#1 – What was the first amp sim you ever tried and what was the experience like?
My Dad owned a Roland VG-8 with the GK pickup that fascinated me when I was growing up, especially the guitar synth sounds.
We would often comment that it was fun but not a whole lot like a real amp, so it’s amazing how far modelling has come in such a short time.
#2 – Since then you have obviously tried many, which ones really stuck with you and why?
I remember a good friend bringing his new Axe-Fx Ultra around to my place to try and it absolutely blew my mind. I tried a bunch of smaller direct solutions, like the AMT legends pedals and the Tech 21 Flyrig before biting the bullet and buying a Fractal. The AX8 is probably the single best gear purchase I’ve ever made, but the compact modellers like the Atomic Amplifire, Line HX Stomp and even the Mooer GE200 bring a lot of functionality and flexibility at very impressive price points.
#3 – You have tried the best of the best out there regarding real amps, which amp sims do you feel come close to the original as far as realism and authenticity go?
Regarding hardware modellers, in my opinion the Axe-Fx III is best show at the moment – they’ve nailed not only the sound of the amps but the response and feel too. While I love having lots of versatility and the ability to emulate classic tones, I’m really just chasing the sounds in my head and that unit helps me achieve that better than anything else.
For software modellers, I’m a big fan of Spark and Reaxis by Mercuriall Audio, as well as the Fortin Nameless plugin. They’re straightforward to use and they’re very handy tools to have during a mixing session. The UAD amp sims are pretty good too but i find they’re a tad pricey.
#4 – Moving on to cabinet impulses, they can be used with amp sims, Kempers, AxeFx, loaders and many other hardware and software components so you must get a ton of use out of them. With so many companies making great impulses, tell us about some of your favorite brands and even individual cabs.
I mostly use impulses that I’ve made with my own cabs and mics now, as it adds a unique character to whatever amp sim I use them with. Since I’ve got plenty of experience using my cabs I generally know which mics and mic positions work best with a given amp and it makes dialling in tones a lot quicker for me.
I’m a big fan of the York Audio IR’s for Fractal products and I’ve been using the Bipolar Recto and Fender IR’s a lot in my demo videos, as well as the Ownhammer Heavy Hitters and ML Legends pack. For less typical IR offerings Dr Bonkers does some amazing sounding packs based around rare or unique speakers too. The Sinmix stuff is great for metal too.
#5 – Many amps are represented really well in the amp sim universe but there are still many great amps that have not been tackled yet. What amps would you personally love to see in amp sim form?
Nothing would make me happier than seeing the ADA MP-1 recreated in the modelling world. That preamp was my first foray down the rabbit hole that is guitar tone! I’m a huge King’s X fan so having access to Ty’s Lab Series amps would be pretty cool too.
#6 – With access to seemingly endless legendary level amps, how in the world do you choose a set up for recording and album and can you take us through both your live and studio set ups?
My approach for recording is to stick with models of the real world amps I would use. My Ragdoll tone is usually something like a Recto and a Marshall blended together, so for the new album I’m using the Axe-Fx III to blend either the Recto or Splawn Nitro model together with Marshall style circuits like the Atomica, Friedman or Bogner amps. I captured an IR of my main cab/mic combo in the studio so it sounds and feels every bit as good as the real thing but takes way less time to setup.
For clean stuff it’s usually a Vox or Fender style amp set on the edge of breakup, which is where modellers have come along in leaps and bounds recently.
Live I’m still using the AX8 due to the small form factor, and I use most of the same raw amp tones as the recording, but with some EQ tweaks to suit the band and the room.
#7 – Your lead tones are phenomenal. The resonance in your vibrato and the way the tone cuts both stand out. A lot of it is your playing but how do you get it to cut so well without being harsh?
Generally my idea of a good lead tone is whatever my rhythm tone is plus a boost pedal (SD-1, TS808 or Klon style pedal), a bit of post EQ pushing 2khz with a wide Q and a dual delay set to a dotted 8th/quarter note value. Playing in a trio i find delay really helps fill out the space when I’m soloing.
#8 – If you had to record an album using only plugins for your tone, what would your signal chain look like and what plugins would you call into action?
I’ve done quite a few sessions using (Mercuriall Audio) Reaxis for lead guitar, so that would be my go to for solo’s. Between that and Spark I’m sure I could pull some awesome rock and metal tones. For anything a bit cleaner or bluesy the UAD Tweed sim is pretty sweet.
#9 – Freeware amp sims and plugins are continuously evolving, what are some of your personal favorite guitar and bass related freeware offerings?
I haven’t tried a whole lot, but The Vadim Taranov VST sims are incredible for rock and metal and the LePou Lecto plugin sounds scarily like a real Recto. Boogex is one I used for years simply for the IR loading capability too.
The Sansamp PSA plugin that comes free with Pro-Tools is more or less the only thing i ever use when I record bass, mostly using the Kings X preset.
#10 – Stylistically speaking, your playing is incredibly diverse and since versatility is a huge factor in the amp world, which real amp would you say provides the most versatility for players that have to cover a lot of ground with one amp?
I’m a massive fan of the Marshall JCM2000 DSL100 and DSL50. I used one for years and it plays nice with different guitars and speaker cabs, and it always sounds great in a full band mix. If I had to have 3 or 4 distinctly different tones for a gig and i needed to use an amp, I’d probably take my Triaxis/2:Fifty setup or splurge and get a Mesa Mark V .
#11 – Amp sims some times need warming or other processing to bring more realism. Can you offer a couple tricks that you employ for such a task?
Generally when guitar players talk about “warmth” they’re comparing the sound of an amp in a room, with increased bass response and lots of high end attenuation from the speaker, to the sound of a mic’d speaker cab, which can accentuate frequencies in the “icepick” regions between 3khz and 5kh and upwards of 8khz. Furthermore, since guitar speakers aren’t FRFR, they tend to roll off frequencies above 6k quite drastically so when you crank an amp loud through them, they have a lot less high frequency content than the same speaker mic’d and cranked through a PA at the same level.
I use a parametric EQ to filter anything below 80-150hz and above 5.5kh-8khz, depending on the system. I also find that making 2-3dB cuts around 3.5khz and 5khz can help take out any “icepick” frequencies.
FIRST, Leon was nice enough to provide his main recording impulses response which you can get HERE for free right now!!
We are incredibly thankful to have had Leon weigh in with his vast experience in the gear world. Having experience with a ton of the real world gear being modeled and dissected into plugins is an invaluable advantage when it comes to reviewing or even discussing amp sims, impulses, pedals and more.
Leon’s videos are fun to watch and all in all, it’s just honest hard work put in by a guy that does this because he loves it. We have all the appreciation in the world for the way he does everything he can to help his followers and fans find good tone.