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Amp Simulators 101

Options for mimicking amplifiers with software or hardware.

Amplifier simulators are nothing new. For years manufacturers have been trying to accurately mimic collections of the most common and most sought after amplifiers, cabinets, microphones, direct injection boxes, and the spaces to put them in. While various devices have succeeded at re-creating the sounds of classic amps, only recently have they been able to capture the feel of playing on a tube amp. The majority of the truly convincing simulators are confined to the computer domain, though there are also standalone devices that can afford a guitar player convincing tone and feel. This month, we’ll look into a few of the more impressive ways that even the most obsessed tone junky can finally leave their amps at home.

Software Simulators
The bevy of computer-based software simulators grows at an alarming pace. It seems that every day a new manufacturer unveils their amp simulator. While some are better than others in terms of tone and feel, some offer a greater flexibility in sound design, some offer an easy-to-use interface, and others are designed to be light on your computer’s processor. Which one do you turn to?

That’s a tough question to answer. Fortunately, many software manufacturers offer a free demo on their website. Most are not restricted in any way except for a time limit on how long they will operate before you must purchase or discard them. Before making a decision on any product, it’s wise to try out several demos to see which simulator is a good fit. Each will have its strengths and weaknesses. Try to keep in mind what specific needs you have for your sound, style, technique, and rig. While this list is nowhere near being comprehensive, I’ve found the following software simulators are definitely worth checking out:

Overloud TH1 Features include accurate tone and feel, versatile mic placement and amp/ cabinet blending, a good complement of effects—and it’s relatively light on processors. Native Instruments Guitar Rig 3 This package offers a wide array of amps, cabinets, mics, and effects, with a straightforward interface, easy integration with hardware controllers, and flexible routing.

Peavey ReValver Mk III A tweaker’s paradise, it allows simulation at the component level. You can swap out tubes on a virtual amp, rebias the tubes, add a rectifier, and more. If you can dream it, you can do it in ReValver.

Line 6 POD Farm Drawing on Line 6’s long history of modeling amps and effects, POD Farm has an impressive array of classic units ready to create (or recreate) the rig of legends.

Hardware Simulators
If you prefer to leave the computers to the IT guys at the office, there are still plenty of floor- and rack-based solutions worth looking into. Again, the key is to try out as many as you can before you come to any decision. Some products will nail a few sounds beautifully, but fail utterly on others. Try to focus in on the functionality and tweakability of each simulated offering. A classic example of where things can go terribly wrong can be found by adjusting the rate of a delay while a note is playing through it. A wellconstructed unit will allow the signal to shift and change, while a poorly designed unit will garble the signal into a mess of digital noise. Compare your experience with the real-world gear versus the simulations; you’ll be able to quickly determine the quality of the simulations in a unit.

When thinking about hardware units, it’s also important to consider the flexibility of the effects routing. If a unit locks you into a set configuration (e.g., Overdrive- >Modulation->Compression->Reverb), you may find yourself limited in regard to sound design. Most units today allow the user to define the signal path, and sculpt the signal in any way they wish.

Be sure to find out about the available options for backing up your sounds to an external device. Should your unit’s memory fail, or should you need to replace the unit on short notice, it is invaluable to have a backup of all of your carefully constructed programs on hand. If you can’t back up your data, the unit isn’t worth considering. Again, there are many worthwhile units on the market. Here are a few I recommend checking out:

Line 6 POD X3 Line 6 is almost synonymous with amplifier and effects simulation. The POD line offers a rich history of well developed, great sounding models.

VOX ToneLab LE Drawing from Vox’ heritage and close relationship with Marshall, the Vox ToneLab (as well as the AD series of amplifiers) contain some of the bestsounding amp models.

Roger Linn Design AdrenaLinn III The assignable sequencers and arpeggiators really take this device into exciting new territories, making it an amazingly deep and complex amp modeler and multi-effects unit. The onboard drum machine can also be very useful.

Nick Schenkel
Nick Schenkel has played guitar since he was 12 years old. Over the past 15 years, he has worked in several professional recording studios and as a monitor mix engineer for live performances. An honors graduate from Washtenaw Community College’s Music Production and Engineering program, Nick works as a Sales Engineer at Sweetwater Sound.
Reach him at 800-222-4700 x1399 or at