Neural DSP has become a household name to many and some would say it’s the name to beat in the amp sim game at this point. Their Archetype series is a line of signature plugins designed around a well known player’s needs and designs. The series has done phenomenally well at least partially because they are easy to use. Add in some of the industry’s best quality and it’s almost always been a very effective way to offset the company’s licensed products.
Archetype Cory Wong is a collaboration between Neural DSP and popular American solo artist / Vulfpeck guitarist; Cory Wong. His talent in the funk domain alone is positively staggering and his name carries worlds of respect in the guitar world. This one is definitely not designed for the high gain guitarist but instead for the huge demographic guitarists that prefer a world of clean tones. I was pleasantly surprised going into the review process for what I knew would be a very different Neural DSP experience.
The suite includes a simplistic gate, three very different amps, seven total pedals (pre and post), a matched cabinet section from Adam “Nolly” Getgood, a tuner, MIDI capabilities and more for a price that most won’t bat an eye at if the tones fit their needs. This is indeed the clean focused suite from Neural DSP that many have been waiting for.
The plugin is laid out very similar to the other Archetype products but the background has been changed from black to sort of a peach/pink hybrid. The uniformity across the Archetype series really helps users go from plugin to plugin with confidence that there won’t be much of a learning curve. The plugin is very easy to navigate but I would say dialing things in is a bit trickier than some of the other Archetype plugins. Not “difficult” per say, it just takes a little more time to get to know how the amps respond. Take the time to learn not only how the amps dial in but how the various pre and post effects affect / respond to the amps/cabs.
When a signature plugin comes up, the analog gear a player uses or is known to have used always has to be considered. Some of the gear choices artist’s make for their signature plugins may come from their love and experience with something they have owned for decades or something they have had for two months but really enjoy. Cory Wong is known to have used the Roland JC-120 and JC-40, Dumble Overdrive Special, various Fenders and a Kemper Profiling amp. In the case of the Archetype plugins, guessing the gear has become a futile pursuit, unless the artist spills the beans, we never really truly know. In this case, the amps are all original creations that could be a combination of several (ex: Bogner power section with a Mesa Preamp) because let’s face it, that’s part of the fun with plugins.
The pre-FX / pedal section features a wah/auto-wah, an envelope filter, compressor, screamer and an OD of some sort. I haven’t got a clue what any of them are based on but this section is full of fun and effective stuff to play around with. The wah pedal can be used both manually or as a fully adjustable auto wah and boy, is it a ton of fun to play with though admittedly I did not test it with a MIDI controller for the full experience. It’s a warm, swirling type wah that sits really well with me across all amps and cabs.
The envelope filter is a funk / fusion mainstay on a lot of pedalboards and it’s nice to see one in a plugin here and there. Since it’s such a rare effect to see, to help use this trusty weapon of funk, have a look through an introduction to envelop filters like this one. Short abrupt notes and palm mutes with a bit more slack really do wonders to show how the effect works. In this case, the effect has been modeled very nicely for guitar and bass applications for use will all three amps so get in there and get quacking (because it sounds like a duck, get it?…).
Moving to the solid and simplistic compressor, it’s perfect for everything from subtle tightening to full on squash city without a lot of fuss. Knowing how a compressor really works is a must with any compression effect no matter how good the component is. Having that knowledge can really show how good this compressor really is. The compressor in Archetype Plini is really nice but for me, this one is much better. The compressor is versatile and great with all three amps. Amp 1 having additional onboard compression to add only allows for even more flexibility. My favorite application for the compressor is for country tones both modern and vintage, it gets the job done perfectly.
Ending the Pre-FX is a duo of drive pedals; a green tube screamer and a gold-ish “big rig” overdrive. Both pedals work beautifully to drive Amps 2 and 3 very nicely in any number of ways. The tube screamer has so many uses but I found the Big Rig Overdrive to be the better of the two drive pedals. It can go from being a warm boost type effect to being about 5-6 hairs away from a fuzz pedal. The amps have very little, if any drive to them so the boost/drive pedals are important if you want to add a little dirt to the equation. With Amp 1 however, the drive pedals really do not apply as well to the DI type approach. The only tone I could think of might be a garage rock type tone or something you’d hear used by The Strokes but for me, there wasn’t a match for the drive pedals and Amp 1. The other two amps however, the great tones came in bunches.
Amp 1 (from left to right) is an original creation called “The Funk DI Console” (could we agree to call it the Funk Machine please?) and it’s about as dry as the name suggests (in a good way). DI box type setups have been a popular go-to with guitarists and bass players for over a half century. It leaves the tone more in the hands and pickups of the player. The “Amp” uses compression, a combo of low / high pass filters and EQ to forge some of the best tones I have ever heard come out of a plugin. For additional dryness and a different vibe, try bypassing the cab section completely. The result for me was jaw-dropping, I could really hear the quality in my pickups but also every mistake I made seemed a bit more ruthlessly audible. I guess it’s time to clean up my playing a bit!
I have lot fun using the high pass filter on the DI Funk Console to thin the tone right out for funk tones in a way that doesn’t degrade the tone at all. The character all stays in place even when rolling the filters up or down so no matter what experimental tones come out, they will stand up. The most fun I had with The Funk Machine was using it to create killer ska tones. The upstrokes can be dialed in to cut and sit in a ska / ska-punk perfectly mix with a little tweaking. Using this amp with a blend of middle/bridge or neck/middle on my Strat or Nashville wired Tele resulted in tones that sound and feel phenomenal on every level.
The default tone from the second of the Neural DSP / Cory Wong originals “The Clean Machine” is kind of dark at first but once brightened up a bit, the first impression was a lock. The company bills the amp as a blend of classic clean tone amps and it really turned up some great tones that come from just the right combination of amps merged into one. I for one love the possibilities here given Cory Wong’s taste in amps and Neural DSP’s technical abilities. The outcome is an amp that is warm and comfortable for crisp shimmery cleans to crunchy rhythm and leads with beautiful sustain. Personally, I don’t care what it’s modeled from, it’s gorgeous.
For the crunch and lead tones or just to get the amps a tiny bit pissed off, the internal boost / drive options are needed. The EQ and amp controls provide a lot of value / versatility that allows users to mold the tones in Amp 2 quite nicely with detail. The amp can go from punchy to smooth, bassy to cutting, chill to gainy in only a few small moves and it responds incredibly well to all of the plugin’s effects. The feel and tones from Amp 2 makes it my favorite amp in the suite and I will be calling on it again in the future!
The description of the third amp reads roughly as being modeled from one of the rarest amps in the world. This factor along with the artist’s love for the ultra-rare, ultra-pricey Dumble amps suggest it could be such. The amp can reach that “cranked-up Marshall” feel on it’s own without the pedals but I really like the way “The Amp Snob” amp responds to the two drive pedals whether on their own or stacked together. Obviously I have no experience with any of the $100,000+USD creations but from what research I have done over the years, Amp 3 has some similarities. The feel related to my experience with other amps kind of feels like a Marshall JTM45 which is probably an easier example to relate to anyhow. No matter what it’s really modeled after, the sound is remarkable.
The amp’s driven solo / lead tone capabilities are very strong when the drive pedals are involved. I found matching Amp #3 with Cab #2 became one of my go-to tones fairly quickly when getting to know the plugin. Rockabilly, psychobilly, southern rock and a lot of other styles live inside this section of the plugin. The only downside to the amp for me is the drive button located on the amp’s right side. By the time I got to it I was really surprised that it added something I didn’t like. The switch needs the Dumble ODS’s overdrive level and ratio controls to give the drive switch more use. I understand the need to keep the control panels quite simple but these two controls would give the amp even more authenticity while upping the applications. The amp is also really nice when set for clean tones. Users can choose to reach for Amp 3 for clean and dirty purposes and it’s not afraid to get grimy, try it with a third party fuzz pedal sometime!
After the traditional band-style EQ section the Archetype plugins all include comes the cab section. It has once again been shot and delivered by famed producer; Adam “Nolly” Getgood. I have to assume that a player like Cory Wong would shoot for at least some sort of 212, 410, 112 type options to be in the suite but the cab graphics show as 412 cabs. Perhaps this is just the GUI but a couple of the cabinets definitely don’t sound like 412 cabs but instead something a bit smaller. Either way, everything in the 3D cab section sounds and operates great as usual with a Neural DSP plugin. The suite provides a nice selection of industry standard mics that can be adjusted to the user’s taste. 3D cab sections require that users have at least basic knowledge of the mics and positions used when recording guitar if the user is to take full advantage of the component.
Each amp can either be linked to a perfectly matched cabinet or unhitched and free to match and mingle. Cab 2 is my favorite of the three cabs offered in the suite. It seems to match up well with all three amps while adding some more warmth and body. The point of the suite however isn’t to always be after the warmer or bigger tone. Sometimes funk, country and other styles require a thinner and more compressed sound over something warm and round. Cabs 1 and 3 come in handy for really everything Cab 2 can’t do. One is brighter, the other… yep, you guessed it; darker. Don’t be afraid to unlink and experiment but for thorough experimentation of the amps and effects, Neural have a simplistic IR loader so users can call on their own selection of IRs or bypass the cab section in favor of a third party IR loader. I had a ton of luck matching 110, 112, 212, 410, 412 IRs with all of the amps for great tones, don’t be afraid to get outside the box!
The Post-FX section has been very similar across the Archetype plugins. Post-FX sections are often 90% catered towards the standalone users that don’t mix their music in a DAW. When the plugins are used for actual tracking purposes, the user will need to use their own EQ and processing in the chain and since delay / verb go after processing, the internal plugin post-FX cannot be used effectively. The delay is very flexible, the reverb is solid and they both have their uses but they have very little use for those using the plugins for their own mixes. I really liked the addition of the “Shimmer” switch to add a brilliant trail to the notes. Funk tones don’t traditionally involve a lot of delay or verb for the most part but modern funk, fusion sure do but ultimately the uses for the two post-FX pedals are nearly endless.
BASS ALERT: It’s been a while since we had the chance to add a bass alert but if the guitar tones in Archetype Cory Wong are up your alley, chances are the bass tones will be as well. All I needed to do was either bypass the cab section or add my own bass IRs to the plugin’s internal loader. I had a lot of luck adding a 410 or 810 to one IR slot and a 115 or 215 to the slot on the other side of the loader then blending things up but the DI sound with Amp 1 and no IR provides very nice tone. Amps 2 and 3 were very handy for bass tones as were all of the pre-FX. Funk bass tones are effortless to create with the plugin but playing funk on the bass? Not so much! Is it a bass plugin? No.. well maybe? Either way, it sure does a pretty good impression of one.
UPS / DOWNS
Archetype Cory Wong is exactly the plugin for Neural DSP to grow their tech to more players. The company has helped to revolutionize amp sims but they had some territory that needed exploring. Territory that involves players that prefer (deep breath in Ace Ventura-style…) blues, jazz, ska, rockabilly, indie, country, funk, fusion, prog, brit pop and the herds of the other genres that have no need for a high powered gain machine. The result of this collab is a truly and completely unique plugin that sounds and operates like absolutely nothing else on the market today.
The downsides are few and far between with this plugin and they are also going to vary based on how well the user and their appreciation for a great clean tone. The effects and really all of the components can take a bit more of a fine touch to really get a feel for if there’s no prior knowledge of how to use effects like an envelope filter, compressor and so on. The presets are very elaborate but separate component presets could go a long way for new users. Additionally, the sort of bright, peachy/pink background is a bit distracting to the eye. It’s not the color but more how the color interacts with the components. It’s not as present with the amps but in contrast to the incredibly colorful pedals it can be very noticeable. Some may find it soothing but when putting in a lot of time with a plugin, the contrast between components is important. My suggestion would be to have a light / dark switch that can enable Neural’s signature blacked out setting.
Saying Neural DSP was after something a little different here would be an understatement but it was an incredible breath of fresh air. I have a blast with the plugin every time I sink into it but it definitely took me time to get a feel for. There’s a welcoming and massive world of predominantly clean tones with very few borders or limits. Some will immediately put ACW into their slot #1 and others may use as more of a specialty tool to cover a lot of possibly missing ground in their amp sim collection as it’s uses are many. Archetype Cory Wong delivers a whole new look at how talented the folks at Neural DSP really are. Try out the fully functional FREE trial today!
See this video from two of the most professional musicians on planet earth.. or are they aliens?.. hmmm
Another awesome demo by Rabea Massaad