Presets are an absolute must for all plugins, amp sims included. Properly made presets, created with care are an invaluable way to help get to know your new plugins fast and effectively while also providing a lot of great starting points for tones. However, it seems that in the last few years, a percentage of amp sim users have started to become fairly to completely dependent on these presets to supply perfect mix-ready tones. We get a lot of questions like “why does my tone sound nothing like (enter YouTuber name here) when he/she uses the same preset?” or “Why are my tones not mix-ready immediately?”.
There are so many reasons why a preset could sound different from user to user. We have to think first about the person/people that made the preset(s) in question. The original preset was made by someone that likely has a different guitar with different pickups, different studio monitors, different ears and an individually different ear for or approach to tone. Even the room or headphones used to create the presets can be a factor is how the preset turns out. Then you have to consider variables like string age, the tuning the preset was made in and the intended application of the preset. So when both yourself and YouTuber X use the plugin, it’s going to sound different for you and many others. There’s also a reality that if only one person made all of the presets for a plugin, you as the user might not like any of those presets if you aren’t into the creator’s personal taste.
“These presets were made by (insert artist name here), they have to be amazing!”. Sometimes we see artist-made presets created by some of the top players and producers in the industry. These are usually meant to be a big selling feature for many obvious reasons and 95% of the time, they are crafted properly with care but there are some things to keep in mind. The first thing to consider with artist / producer presets is that they have the same variables mentioned above (different guitar, room, etc) but there’s really no getting away from that. Most artists/producers really put their best into the presets that bear their name but the reality is, some do not. It’s been suggested in the past that there are artists/producers that crack open the plugin, make the presets in 5-10 mins and send them to the developer. In the past, we’ve heard of producers having tasked their assistants and/or engineers with crafting their presets and a number of other possibilities in addition to the variables we mentioned above (different pickups, guitars etc). Signature presets should simply be looked at like any other preset rather than being set so many levels above presets made by regular folks. We have found the best presets tend to come from the developer rather than via signature presets but everyone is different.
All of the above displays a number of reasons that presets should be your starting points or a way to navigate around the plugin to find out what it can really do rather than a crutch. Users that want to unlock the full capabilities of their plugins need to explore outside of the parameters locked in place with presets. A little more bass, mid, treble etc could be the catalyst in finding the perfect tone as presets really do need to be customized further by the user. When mixing, preset editing becomes even more important as the tone could need a bump on a control, a different IR or other edits to cut into a mix and showcase the guitars properly.
At the end of the day, it’s wonderful when developers put time and resources towards supplying terrific presets for their products and it’s underwhelming when they don’t. It’s easy to tell when presets have had time put behind them or if they were done up in a few mins but regardless, they are very rarely going to turn up as final album tones without user customization to fit the mix.
Using presets as a base for your own killer tones is the way to go so always be tweaking, turning, fading, pushing and moving things until the tone is perfect for your needs. Presets are meant to be a map, not the driver. For thousands of presets made in-house at HASR, check out our PRESET VAULT HERE!!