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Look Ma, No Speakers!

How to record a cranked-up sound without disturbing the peace.

photo by John Covington
So this month I needed to solve a problem. The studio I usually work in was booked out with not one, but two bands, and there was no way I was getting in to record live guitars for a project that was due in the next week. I had my amps and cabs, but my home studio is in... my home, and it’s not really home-friendly to crank a Superlead even with a (THD) HotPlate, and still keep the peace. So, I thought the best thing to do would be plug in one of my software amp sims.

But let me go back to that HotPlate again for a minute. It’s got a load setting and it also has a line-out. For all intents and purposes, that would give me the sound of the whole amp including the power amp. All I needed to do was find a way to get the sound of a mic’d cabinet in a room. The room is easy enough, and the more I thought about it, you don’t have to use the amp portion of most of the amp simulators (there’s a bypass button on almost all of them). If I affected the line out signal of the amp/HotPlate for use with the mic and cabinet simulation, this might just work.

By the way, this is not a far-fetched or even an original idea. If you look at history, people have used everything from Palmer speaker simulators, Hughes & Kettner Red Boxes, Demeter Silent Speaker Chambers, and on and on to solve the problem of not being able to mic a cabinet. This particular method worked well for me because it was fast, I had all the components, and most importantly it retained the feel of my amp. It certainly ended up working for me, and better yet, it allowed me to tailor the settings of the mic/speaker cab/room all the way up through the mix. Here’s the basic signal flow that I used:

Before Pro Tools
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  After Pro Tools
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2008 Fender American Strat – ENGL Ritchie Blackmore head – 16 ohm THD HotPlate – Line Out of HotPlate into Creation Audio Labs MW1 (as D.I.) – Pro Tools 7.4.

Steve isn''t our only columnist using Speakerphone. Click here to read Rich Tozzoli''s On Track column for more info on the software.
From there I used a killer new plug-in from AudioEase called “Speakerphone.” Though not an amp modeler per se, It not only offers up a ton of really great impulse-modeled speakers, but it has a subset of their amazing “Altiverb” ambience plug-in. I set up Speakerphone to simulate an SM57-mic’d JCM 800 4x12 cab and their “studio ambience” room reverb. Amazingly when I heard the effect of the combined tone it was very, very familiar to the sound I get in studio with my amp cranked up and the cab silently raging in the live room. More importantly it really felt good to play through. There were still good dynamics, and the tone of the amp wasn’t altered severely. Yes, it was different, I won’t kid you. Nothing to this day feels, sounds, or excites us guitar players like a loud amp pushing a bunch of air! That’s one of the reasons we got into this in the first place.

I think it’s important to note that there are many ways of achieving a non-speaker, no-noise situation, this one just happened to work out really well for me. There are numerous amp modeling programs out there that do a fine job of sounding like amps. And because you’re recording a dry guitar signal when using an amp sim, you can always re-amp it in the studio later. The important thing in the end is to be able to be creative when creativity or deadlines strike. It’s also nice to know that your ''65 Marshall JTM-45 can be played and enjoyed anytime you want.

If you’d like to hear the results of my experience in speaker-free land, check out “Rip 1” on my Myspace page at
Until next time…

Steve Ouimette
Steve is best known for his recent work on Guitar Hero III, the multi-platinum selling video game that is turning gamers into guitarists by the thousands. A guitarist/composer/producer, he holds a B.A. in Music Performance and Composition and spends his days and nights writing music for games, film and television. He’s also a rabid tone fanatic and amp enthusiast always looking for a unique sound. His original music can be found on iTunes and at
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