OVER THE YEARS, I’ve found many ways to make amp sims sound more natural, warm, and organic. While there’s no single “magic bullet” technique, add the following tips together, and more amp-sim goodness will be yours. Just remember to experiment a bit with the specifics, as every guitar, guitarist, and playing style is different.
One of the biggest amp-sim problems is overloading the audio interface or amp-sim input, which creates harsh, digital distortion, instead of the smooth distortion the amp sim wants to generate. Even short transients can result in unpleasant, splattering distortion spikes. If you pick hard and/ or use heavy strings, lowering the pickups as little as 1/8" can reduce transient peaks. Rolling back the tone control a tad can also give a smoother sound.
MORE TRANSIENT CONTROL
Some audio interfaces (such as Apogee Duet 2, Avid Mbox Pro, MOTU Traveler-mk3 and 896mk3 Hybrid) include a soft clip option at the input. While originally intended to prevent an occasional loud peak from ruining a live recording, they can unobtrusively cut a guitar’s transients down to size before they wreak havoc with the interface’s A/D converters.
THE INTERFACE INPUT
An interface’s high-impedance input doesn’t interact with a guitar the way most amps do. MOTU’s low-cost ZBox accessory sits between your guitar and interface, and emulates an amp input. I use it a lot. It never hurts, and often helps give a much better feel. Another option is to split your guitar output with a Y-cord. Send one split to a guitar amp, and the other to the interface. The guitar will interact with the amp, and the interface’s high input impedance will capture the resulting sonic change.
DE-ESSER BEFORE AMP SIM
Once the signal is inside the computer, place a deesser plug-in before the sim so that playing hard and generating lots of high frequencies attenuates the highs. Dial in the high-frequency range that gives the creamiest distortion sound.
BROAD EQ CUT
Try a broad, shallow cut centered between 1.5kHz and 3.5kHz before the amp sim. This makes sure the distortion acts on the fundamentals of the guitar notes, giving a smoother sound than distorting high-frequency harmonics.
NAROW/DEEP EQ NOTCH
Lots of amp sims generate fizzy, unpleasant frequencies, depending on the input they receive. Insert a parametric EQ, set for a deep, narrow notch, after the sim. Sweep in the 2kHz to 10kHz range to dial out the fizz for a warmer sound. You might also want to add a little high-frequency shelving to restore some of the brightness that was cut going into the sim.
You don’t hear a guitar amp in a room by sticking your ear two inches from the speaker cone. Add some ambience— like short delays or a sim’s “air” control—to put your virtual amp in a virtual room.