Signature products are something that I go back and forth about. I own some and use them often, yet I’m perplexed when I think about the concept – what do someone else’s preferences have to do with what I want? Like Beyonce endorsing Pepsi is going to make my tastebuds the same as hers (I actually love Pepsi and Beyonce but that’s not the point). When it comes to music gear, a signature product is designed in collaboration with the artist based on their needs, not yours. The chances of that particular instrument suiting your needs as well are not fantastic. But some signature products are designed to be as useful a tool for someone else entirely than the artist in question as well, and sometimes you hear a sound and you just have to have it.
Toneforge Jason Richardson is a plugin designed by Joey Sturgis and co. over at Toneforge to be a start-to-finish complete guitar recording chain in a single plugin, based on the tones heard on Jason Richardson’s debut solo album I. That means of course that when they were designing it, they were shooting for something that could nail the album’s tones for people who really like that sound, but they didn’t just make it a single, inflexible sound – they gave you all the tools you need to craft a complete tone of your own, top-to-tails.
The plugin starts with a selection of 3 different amp tones – clean, rhythm, and lead amp tones, each very distinct. This is your starting point – the most basic of the controls are present here, the typical tone stack for each, plus one special control (Shimmer for clean, Clarity for rhythm and Edge for lead). This will get you pretty far, although I feel as though these controls are not the most powerful I’ve encountered on an amp before – it’s hard to stray too far from the core sound at this point. There’s also a simple one-knob gate that’s pretty idiot-proof, and also really fast to accommodate Jason’s style of stuttering, lightning-fast chuggy rhythm style. From there you can pick what I find to be one of the most important parts of the signal chain – the cab. Toneforge JR has 3 choices for this, a PRS Stealth cab, a JST cab, and an incredibly handy addition, an IR loader where you can load any of your own 3rd party cab IRs. This opens up a world of possibilities and gives you that much more control over your tone. The PRS and JST cabs also have the added benefit of 4 different mic sounds to choose from – a condenser, a 421, and 2 different 57 positions. So if you don’t have an IR library of your own, no problem, you’ve got 8 unique sounds to choose from built right in.
From there you can pick what I find to be one of the most important parts of the signal chain – the cab. Toneforge JR has 3 choices for this, a PRS Stealth cab, a JST cab, and an incredibly handy addition, an IR loader where you can load any of your own 3rd party cab IRs. This opens up a world of possibilities and gives you that much more control over your tone. The PRS and JST cabs also have the added benefit of 4 different mic sounds to choose from – a condenser, a 421, and 2 different 57 positions. So if you don’t have an IR library of your own, no problem, you’ve got 8 unique sounds to choose from built right in.
The next step is to choose your effects. This is where the plugin shows its truly metal colors – the spartan effects palette is not for the shoegaze pedal junkie. A delay, a dead simple reverb, and a lo-fi pedal tell the whole story on this pedalboard. For my typical uses, that covers most of the bases, but I think an overdrive for boosting the amp would have been a welcome addition. Nevertheless, it’s important to keep in mind that all this stuff is still in one plugin – normally we’d be at least 3 plugins deep on a chain like this. The delay has the most features of the three, with time, tone, mix, width, and feedback controls to dial in your repeats with ease (I could use a tempo sync button to lock it to the click for simplicity, seems like a bit of an oversight). The tone knob allows you to cut down the brightness of the repeats to keep them from cluttering up your mix or sticking out too much, which is a handy feature. The reverb is hard to botch, it sounds good at most settings. The lo-fi gives you a pretty good degree of control considering how often you’ll probably use it (I used it twice in a 90-second demo, so it might be more than you’d think).
Then come the post-processing options. A pretty powerful parametric EQ has the frequencies that affect the guitar the most all lined up and ready for you to cut and boost to your heart’s content. It might seem a little limiting having pre-set frequencies designated, but this allows even a novice mixer to improve their final sound rather than wrecking it with a free-for-all make-your-own EQ. I think a nice bit of gravy on this section would be the ability to set high- and low-pass points as well. Regardless, they hit all the major EQ spots that can plague guitar tone, and you can help your track sit in the mix quite a bit with this.
The final piece of the puzzle is the compressor. Now, I’m not really a compressor whiz, so I didn’t get too far into this part. It’s got a pretty basic, easy-to-use interface, and it’s designed to enhance the clarity of low-tuned guitars, which it seemed to do pretty well. I’m not much of a mix engineer, but it seems to me that if you are, this will save you some serious hassle in your session. Because it’s purpose-built to be used with this guitar tone, it’s probably going to work better than a general-purpose compressor for this anyway.
Oh yeah – there’s also a big built-in tuner on board.
The Toneforge Jason Richardson plugin delivers on its promise of being your complete guitar processing chain in one unit, and if you heard the demo and dug the sounds you can get, then $99 for all that is a steal. Jason Richardson fans and modern metal guitarists in general will get a ton of mileage out of it for not that much dough.
Grab your copy here and get to rippin’!