What is it?
no mistake: The digital age is here to stay. We play with two cutting
edge computer programs and lay out what you need to know about modeling.
If you’re reading this, odds are that you are generally enamored
with beautiful and toneful guitars, amps and effects. Many of you
might describe yourselves as purists and “old school” fans of the
classic guitars and amplifier designs created in the last 50 years.
So how, exactly, does this new age of digital guitar amp “modeling”
fit into that world of classic sounds and great tone? Before
you turn the page in search of something a bit more analog, let’s
take a look at what these new applications can bring to your rig.
Software that digitally “models” the sound of classic guitar amps
and effects through the use of advanced algorithms is all the rage
these days. By painstakingly measuring the behavior of every part
of the signal chain – from vacuum tubes, preamps, amps, speakers,
microphones and effects – engineers have developed some
very convincing software technology for the modern guitarist.
While it would certainly be fun and inspiring to have several different
classic tube amps and a pedalboard full of the greatest effects
of all time at every gig, who can really pull that off? Most of the
gear modeled in this software is now prohibitively expensive to
own and requires constant upkeep, too. When you consider the
sheer manpower needed to move it around, it quickly becomes
impractical on several levels. With modeling software, you have a
believable emulation of the real thing.
If we buy into the premise that most of us already have a computer,
then it is reasonable to assume that we should find ways
to use that computing horsepower to do something of creative
value. AmpliTube 2, from IK Multimedia (fig 1) and Guitar Rig
2, from Native Instruments (fig 2), are two well-designed and
highly-evolved applications in the world of guitar amp and effect
modeling. Both existed in previous incarnations and were hailed
as breakthrough products at the time, but Guitar Rig 2 and
AmpliTude 2 pack in more new features and even better sound
quality. It seems that things just keep getting better for digitallyinclined
What can they do?
There are some similarities between these two applications, so
let’s take a look there first. Both apps feature a “virtual” rack where
you can select amps, speaker cabs, microphones and sound
effects to create your own “preset” sound. Most of the classic
combinations are available – from plexi Marshalls, the ’59 Fender
Bassman, and the Vox AC30 to modern classics like Mesa Boogie
– albeit, sometimes with thinly veiled names, such as Brit Tube
30TB or AC Box, Plex, Tweedman, etc.
From muscular blues and boogie to metal and high gain grind to
ambient and spacious, both products feature a vast world of tonal
possibilities. Tone tweakers and gear freaks will feel right at home
in the computer modeling world, with options to select what type
of virtual speaker cabinet is connected (closed back Celestion,
open back Fender, etc.) and even which type of virtual mic you
want in front of your cab, ranging from the old standby Shure
SM57 to high-end tube condensers; you can even choose to aim
the microphone directly at the virtual speaker or off-axis, satisfying
the most compulsive tone hounds. Each of these choices makes
for a fairly dramatic change in tone and the flexibility allows you to
dial in the exact sound you’re looking for.
As intimidating as the world of computerized guitar can be to
the uninitiated, the best course of action with both of these
applications is to simply dive right in. Why not try a Marshall type
of amp with an 8” open back cabinet? Wouldn’t it be cool to
try a Fender Twin Reverb through a 4x12 closed back cabinet?
Experimentation is fun and yields lots of great sounding combinations.
When you add all of the virtual stomp box and rack
effects, such as wah, chorus, flanger, delay, distortion and reverb
– plus a few wild and crazy effects in each program – you have
serious tone-shaping power.
If you just want to plug and play, both applications serve up an
extensive list of preset tones in a broad range of older and modern
styles that make it a cinch to get started. One could easily
spend a week just auditioning the presets. Each new preset
inspired me in a different direction; from pumping out solid rhythm
guitar to Chicago blues to modern high-gain leads. It was very
entertaining to spend some time with each preset and I would
highly recommend it if you want to get a firm handle on all of the
sound possibilities available. Banks and presets in various styles
make it simple to see what each application can do.
Even to an experienced set of ears, most of these sounds are
extremely convincing. The models are expansive, dynamically
responsive like a tube amp should be (more on that a bit later)
and just plain fun to use on stage or in the studio. Guitar Rig 2
includes a “Rig Kontrol” footpedal that makes using it in a live setting
easy. Not to be outdone, IK Multimedia has a foot controller
for AmpliTube 2 coming soon called Stomp I/O. When using these
applications in a studio setting, they can also function as plug-ins
within recording applications such as Pro Tools, Digital Performer
and Logic. Consider how convenient it is to dial in any sound you
can imagine, at any volume and hour of the day or night – and
even having the flexibility to change sounds after the fact. This is
sheer sonic bliss and would have seemed like some kind of virtual
voodoo just a few short years ago!
How does it work?
Those of you new to computer audio may need a little explanation
at this point, in order to get your guitar signal into the computer
and application. Generally speaking, you’ll need an audio interface
that has a high-gain instrument input on it. These come in several
varieties, usually USB, FireWire or USB 2.0. Each company
approaches this differently – the Guitar Rig 2 Rig Kontrol footpedal
also happens to be a USB 2.0 audio interface and is quite convenient.
After installing the software, simply plug the footpedal into
your computer via a USB 2.0 port (make sure you have this type
of port before buying), plug your guitar into the foot controller and
With AmpliTube 2, you can use any audio interface you like, and
there are quite a few interface options under $100, such as the
M-Audio Fast Track or JamLab, or IK’s own Stealth Plug. In this
scenario, you’ll need to make sure your computer “sees” your
interface for audio input and that the application itself also sees
it for audio input. This should all be handled during the interface’s
After getting your interface set up, if you are using either application
in stand-alone mode, you will be ready to plug and play. If you
are using either application as a plug-in with Pro Tools or another
recording program, you will need to create a track in that application
for your guitar and then “insert” the modeling software
on that track. You’ll want to reference the recording application’s
manual if you’re unsure of how this works. It can be a little confusing
to get it all configured correctly, but it is definitely worth
the patience required. Once you get it working, the settings are
retained for future use.
It’s important to note that, depending on where you live, you may
or may not be able to try either of these applications out before
you buy them, because stores rarely have them installed on a
computer and accessible for demos. Most stores will not return
opened software, make sure your computer can handle the processing
needs of the program/interface – you can find this on
the side of the box, under “Minimum Requirements.”