Tips on How to make a Guitar Amp Simulator Sound Great!

You probably had this happen to you at some point. You download an Amp Sim and get excited thinking that it´s going to sound perfectly right from the get go, only to find that it sounds absolutely awful.

Wait! Don’t uninstall it just yet, you probably haven´t configured it right!

If done correctly, it will sound really close to the real deal!

There are some things to take into consideration though, for example if you are going to use this kind of software to record guitar parts for a song, or if you are only using it to jam in your room, if you want a clean, crunchy or distorted tone, etc.

Depending on the purpose you are going to need to configure it differently.

First of all I have to say, that with most of the Simulation Software the presets that come straight out of the box aren´t the best, you probably are going to need to really dig into the setup of each component if you want to get the best sound.

How to get a Good sounding Amp Simulation

Like in a real setting, you need to start at the source!

The first thing you need to make sure of is that the signal coming into the computer is of the best quality, this means; Using a good guitar, if possible, changing the strings is also an absolute MUST! and using a cable that won´t add any unwanted noise is also very important.

It’s crucial to minimize all of these factors that could lower the quality of the signal before it reaches the software.

Having a high-quality Audio Interface is also essential. Read more about the best audio interfaces here.

Behringer Ultra-DI DI400P

Recommendation: One of the best ways to improve your Guitar Tone is by using a DI Box. This will give you a much better signal overall and in turn make you sound much better.

I’d recommend getting this one from Amazon. I’ve purchased it and got a pretty noticeable improvement.

Using short cables is best, since they don´t degrade the signal as much as longer ones, otherwise the Tone will surely suffer!

Having a good Audio Interface is also very important, since you will be plugging the guitar into it!

You need to make sure that its pre- amps and Analog to Digital conversion are of high quality, if they are not then the signal will be degraded.

Fortunately, these days almost all Audio Interfaces, even the cheaper ones, have good Analog to Digital conversion, but this only changed recently.

If you are using an old one, maybe it´s time to get a new AI.

You can also use a Mixer that has built-in Analog to Digital conversion. If you are wondering if you should get an Audio Interface or a Mixer, maybe you should read this article I wrote!

Let´s get straight into it!

1. Check the input level

This actually made a big difference to my sound once I started setting it up correctly.

Make sure you are not clipping it, don´t make the input signal too high, avoid that ugly digital distortion.

This allows you to use a wider range of the simulation.

You Probably will need less Gain than you think, just dial it down a bit!

Since the guitar is a mid-range instrument, you have to make sure not to scoop the EQ settings, otherwise it will not cut through the mix.

2. Use a noise Gate and add Compression

You don’t need to go overboard with this, but it will make your guitar better sit in the mix.

If you’re using the Amp Sim to record a song properly, you might want to skip this step and add these effects later within the DAW.

3. Cabinet and Mic Placement

Make sure you choose a good Cabinet and also set up the Mic placement correctly.

I can´t tell you the amount of times I had phase issues from bad Mic Placement.

Also, to some of you this might be obvious, but the first time I used amp sims I didn´t use a cabinet, just the amp, since some of them don´t put them in the chain automatically…and it sounded terrible! so use one also!

There are plenty of free Cabinets available. The one I’d recommend you get is the NadIR dual impulse response convolver by Ignite Amps.

They also make a killer Guitar Amp Simulator called Emissary, make sure to give it a go!

4. Record more than one Guitar

Nowadays you won´t really find any great recording of a single guitar part that has only been recorded once, they are always 3 or 4 layers at least, with different amplifier settings, which sound slightly different.

5. Use EQ Wisely

EQ before distortion since it will naturally compress and affect the entire signal. You should always focus the breakup in the areas that will make the biggest difference.

Turn down the bass! Otherwise the mix will sound muddy. (There is a difference when recording or simply jamming in your room, if you are only jamming and not trying to make it sit in a mix properly, you might like a bit more bass).

6. Careful with Reverb

Adding a LITTLE Reverb at the end helps, since with a real amp, there will always be some sort of room or acoustic space. This helps emulate that.

But you should wait until the very end to add it, first try and get the sound that you are looking for, since it’s really easy to cover up a bad sound with lots of reverb and THEN dial it in slowly.

7. Try using Real Pedals

Try using real analog pedals: Set the amp sim to a clean or slightly crunchy tone.

Once you did that, instead of using a simulated Dirt pedal, try using the real thing. This usually sounds a lot more realistic and yields a better tone! Of course, this is up to each one’s taste.

Other things to take into account…

Oversampling

Most of the Amp Simulators have the option to choose between Higher or Lower resolution quality.

In Guitar Rig for example, you can click on the “High” icon next to the NI Logo which will increase the sound quality at the expense of increased CPU usage.

In Amplitube you can choose between Low, Medium and High.

I highly suggest using the highest audio quality, since the additional CPU usage isn’t really anything to worry about.

In my PC the low setting  usually uses around 3-5% of the CPU’s processing power while on high it´s just a bit under 15%.

If you are going to be using any of these Softwares to record, and if you are planing to use multiple instances of the software for multiple tracks, then I would recommend using the low setting, but only for recording!

Once you are done with that and you are ready to mix, turn them all up to the highest setting again! That way you won´t get latency issues and also won’t use as many of your PC’s resources.

Mixing Amplifiers

The great thing about Amp Simulation is that for a very low price, or even free (depending on the software you get), you can create a huge amount of sounds. Mix different amps, cabinets, etc. which in the real world would cost a fortune.

Let´s say you are recording a guitar part, like stated above you usually don´t just want to use one track, you use multiple tracks which you record separately, you can mix and match different amps and cabinets for each track to create a unique sound of all the combined tracks, you could try a Fender amp on one track and an Orange amp on the other, and so on!

You just need a little patience and time to play around with it!

Take your time

Like I said in the beginning, the presets that come with Amp Sims are usually bad.

If you want to get a great sound you really need to dive into each component in the chain and be patient.

Play around with every knob and listen to the changes.

Some Simulators are actually quite hard to use at first and if you are used to playing with real amps you will notice that it’s far easier to get a good sounding tone with the real thing than it is with a plugin.

It´s just a learning curve.

After getting used to it, I assure you that you will be able to make great sounding music!

Use EQ to avoid the treble “FIZZ”

Some issues I found with all Amp Sims is, especially when cranking the digital Gain up, that you get that increased treble “fizz” effect, which obviously doesn´t sound that great!

What you can do is, in your DAW, on the track that you are using the Simulator, EQ’ing those frequencies out by just lowering them a bit.

This will make everything sound a bit warmer.

A trick you can use to find the frequency that you need to reduce is by selecting a parametric EQ with a very narrow frequency range and increase the gain on it.

Now you can move it around and listen. What this will do is simply, once you get to that “fizz” sound, it will “exaggerate” it.

Now you know in what part of the spectrum it is and you can lower it.

Simply drag that same EQ down / lower it´s gain and that’s it, “Fizz” gone!

I am a big fan of free software, so I did a lot of research and Wrote a complete Article about the best FREE amp simulators that sound great! Make sure to check it out!

Conclusion

Follow these few steps and see what happens, you will probably notice that your tone has improved!

The most important thing is to take your time and really get to know the Software, play around with it and have fun.

I hope this information was useful! see you on the next one!

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2 Comments

  1. When using an amplifier, it’s important to pay attention to the sound quality since this can make or break the sound quality of any recordings that the amplifier would pick up. The reason for this is that an amplifier works best when grouped with other recording instruments in order to deliver the best sound quality when working together with another sound cabinet. If I had the time to try out a new set of amplifiers, then I would want to make sure that the sound goes well together and not clash against each other.

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