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Break Out Of The Box!

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When you buy an amp sim suite of really any type, the developers install bypasses for a good reason. They do so to allow users to unlock the full potential of their products with the addition of other components either made by their company or others.

The attraction to staying inside the suite (or inside the box as we will define it) is that every component inside it is 100% made to work together easily and conveniently. Another huge plus is the certainty of being able to plug and play almost immediately without having a lot of steps to follow. Using a DAW can be confusing and troublesome at times to some especially when you just want to play guitar. I get all this, I really do and for newer users, I suggest keeping things as simple as possible at first.

It seems like even after gaining some experience, many amp sim users are still not overly eager to bypass components, use their own loaders / impulses or anything else that involves exploration outside of the box. The convenience of suite style plugins and condensed controls for ease of use are causing dependency on this layout. Don’t fall into this rut! Signal chains are not hard to understand and I always recommend people explore third party impulses, boost plugins, modulation, delay and more to really make your tone, your own.

Why bypass a cabinet section? This is a question I get often and something I do often as well. For a long time and even today, the cabinet / impulse sections in many amp sims weaken the other components as well as the plugin’s overall quality. As the technology has evolved, developers have started putting real time and effort into these sections but some still struggle in this area. I still test a lot of products that benefit from an external impulse loader and third party impulse responses.

However, even in a situation where a suite has a nice cabinet section with versatility, I still advocate for bypassing at times. When you bypass the internal loader for your own, you go from one specific cabinet to having the ability to load any cabinet you want. Believe me, the selection in the impulse response world can be overwhelming but it’s also nice to have all of these options. Trusting professionals that capture IRs for a living to help your tone is a no-brainer.

When bypassing components, users have to keep the signal chain in mind. Inside these suites etc, there’s a signal chain that has been put in place so when something is bypassed and another component is added, it may put things out of line. For example, if you bypass the cabinet for your own loader, the post-FX section is now out of proper order so it will need to be bypassed. Think about it like hardware, would you put your delay pedal between your head and cab? Plugin chains are no different but at least with plugins, you won’t melt your delay pedal accidentally leaving it between your head and cab.

I understand that at this point, there may be some confusion and if this seems like all mumbo jumbo, you may need to take some more time to study the various components and how guitar signal chains are supposed to operate. Whether hardware or software, musicians working with electric instruments need to really have a grasp on this skill because for components to work properly, there’s an order of things that has to be followed. Here’s my typical recording chain:

  • Noise Gate
  • OD / Boost / Distortion / Fuzz etc
  • Amp Sim (w/ bypassed cab and post effects sections)
  • Impulse Response Loader (w/ impulse response loaded)
  • EQ (w/ High and low pass filters)
  • Limiter

That is a fairly standard guitar plugin chain for recording in a DAW. It’s not complex, it doesn’t involve a lot of time or inconvenience and with some experience, you are guaranteed to find tones that make you feel like that tone is yours and yours alone. Put in the extra work and as you go, you will wonder how you ever did it any other way.

When I read things like “oh, I don’t bypass internal stuff because the amp sim has everything I need”, I understand that mindset but I would argue that by getting outside the box, you may just find pedal plugins, impulses and more that suit the amp sim, your style and your mixes a lot better. You may also find that nothing you try comes close to the onboard stuff but hey, at least you tried it right?

Ask yourself, would all these professionals be making impulse responses if the cabinet sections in amp sim suites and modelers were all that people really needed?

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