How do you sit with guitar in hand and not want to play the Spark amp all day? Seriously, Positive Grid’s new amp, a long time in the making and finally shipping, is major fun. From bedroom guitarists who want to sound like their favorite rockers to songwriters looking for creative ideas to spice up their songs, there’s something in here for you.
What is the Spark amp? Well, call it a Swiss Army knife of sounds. Physically it’s a small sized 40-watt combo practice guitar amplifier that packs a punch on its own. But virtually, it’s a wide-open array of guitar amps, effect pedals, backing tracks to jam along, chord patterns to follow and more. And the sounds, many of which are spot on emulations, can be custom edited to your liking. The Spark is a chameleon of an amp that takes on the tonal characteristics of pretty much any amp that’s thrown at it.
What does it include? There are 22 guitar amps, four acoustic amps and four bass amps, each with bass, mid and treble, gain and volume controls. You also have access to nine overdrive/fuzzes, ten handy modulations, five compressors, six delay and nine reverb effects all taken from their Bias FX line, a noise gate, tone starter preset programs, a built-in tuner, tap tempo and more. The community-driven Positive Grid ToneCloud unlocks over 10,000 preset combinations. Suffice to say, it’s a pretty wide representation of what most players use.
If you just want to use it as an amp, it’s simple plug and play, with a nice variety of friendly amp sounds. There’s reverb and delay on the amp itself so you can make it sound more spacious. The amp is loud but not overbearing and has nice studio quality tones.
But the amp comes alive when you connect the app through either an iOS device like an iPad or an Android tablet. You actually feel like you’re playing an amp and not through a computer.
What you get with the app is greater effect and amp control and the ability to dig deep and tweak. Amp and effect settings are made through the app itself, which gives greater flexibility and also overrides the manual knobs on the amp itself. It’s best to build a tone by starting with the amp, then add any effects. It’s easy to change since everything is right in the center of the app.
Workflow is straightforward- double tap on the icon to set your preferred sound. There are different channel strip setups and presets for a ton of genres, so you can get where you want to go right away. The bass response and the way the speaker reacts makes you feel like it’s a bigger cabinet than its mini-head size. Drop D sounds fantastic too, which will please hard rock and metal players.
We tried a bunch of different combinations, including the LA Comp into Tube Drive into an AC Boost amp with a Chamber reverb and an hour later, we were still at it and having a fun time. When you want an amp that sounds close to what an artist’s rig setup is, the Spark goes deep beyond standard amps, with a few boutique amps included. If you’re familiar with amp and effect names and looks, it’s pretty easy to figure out what each one is emulating.
You can also use it as your USB audio interface to record. Everything can be saved as a preset for easy recall.
Even more fun, if you’re looking to practice or just jam, is the Smart Jam and Auto Chords functions.. We jammed with the virtual partner Sharon and a drummer. You lay down a pattern (say, 8 bars) and it analyzes chords and puts together a backing track for you, with bass and drums. You can then go in and edit if needed, replacing a chord and it will adjust. Best of all, you can pull up songs from YouTube, Spotify or Apple Music and Spark will translate the chords so you can jam to them.
The BPM on the delay effect is helpful when you’re learning some of the many songs or jam backing tracks and want to lock in. Backing tracks also show you the chords and there are suggested genres, patterns and suggested sounds for the different genres.
Are there any negatives? A few perhaps, depending on your needs and perspective. Heavy use will eat the iPad battery if it’s not plugged in. Speaking of battery, it would be awesome if the amp itself were battery-powered, but that’s probably asking for too much trouble given all that’s required to do what it already does. Some of the chords deciphered by Auto Chord were not quite right on a couple songs. Enough to get by, but not exact. Although the Spark has a wide variety of sounds, a guitarist who’s just looking for a few basic sounds will find the amp is overkill. Hard rock, metal and textural players will love the Spark.
At a street price of $299 (and currently at a sale price of $269), Spark is packed with everything a guitarist wants and may not have known they needed, especially beginner to mid-level players who want to get better on their own time. With quality guitars that can be had under $300, parents who want to introduce their children to music can get in the door for a reasonable price. The Spark may indeed spark a new revolution of world-class musicians.
Review assistance by Christian Seaman, Nick Ryan Piescor and Mike McKernan