Crafting Authentic Guitar Sounds with Virtual Air

Some people ass ume an amp sim should be plug-and-play.
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 Studio devil’s Virtual guitar amp ii has a cool reverb, but sometimes a smaller, funkier space—synthesized here with the Sonitus delays bundled with Cakewalk Sonar X1—will deliver the sound you want.

Some people assume an amp sim should be plug-and-play. You insert it in a track, and—voilà!—perfect guitar sound!

It’s not always that easy.

We’ve addressed ways to improve tone in this column, but you must also consider environment. Sometimes, amp sims are perceived as sounding lifeless because the sim is emulating a miked amp. But when you play guitar, you don’t put your ear a couple of inches from a cabinet. Instead, the less-than-perfect acoustics of rehearsal spaces, auditoriums, and clubs can become part of your guitar’s sound and add a three-dimensional sense of space. So, let’s synthesize some “air” for your sim. The key is using delays to simulate the early reflections that bounce off the walls in your sim’s virtual “room.”

Follow the sim with a stereo delay. Set one channel to 11ms, and the other to 13ms. Don’t use any feedback, and start with a wet/dry mix of around 15 to 25 percent wet. Then, follow the first delay with a second delay—this time, with one delay channel set to 23ms (this should be the same channel for which you chose 11ms with the first delay) and the other delay channel to 17ms. Again, use 0 feedback, and start with a wet/dry mix around 20 percent wet.

The delay times are all prime numbers, which means they can be divided only by themselves. As a result, they don’t reinforce each other—or give a periodic sound—thus providing a bigger sense of space from a limited number of delays.

The first delay ’s dry sound passes through the second delay to create the 23ms and 17ms delays. However, the first delay’s delayed sound also passes through the second delay, which produces an additional delay of 11+23=34ms and 13+17=30ms. That’s a total of six virtual reflections. Because the times are spaced close together, they’re not really perceived as individual echoes, but they’re also sparse enough so they don’t sound like reverb, either.

Experiment with the delay’s wet/dry mix, which has a huge influence on the overall sound. Also, look for any “special features” your delay might have—such as the option to reduce highs somewhat on the delayed sound. The delays in the screen shot can do this, and they also have a “diffusion” control that spreads out the echoes a little more.

Finally, this effect is best when applied subtly. When done right, you’ll have a more authentic guitar sound, because you’ll be hearing it in a “room”—even if it is a virtual one.