Gear used in this article:

Axe-Fx II (Original, Mark II, XL, XL+)

Fractal Audio released firmware version 9.00 this week and what a great update it is!  New power amp and cathode follower modeling that improves the feel and tone, a pick attack parameter in the amp block, new amps including a Two Rock and Super Reverb and several bug fixes are welcomed. But the biggest thing to happen to the Axe-FX II in this update are Scenes.

There are now 8 Scenes available in each preset. Many people are excited about this and have been using Scenes since the 9.00 Beta firmware was released almost a month ago, but some people are still confused as to what Scenes really are and how to use them. In this post, I just want to explain how I view the Scenes feature.

Alright, let’s rewind back and exit the digital era. You had a guitar, cable into a drive pedal, cable into a delay pedal, cable into the front of your Marshall amp and a speaker cable to your guitar cab.

Guitar – Drive – Delay – Marshall Head —– Cab

Want to add a flanger after the drive pedal? You’d have to unplug the cable going from the drive to the delay, put it in the flanger, then add another cable to go from the flanger to the delay.

Guitar – Drive – Flanger – Delay – Marshall Head —– Cab

Now what if one song needed a Marshall sound, but another song needed a Mesa Boogie sound? Well then you’d need to exchange the Marshall with the Boogie or use some sort of splitter or A/B box to send your signal to the amp of choice. What a pain!

Enter digital guitar processors and the Axe-FX! The Axe allows you to create “virtual guitar rigs” in the same way as the physical example above.  Here it is recreated in the Axe-FX:

Guitar – Drive – Flanger – Delay – Marshall Head —– Cab

But the real fun and power of the Axe-FX is that I can create several different rigs (with different amps, cabs and effects) and then save and recall them using Presets.  Preset 1 may be the example above, and Preset 2 might be something like this:

Compressor – Chorus – Amp – Cab – Reverb

With 384 Preset locations, I can create so many virtual rigs and switch among them so I can have the right sound for the song or gig I’m playing.

So where do Scenes fit in here?  Where different Presets change what specific blocks are contained in the Layout, different Scenes change the Engage/Bypass state of the blocks in that Preset.  Lemme explain…

We have a 12×4 grid where we can insert, arrange and connect all our virtual blocks like amp, cab, delay, etc. Let’s say in a preset all I need is an Amp and Cab.

But sometimes I want a Reverb turned on, other times a Delay and sometimes both! I could use different presets for this, but within a Preset, you can Bypass a block, so its effect isn’t heard.  In the Layout, a solid outline of a block means it’s Engaged, and a dotted line means it is Bypassed.

So here is our same preset, but with Reverb and Delay blocks. But they are currently Bypassed, so it sounds exactly the same as before.  Using the front panel or a MIDI controller like Fractal Audio’s MFC-101, you can Engage and Bypass these blocks individually while you play. So we can turn on the Reverb and Delay, and now we have the original amp tone with Reverb and Delay on.

Well that seems simple. But the Axe-FX can do so much with all its different blocks and routing capabilities and many have created complex rigs in the Layout. So let’s take our simple amp and cab and add many more blocks for a complex setup.

*To simplify this explanation, I added all blocks to one “viewable section” of the screen. This preset will actually not make sound and is for visual explanation only*

You can see that I have my Amp and Cab, but a TON of other effects ready to go – they are all bypassed.  Let’s say I want to suddenly turn on the Delay, Reverb and Chorus.  I’d have to navigate to each block and Engage them or press 3 individual switches on my MFC-101.  Now I want to turn off the Reverb, but add the Flanger and Graphic EQ. Ok, 3 more button presses… But now Turn off everything and just engage the Drive pedal… this is becoming quite the tap dance!

The solutions for this before were to create several different presets – they all have the same blocks in them, but just the Engage/Bypass state is different, maybe even the overall volume.  But switching presets can create a gap in the sound and might start quickly eating up the 384 save slots available.  Some people linked several Engage/Bypass controls to a single switch so they could turn off/on Drive and Chorus and Delay all at once.  But now those 3 effects are ALWAYS linked together, which usually is not desired.

Well that’s where Scenes come into play! Again, within 1 preset there are 8 Scenes, and these Scenes save the Engage/Bypass states of every block in that Preset. So back to our crazy layout example…

Scene 1: Amp & Cab only engaged, all else bypassed

Scene 2: Engage Delay, Reverb & Chorus

Scene 3: Bypass Reverb, Engage Flanger & Graphic EQ

Scene 4: Bypass All, Engage Drive

Easy huh? So what are the benefits of doing it this way? Now you can create 1 Preset with all of the effects and setup you desire (as much as the Processors will allow) and use Scenes to create different sounds without ever leaving the Preset! This means taking up fewer save slots and less time copying presets from one slot to another just to turn off/on groups of effects.

In addition to Engage/Bypass, Scenes also save the Output Level, meaning Scene 1-4 could be a rhythm volume, Scene 5 could be a bit louder and Scene 7 could be even louder, or whatever fits the bill.  Scenes also save the X/Y state of blocks with X/Y functions. The best example of this is Amp Block: We can use 2 Amp blocks per preset and each Amp Block has an X state and a Y state.  Amp 1 X can be a Fender amp with its particular settings, Amp 1 Y can be a completely different amp like a Boogie with its own tone and settings. Same for Amp 2. So this means we basically have 4 saved Amp settings to be used one at a time in every preset, easily accessed using Scenes!

What a powerful tool! I’ll be creating some videos showing Firmware version 9.00 as well as visually explaining Scenes and how to setup and use them. For now, check out SoloAWeek’s excellent video that shows one example of how powerful Scenes can be.  Have fun and think outside the “Preset” box with Scenes!