it on and there's this cool blue logo lit up and a nice color screen. Note that I have not updated the firmware yet (in fact, I'm not sure what firmware it came with).

I plugged in my Gibson Melody Maker with a single Duncan humbucker. It was out of tune so the first order of business was to tune up. The new tuner is great. Really. @FractalAudio I'd buy a tuner pedal like this if you are ever so inclined. So time to demo this thing. I just flipped through some presets. It sounds great. I can't say how it compares to the previous generation because my AX8 was packed already and my XL+ was sold last week.

The main screen has a list of all of the scenes and if you've been following the discussions or read the manual you'd know that scenes can be named - so this is a really useful default view for performing. The ABCDE knobs are clickable and they are part of navigating. I was surprised that turning the knobs didn't do anything by default on the main screen. It seems like turning A should have changed scenes - that is accomplished via the arrow key pad so there are shortcuts available.

So I'm spinning the preset knob and randomly stopping. The Mark IIC+ is a lot of fun - not sure if this model was significantly updated for Ares or not - I just know it sounded and felt great.

The Trichorus is great. Really. I have a Fulltone TERC. It's going up for sale.

Moving around in general was simple and fast. All of the obvious short cuts from prior Fractal products work as expected.

One cool short cut is the main encoder is clickable and it jumps to the grid - so you can spin to your favorite preset and click to jump to the grid view.

@iaresee posted a good demo of using the pitch for a drop tune. I wanted to hear how it worked with a clean tone though. So I just tweaked the Double Verb patch and tested +/- 5th to see how it tracked and to listen for artifacts. This worked really well. No need for a Drop pedal anymore.

The screen is really nice. Very crisp.

The grid has a view that shows I/O meters for each block. This is cool.

At the top of the screen on most pages I was using there are tuner indicators so you basically have a tuner available everywhere.

Then I had to stop. Did the gig. It came off great. Ended up crashing elsewhere last night so I didn't get home until this evening and had to do a bunch of random stuff. Tomorrow night I should have actual time to upgrade the firmware, hook it up to my good speakers, etc. So, more later.

And congratulations to everyone at Fractal, you really have a stunning piece of gear here.
 

bishop5150

Fractal Fanatic
Thanks for the review. That's awesome to hear about using the droptune. This is one of the many reasons I'm looking forward to getting the III. I've done shows doing a droptune of a 1/2 step with the AX8 and the XL and it worked fine. I imagine the III will really get the job done.
 

hippietim

Fractal Fanatic
So last night I got to spend several hours playing through the Axe-FX III into a CLR. First off I just went exploring through all the various system, controller, I/O, settings, etc. just to see what was new and where things were. I have to say that moving around on the 3 is just better overall. I have some idea of my own where I think things could be quicker and/or simplified and I'll write those up once I've had a little more time with the unit.

This new firmware has accomplished two noticeable things (to me anyway) so far in terms of amp modeling:
  1. A refinement/improvement in how the notes bloom. We all know the feeling with a great tube amp and lively guitar where you just press down on the strings and your rig feels like it wants to take off on it's own and you've got that sweet spot where you have enough volume, gain, compression to get a lot of sustain, harmonics, and controlled feedback. The 2 and AX-8 have done a very nice job at this for a long time. But the 3 takes it even further. And while I wasn't playing at bedroom volumes, I wasn't playing insanely loud or anything either - I think I was just a little quieter than where I'd need to be to hang with a drummer.
  2. There's an improved thickness to single string high notes on the Fenders. And if you dig in hard with a beefy clean tone it gives you some grit.

So I really got stuck on the factory Double Verb patch for a long time. It's got such a punchy sound and feels like home. Just like a real Twin - I could play all night with the right pedals. The patch has a Tube Screamer drive in it. So I did one of my favorite drive tricks - attach the gain level to the Pitch Follower controller. I like to set the min value to where the low notes just barely break up and the high value pretty much wide open. Then adjust the slope so that once you're playing notes in the G string territory it's getting nice and dirty and then the real high notes are pretty much full throttle. This let's you really dig in on chunky rhythm parts and have a lot of sizzle when you do some lead fills. I think I lost a half hour or more just playing at this point.

The rotary sounds really good - it's been a while since I've actually messed with the rotary on my 2 or AX8 so I can't say whether or not there were substantial changes though. I have a real Leslie in my dining room - it's one of the guitar models without the horn. I want to hook up my other CLR to the 3 and see how close it gets running in stereo.

Then I went further exploring various amp types. The Marshall stuff really highlights the note bloom thing. I'm beginning to think that this has as much to do with the "amp in the room" thing as a far field cabinet IR. It's not some massive difference of course, but it is an appreciable improvement in the liveliness of the overall experience.
 

MrGuitarabuse

Fractal Fanatic
...There's an improved thickness to single string high notes on the Fenders. And if you dig in hard with a beefy clean tone it gives you some grit.
Yeeeeeeeeessssss!!! Has been debating with myself if I should hunt for some new pickups for my strat typically since I feel I am lacking this currently
 

mikeyg

Inspired
So Tim I'm hearing what you said about the clean models, they all sound improved I've the II, in the limited recordings I've heard.

I gotta get over this weekend to check it out.
 
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