Home guitar Neural DSP Archetype: Tom Morello – despite all the Rage, it’s a bit of a cage

Neural DSP Archetype: Tom Morello – despite all the Rage, it’s a bit of a cage

by Madonna

When Neural DSP announced Archetype: Tom Morello, initial reactions were understandably skeptical. While the Rage Against The Machine maverick obviously used guitar gear to achieve some out-there sounds, he’s also been very vocal about how he’s basically used the same amp and handful of pedals ever since the 1980s. So will a digital recreation of his rig really offer guitarists that much to play with?

The plugin takes the same format as we’ve seen from Neural DSP: different sections offer controls over amps, effects, cab and mic simulation, a master EQ, and so on. Just to get this out of the way, our opinions on the format of Neural’s plugins haven’t changed since we looked at the Mesa Boogie Mark IIC+ Suite: it’s an elegant solution that appeals to both the analogue and digital parts of the guitar world.

For Archetype: Tom Morello, sounds are mainly centered on a recreation of his main amplifier: a Marshall JCM800 he bought in the late 1980s and has used ever since. There are a handful of effects, including (obviously) a Whammy-like pitch-shifter alongside some other guests from his famously spartan pedalboard. A wah, a delay, EQ and a phaser, which are all serviceable and behave as you would expect.

Alongside the Whammy is the unique “dive-bomb” effect. The latter is basically the Whammy equivalent of an auto-wah. Hit a note, and you can either climb up to it from an octave below or dive down to it from an octave above, with the time taken adjusted by a virtual rocker. While it’s got some fun applications, you really have to play around it, as trying to give it too much information is a one-way path to harmonic chaos.

Plugging in a guitar with single-coils and loading the “Tom Rhythm Sound” preset, we’re already there. It sounds like Rage Against The Machine. There’s the aggressive brightness, fast response and dynamic range you can hear all over RATM records. Giving the Whammy a go, and it’s easy to get lost doing hammer-on trills as you weeeorrr-wooooo the night away. In the context of a mix, it’s dead-on RATM. Once again, Neural’s profiling technology proves itself when it comes to uncannily recreating gear.

But: Morello’s particular JCM 800 works well for the specific thing that he does, as proven by the fact he’s not even really changed his settings since the 80s. As he explained to Premier Guitar in 2008: “I spent at least four hours tweaking knobs just a hair this way and a hair that way to a point where I felt the sound was reasonable, and I marked those settings. This happened in ’88 or ’89 and those markings are the same ones I’ve used to this day.”

The scratched-in markings he’s referring to are of course present in Archetype: Tom Morello. And upon loading any of his own presets, all of the knobs are indeed pointed right at them. Unsurprisingly, these are the presets that sound the most like Rage.

But when you start to deviate from those marked control positions the sound quickly becomes anaemic, and just not offering the sort of sustain or bloom a cranked Marshall can offer. And so outside of the context of ‘doing a Tom Morello impression’, the plugin’s scope becomes limited.

There are some nice cleans on offer, and the handful of effects are all well and good – especially if you have a MIDI expression pedal to control the Whammy – but anything more saturated than “the Morello thing” is hard to achieve. This isn’t helped by the fact that there are no overdrive or boost pedals included here, as there are with most Neural plugins.

We obviously can’t knock it too hard for its limited scope: it’s Archetype: Tom Morello, and it succeeds in recreating his rig. But Morello’s approach to gear is markedly more minimalist than other players who’ve received the Archetype treatment. It’s no coincidence that this is the first Archetype plugin to feature only the one amp model.

Click around Archetype: Morello for 20 minutes and it feels like you’ve heard most of the sounds it has to offer. But maybe that’s the point: Morello makes a lot of weird noises with not a lot of gear. (Remember that disclaimer from the liner notes of RATM’s albums?). It certainly encourages you to spend more time playing than it does tone-chasing.

So for the die-hard Rage fans who just want Morello’s guitar sound, they need look no further. But for those who enjoy the wide tonal scope that most other Neural plugins offer, it’s a little more difficult to recommend.

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