How’s it going music fans? Today, I want to talk with you guys about one of the more promising up and coming aspects of music – the amp simulator, also known as the amplifier modeler or amplifier emulator, but more on that in a second. Sure, amp simulators have been around for a while now and have through the years been able to loosely recreate some of the most classic amplifier tones in rock and roll history. While some have much more success than other, it has only been until recently that these amp simulators finally began to succeed in recreating one of music’s most sought after sounds; of course, I’m talking about that well known tube amp tone. The reason I bring this up is because I find that for all of these simulator’s recent successes, they still haven’t been able to persuade players that the road to some of rock’s most distinguishable tones doesn’t always have to go through the amplifier. It might be due to the fact that there are more subpar simulators out there than the higher quality products that I’m referring to. Also – as we all should know by now – there are plenty of purists out there who simply believe that there’s no substitution for the real deal much like their love of analog versus digital. Nothing wrong with that as I myself would much rather have some pure analog delay over even the best digital – although there are plenty of digital delays out there that seriously do give analog a run for its money, such as the very popular Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man, but I digress.
So with that said, I’d like to take the time today and give our more opened minded rockers out there the chance to check out some of the unique benefits that today’s amp simulators bring to the table and who knows – you might find that you won’t be lugging around your old amp to that next gig of yours very soon!
The Amp Simulator
For all of you out there a bit unaware, amp modeling or simulating is the process of digitally recreating the sound of a “real” amplifier such as a Fender Bassman or a Vox AC-30. Pretty self-explanatory right, but as far as how that’s done, it’s a matter of software or hardware. Software amp modelers come in the form of plug-ins for DAW programs while hardware amp modelers are standalone devices such as an actual amp, preamp or even an effects pedal. When the rise of amp modeling first came around one of the biggest complaints was that it lacked life, sounded too digital or simply didn’t have the same high quality tone that the real amps have been cranking out for decades. Although amp modelers have come a long way the stigmatism over its digital sound still remains. I’m not here to convince anyone that amp modelers provide a 100 accurate representation, I’m just trying to make you guys out there take a look at the entire picture of what amp modelers can bring to the table. If you are looking for an amp that sounds through and through like a Vox AC-30 – then by all means go grab yourself an AC-30 because no matter how close these modelers get, there’s just no substitution for the real deal. But if you want to have something like a Vox AC-30 running through a Marshall Plexi head along with Fender cab sporting Celestion Greenbacks but then you decide to take it one further by deciding you want your high e string to run through an octave divider – then you my should definitely take a look at an amp modeler. Essentially, while real amps deliver tones that we all know and love amp modelers allow players to create sounds that would be almost impossible – if not very cumbersome and expensive – without them.
The Benefits of an Amp Simulator
One of the biggest problems with the first wave of amp modelers was latency which is pretty much how long it takes the signal from your guitar to go through your devices and come out as an audible sound. The fact that a chip had to process the sound before it could be sent out and heard ended up causing the modelers to take more time than an analog amp to get the sound out. Back then, it was a noticeable problem but the good news is that today latency is pretty much a non-issue as most of them can easily hit about 10ms which is about the amount of time it takes sound from an amplifier about 10 feet away to hit your ears. In other words – you won’t be able to notice.
When used as a part of a DAW program, recording using amp modeling gives you the ability to change the sound of your guitar without the need for a retake. Essentially, by using an amp modeler, you’re not recording a “processed” like you would using amp to mic Instead, you’re actually recording your guitar clean with the effects added on top of it meaning that you’re free to change up any setting or effect without the need to re-record a specific piece. All of those home studio producers out there certainly know how big of a pain re-recording a perfectly played piece can be simply because the tone settings weren’t right.
Sticking with the software side of sim amps, another huge benefit is that several developers let you try before you buy. Unlike “real” amps where you actually have to go into a store to try it out fully for yourself, sim amp demos are only a download away in the comfort of your own home. Not only that, as computers themselves get increasingly powerful, sim amp developers regularly update their plug-ins to take advantage of that extra processing boost. Try and get Marshall to update that amp of yours without charging you an arm and a leg – and that’s assuming that they even do that kind of stuff which they don’t.
Another huge benefit of the amp modeler – the hardware kind in particular – is its versatility. If you simply can’t live without the real life feel of sound blasting out of your speaker cabinet, no problem! Simply connect the sim amp’s output into your old rig and you get the best of both worlds. Let’s say you’re not too keen on lugging around your big amp but have to have all of the effects on your pedalboard. Got that covered too! Simply connect plug your pedal board into the sim’s input, choose your sim amp and then plug the sim’s output into a PA system and you’re good to go! Trust me – once you get a feel for all of the different ways in which sim amps can be manipulated you might not want to go back.
Sticking in line with versatility, it must be said that sim amps are not just for guitars. Most simulators include plenty of those classic effects such as reverb, delay, overdrive and modulation which not only sound great when used on guitars but can be used on anything from vocals, bass and keyboards to take them to the next level.
But one thing that must be said is you better watch those levels. Unlike tube amp distortion sending a digital amp into that same amount of overdrive doesn’t sound as pleasing to the ear. While tube distortion creates a very pleasing type of natural harmonics when sent to distortion, digital creates the “bad” kind of overdrive that you definitely don’t want in your tone.