Can you stomp on a foot switch to change sounds with amp simulations? The answer is…maybe.
MIDI program-change messages were originally intended to let players call up 128 different synthesizer sounds, but they can also be used to select amp sim presets. MIDI foot-switch boards (like the Behringer FCB1010) and keyboard controllers can send these messages, as can the programs that host amp sim plug-ins. Take note that some manufacturers number programs from 000 to 127, while others use 001 to 128. As a result, a controller that calls up program-change number 000 may call up program number 001 on an amp sim, or vice versa.
STANDALONE AMP SIMS
This is the common live performance mode. Open the program, set up your audio interface connections and start playing. Most amp sims I’ve tested in standalone mode — including AMR (formerly Peavey) ReValver 4, BIAS FX Pro Version, IK Multimedia AmpliTube, Native Instruments Guitar Rig, Overloud TH3 and Scuffham S-Gear — respond to program-change commands. However, after performing your audio setup, this usually requires telling the program to recognize your MIDI controller via a setting or preferences menu (Fig. 1).
Program changes typically occur within a bank of presets — for instance, in Guitar Rig the banks are in the Presets Attributes pane under the Presets tab — so choose the bank manually before calling up presets with program-change commands. You can’t call up presets above 128 without bank-switching commands, which few, if any, amp sims actually implement.
There are some variations. AMR ReValver 4’s Gig Mode stores eight presets that are recalled with program changes 001 through 008 (Fig. 2). The outstanding feature is gapless switching from one preset to the next. The tradeoff is program changes don’t work outside of this mode. Waves GTR and their PRS Supermodels plug-ins don’t respond to program changes; you can program buttons to step up or down through presets, which is okay for a planned set but not for random access.
Bear in mind that some sims require you to assign specific presets to program-change commands, sometimes within a list of presets. With BIAS FX, use the preset selection “tree” to call up the preset to be assigned, click on its edit button, and enter the desired MIDI program-change number in the MIDI PC field. With AmpliTube, click on the lower-right MIDI button and populate a list with presets that can be called up via program changes. These approaches differ from sims like Guitar Rig, S-Gear or TH3, where preset memory locations are “hardwired” to match MIDI program change commands.
WORKING WITH DAWS
When it comes to Windows recording programs, I have yet to find a VST3 amp sim that recognizes MIDI program changes, but most VST2 amp sims do. The DAW needs to be able to assign MIDI data to a VST plug-in and create a MIDI track to send program change data to the plug-in.
But program changes are less relevant in the studio anyway. Send your guitar to multiple tracks or buses, each with an instance of an amp sim set for a particular sound, and use automation to mute tracks or buses you don’t want to hear. It might not be as much fun as stomping on a switch, but it works for both recording and mixing!
Craig Anderton’s latest music video release, “Joie de Vivre,” is now at youtube.com/thecraiganderton.