Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Dreaded "V" Word

Ok, let's just get it out in the open, I'm going to say the dreaded "V" word. Ready?

------ Virtual Amp ------

There, now I know as a guitarist you are probably cringing in your chair and about to click on that Sweetwater ad you got via email this morning, right?
Well as awesome as I think Sweetwater is, I ask you to give this blog entry a read and check out the video below featuring a guy who is/was just like you.

Brad (guy in the video) and I have been using real physical amps all of our lives. The ever popular
Marshall Stacks
Marshall JCM800 head with a 4x12 half stack, or back in the 80's 4 full stacks and 4 JCM800's.
Sheesh was that expensive!
Among other heads, amplifiers, cabinets, pedals, etc.

Remember when you'd pack all your equipment in your 86 Ford Fiesta and then some wine-o at the club you were playing would tell you that you need a bigger tour bus? or did that only happen to me? In any case, Brad here lets us know just how tired of lugging amps around he is, yet also how reluctant he is to trust a virtual amp to come up with the right sound, feel, trouble free operations and characteristics.

Most people who are new to virtual amps have a couple common concerns.

  1. How can this virtual amp possibly sound as good as a physical one
  2. How about the ability to get controlled feedback from amp to guitar pickup?
For the first question, I usually give them this bit of info. These days, most guitarists use a processor pedal of some type, plugged into a power amp which runs the cabinets. Well, those processors are loaded with virtual amps, just like Mixcraft or other daws. So trusting their ability to sound professional is just a matter of getting used to the idea.

The second concern is easy. You can walk up to your cabinet while running a virtual amp and get
controlled feedback no differently than you did with the physical amp head. Sound is sound, and if you loop an action and it's effect, it will feed back.

Enter the world of virtual amps! Yes, they actually sound great and are a fraction of the price of physical amps. Some are even free! Not to mention that many guitarists in national bands use them in favor of traditional amps these days.

I've created a video below which contrasts virtual amps with physical amps. I've recorded myself playing the same riff on four different setups.

  1. Rocktron Maxe preamp>Peavey CS800 Power amp>Crate 4x12 cabinet
  2. Shred running on a laptop>Peavey CS800 Power amp>Crate 4x12 cabinet
  3. Line 6 POD HD500X Guitar Processor Pedal>Peavey CS800 Power amp>Crate 4x12 cabinet
  4. Guitar>Audio Interface>Directly into computer running Shred
Check it out and see if you can tell which are virtual and which are physical.

Speaking of free virtual amps, Mixcraft from Acoustica comes with a virtual amp call "Shred" which
has loads of presets meant to mimic specific tones from well known guitarists, or the tones that you used to only get by purchasing a specific physical amp or head. I actaully use Shred more than any other virtual amp I own.

A few key points to keep in mind about virtual amps

  • One suite (product) usually has dozens if not hundreds of combinations of heads, cabinets, microphones, etc. to choose from and customize , so the possibilities are just about endless.
  • Any virtual amp that comes in the form of a VST2 or VST3 plugin, 32 or 64 bit, will work right inside a daw like Mixcraft. Most do come in these formats, in fact I have yet to run across one that doesn't.
  • They weigh next to nothing and won't fill up your Ford Fiesta :-)
  • The cost is a fraction of hardware costs.

Here's a list of my favorite virtual amp plugins that will work with daws like Mixcraft.

Here are a bunch of cover songs which use only virtual amps. I love recording covers to teach myself new mixing techniques!

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