Like most guitarists, I’ve been searching for the perfect guitar sound from the time I first started playing the electric guitar. I started out with a tiny fender practice amp. I still have that amp, and it’s nice to have an amp that’s light and portable for practicing. However, as soon as I actually started performing and recording, I quickly discovered that little cheap amp just wasn’t going to work.
I eventually bought a Boss 1180CD digital recorder. It had some decent built-in guitar sounds. I used this to record my first rock CD. I wanted to make sure it really rocked, so I used plenty of distortion on the guitars-way too much distortion, and ended up with guitars that to my ears sound about as musical as chain saws.
Sometime later I purchased a Peavy Trans-Tube 212efx 100 watt amp, which uses a combination of tubes and transistors. I needed something big, but one that I could load in and out of my van without giving myself a hernia. It was a good sounding amp when I’d really crank it up. I’d record in my basement, which had absolutely no sound-proofing whatsoever. My family loved it! Great accompaniment when you’re trying to watch T.V.
I was pretty happy with the Peavy amp, but I’d always heard that if you were really serious about recording, you needed an all-tube amp. I just had to find out for myself. So eventually I purchased a 30 watt, all-tube amp. I did several recordings with this amp, but to my ears, it never sounded quite as good as the Peavy trans-tube I was using before. My recordings from that time period sound kind of bassy-too many low frequencies on the guitar, and not enough highs. That’s probably because a 30 watt all-tube guitar amp doesn’t really sound great until it’s turned up so loud that you’re either deaf or you shatter your windows.
Today I spent about 3 hours experimenting once again with electric guitar sounds, trying to find the sound I hear in my head. To my ears this is the same basic sound I’ve heard on numerous recordings by modern bands like Green Day, and classic bands like Boston and Rush. I was hoping to be able to get a good sound without having to buy yet another amp, and without having to turn up so loud that my family would throw me out of the house. I downloaded a free version, of the Amplitude 3 guitar amp simulator. It’s actually a piece of software that plugs into my recording program. Looking at the screen, it looks exactly like a guitar amplifier, with similar knobs that you’d find on a real guitar amp. It’s got controls for high’s, mid’s, and low frequencies, gain, re-verb and volume. You overdrive this amp the same way you would an actual amp, by cranking the gain up higher than the output volume. If it’s done right, this results in a smooth type of distortion that’s one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard.
I went through just about every preset on the amp, trying to find a sound that was at least close to what I was looking for. I figured I could always tweak it later as long as I found something close. The free version comes with 2 basic models of amps, an American, and a British model. I figured the American amp would be much closer, thinking it would probably sound quite a bit like a Marshall Stack. What I didn’t realize was that Marshall is actually a British company, and I found out that the British model was closer to what I was looking for.
I narrowed it down to 3 presets, and eventually down to one. I then made a few tweaks to the amp settings, as well as to my guitar, as well as to the A.R.T. pre-amp going from the guitar into the computer. I did some experiments recording pieces of my own songs, and songs like Rock And Roll Band, by Boston. The results were amazing. It sounded exactly like the sound I heard in my head. Honestly, I don’t hear the difference between this amp simulator and a real guitar amp. So for now, I think this will be my method of choice when I want to record a song that really rocks out.