Amp Sims

Just before Nasoalmo I tried out a mix of free amp simulators. I wanted to see what kind of guitar sounds I could get from a direct line into the computer using an amp sim, rather than micing up my sturdy Marshall amp.

My respect for amp sims has kind of wavered. When I remixed Monkeys in Space earlier in the I was incredibly impressed with a free Kuassa sim (I can’t find a link to this, it may have come with a magazine). When I recorded Monkeys in Space I had minimal gear so all the guitars were recorded through my Boss effects board via a 1/4” jack to USB cable. That set up did not make for a very good guitar sound! Adding the Kuassa amp to the guitars was a massive improvement and I was initially impressed with the options available.

Between Naso 2012 and Naso 2013 I upgraded my recording set up. I’m now using a Scarlet 2i2 from Focusrite, which is a big improvement over the jack to USB cable, and I’ve picked up a decent mic and stand so I can easily record straight from my Marshall. Now I can finally record my guitar and have it sound exactly the way I play. As a guitarist, this is awesome!

For the record, the amp I’m using is a Marshall VS100R. It’s a hybrid valve / tube and solid state circuit amp, which I’ve had for around sixteen or seventeen years. It’s an absolute beast and has survived many a gig with Rome Burns and the Yams. It’s been sat on, knocked over, doused in beer and cider, lost three of its feet but I’ve never had a problem with it. It still has the best distortion sound, way better than any tweaking of my effects board can produce.

And that’s a bit of a problem. When it came to evaluating amp sims they all fell short. Nothing compared to plugging in my amp and cranking up the distortion. For an album like Dream by Day where there are four guitars competing for audio space different sounding amps would have been a good thing. The guitars themselves have some effect on the sound but not as big an effect as the amp. When I started recording Dream by Day I double tracked the guitars, so I had the mic’ed amp sound as well as a direct line. I tried adding a few amp sims to the direct line to compare with the real amp and, for the most part, ditched the direct line audio as unusable. The mistake I made here was to compare the different recording methods with each other, rather than listen to the sound of the song as a whole.

I did use some of the direct line audio, mainly for the 8-string and acoustic. The 8-string was used for a lot of clean sounds and I added some chorus to the direct line and kept it low in the mix to compliment the amp sound. That worked incredibly well and is used on a few tracks. The acoustic guitar was also entirely recording without an amp. It has a pick up built in which I plugged straight in to the Scarlet. No matter where I tried positioning a mic I couldn’t get a better sound than the one straight from the guitar itself.

When I recorded Dat Bass (ironically titled, as no bass guitar was used, that’s the 8-string you can hear), I had one guitar part left to add and it was too late to switch the amp on. So I recorded it directly from the effects board into the Scarlett and added an amp sim afterwards.

And it works brilliantly.

If I didn’t know I wouldn’t be able to tell it was an amp sim. To me it sounds like a guitar. It doesn’t sound like _my_ guitar but it still sounds like _a_ guitar, and, more importantly, it fits in perfectly with the song.

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Stoo Goff

Stoo Goff is a writer, musician and programmer hailing from Norwich and now living in Glasgow. When not buried beneath a mountain of programming code or torturing guitars he can be found creating strange new lands and conjuring dreams from nothing. He regularly promises himself that he will finish the next novel and album.

He is heavily influenced by a number of writers and musicians, including: Tom Waits, Ursula Le Guin, Trent Reznor, Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer, Gene Wolfe, Frank Miller and a host of Finnish Folk Metal.

Follow him on Twitter @stoogoff.