Learn Production | Warm Up Your Guitar-Amp Sim

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Guitar-amp simulation plug-ins have come a long way in the past few years, tone-wise. Many of the latest digital models from leading software manufacturers sound downright analog. But occasionally, even the best sim can impart an icy timbre to scorching guitar licks. Use these tips and techniques to thaw your frosty sims and bring your guitar tracks in from the cold.

Simply lowering your axe''s volume control can defrost an icy-sounding guitar patch. If you need more crunch or distortion, resist the natural inclination to crank your guitar''s volume pot wide open. Instead, boost the gain or drive control on the sim''s amp or distortion-pedal model to achieve the break-up you want.

Likewise, you don''t always need to adjust the input to the plug-in to achieve full-scale signal level. Set the input control to where the tone sounds best to your ear—even if the resulting waveform display looks wimpy in your DAW. And if your amp sim still has an arctic chill, try playing a little lighter or using a softer pick. An especially hard string pluck can produce a brittle-sounding note in the midst of an otherwise warm phrase.

Of course, in many cases you won''t want to adjust your playing style just to get a warmer tone. Keeping mental tabs on your playing techniques is a sure-fire buzz kill. Damn the torpedoes. Lay down the track, ice cubes and all, and warm up the recorded track afterward by using a select plug-in or two.

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Fig. 1. The McDSP Analog Channel AC202 plug-in emulates the warm sound of analog tape recorders.

Plug-ins that emulate analog tape recorders can help take the edge off cold and brittle guitar tracks by softening high-frequency transients and adding girth to the all-important midrange band. The two best-sounding plug-ins I''ve heard for this purpose are DUY DaD Tape and McDSP Analog Channel AC202 (see Figure 1).

Analog Channel AC202 offers the most control. Choose 7-1/2 ips tape speed and a vintage tape formulation for the thickest sound. You may need to select the IEC2 EQ curve and turn the rolloff knob completely counter-clockwise—rolling off highs aggressively—to de-ice the most bone-chilling track. Turning the Bias control clockwise from the noon position will intensify the high-frequency roll-off; turn it until edgy highs are softened to your liking.

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Fig. 2. Waves DeEsser dynamically softens high-frequency transients to take the edge off guitar-amp sims.

A de-esser can also be used to quell harsh transients that give amp sims a wintery chill. iZotope Alloy and Waves DeEsser both do a great job here (see Figure 2 on page 90). In Waves DeEsser, choose a highpass filter for the sidechain, set the corner frequency to about 5,500Hz, and toggle the Audio button to the Split setting. Using these settings, DeEsser will compress transients only in the high-frequency band above the natural cut-off for an analog guitar cabinet; lower frequencies will not be processed. Lower the threshold slider to the point where sharp string attacks trigger gain reduction but a note''s sustain doesn''t. Around 4 to 6dB of gain reduction should give your guitar track a summery tone.

Tape emulators and de-essers are generally the most transparent-sounding tools for warming gelid guitar-amp sims. That''s because they act dynamically, or only when high-frequency transients get unruly and need to be tamed. But in cases where a heavier hand is needed, you''ll need to use static equalization to microwave an ice-bound track.

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Fig. 3. SoundToys FilterFreak provides a variety of great-sounding filters.

If your track already has enough low-midrange content, a lowpass filter (LPF)—set to roll off highs above roughly 5kHz—should be all you need to keep out the cold. The SoundToys FilterFreak plug-in allows you to adjust the steepness of the filter''s slope (up to 48dB/octave!) by adjusting the Poles control to a higher number (see Figure 3). ''Bye-''bye, frigid high-frequency transients! As a bonus, the plug-in''s Analog Mode produces pleasing saturation that sounds great on electric guitar tracks.

Unfortunately, an LPF can sometimes make your guitar track sound too bass-heavy. If that''s the case, use FilterFreak''s bandpass filter instead. A bandpass filter cuts both highs and lows. What remains is the midrange band—where guitar tracks shine.

You can also create a bandpass filter by combining low- and highpass filters in the Softube Tonelux Tilt and Brainworx bx_cleansweep plug-ins. Tonelux Tilt emulates the subtle distortion produced by the Tonelux MP1a mic preamp''s transformer; it sounds positively outstanding on guitar-amp sims. bx_cleansweep sounds less colorful but gets the job done nicely. Download a fully authorized copy of bx_cleansweep for free at brainworx-music.de.