Amp Simulators 101
Amplifier simulators are nothing new. For
years manufacturers have been trying to
accurately mimic collections of the most
common and most sought after amplifiers, cabinets, microphones, direct injection boxes, and the spaces to put them in.
While various devices have succeeded at
re-creating the sounds of classic amps, only
recently have they been able to capture the
feel of playing on a tube amp. The majority of the truly convincing simulators are
confined to the computer domain, though
there are also standalone devices that can
afford a guitar player convincing tone and
feel. This month, we’ll look into a few of
the more impressive ways that even the
most obsessed tone junky can finally leave
their amps at home.
The bevy of computer-based software simulators grows at an alarming pace. It seems that
every day a new manufacturer unveils their
amp simulator. While some are better than
others in terms of tone and feel, some offer
a greater flexibility in sound design, some
offer an easy-to-use interface, and others are
designed to be light on your computer’s processor. Which one do you turn to?
That’s a tough question to answer.
Fortunately, many software manufacturers
offer a free demo on their website. Most
are not restricted in any way except for a
time limit on how long they will operate
before you must purchase or discard them.
Before making a decision on any product,
it’s wise to try out several demos to see
which simulator is a good fit. Each will have
its strengths and weaknesses. Try to keep in
mind what specific needs you have for your
sound, style, technique, and rig. While this
list is nowhere near being comprehensive,
I’ve found the following software simulators
are definitely worth checking out:
Overloud TH1 Features include accurate tone
and feel, versatile mic placement and amp/
cabinet blending, a good complement of
effects—and it’s relatively light on processors.
Native Instruments Guitar Rig 3 This package offers a wide array of amps, cabinets,
mics, and effects, with a straightforward
interface, easy integration with hardware
controllers, and flexible routing.
Peavey ReValver Mk III A tweaker’s paradise,
it allows simulation at the component level.
You can swap out tubes on a virtual amp, re-bias the tubes, add a rectifier, and more. If you
can dream it, you can do it in ReValver.
Line 6 POD Farm Drawing on Line 6’s long history of modeling amps and effects, POD Farm
has an impressive array of classic units ready to
create (or recreate) the rig of legends.
While various devices
have succeeded at
recreating the sounds
of classic amps, only
recently have they been
able to capture the feelof
playing on a tube amp.
If you prefer to leave the computers to the
IT guys at the office, there are still plenty of
floor- and rack-based solutions worth looking into. Again, the key is to try out as many
as you can before you come to any decision.
Some products will nail a few sounds beautifully, but fail utterly on others. Try to focus
in on the functionality and tweakability of
each simulated offering. A classic example
of where things can go terribly wrong can
be found by adjusting the rate of a delay
while a note is playing through it. A well-constructed unit will allow the signal to shift
and change, while a poorly designed unit
will garble the signal into a mess of digital
noise. Compare your experience with the
real-world gear versus the simulations; you’ll
be able to quickly determine the quality of
the simulations in a unit.
When thinking about hardware units, it’s
also important to consider the flexibility
of the effects routing. If a unit locks you
into a set configuration (e.g., Overdrive->Modulation->Compression->Reverb), you
may find yourself limited in regard to sound
design. Most units today allow the user to
define the signal path, and sculpt the signal
in any way they wish.
Be sure to find out about the available
options for backing up your sounds to an
external device. Should your unit’s memory
fail, or should you need to replace the unit
on short notice, it is invaluable to have a
backup of all of your carefully constructed
programs on hand. If you can’t back up
your data, the unit isn’t worth considering.
Again, there are many worthwhile units on
the market. Here are a few I recommend
Line 6 POD X3 Line 6 is almost synonymous with amplifier and effects simulation.
The POD line offers a rich history of well
developed, great sounding models.
VOX ToneLab LE Drawing from Vox’ heritage and close relationship with Marshall,
the Vox ToneLab (as well as the AD series
of amplifiers) contain some of the best-sounding amp models.
Roger Linn Design AdrenaLinn III The
assignable sequencers and arpeggiators
really take this device into exciting new territories, making it an amazingly deep and
complex amp modeler and multi-effects
unit. The onboard drum machine can also
be very useful.
Nick Schenkel has played guitar since he was 12 years
old. Over the past 15 years, he has worked in several
professional recording studios and as a monitor mix
engineer for live performances. An honors graduate from
Washtenaw Community College’s Music Production and
Engineering program, Nick works as a Sales Engineer at
Sweetwater Sound. Reach him at 800-222-4700 x1399
or at firstname.lastname@example.org.