If the name didn’t give it away, an amp simulator is precisely what it says on the tin: a programme that replicates an amplifier (or more often, amps). Amp simulations are immensely popular among guitarists, engineers – amateur and professional alike – and cover a wide variety of famous tones to amps that have no real purpose to exist.
If you’ve been following my VST effects series (if you haven’t, that’s ok; just know that I’m disappointed in your lack of dedication to me), there’s a simple way to distinguish between a virtual instrument and a virtual effect:
Sound is produced via a VSTi (Virtual Studio Technology instrument).
The sound is altered using a VSTfx (Virtual Studio Technology effect).
Guitar amp simulators come into the latter group since they don’t make the sound of a guitar; instead, they modify the output of another recording or track to make it appear like it was played through an amp.
Though many of these guitar simulator VSTs are extremely malleable and capable of unrecognizably mangling and transforming various sounds through a suite of options, stomp-boxes, and cabinets, they are essentially just amp simulators.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF SIMULATION?
Look around right now if you’re an artist with a bedroom in your studio (not the other way around). I doubt you have more than 2-3 amps and certainly not enough space to comfortably fit and eventually record more than 5. Unless you’re rich, professional, or just a better planner than I am, I doubt you have more than 2-3 amps and certainly not enough space to comfortably fit and eventually record more than 5.
That’s it – the simplest argument for mimicking an amplifier. Most enthusiasts can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars on each classic amplifier to build an army of amplifiers to do their bidding, but many amp libraries do it for a fraction of the cost and space.
Amps can take up a lot of space, especially if you’re using a cabinet and head instead of a combo amp (which combines the speaker and amplifier into one box).
Did you just shiver when you thought of mic stands and cables? — it can turn into a minefield for tangling, tripping, or simply becoming frustrated and breaking things on your own.
Simulated amps, on the other hand, do take up space; it’s just not physical space.
If you start buying amp libraries like crazy, your computer may slow down and become deceptively harmful to your music-making process — but if you have a powerful PC and plenty of hard drive space, this is unlikely to become a major problem.
Guitar Amps in a Variety of Styles
There’s also no need to worry about room acoustics, microphone placement (or even owning a microphone), or amp simulation — everything is taken care of, and is often easily adjustable, within the programme itself.
You don’t have to fiddle with your amp’s knobs or move your microphone stand 2 inches to the left to drastically change the tone that fits this one riff, only to have to remember where they were for the rhythm section beforehand.
A real amp can be a pain to record, and amp simulators graciously avoid these problems without asking for anything in return. Except for your money, of course.
Simulated amplifiers, on the other hand, offer more than just convenience. Many programme libraries have such a broad array of modelled sounds and pedals, mic placements, and amps that you may create effects and unique audio scapes that would be impossible to achieve with an actual amplifier.
Have you ever wondered what type of guitar tone you could obtain by utilising a Fender Reverb in reverse with an Orange Crush and a RAT pedal?
Yeah, neither did I, but you can (though not necessarily should) do it with an amp simulator. The options aren’t infinite, but they’re certainly limitless.
WHY USE THE ACTUAL PRODUCT?
Real Guitar Amp versus. Amp Simulator
So far, everything seems fantastic — almost too good to be true. What are the disadvantages?
Simulations of amplifiers are precisely that: simulations. The fidelity with which they replicate authentic guitar amplifiers is alarmingly impressive, but it’s still a long way from the real thing – modelling and replacing a real instrument, as with any other VST, is an almost difficult task.
However, this has no bearing on how you should proceed with your creative endeavours. It doesn’t mean something won’t sound excellent or complement your recordings just because it doesn’t sound exactly like the real thing.
Most professional guitarists will still prefer to track their first recordings with genuine amps, although this dynamic may not be as straightforward when it comes to mixing.
It is then possible to add a guitar amp VST either as an auxiliary track (so you can control the proportion of ‘dry’ and ‘wet’ signals) or as a direct in, allowing a complete tone change using pedals or even another amp without having to re-record anything, using the recording of the mic’d up amplifier.
This is also important for maintaining the ‘authentic’ sound of a guitar recorded over a mic’d amplifier.