The amp sim market has plenty of options for any player. Some analog amps have inspired several plugins while the rest of the pack waits to be brought into the plugin world. Enter the Fender Tone Master! Nembrini Audio’s choices for the gear they target for plugins is always refreshing and the Sound Master is no exception. It’s the first time a developer has tackled the American-made rock machine.
The Fender Tone Master has a few formats but the Sound Master plugin is based on the 6L6-powered, 2-channel 100 watt head that circulated most notably between 1994 and 2002. The amp has been most notably used by players like Dave Grohl, Nick 13, Tom Petty, Frank Iero and many others. It’s also a mainstay in the utility tool back corner of many studios worldwide. One unique thing I learned about the amp is that there are no solid-state (transistor) devices in the signal path of any kind. Neat!
The Sound Master plugin amp features the amp, a great cabinet section and several other tools that can be used for signal processing. The plugins regular price is in the higher bracket but still very reasonable and Nembrini Audio have more than frequent sales so join their mailing list to find out when sales pop up.
Nembrini Audio’s GUIs are always pleasant to look at and to use. Easy navigation is essential is always present and the looks always capture the analog gear quite nicely. The amp is laid out in the main panel and the rest of the plugins utilities including the cab section are accessible through the cab section button near the top of the GUI. The default tone involves the ambient mic in the cab section which is something best rolled in later if needed. My first step with Nembrini Audio plugins is to mute or turn the ambient mic all the way down. To my ears, doing this always seems to allow for a tighter and better first impression.
Let’s get rolling with Channel A. Nembrini describes a crystal clean with the Sound Master but clean tones don’t make up very much of the amp at all. To get a truly clean tone, I needed to back the channel volume down to 3 or below then make up the volume in the plugins master output located in the cabinet section. Just remember to bring the plugin output down as the channel volume goes up or it will clip. Doing this helped to create really nice, crisp cleans with a really nice response. Add a compressor before the amp to nail down great country, blues, funk and southern rock without a lot of effort.
Channel A has a ton of gain for what many might expect to be a clean channel. The analog amp is designed in sort of a confusing way that basically gives players 10% clean options and 90% distorted sounds which is different from many of their other amps that often revolve around cleaner tones. No shot at the plugin here but the analog amp would be way more useful with a more flexible clean section. With or without the FAT switch engaged, channel A is quite distorted so it wouldn’t be my go-to for a variety of cleans. The two distorted sounds from the first of the two channels are raw, a bit loose and they cover a lot of ground. Classic rock, blues rock ska punk, punk of various eras, rockabilly, psychobilly and so very much more are there for the taking!
Channel B is a gain monster but not like you’d normally see around the high gain market. This is screaming, slicing, vintage-style high gain that can do everything from classic hard stuff like Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest, NWOBHM style metal, classic thrash and so much more. Rhythm or lead, this channel has so much to offer but don’t expect a super-saturated modern shred amp. The gain across both channels really is quite unlike anything I have heard before. The rhythm can definitely get mean and crunchy, the leads have really nice resonance and sustain all while sounding unlike any other amp I have come across.
As mentioned, the cab section along with other features can be opened by clicking the “Cabinets / Impulse Loader” button up top. The cabinet section has come a long way from the first few Nembrini Audio amp sims. The GUI has improved but the sound has most importantly come up a couple of notches. Users get access to 412 cabs from Marshall, Orange, Soldano, Mesa Boogie, 212 cabs from Fender, Bogner and as always, the Fender Tweed. Also included in this section are 5 mics with several positions, some processing tools like the cleaner, a noise gate and more to help clean up and shape the tone for a mix.
I had a lot of luck with every single one of the cabinets. In the past, there’s always been one cab in the Nembrini cab sections that sort of seemed like a throw-in but the Tone Master’s cab selection is all very useful with the amp. My favorites of the bunch are the Orange, Soldano and Mesa Boogie 412 cabinets as they serve up the best tone matches but the the 212 and 410 options work nicely. Additionally, the cabinet section also allows users the ability to use their own IR selection inside the plugin’s loader. The plugin comes with an IR selection from ChopTones and Seacow Cabs but will also load any three IR files the user chooses. The entire cab section can also be bypassed in favor of an independent loader of the user’s choice.
The Tone Master doesn’t really require a boost pedal to be crunchy or tight unless you are really looking for something heavier. The FAT switch adds a nice 3db kick to either channel so I when I tried boosting the Tone Master with the FAT switch engaged, it seemed a bit unnecessary. Running an overdrive or tube screamer with the FAT switch off sounded great but it still needed some caution in the high end of the amp / pedal’s tone control. It takes some doing to dial things in but when boosted right, the Tone Master can really benefit.
UPS / DOWNS
I definitely did not see the Nembrini Audio Sound Master coming. It’s not based on an amp that’s ever been on my radar as a player but the plugin has really brought the amp to my attention. It’s funny how plugins can do that if they represent analog gear authentically. The Sound Master does a terrific job of bringing all the great things associated with the Tone Master into the comfort of your home, office and even in your tour van (or your Mom’s SUV) in the parking lot before a gig.
No downsides at all with this plugin at all on our end, it shines on every level. The tones The Sound Master provides are definitely unique to only itself which makes it a nice addition to the toolbox. The plugin is easy to work with for those that have some experience but might require a little more of a learning curve for beginners. Overall, it’s one of the best amp sims I have used for rock tones both rhythm and lead. Lay into the full and unrestricted free trial today to get a feel for it.