We asked a few experienced professionals in the recording industry the exact same question and these were their responses!
Amp sims and plugins continue to improve and evolve but they can still need some assistance to sound warmer and realistic. What techniques or plugins would you use to add some more life to a guitar or bass amp sim?
ALAN SACHA LASKOW – (Perfect Filth Productions & Every Hour Kills guitarist.)
- You can try a bit of compression, or even something like a multi-band expander to give some movement. People always say this is a ‘no no’ on distorted guitars because, yes, they are already compressed. However, you aren’t trying to even out the dynamics, you are trying to add to them. I like the API 2500 compressor plugin from Waves especially for this.
- Always use the best quality and longest IR you can find; hopefully the IR maker knows what they are doing (Ownhammer, ML Soundlabs) as a longer IR will capture the low end correctly and be more realistic as opposed to a shorter, stunted IR
- Saturation is another big thing to play around with, it can really round out the tone and give it some more body and life. Some favorites for this include the Slate Digital stuff and the gear from Acustica Audio and Plugin Alliance etc.
- EQ your left and right slightly differently, or use a touch of stereo widening. This can help simulate some of those tiny differences that exist in the analog world.
- Slightly blend in a Room IR or Reverb – yet another no no from many people, but FUCK THE RULES!
- As always with recording guitars, source is everything, so make sure your DI / capture / new strings etc. are all in order before you worry about Tape Simulation plugins etc.
- Try fun stuff like blending cabs and blending amps into the same cab etc. The Will Putney plugin from STL tones is cool since it has a lot of this built in already.
KEVIN JARDINE – (Uplift Recording Studio & Slaves On Dope guitarist)
“Tape sim on the output helps, sometimes stacking amps helps. Sometype of saturation usually, Fatso or a Pedal on the input. It really depends on what sound you’re going for, but I find they usually need more work that just using a real amp to start with.”
JOCKE SKOG – (Producer/Engineer & Clawfinger bass player)
I’d add a power amp sim, like the ignite tpa1 or the Kazrog True Iron transformer simulator. Sometimes I will send all guitars to a group and use a master limiter to take the peaks. Sending things to groups can help with CPU issues as well. I did groups when the computer was weak and it was a good way of saving CPU.
MARCO MASTROBUONO – (Kick Studios & Hour Of Penance bass player)
“I always used amp simulation in a very different way for they are supposed to be. I mean, I prefer, in stead to reaching a sound that is very similar to a real amp, find a completely different sounds that i can add or use in my mix. Stuff like Fractal or Kemper are great machine, but i never use them to find a sound that is 90% the same of a Mesa Dual Rectifier. I have a dual rectifier and if i want that sound I’ll plug it and put two mics.
I’d like to use that kind of machine to find something completely different, to use or add to a real amp sound. So, I’d love that all this world will try to improve a their “own” sound and focus the power of amp sims to something new, not necessary warm or realistic, but I’d prefer something new.”
MATIAS KUPIAINEN – (5by5 Audio & Stratovarius Guitarist)
Usually amp sims are lacking the air movement and low end dynamics because of the static IR. Also what is missing there is the cabinet’s impedance which plays a big role how the amp sounds especially in the lower frequencies. Air movement/proximity effect can be imitated with a multiband compressor like Fabfilter MB/Waves C6 which lets you choose sidechain input or filter the sidechain as you wish per band. Don’t compress the low end, expand them!
And when doing some ultra brutal chuggachugga, expand also the higher mids to get some clarity but filter that to be activated only when you’re palm muting the strings. How to get this to happen is to use filtered sidechain. You can do this in FF MB in expert mode and in C6 by choosing an external input where you feed only the lower frequences from the guitar. Be ready for Hiroshima nuclear bomb sized chuggachugga mf!
MENDEL BIJ DE LEIJ – (MbdL Productions & former Aborted Guitarist)
“Personally i think the amp sims are extremely close feel wise and sound wise, i like to do the following the shape my guitar sounds: Add a tape simulator, i’m a big fan of the Slate VTM: works likr a charm on distorted guitars.
Besides that i also like to use either the Slate console emulation or the Brainworx SSL 4000E plugin.
For bass pretty much the same, the Neural DSP darkglass plugin and the JST Hellraiser are on the top of my list atm; those both sound pretty good from the get go.”