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GUITAR AMP SIMULATIONS
Purists will tell you that to make a decent recording of a guitar, you need to mike up an amplifier. However, recent advances in modelling software mean that this is no longer the case. In fact, modern guitar amp software simulations are now so good that an increasing number of professional guitarists are dispensing with racks of heavy and bulky amplifiers for live performances. Instead they carry a laptop computer loaded with virtual amplifiers and effects.

For home recording, there are even more advantages to using one of these virtual amplifiers. By recording your electric guitar using DI (direct input), without any colour from amp or speakers, you can add your own choice of amp sound and effects during the mixing process to precisely suit your project - you can even change to a different amp without having to re-record! The same applies to guitar tracks created using my multi-sampled guitars and this was the principle reason why I recorded them as I did - in combination with virtual guitar amp simulations, they provide a versatility not matched by other collections.

So whether you play the guitar or have purchased my soundfonts, you are likely to need a decent amp simulator to create quality music at home. There are several excellent products available and I have tried demo versions of a number of these.

IKM Amplitube http://www.amplitube.com/
This is the plugin amp simulation I own. It claims to be the best, but I'm not convinced it's any better than the competition. There are a number of different preamps, power amps and speaker settings, resulting in almost limitless combinations of solid-state and tube amp sounds. There are quite a number of presets for both electric and bass guitars. The clean sounds are very good indeed and, having owned a Vox AC30 for many years, I can vouch for the fact that the emulation of this by Amplitube is pretty accurate. However, I am less impressed by the heavily distorted amp sounds and I generally prefer to create an overdriven sound by choosing clean amp settings and adding distortion using the overdrive function. The plugin includes a spring reverb, wah-wah (I don't like this), parametric EQ and stereo effects. If you turn OFF the speaker simulation, the clean channels are also extremely useful for adding tube warmth to acoustic guitar tracks.

Amplitube is pricy, but with a new version just out, you might pick up version 1 more cheaply. However, an even cheaper option would be to buy Amplitube Live, which now includes the LE version of the plugin. This only has 3 amp and 3 speaker settings, but the clean channel uses the AC30 model from the full version. Using this clean channel, the tone controls and the overdrive facility, you should be able to create most of the sounds you need. Amplitube Live retails for around $100, but I have seen it for sale on eBay for less than 40 here in the UK.

Native Instruments Guitar Rig http://www.native-instruments.com/
Most reviews I have read seem to conclude that Guitar Rig is the most authentic-sounding of the amp simulation plugins, though that might change with the arrival of Amplitube 2. Having tried a trial version of Guitar Rig, I agree that it sounds good and the distorted sounds are better than those in Amplitube. It also has an excellent effects rack. If I had a criticism it would be that there are simply too many different boxes in the effects chain, making it a bit difficult to follow. Guitar Rig 2 may be better in this area and is already getting good reviews.

Native Instruments now do a stripped down version of Guitar Rig, called Guitar Combos. This has just three amp models - the AC30, Twang combo and Plexi combo. Even this retails for over 100 (I've seen it on eBay for around 110), but NI are now selling the three combos separately as well. Each retails for 69 Euros for direct download from the Native Instruments site. I have tried the demo versions of these, which are superb and very simple to use. Certainly, purchasing one of these plugins seems to be a cheaper way to own a good amp simulation.

Nomad Factory Rock Amp Legends http://www.nomadfactory.com/products/rockamp/index.html
The interface is very straightforward and there are a number of different amp and speaker combinations. I found it very easy to dial in just the required amount of drive to get good crunch sounds. There is also an excellent effects rack with many useful features, including a stereo imager. It certainly creates authentic sounds but seems to lack some of the edge found in Amplitube and Guitar Rig. Like Amplitube and Guitar Rig, it is expensive and there are no limited editions!!

Alien Connections Revalver
A limited edition of this DX plugin used to ship with some Cakewalk products and it is still available for download from the downloads section of the Cakewalk website (
http://www.cakewalk.com/) at 69 (39 for registered Cakewalk users). There are a number of different amp and speaker options to choose from plus some useful effects. However, in my opinion, this is the least convincing of the amp simulation plugins. Some of the tones may be useful for certain applications but personally I think Cakewalk Amp Sim sounds far better.

Cakewalk Amp Sim (Cakewalk Audio FX2) http://www.cakewalk.com/
This DX plugin used to be included with some of the Cakewalk sequencing software. You can purchase it separately by download from the Cakewalk website for 35.00, provided that you are a registered user of a Cakewalk product. It has a number of amp and speaker settings. Amp Sim does not claim to create authentic simulations of particular vintage guitar amps. Instead it produces generic sounds such as "American lead", "Solid State Clean" or "British Crunch". In fact, it does a pretty good job of this and by adjusting tone, drive and presence, you can create almost any guitar amp sound. Also, importantly, the sounds seem to fit well in a mix. It seems especially good at recreating the twang of American guitar sounds. Using the British Crunch preamp with no drive and the speaker sim. turned off, you can add tube warmth to acoustic guitars. The only effect included is tremolo, so you'll need to add other effects of your own, but Amp Sim is certainly worth having and is, in my view, underrated. FX2 also includes a tape simulation, but that seems less convincing to me.

Comparisons
I have created some demo tracks with the various amp simulators above (except Alien Connections) plus the 2 free ones mentioned on the software page. Below are links to listen to these. All use the same basic arpeggio track patched with my Aria Pro II A preset. I have also used the same chorus, compressor and reverb settings for each. Click on the text to hear the track.

The basic track with no amp sim.

Amplitube (AC30).

Native Instruments ("Twang" Combo).

Rock Amp Legends ("Basic Clean").

Cakewalk Amp Sim ("American Lead").

Simulanalog Guitar Suite (Fender "Rednef Twin").

Fretted Synth ("Natural" Clean).

Conclusions
No single one of the above products stands out to me as being a lot better than the others. In fact, the free simulations sound just as authentic. The fact that freeware plugins can compete with software costing in excess of 200 suggests that the latter is over-priced. The main drawback with the Simulanalog Suite, which sounds really authentic, is that it has few effects. If you have decent effects of your own, this is not a serious problem. So the free amp sims may be enough. However, if you want to increase your options by purchasing one, my advice would be to stick to one of the cheaper limited edition versions and add your own effects. Amplitube Live/LE and Cakewalk Amp Sim have the added benefit of allowing you to turn off the speaker simulation, making them more versatile than the NI "Combos".
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