I replaced £1200 of amps with £12 of apps...

Posted by Stuart Barbour on 29 January 2016

When we heard that some pretty impressive guitar amps had been sold to make way for an app, we were more than curious. Surely the tone of a classic amp can never be bettered by an app. Are we about to see banks of iPads at a worship concert rather than Marshall stacks? We spoke to Stuart Barbour from The Point Church in Sussex about his sudden move to the app-side...

When it comes to guitar amps, I’ve always been of the opinion that if it doesn’t smell like it’s burning, or you aren’t risking secondary degree burns if you poke around inside, then it’s not worth plugging your electric guitar into. No amount of electronic trickery can ever hope to match the punch that forces every note out of a valve amp, and my Les Paul is never happier than when plugged into my Mark IV Boogie with only an Ibanez Tubescreamer stomp box between them.

But when it gets to 7:30am on Sunday and my back hurts and I start hauling my gear from the car park to the school that my church meets in, then empty a container and set up the stage and PA with the rest of the worship team, I’m left with one simple question: it’s 2014 - do I really need to be carrying all this gear?

Later in the week I’m off to a care home to sing and play for them. I experience the return of my sore back and the question about whether I need all this equipment. Later that day I’m off to play a two hour in set at the local pub. My back hurts again. You get the picture.

A day or so later I get a phone call from a friend, Thuy Mallalieu. Thuy is a highly skilled musician whose ear I have learned to trust over the years. “Have you tried the apps Jam Up Pro and Bias?”

Now I must confess I am an early adopter and go for new technology fast and I was at the head of the line when it came to using the iPad 1 for all my lyrics. But when it comes to guitar sounds, I’ve always tried to keep things strictly analogue. You wouldn’t catch Stevie Ray Vaughan going fully digital, would you? (if he were still alive).

But taking Thuy’s advice has always been a good course of action, so I went to the app store and bought the two apps for £6 each*. The first one - Bias - let me interfere to the nth degree with the settings of a vast array of amps. I could then export them to Jam Up Pro which let me put them in line with a vast array of pedals, including - I might add - the Tubescreamer. (You need a decent interface with iPad for this to work, I use a Focusrite iTrack solo.)

When playing guitar, feel is everything. That’s why going direct in to a valve amp feels so good. Surely the very fact of inserting any amount of latency in to the equation is going to kill the feel. Right?

Wrong. After the phone call and the app store purchases I spent a whole week playing guitar through my iPad with Bias and Jam Up Pro. I tweaked, I trimmed, I fiddled and listened and heard things I really liked. I downloaded other people’s tweaked amps and liked it even more. I played a Dumble amp (always wanted to do that) and I missed my dinner(never like doing that). In short, I feel in love.

My current set up is simple. I run lyrics and tracks on OnSong and put my lecky through Jam Up Pro which runs in the background. All I need to do now is find a vocal channel strip app that will also run in the background and then I won’t even need a mixing desk. Surely there’s a future out there where I can just run my whole set up through the iPad straight in to my Bose L1 (which is another article in itself)?

These days Sunday mornings leading worship at The Point sound just as good as they used to - if not better. We use Aviom in ear monitoring, which makes the PA guys happy as there are no amps on stage and allows me to mix my own sound in my in ears.

And what’s more, with just one guitar and one iPad to load, I no longer have a sore back. C’mon! Thank you Lord!

*Prices at time of publishing were £13.99 for Bias and £6.99 for Jam UP Pro.


Stuart Barbour is the Worship Pastor at The Point Church in Burgess Hill, West Sussex. www.thepointchurch.co.uk Catch him leading worship there most Sundays, or leading blues worship in pubs around the county.


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Below: Bias let's you tweak every detail. Check it all out on the AppStore.


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