Soft options for great tone
Software guitar amp/effect modelling is a serious business, with each manufacturer trying to outdo the rest when it comes to tone, features and feel. For players, this is great news: it means that you have a wide range of high quality VST, AU and RTAS plug-ins to choose from.
But which, ultimately, should you choose? It’s worth noting that many of the big DAWs now come with high-quality amp and effect sims, but if you do decide that you need to look beyond what you’re already got, you might require some guidance.
Enter MusicRadar’s latest poll: we asked you to nominate your favourite guitar amp/effect modelling plug-ins, and based on your nominations we drew up a shortlist. From this, we asked you to vote for a winner.
Now, with the results in, we can tell you what that winner is… and its identity might come as something of a surprise. We’re not just here to talk about one product though: read on for a rundown of the 11 best guitar amp/effect modelling plug-ins in the world today.
FIRST: Simulanalog Guitar Suite
Simulanalog Guitar Suite
It might not look like much – in fact, its interface basically comprises just a list of parameters and faders to adjust them – but Guitar Suite packs in more tone than its appearance and freeware status might make you suspect.
There are five stompbox emulations and two amps (modelled on the Fender Twin 1969 and Marshall JCM900 Dual Reverb). If you can live without a flashy GUI, it might be all you need.
DOWNLOAD: Simulanalog Guitar Suite
Studio Devil Amp Modeler Pro
Studio Devil made its name with the Virtual Guitar Amp, a simple valve amp sim that focused less on features than it did tone. Amp Modeler Pro ups the ante by offering not just valve preamp and power amp modelling, but also four stompbox-style effects, impulse-based cabinet emulations, a 7-band graphic EQ, 1-band parametric EQ, compressor, gate, echo, reverb and wah-wah.
Despite this broadened remit, Amp Modeler Pro still covers less ground than some of its rivals, but what is here sounds great. What’s more, everything is presented on a single, easily-tweakable screen.
Magix is perhaps best known for its entry-level music making software, but this guitar/bass amp sim actually made its debut in the company’s pro-grade Samplitude DAW. So, how does it fare when considered as a product in its own right?
Pretty well, it has to be said; a variety of virtual amps, cabs, miking configurations and effects is on offer, with the amp models being a particular highlight. The effects are more of a mixed bag, but low CPU usage and a simple interface pull things back in Vandal’s favour.
READ: Magix Vandal
TH2 might just be the best amp sim you’ve never heard of. It offers unofficial emulations of gear by Fender, Marshall, Mesa Boogie, Vox, Peavey and Soldano, and badged versions of kit from Randall, Brunetti and THD.
That’s a pretty impressive roll-call by anyone’s standards - TH2 is a tonally impressive and flexible beast that also comes with a good selection of effects (the spring reverb is particularly impressive). On the downside, we’ve heard better cab sims, but taken as a whole, TH2 is up there with the best of them.
READ: Overloud TH2 review
Waves knows plug-in effects better than most, and its GTR suite is of predictably high quality. 25 guitar amps, seven bass amps, 29 cabs and 26 stomps can all be used either within your DAW or standalone, and there are multiple mics and mic settings, too.
If you want the full GTR experience you can also buy the software in a bundle with the Waves Guitar Interface, which was co-created with PRS. This promises to get the best possible signal into your computer.
Originally developed by Alien Connections, ReValver is now wholly owned by Peavey. It’s a rack-based affair - you can re-order modules simply by dragging them, and they’re processed in series from top to bottom.
As you’d expect, the emulations of Peavey amps are top-notch, but you also get gear from other manufacturers (stompboxes and effects are included too). You should note, too, that ReValver can actually host VST effects, giving you almost infinite tone-shaping potential.
READ: Peavey ReValver Mk III
LePou guitar plug-ins
If you’re a regular reader of our free music software round-ups the LePou name will be familiar - the company seems to exist to create guitar amp and cab simulations that anyone can download for nothing.
Which is fine by us and, based on the feedback we’ve had from users, fine with you, too. Both PC and Mac plug-ins are available, so head over to the LePou website and have a browse.
DOWNLOAD: LePou guitar plug-ins
Line 6 POD Farm Platinum
Line 6 is rightly acclaimed as a digital amp modelling pioneer, and its flagship software product covers just about all the tonal bases you could wish for. An eye-catching interface makes it easy to browse the supplied amps, preamps, cabs and effects, and the signal path is shown visually.
POD Farm has the sounds to back up its looks, too - the clean tones are particularly impressive. The only stipulation is that you’ll have to buy either a Line 6 interface or an iLok to run the software, and if you use the latter, there’s no standalone operation.
IK Multimedia AmpliTube
The AmpliTube brand has become synonymous with high-quality software amp modelling, and with good reason. IK has worked hard to create a great-looking, meaty-sounding suite of stomps, effects, mics, cabs and amps (more than 160 components are included in AmpliTube 3), also releasing several spin-off editions (including versions for iOS devices).
If you’re an AmpliTube virgin, the good news is that you can now download a free version of AmpliTube 3, and this can host modules from the all-new Custom Shop. Rest assured that if you do choose IK’s software, you’ll never be short of tone-shaping options.
Native Instruments Guitar Rig
If you want a multitude of options for tweaking your tone, few products can compete with Guitar Rig. As well as offering a wide range of amps, cabs, effects and mics, the software also features a Control Room that enables you to specify exactly - and we do mean exactly - how you want your cab mics to be mixed.
The downside for some is that Guitar Rig can feel quite techy, and we’ve heard it said that its tone doesn’t quite match some of its rivals. But you certainly can’t argue with the software’s wide range of features, and if you’re a producer as well as a player, you’ll find many of them to be invaluable.
Kuassa Amplifikation One
Maybe that headline should read ‘Kuassa Amplifikation what!?’, for there’s a good chance that you’re not familiar with this amp, cab, distortion and mic emulator. Admittedly, some aggressive social media marketing has helped to push the software to the top of our chart, but we can assure you that this is a highly versatile plug-in that’s also easy to use and keenly priced.
When it comes to ‘feel’, Amplifikation One falls just short of its rivals, and it doesn’t quite have their organic tone, either. But at this price, it’s certainly worth considering: try the demo and decide for yourself whether or not Kuassa’s faith in its product is justified.