Transform Your Rough Recordings Into Released Records, Even If You Only Have a Home Studio

How to Get Realistic Guitar Tones With Amp Simulators


Dialing in a realistic guitar tone on an amp simulator can be a serious challenge. The default settings often leave something to be desired, and the controls can be overwhelming if you’re new to the software.

But with a little know-how, you can fine-tune your tone and create some truly inspiring sounds. In this blog, we’ll show you some of our favorite tips for creating realistic-sounding guitar tones with amp simulators. 

START WITH A TUNE UP

Part of the reason people struggle to get good guitar tones from amp sims is that they’re not taking the time to properly prep their instrument. 

Before plugging into your interface, be sure your guitar is set up properly. Take some time to adjust the intonation and action so there is no fret buzz. Put on a fresh pair of strings before you record—just be sure you’re in tune before each take.

You’d be surprised what a little TLC can do for your guitar tone!

INPUT SIGNAL

Gain staging is an integral part of sculpting any guitar tone. 

If the input signal is too high, it could cause the amp sim to create harsh-sounding digital artifacts. If the input signal is too low, the amp may sound weak and thin.

Most amp sims are set to accept an input signal of -15 to -18 dB. Check the manual of the plug-in you’re using to find the proper input level.

OVERSAMPLING

Most amp sim plug-ins are capable of oversampling, which raises the internal sample rate of the plug-in to reduce unwanted distortion. Just be aware that this comes at the expense of more processing power. 

Oversampling helps capture the complex harmonic details of a guitar tone with precision and clarity. Some amp sims oversample natively, while others require you to turn on oversampling manually. 

PEDAL POWER

Guitar pedals are a crucial component to many guitarist’s iconic tones and can be a great way to spice up your sound. 

Most amp sims include a library of classic pedal simulations, including distortion, overdrive, fuzz, EQ, compression and more. But don’t be afraid to use real pedals as well. Simply insert your pedalboard between the guitar and the interface to capture your signature sound. 

For high-gain tones, try using a gate to help keep your tone sounding tight and punchy. Many engineers use an EQ pedal before the amp to help boost the highs, which can excite an amp in unique ways. 

Compressors are another common effect and can be used to fatten up your sound, add sustain, or bring out the sound of your pick hitting the strings for a more percussive sound. 

PROPER AMP SELECTION 

Amp sims offer a wide range of heads and cabs to choose from. Most of them are modeled after real amps and are designed to capture a specific color and character.

Do a little research and find which amps your plug-in is emulating, and which model would sound best for the type of tone you want.

For instance, if you’re looking for a modern high-gain sound, you’re probably not going to get it from a classic tweed amp. And if you’re going for a clean sound with a chimey high-end, you probably don’t want to load up a vintage Orange emulation.

Experiment with different cabs, too. Smaller cabs offer more clarity in the mids and highs, while larger cabinets deliver deeper bass.

Don’t be afraid to mix and match cabinets. No one says you can’t pair a Fender head with a Marshall cab! Try different combinations to discover unique sounds.

GAIN STAGING

Good amp sims will simulate both preamp and power amp saturation, so be sure to experiment with the relationship between those two controls to find the tone you’re looking for.

Preamp distortion is generally better for high-gain sounds, and has a smoother, more compressed tone with high sustain. Power amp distortion is better for crunchy tones and tends to sound richer and more dynamic. 

Using an amp sim also affords a little more room for experimentation than those working in home studios or small studios where excessive noise is a problem. With an amp sim, you can easily crank the master output all the way up to 11 to get that gritty power amp saturation—without disturbing your neighbors. 

MOVE THE MICS

Most amp sims offer multiple microphone selection and placement options to help you capture more realistic-sounding tones. Once you get your amp settings dialed in, spend some time moving the mics.

Try combining different types of mics to create unique new tones.  Standard dynamic mics like the SM57 are bright, while large diaphragm dynamics like the MD 421 or RE-20 have more mids and lows.

Condenser mics tend to have more high-end, which makes them great for capturing details. Ribbon mics, on the other hand, add warmth and roll off the highs for more vintage vibe.

ADD AMBIENCE

Close micing techniques are great for capturing the detail and clarity, but no one listens to a guitar amp with their ear against the grille. 

Don’t be afraid to experiment with using off-axis positioning to add depth and space to your recordings. 

Most amp sims include advanced room reverb algorithms that can be tweaked by adjusting the distance of the mics from the cab. By blending a small amount of the distant mics with the close mics, you can easily add realistic room tones to your sound. 

Or simply send the close-mic’d signal to your favorite room reverb and blend in the returns to taste. Just don’t overdo it: too much reverb can quickly wash out your guitar tone and muddy up the mix. A little bit goes a long way!

USE MULTIPLE AMPS

Pro engineers have been using multiple amps to create killer guitar tones for decades, so why should you stick to a single source?

After dialing in the first amp, create another track with the same input and use a different type of amp, cab, and mic combo to create a second tone to help fill out the sound. 

If your original tone is heavy and distorted, try blending it with a clean or crunchy amp to help bring out the clarity and detail. If your original tone is bright and shimmery, try adding a grittier tone with more low-end to complement the sound.

Follow these steps to turn your sterile simulated guitar tone into a realistic sound that cuts through the mix. 

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