DIY Recommended Recording Technology

Software guitar amps vs. Real guitar amps

When it comes to tracking guitars, most players — including myself a few years ago — usually rely heavily on a cab (or a wall of cabs), serious head power, and several mics on each cab  (typically two SM57‘s and a MD421).  But in the mid 2000’s, I noticed many guitarists using laptops as preamps during live performances and using modeling software (“software amps”) in the studio.

Of course, I was reluctant to try that at first for fear of sacrificing the almighty tone.

My preciousssss!


I saw that Christian Olde Wolbers and Dallas Coyle (formerly of God Forbid) were using Guitar Rig, so I picked up a copy.  Wolbers posted pics of his setup online and it was very impressive:

Wolbers also uses an Apple Mac G4 laptop live, with Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig to replicate some of his tones from albums into the live set.  Guitar Rig is used primarily for clean tones as well as occasional weird sound.

I also saw that the guys in Nine Inch Nails were using Reaktor as a virtual guitar processor, so I picked up a copy of that too.  After experimenting with that and Guitar Rig, I found the possibilities to be endless — the quality was so close to old school “mic to cab” methods that I switched completely to using Guitar Rig for guitar tracking needs.  Previously, I used a Digitech 2112 but found Guitar Rig to be even more versatile than the 2112 (the same guitar rig used on NIN’s The Fragile album).

Since I wanted something I could use all the time with ease, I stayed with Guitar Rig.  After implementing Guitar Rig as my go-to tone generator, many guitarists “came out” and told me they no longer track their guitars with amps on their records either (something of a “trade secret”).  And, to be honest, you can’t tell sound-wise on their albums!

I had an opportunity to track with Dallas Coyle  on some material a while back.  We both sat down, loaded our laptops, and BAM!  We fired up Guitar Rig and used it for guitars and bass.  Sound-wise, you can’t go wrong and — with a nice transparent power amplifier behind it — you can even use it during live performance, as well.

To use Guitar Rig, all you need to do first is get a good audio interface or “direct in” (DI) unit. The Apogee Duet is nice and does a great job.  The REDDI red box is as solid as a brick for a DI.  In fact, Fear Factory heavily use the REDDI to get those fat, “warm” bass tones that they are known for.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love tracking the good ol’ way of mic’ing cabs.  It makes the process seem a bit more… classy.  Nevertheless, there are plenty of artists who opt for the software method — and they make some pretty damned good music!


Dana Presson II | Only the Dust Remains

  • ucup

    have you ever try using guitar rig controller? thanks.

  • Zeke XIII

    I am personally a big fan of Line 6 Pod Farm. Fun fact: every Rise Records band uses software amps, due to most of them recording with Joey Sturgis as engineer/producer. Don’t get me wrong, I love using this software, but a lot of the bands that use it tend to sound similar…

  • Shawnblackburn333

    I track both guitar rig and amp/cab simultaneously, then mix to get both the warmth of the cabs and the tone/sound of guitar rig 

  • Good call man.  The whole Djent scene is powered by digital amps; Meshuggah probably being the leading one of them.  Graham recently did a tech-metal show in London; all-but-two of the bands playing used digital preamps and ‘proper’ heads as the power amp, and it was some of the best live tones he’s ever heard.
    And the control!  Think, many live venues have volume level limits (over here it’s about 86dB) – I can fart louder than that (seriously, I have!  By comparison, a snare-hit is around 100-110dB).  The advantage digital heads give you is DI; that it straight out the back and run through the PA.  So long as the PA is decent, you have complete control over the level of the amps, yet still keeping all the tone you get a louder volumes – WIN!
    That said, I run two 100W amps together…just can’t bring myself over to the darkside.