1 - Bundle Up
Tight on bucks? See what’s bundled. Apple Logic includes several amp models and guitar processors. MOTU Digital Performer went ga-ga on guitars in version 7 by adding a sweet amp model, live room, and several excellent effects. Cubase introduced new amps in Version 6, Cakewalk Sonar comes with a lite (and upgradeable) version of Native Instruments Guitar Rig, and Sonar Home Studio bundles the full version of Studio Devil’s VGA+. Mixcraft Acoustica, Magix Samplitude, Pro Tools, and PreSonus Studio One Pro (both Artist and Professional versions) also include amp models (Fig. 2), and Ableton Live offers an optional-at-extra-cost amp sim from Softube. While these “extras” aren’t necessarily designed to compete with full versions of Guitar Rig, IK Multimedia AmpliTube, Waves G|T|R, Line 6 POD Farm, Peavey ReValver, and so on, they’re definitely an added value.
2 - Check for Special Accessories
Avid offers the Eleven Rack processor/ audio interface, which integrates tightly with Pro Tools, and also can serve as a multieffects unit onstage. It’s a great box if you have the bucks. Cakewalk’s VS-20 includes onboard, hardware BOSS COSM guitar effects—as well as audio interfacing and faders—that work with all Cakewalk DAWs. Apple Logic can team with Apogee’s GiO audio interface/footswitch— great for laptop jockeys using Logic in live performance.
3 - Download Demos, Dude
Most programs have downloadable demos so you can get a feel for whether the program is right for you. Some are full-featured but time-limited, and others are missing a vital feature (like being able to save), but all of them are functional enough that you’ll be able to see if a particular workflow resonates with you.
4 - Seek Tone Tools
There are three effects that can help tweak the sound of amp sims, so hopefully your DAW will include them:
De-esser. Positioned prior to an amp sim, a de-esser smooths out the sound by reducing highs dynamically and intelligently.
Multiband compressor. This lets you do tricks such as multiband distortion (assuming you can bypass or solo individual bands).
Post-amp sim parametric EQ. This can notch out nasty resonances and/or hum.
5 - Go “Lite”
You may not need a full-featured, big-bucks DAW. Many interfaces bundle a decent lite version of a DAW for free. Sure, they’re hoping you’ll trade up, but you may find that’s not necessary. Pocket the bucks you save, and spend it on a full-featured amp sim, or buy more RAM for your computer.
Bonus tip! IK Multimedia Ampli- Tube Free, Line 6 POD Farm 2.5 Free, and Native Instruments Guitar Rig 5 Player are free versions of their flagship software. What’s the catch? None! You don’t get all the models and effects, but you get enough to make some pretty cool sounds for an MSRP of $0.00—and they’re compatible with all major DAWs. Get all three!