Nashville producer James Cody examines plugins from IK Multimedia, Native Instruments, Line 6, Waves, Neural DSP, STL Tones, Positive Grid, and Universal Audio that can help you take your guitar-recording to pro levels.
There are more audio plugins at our fingertips than ever before. Whenever new products or software hit the market, I always ask myself, “Will I actually use this and will it serve my needs?” On the topic of guitar amplifiers and simulation, I take a “best of both worlds” approach. When performing live, I use solid-state Quilter amplifiers because they sound great to me, and they’re lightweight and easy to transport to gigs. If something isn’t broken, why fix it?
However, when it comes to my recording workflow, I can honestly say that I use amplifier simulators in virtually every song and project I work on. Why? Because the amplifier simulation plugins available now sound incredible, provide enhanced features, and are convenient to use. It’s that simple. But, like any tool, some simulators may be better suited for certain recording projects than others. At the end of the day, it always comes down to serving the song and making decisions about the specific needs and preferences for your own recording projects. While not definitive, these essential virtual amp packages are sure to provide solid tones for creating high-quality guitar recordings. And remember: the plugins market is competitive, so manufacturers offer sale prices often. Watch for bargains.
IK Multimedia - AmpliTube 5 MAX v2 Software Suite
AmpliTube’s official Fender models give you all the cleans you’ll ever need.
If you know anything about amplifier plugins, chances are high that you have heard of the tone monster that is AmpliTube by IK Multimedia. AmpliTube 5 MAX v2 is a highly versatile plugin with a fun, easy-to-use interface that includes an extensive collection of cabinets, microphones, and virtual recording environments. The amplifiers I use most frequently that are included in AmpliTube 5 MAX v2 are from the Orange, Mesa/Boogie, and Fender collections. One of my favorite setups for achieving a strong all-around rock tone is using AmpliTube’s Tiny Terror with the in-app Fulltone OCD stomp. However, when I need heavier tones to quickly beef up my metal or grunge guitar stacks, the “James N’ Kirk” and “Jerry In Chains” are two of my favorite presets in the AmpliTube 5 MAX dropdown menu. Maybe you’re angling for a more vintage, surf-rock feeling? In the Fender collection, the ’65 Deluxe Reverb is my main go-to, with the Opto Tremolo and PRO drive stomp at the beginning of the chain. With this, I get a similar tone as heard on the song “Wayward Nile” by the Chantays. Classic and vibey!
The short take: AmpliTube 5 MAX v2 comes with a huge spectrum of amplifiers and artist collections including Carvin, ENGL, THD, Gallien-Krueger, Leslie, Dr. Z, Jet City, Joe Satriani, Brian May, Dimebag Darrell, Jimi Hendrix, and Slash.
$299 street, ikmultimedia.com
IK Multimedia - TONEX MAX
Profile a snapshot of your favorite rigs with TONEX Capture.
Also from IK Multimedia, TONEX MAX is another monster tone tool to check out. TONEX comes stocked with over 1,000 tone models based on tons of amps and stomps, but it also allows you to model your own amp. One of my old live rigs consisted of running a Visual Sound Jekyll & Hyde Overdrive into an Orange CR60 1x12” 60-watt combo. Using TONEX Capture, I modeled this duo, and now I’ve got it locked as a plugin insert in my DAW. Pretty cool, right?
Fans of classic gear like the Ibanez TS9 and the ’65 Princeton Reverb will find them in TONEX, as well. Having this breadth of tones, which now includes my own former rig, has been a useful addition to my virtual amplifier and effects library. Plus, you can use TONEX as both a plugin in your DAW or as a standalone application.
$399 street, ikmultimedia.com
Line 6 - Helix Native
Pull up a delicious preset and tweak it to your heart’s desire in Helix Native.
Helix Native is an “all-in-one” package with a wide variety of amplifier and effects processors. As mentioned, I use an expression pedal for controlling stomp effects via MIDI inside my DAW. If I want to create whammy sounds inspired by players like Tom Morello or Buckethead, for example, I might use the Pitch Wham (based on the DigiTech Whammy) and utilize the automation/controller assign section. You can click on any parameter, like the position or heel pitch, and choose “MIDI Learn” for controlling the effect via an expression pedal or other type of MIDI continuous controller.
If you are into ethereal tones and shimmery reverbs, the “X Ray” preset will launch your sound into the depths of outer space. Another top choice is the “Eat It” preset: a fiery rock tone with attitude. I can’t help but jam out to “Morning Glory” by Oasis with this one. This amp and effects plugin might just be what you need to take your guitar tracks to the next level—or universe!
$399 street, line6.com
Waves - GTR3
ToolRack could be your one-stop shop for not just studio work, but live gigs, too.
When it comes to audio plugins, you cannot go wrong with Waves. For guitarists, Waves GTR3 comes with a total of four plugins: Amps, Stomps, ToolRack, and Tuner. From a new-user standpoint, GTR3 Amps has a straightforward design with five different amp types: Bass, Clean, Drive, High Gain, and NeilCitron. Each type includes a variety of presets with knob controls for drive, bass, mid, treble, and presence. Being a hard-rocker at heart, I am most drawn to the High Gain amp type with the “Monster” preset. The default cabinet and microphone settings sound huge, and if you’re like me, you may find yourself playing the classic Tony Iommi riff from “Iron Man” with this one. While the tones can hold their own, I would also use GTR3 to add extra layers, or stacks, with other guitar tracks.
No pedalboard? No problem. GTR3 Stomps comes with three stomp plugins with a nice selection of effects including modulation, harmonic, time-based, and temporal processors for building your virtual pedalboard. As with Amps, I like the straight-forward design of Stomps, and it’s fun experimenting with different pedal chains. If you are looking for tone with screamin’ high gain, the “Autodafeh” preset is a good starting point for a more edgy rock sound with a fuzzy vibe.
Whether for live or studio applications, the GTR3 ToolRack is an all-in-one package that combines Amps and Stomps with GTR Tuner. A unique feature included with ToolRack is the preset grid, which could be used to organize and optimize your custom presets for live shows. There are also plenty of stock factory presets to serve as an extra dose of tonal inspiration when recording. Perhaps you want to create atmospheric music that could be heard in a video game soundtrack or nature documentary. The “PadOsphere” preset is where I might start to create an enveloping guitar pad for texture. In the same browser window, you could also jump to the “Enter Soundman” preset for a more metal/thrash heft. The best part? At less than 30 bucks, you don’t have to break the bank for Waves GTR3.
$29 street, waves.com
Waves - PRS SuperModels
Three esteemed PRS amps go digital with this plugin pack.
PRS makes some of the finest instruments on the market. One of my most prized guitars is a 2004 PRS Singlecut with a figured-maple top and East Indian rosewood fretboard. So, I may be biased! Regardless, the Waves PRS SuperModels plugin is unique and cutting-edge. The three amplifiers included in this collection are PRS’ Archon, Dallas, and Blue Sierra. I gravitate towards the Blue Sierra V9, but there is something special about the sonic character of all three that makes me want to keep playing through them.
Among other features, each model includes a power amp allowing you to really shape the tube amp’s character and tone color with bias, speed, and sag parameters. In the cabinet module, the timer feature is handy because you can cycle through different impulse responses, which is great for auditioning the sound of different amps without having to stop playing. As a player, I don’t want to be distracted by technical aspects, so having automatic features such as auto input, time fix, phase fix, and smart mix enabled allow me to better focus on doing what I really love most: creating catchy guitar riffs!
$35 street, waves.com
Waves - Voltage Amps
If you are into music spanning from the ’60s to the ’90s, Waves’ Voltage Amps is another package you may be interested in checking out. You will find that the Royal-X, Aggro, Blue Flame, Arena, and Silverado amplifiers each have a distinct character for getting classic and modern tones. The cabinet section allows you to choose between six cab pairs, adjust their tone (dark/bright), and shape the room’s influence on the speakers. The focus, depth, and presence parameters allow you to further sculpt and fine-chisel the EQ of your tone based on the specific guitar and amp you are using. The Aggro amp’s “Massive Lead” preset with the focus sitting around 2 o’clock is a personal sweet spot.
Don’t worry, bass players. Voltage Amps has a couple swell amp models for you, too: the Vintage Velvet and Dark Mass. These amps can bring it! The direct, drive, and voice settings make it a breeze to carve out spectral space for the low end. I like the Dark Mass model set to the “Drive and D.I.” preset—plenty of punch that’s not too boomy. Since Voltage’s amps are modeled after tube amplifiers, you might even try using some of the artist presets to add some color to your drums and vocals tracks.
$29 street, waves.com
Native Instruments - Guitar Rig 7
Build your tone piece by piece in Guitar Rig 7’s rack, pictured here.
Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig 7 is another compelling option for your virtual guitar and effects needs. For me, the preset and components browser makes the decision-making process for choosing tone and effect combos easy. While the presets are a fine starting point, you might find it helpful to begin with the factory default setting, or an empty rack, and audition different components individually by dragging and dropping them into the rack. Once you find something you like, you can save your own presets for later recall. The input source section also has processors and presets I might use for projects outside of my normal production workflow. For example, the “Mark My Words” preset includes some trippy sounding modulation and lo-fi effects, like Noise Machine, Formant Filter, and Freak Oscillator. This could work great for psychedelic or experimental rock. If you turn off the modulations, the base tone recalls John Paul Jones’ keys on Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter.”
$199 street, native-instruments.com
Positive Grid - BIAS Amp 2
Design your own amp in BIAS Amp 2.
When I first loaded up BIAS Amp 2 in my DAW, I didn’t want to stop shredding to Iron Maiden riffs through the 6503 MkII amp. The design and functionality of the processors that power the tone stack, power amp, and transformer parameters are highly detailed and superb. These processor sections provide advanced controls to shape the EQ, dynamic, and solid-state/tube characteristics of your sound with surgical precision. There is also a unique feature included with BIAS Amp 2 called Amp Match. As the name implies, this feature allows you to model your own amplifier, or capture the sound of another audio file, and apply it to your tone. If you want to add more depth and spatial dimension to your sound, the built-in reverbs include studio room, hall, plate, and chamber.
$299 street, positivegrid.com
Positive Grid - BIAS FX 2
BIAS FX 2’s clever Guitar Match puts a world of instruments at your fingertips.
Another heavy-hitter from the Positive Grid family, the BIAS FX 2 is a powerful amp and effects processor with a plethora of beautiful tones and enhanced features such as Guitar Match, looper, auto-detection, and middle effect. Using Guitar Match, you can actually make an emulation of a guitar, choosing from a variety of popular guitar models and applying their characteristic sounds to your own. I performed both the quick and full match feature using my Gibson ’60s LP Standard and the process only took a few minutes. The looper feature is convenient for customizing your own presets by allowing you to play first, then tweak settings as your performance loops. The integrated backing track player is an extra bonus if you want to jam along to your favorite songs or if you have a gig coming up and need to quickly learn some covers. BIAS Amp 2 and BIAS FX 2 are like the dynamic duo: You can’t go wrong with having them both on your side.
$179 street, positivegrid.com
STL Tones - AmpHub and ToneHub
If you want flaming hot tones, look no further than STL AmpHub and ToneHub! There are 42 amplifiers, 27 pedals, and 24 speaker cabinets available (the Eddy 5153 amp is one of my favorites). In the header controls, there are tons of presets that are organized based on both artist settings and amplifier models, streamlining the process of finding a starter tone. In the stomp boxes, amplifier and cabinet views, the layout and search features also make it easy to find the processors you want. In the cab view, you can further customize the speaker configurations as well as the microphone type, angle, and distance to the cab’s grille.
In ToneHub, the preset information tab provides detailed descriptions and notes on the gear used for each tone model. So, if you are really wanting a specific tone chain, ToneHub has got you covered. The combination of ToneHub’s tracing amplifier, cabinet 3D mixer, and tone packs make this a tonal powerhouse, and a perfect companion to AmpHub.
$10 monthly (AmpHub), $15 monthly or $199 (ToneHub), stltones.com
Neural DSP - Soldano SLO-100
Neural’s Soldano plugin is a treat to look at, and its deep tweakability sweetens the deal.
The virtual Soldano SLO-100 from Neural DSP is smooth to operate and sounds like a high-gain dream. There are five main sections: stomp effects, amplifier simulation, EQ, cabinet simulation, and time effects. The stomp and time effect sections include the essentials—compressor, overdrive 1, overdrive 2, chorus, delay, and reverb. The cab simulation section includes six internal microphones based on the usual suspects used on guitar cabinets: dynamic, condenser, and ribbon. You can change their positions and distance to the cabinet speakers with fine adjustments and ultra-precision.
From warm, pristine cleans to crunchy and heavy, the SLO-100 can also be used as a standalone application or inside of your DAW. The Far Far Away preset, included in the factory menu, is bang-on for spacey atmospherics and ethereal layers. The tone here reminds me of the opening guitar of “Voices” by Alice In Chains. The clean chorus setting is another favorite in the SLO-100, especially for getting that iconic lush, watery tone you hear on tracks like Def Leppard’s “Hysteria.” While I have never owned a hand-wired Soldano, the virtual version of the SLO-100 is an impressive workhorse with authentic tones.
$105 street, neuraldsp.com
Neural DSP - Morgan Amps Suite
Don’t let the citrus-fruit Tolex confuse you—pictured here is Morgan Amplification’s take on a Dumble-style clean amp, digitized for Neural’s plugin suite.
Neural’s Morgan Amp Suite is a new collection of prestigious virtual amplifiers based on amp builder Joe Morgan’s eponymous brand. The models included in this package are emulations of Morgan Amplification’s AC20, PR12, and SW50R, which are inspired by a vintage Vox AC30, Fender Princeton Reverb, and clean Dumble amp, respectively. Several cool features, including transpose, doubler, and spread, are included on each. The transpose knob makes it so easy to experiment with guitar tunings, especially if you are into the down-tuned menace of heavier music genres.
Universal Audio - Softube Amp Room Bundle
You can’t crank your amp up in your apartment, but you sure can in Softube’s Metal Amp Room.
The Softube Amp Room Bundle from Universal Audio is a plugin package made for both the classic and modern player. It includes three “rooms,” each outfitted with amps that correspond to the room name—Vintage, Metal, and Bass. Included in the Vintage Amp Room, you have three pristine ’60s-style amps dubbed White, Brown, and Green. I really dig the White Amp with the White Power Amp Overdrive preset with a bit of gain roll off on my guitar. I get that sweet blend of clean and distorted break-up that provides a tone similar to “House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals, or even Kurt Cobain’s intro strumming on “About a Girl” by Nirvana.
On the other side of the virtual house, the Metal Amp Room is loaded with fierce gain and brutal tones. This one definitely brings out the punk rocker in me. I shred and head bang to “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones with just the default preset, and it sounds killer. Along with standard amp controls, you can adjust the mix of the microphone balance and their positions relative to the speaker cabinets. If recording in stereo, the stereo width knob is great for enhancing, or widening, the microphone mix in the stereo field.
All about that bass and no treble? With the Bass Amp Room, the vintage-’70s-modeled amp tones instantly enhance your low-end rumble. You can really dig into your tone with the direct inject knobs and D.I./amp balance slider as well.
$199 street, uaudio.com
The Last Word
I view all these virtual amplifier packages through a subjective and objective lens. Are there similarities? Yes. Do I have my own preferences? Of course. Will these change over time as audio technology evolves? Absolutely.
Always keep in mind that “serving the song” is the number one priority, and this will never change. Never let software or hardware hinder your creativity, inspiration, or project goals. The tools you use to get there are up to you, and every audio professional has their own methods—what some would refer to as “magic” or “wizardry.”
My advice? Try out the free versions and demo trials of these amp software packages. Determine which ones are most suited for your own recording needs and go from there. The bottom line: keep cool and rock on!
The Megadeth leader survived his most difficult challenge—throat cancer—to make a new thrash metal opus, The Sick, the Dying… and the Dead!, with guitar foil Kiko Loureiro.
Megadeth’s leader Dave Mustaine was about to dive into making the band’s new album, The Sick, the Dying… and the Dead!, when he received a terrible diagnosis: throat cancer. “I was told by an oral surgeon just like he was ordering a cup of coffee. ‘Oh, you have cancer.’ I went out, sat in my car for a long time, and had tears down my face. I had just gone into a numbness,” he recalls.
Mustaine endured a regimen of 51 radiation and nine chemo treatments in 2019 to emerge intact—just as he has endured a career and lifetime of challenges. Over the years, the metal icon has conquered severe drug and alcohol addiction, a near-vocation-ending arm injury, a broken neck, Megadeth’s history of highly publicized personnel changes and legal fights, and rebuilding his band and its following after a questionable flirtation with a more mainstream sound. He was even pronounced dead in 1993, after an overdose of Valium. “Those were some tough days,” observes Mustaine, “but nothing was as frightening as when I found out I first had cancer.”
Megadeth - Night Stalkers: Chapter II ft. Ice-T
Kiko Loureiro, Megadeth’s lead guitarist, remembers when he got the news: “Everything started when we were about to do an Ozzy tour in 2019, and Ozzy canceled. The management and Dave were talking, and then it’s, ‘Okay, let’s start creating new songs for the new album.’ Then, maybe two weeks before I was about to go to Nashville for the new album, Dave called me and said, ‘You know what? I have cancer.’ It was horrible. But he said, ‘We are going to keep the schedule. You come here, let’s see how it goes, and I will work every day until the day I don’t feel that it’s possible.’ Dave was brave, man. He was working every day. Right after that—pandemic. Everything got canceled.”
“My neck was broken. Now there’s a plate on my throat. That’s why we did the drop tuning into D. It’s because my voice is affected by the plate.”—Dave Mustaine
And then, in May 2021, the band announced the dismissal of bassist and founding member Dave Ellefson, Mustaine’s creative foil on and off since 1983. This came following highly publicized accusations of online sexual indiscretion. Ellefson has since denounced these accusations.
Nonetheless, he was replaced for The Sick, the Dying… and the Dead! sessions bymetal veteran Steve Di Giorgio, who immediately locked with drummer Dirk Verbeuren.
Megadeth’s current line-up, from left to right: bassist James LoMenzo, drummer Dirk Verbeuren, and guitarists Dave Mustaine and Kiko Loureiro.
Photo by Travis Shinn
At age 60, and after all of this, any fan would forgive Mustaine for hanging it up and enjoying life off “The Killing Road,” to borrow a title from the band’s 1994 album Youthanasia. But instead, he constructed another metal masterpiece.
“Steve came in, and we started over again,” explains Mustaine. “He put his fingerprints on it, and I think he made it a really great-sounding record.” Due to travel restrictions and Mustaine’s treatment, the sessions were spread out, but while they were among the most physically taxing that Mustaine has experienced, he says they were also some of his favorites.
Dave Mustaine plays a prototype of the forthcoming Gibson Custom Shop version of his signature model Flying V at the Barcelona Rock Fest in July. Note the through-body stringing versus the Gibson USA model’s Tune-o-matic bridge.
Photo by Jordi Vidal
“I was just fucking happy every day,” he says, “getting in my little Polaris Ranger, bouncing along the dirt road on my farm to the house next door where we set up the studio, and to be with my brothers and make this record.”
So, after all that, how does Mustaine walk onstage and do his thing like nothing’s changed? He says he doesn’t. “You go to the hospital and see other people hurting so badly for their patient,” he says. “They’re pushing their husband, or their wife, or their dad or mom, or sometimes their kids into the cancer ward, and you know they’re going to die. It just breaks your heart. You wonder, ‘Why me? How come mine’s in remission?’ That has to affect you unless you’re not human. They really helped make me enjoy what time I have left now. I just see so much in what one person does … how it affects other people.”
“Just to go through the motions—that’s not me. I am not one to settle for second best.”—Dave Mustaine
Yet for all that’s changed in his life, one thing that hasn’t is Megadeth’s music. Not even cancer could take the edge off the thrash pioneers’ sound. “We’ll Be Back” and “Night Stalkers,” the first singles released from the new album, prove that—with abrasive speed-picked riffs, shred solos galore, and cutting lyrics delivered in Mustaine’s trademark snarl. That makes sense since many of these riffs have been around for years. When it comes to writing new albums, Mustaine dives into the same always-growing library of demos and ideas he’s curated for decades.
“If you think about ‘Rust in Peace’ [the title track of the band’s 1990 album], we played that song in Panic before I was in Metallica. I had that from back in the ’70s. I’ve got stuff that was recorded on floppy discs, stuff that was recorded on tape machines, stuff that was recorded on microcassette recorders, and stuff that was recorded on answering machines.”
Recorded outside Nashville on Dave Mustaine’s property, the new album has the virtues of classic Megadeth: powerful thrash-metal rhythms, scalding high-velocity solos and fills, and mid-heavy tones, all in service of the bandleader’s dark lyric poetry.
What does set The Sick, The Dying... and The Dead! apartfrom Megadeth’s previous releases is its blend of relentless attitude and melody. The way both of the band’s guitarists see it, writing a great song always had to come first.
“The ultimate goal was how to sound powerful and thrash and violent, but also melodic and have some good songwriting skills,” says Loureiro.
Mustaine adds, “It was my goal to make a great record. Anything less than that would be a farce. Just to go through the motions—that’s not me. I am not one to settle for second best.”
Dave Mustaine’s Gear
Mustaine plays one of his earlier Dean signature models while touring in support of the Dystopia album in 2016, at the fairgrounds in Schaghticoke, New York.
Photo by Ken Settle
- Gibson Signature Flying V EXP
- Gibson Trini Lopez
- Gibson Signature Songwriter acoustic
Strings & Picks
- Cleartone customs (.011–.054, for D standard)
- Cleartone Dave Mustaine Heavy Series (.010–.052, for standard)
- Cleartone .73 mm
- Marshall JCM800
- Marshall 1959RR Randy Rhoads
- Neural DSP Quad Cortex (live)
- Marshall 1960DM Dave Mustaine Signature 4x12s
“Dogs of Chernobyl” is a standout example of the album’s brutal melodic mashup. After announcing its arrival with Loureiro’s gorgeous classical guitar, it suddenly shifts gears into gut-punching riffs, complete with finger-twisting passages, all the while offering a chorus that rings through your ears all day. But this is no pop album. Megadeth has always delivered supremely heavy music, and tuning their guitars down to D standard for the first time added an even heavier weight to these songs.
For the most part, down-tuning has been a big no-no for Mustaine. But, this time, he didn’t have a choice. “I wanted to stay in standard tuning as a middle finger to people who had to detune to make their songs sound better,” he says. “But my neck was broken [in 2012], and they fused my neck together. Now there’s a plate on my throat. That’s why we did the drop tuning into D. It’s because my voice is affected by the plate.”
“Megadeth is not about the drop tuning. It’s about the attitude, the way we play,” clarifies Loureiro. “But I think having the D standard gives a modern sound without going to a different style.”
“I was told by an oral surgeon just like he was ordering a cup of coffee. ‘Oh, you have cancer.’”—Dave Mustaine
Both guitarists applied this album’s new tuning to their fleet of signature guitars. Loureiro—an Ibanez guy to the core—used RGs, AZs, and other models, but relied primarily on his off-the-shelf KIKO100. He says his 100 is “exactly the way you find it. I don’t change anything. You choose the DiMarzio pickups, you choose everything that you like, and then you ask the company to manufacture the guitar the way you like. I think that’s the idea of a signature guitar.”
Mustaine, who last year became a Gibson brand ambassador, went straight to his signature Songwriter acoustic and Flying V EXP for the sessions. They are, after all, the guitars he says he’s been chasing since he was a kid. “When I got my first Kiss record, it said, ‘Kiss uses the best.’ They had the Gibson logo. I knew Kiss was my band, and they used Gibson because they only wanted to use the best. It says so on their fucking records! Who would put that on their records if they weren’t telling the truth? Gibson had to be the best.”
Dave Mustaine on His Gibson Flying V EXP Signature | Megadeth Rig Rundown Trailer
Mustaine’s instrument is no ordinary Flying V. Like with every other guitar he’s endorsed, this model had to meet his exacting specifications and play just right. “Just the modification I made to the neck made this Flying V a contender. It plays just like the Jacksons that I created. Now we’ve got a 24-fret Flying V. A real flying V. It’s not a King V, not a DV8, not a VMNT, not a WXYZ. It’s a fucking Flying V. No more playing somebody else’s version of the real deal. I got the real deal, and I’ve already modified it to make it mine.” Mustaine’s new model has a mahogany body and neck, with a 25 1/2" scale, an ebony compound radius fretboard, a Graph Tech nut, an Explorer-style headstock, a Nashville Tune-o-matic bridge, Seymour Duncan Thrash Factor pickups, two volume dials, a master tone knob, and custom wiring.
Amp-wise, Mustaine still relies on his beloved Marshalls. “Ever since Papa Jim [company founder Jim Marshall] passed away [in 2012], it’s been sad for me,” Mustaine says. “The company’s changed a lot but is still the greatest amplification company for rock music. In the studio, that’s all we use.”
Kiko Loureiro’s Gear
Kiko Loureiro, who hails from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, joined Megadeth in 2015, bringing a highly melodic and sometimes neoclassical approach to the band’s guitar attack.
Photo by Ken Settle
- Ibanez Signature KIKO100
- Various Ibanez RG and AZ series models
- Custom classical acoustic
String & Picks
- D’Addario (.010–.046)
- D’Addario heavy
- Marshall JCM800
- Bogner Shiva
- Neural DSP Quad Cortex (live)
- Marshall 1960DM Dave Mustaine Signature 4x12s
Using a blend of a JCM800 and a rare 1959RR Randy Rhoads head, Mustaine’s tone is as mid-heavy and fierce as ever on The Sick, the Dying… and the Dead! Loureiro also went with the JCM800 as the foundation of his solos, but the addition of a Bogner Shiva and Ibanez Tube Screamer is the secret to his detailed lead tones.
Loureiro’s fretboard mastery is all over The Sick, The Dying... and The Dead! He is as proficient at balancing Mustaine’s go-for-the-throat solos with exotic, melodic flourishes as he is at tearing through hyper-speed chromatics. For proof, listen to Loureiro burn through the solo that follows Ice-T’s guest appearance in “Night Stalkers.”
“I really like the technical stuff: sweep picking, tapping, and the whole thing.” Loureiro says. “But I also have to keep the energy. So, I use intense bends and vibratos and have this powerful, energetic way of picking the notes. I try to mix those things and get very aggressive, but also sound very clear and defined.”
“Megadeth is not about drop tuning. It’s about the attitude, the way you play. But I think D-standard gives a modern sound without going to a different style.”—Kiko Loureiro
During his seven-year tenure, Loureiro’s earned his place in Megadeth’s pantheon of legendary lead guitarists, which also includes Marty Friedman, Chris Poland, and Al Pitrelli. It’s a position he respects and embraces. “When I write stuff for Megadeth, I’m always picturing Megadeth in my mind. I mold myself into that Megadeth world,” he says. “And I’m there to push Dave. Whenever he’s playing something very energetic or something that really connects to the early days of Megadeth, it’s like, ‘Yes, that’s the Dave we’re a fan of!’ We’re also reminding him who he is—because he’s Dave!”
In preparation for the new album’s September 2 release, Mustaine invited bassist James LoMenzo, who played in Megadeth from 2006 to 2010, back into the band and hit the road. Their recent shows have been as potent as ever live, headlining a bill called the Metal Tour of the Year that includes Lamb of God, Trivium, and In Flames. The energy, power, and technicality of Megadeth’s performances seemed more like the work of a young band hungry to make their mark. Mustaine agrees.
Rig Rundown: Megadeth's Dave Mustaine & Kiko Loureiro 
“The time apart from James was really good for the two of us,” Mustaine says. “I realized how much I really like him and respect him as a player. For us now, the sum of the parts is way more than the whole. It’s the beginning of a new period for us.”
If having fought through throat cancer, replacing key personnel, and surviving Covid marks a new period, one must wonder: Can anything stop Mustaine and crew? Not until he’s ready.
“I’m not pushing it until the wheels come off, because I think that signifies that you’re no longer able to run the race,” Mustaine adds. “When it’s time for me to go and make that final pit stop, I’ll know. But I feel better than I’ve felt in a very long time. I think my playing and my singing are better now than ever, and I can’t wait to get up onstage. I look forward to it every day.”
Thrash-metal icon Dave Mustaine details his signature Gibson Vs and why it’s the best body shape. Plus, Brazilian shredder Kiko Loureiro dishes on his signature Ibanez speed demons.
Grammy-winning metal legends Megadeth and their massive headlining 2022 run hit Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on May 5. Before the headbanging started, PG’s Chris Kies talked gear with Megadeth leader Dave Mustaine, who ran down the specs of his signature Gibson Flying V and showed us why it’s the best body shape for ripping onstage. The band’s dangerously dexterous lead guitarist Kiko Loureiro showed off his stash of dashing Ibanez doublecuts. And both players (plus their techs) share insight on downsizing from an Axe-Fx to a gig-bag-friendly Neural DSP Quad Cortex.
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The Silver Bullet
Dave Mustaine has collaborated with several brands for signature models (Jackson, ESP, and Dean) that have all revolved around the V-body shape. In 2021, it was announced Mustaine was forming an alliance with Gibson. The partnership makes absolute sense given Gibson first released the (still) futuristic V and Explorer in 1958. (Astute Gibson historians may point to the Moderne as part of that legendary year, but it was supposedly prototyped in 1957 and never officially released until the early ’80s. The pattern mirrors the release of this year’s Gibson Theodore model.)
The sterling Dave Mustaine Flying V EXP (seen here in silver metallic) has some slight tweaks to the original recipe. It has a 25.5" scale length with 24 medium jumbo frets, mother-of-pearl teeth inlays, a 6-in-line Explorer headstock with Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners and kidney buttons, a Graph Tech nut, and a set of Mustaine’s signature Seymour Duncan Thrash Factor humbuckers. Another change includes moving the output jack onto the inside of the top wing. The V’s tonewoods consist of a mahogany body, mahogany neck, and rosewood fretboard. Mustaine mentions in the Rundown he worked considerably with Gibson to refine the baseball-bat neck for something with a slim taper grip and ergonomic flow.
All of Mustaine’s guitars take Cleartone strings—custom sets (.011–.054) for D-standard, Cleartone Dave Mustaine Heavy Series (.010–.052) for standard, and, no matter what, he’s shredding on Cleartone .73 mm picks.
Here’s the second option for Mustaine’s production signature V that’s identical to the previous except that it’s finished in an antique natural.
Being Dave Mustaine probably opens a lot of doors, and one such invitation is working with Gibson’s Nashville-based Custom Shop. Here’s a regal V (decked out with his sig specs) that features a flame maple cap and tasty binding. Note the bridge: Dave’s prototype instrument has through-body string loading. Expect to hear more about this model shortly.
Skin o’ My Teeth
Vic Rattlehead, Welcome to Smashville
The Explorer headstock (also outfitted on Mustaine’s Vs) could be used in a pinch by the hockey heavies on the Nashville Predators.
The last of Mustaine’s Vs is another Custom Shop offering that is both classy and cool.
Brazilian flamethrowing guitarist Kiko Loureiro officially joined Megadeth in April 2015. The first album he contributed to was 2016’s Dystopia, which earned Megadeth its only Grammy. An impressive start!
Providing a lot of nightly fireworks is Kiko’s trove of signature Ibanez racers. First up is the 2018 Ibanez KIKO200 GMT Kiko Loureiro model that has an African mahogany body (RG style) with a AAAA quilted maple top, wenge-maple neck, 24 jumbo frets (with scalloped frets in 19-24) on a Macassar ebony board, and an Ibanez Edge tremolo. Originally these models came with custom-voiced Ibanez KIKO pickups, but he’s now working with DiMarzio for his signature H-S-H configuration. All Loureiro’s electrics take D’Addario NYXLs—either .010–.046 for standard or .010–.052 for D-standard—and he attacks the strings with D’Addario heavy picks.
A 100 For Kiko!
The Kiko 100 was his first namesake shred sidekick with Ibanez. This one was done by the L.A. Custom Shop and features similar specs to the previous 200, but has an Ibanez S body shape and some different tonewoods—an alder body with a flame maple top, 5-piece walnut-and-maple neck, and a rosewood fretboard.
Here’s what seems to be another Ibanez Kiko100 model, but it has a wenge-maple neck similar to the one seen on the first green Kiko200 model.
Les Paul Means Less Frets
With captain Dave Mustaine onboard with Gibson, Kiko has been auditioning some Les Pauls for the Megadeth 2022 tour. Here’s a brand-new Gibson Les Paul Modern finished in a subdued sparkle they call graphite top. Contemporary updates on this classic includes a lighter, chambered mahogany body, an asymmetrical SlimTaper neck profile, a contoured and comfortable neck-and-heel joint, and while the company’s BurstBucker Pro and BurstBucker Pro + pickups have been in their stable for years, the Modern gives them added options with push-pull volume knobs engaging P-90 tones. There are only certain songs that Kiko can play the Les Pauls on (“Peace Sells” and “Trust”) because much of Megadeth’s material requires 24 frets (“Holy Wars... The Punishment Due,” etc.).
Kiko Goes Classical
For the opening of the instrumental tour de force “Conquer or Die,” Kiko uses this Yamaha NCX3 nylon-string acoustic-electric complete with the company’s Atmosfeel Electronics.
Loureiro Leads the Way
When touring shut down, Kiko looked to stay creative, so he took the plunge into the Neural DSP Quad Cortex. Impressed with its power, versatility, programmability, and condensed packaging, he incorporated it into his live rig. When Megadeth rehearsals restarted, Mustaine eyed the new unit and dropped his Axe-Fx for the downsized dynamo. For their worldwide 2022 run, both guitarists were using the Quad Cortex. Kiko preferred relying on Friedman BE patches, where Dave stayed familiar with Marshall settings. Both split their units between direct to FOH and onstage to Marshall Dave Mustaine Signature 1960B-DM 4x12s loaded with G12-V30 Marshall Celestion custom Dave Mustaine Vintage speakers.
Dave Mustaine’s Rack
Mustaine’s Quad Cortex’s run off a pair of Seymour Duncan PowerStage 700 amps. His guitars run through the Shure Axient AD4Q rackmount wireless unit and get controlled and organized by the Radial JX44 Guitar Signal Manager.
Kiko Loureiro’s Rack
Like Mustaine, Kiko puts his guitars through the Shure Axient AD4Q rackmount wireless unit and Radial JX44 Guitar Signal Manager, but he powers his Quad Cortexes with a couple of Matrix Amplification GT1000FX amps.