Saturation can be a very useful tool on literally any track in your mix if you learn to use it correctly. Too much can ruin your mix but otherwise, saturation doesn’t come with a lot of rules. You can use it anywhere in the signal chain in a ton of different ways so really, it’s about how best to make it work for you rather than following a list of steps.
Saturation can be used in many ways but when it comes to amp sims, my preferred application would be to add warmth and more of a human feel to the tone. Amp sims can often be somewhat cold but with some saturation, you can not only warm up the signal but you can also add depth as well as giving the tube emulations more feel.
You can also use saturation plugins to add gain/distortion to push amp sims in different ways or to add more detail to the tone after the sim. It’s an easy way to get more out of your plugins and whether it’s on one track or across a mix, saturation can be your friend. Too much of it can however turn your mix to crap on an express train so use it slowly and sparingly.
We chose the following links to help you learn how to use saturation plugins before we get to a few of our own ideas and suggestions. These links explain the how and why of the effect. If you already know how to use saturation, skip over the links.
Ok, so we are going to list four ways that we like to use saturation but please note, these are only suggestions because as mentioned, saturation really can go anywhere in your signal chain and we suggest trying just that. Experimentation here is key.
The first way I like to use saturation is just before my limiter. With a subtle amount of saturation at the end of a chain, you can warm things up nicely while staying with the amp’s true tones. Subtle is the goal here.
The second spot I have had luck with is between the amp sim and impulse loader. I realize this isn’t always possible because many plugins include both. You can always bypass the cabinet loader for your own then that enables you to saturate between the amp sim and cabinet. To me, this can be an easy way to enhance an amp sims better qualities or perhaps just for more input going into the impulse loader. Subtle is again the goal here, you just want a touch to enhance the coloring of the tubes and/or the amp’s better frequencies.
The third use I will mention is putting a saturation plugin before the amp sim instead of a boost pedal or tube screamer. Boost and tube screamer plugins can color the tone too much at times for me so in those instances, I will saturate out front of the amp sim a little to push the amp harder without having the instantly enhanced mids of a boost or TS. This method can be used to create more crunch at lower gains or more of a saturated beast at hi-gains.
Lastly, you can use a saturation plugin on a buss. I will sometimes route my rhythm guitars to a buss with a saturation plugin on it. You can achieve a lot of different sounds this way because it provides a lot of ways to tweak things. My method is running the saturation with a bunch of drive and keeping the buss track low volume wise. By slowly increasing the volume on the buss track, you can really create a monstrous tone. This method works especially good for stoner/doom type tones.
- Audio Assault Headcrusher
- Blackbox HG-2
- Brainworx Saturator V2
- Fab Filter Saturn
- PSP Vintage Warmer
- Sound Toys Decapitator
- Softube Saturation Knob
- Variety of sound TesslaSE