Recording electric guitar used to be a case of mic’ing up a guitar amp. And lots of guitars are still recorded this way. The problem is that it takes years to become proficient at capturing good sounds from a guitar amp through a microphone. Fortunately, for us mere mortals we have amp sims (guitar amplifier simulator software programs) to rescue us and get great tones going straight into our audio interfaces.
My recommendation for an amp sim is BIAS FX 2. It offers a great collection of tones, via supplied presets and others you can download from the online “Tone Cloud” sharing platform. Many of the amp and effects models in BIAS FX 2 are based on real amps and pedals, and it offers a near infinite collection of usable guitar sounds.
Advantages of amp sims
I love actual physical guitar amps – I own several. While I will always take a real physical amp to a band rehearsal or gig, in my home studio I record almost exclusively with amp sims. Some of my reasons for this are….
- Consistency – mic placement on a guitar amp is a real pain; even the tiniest adjustment in position can have a big effect on the captured sound
- Availability of sounds – amp sims give you lots of amp and effects models, many more than you could ever afford to buy individually
- Silent recording – a lot of real amps only start to sound good when you crank the volume; not an issue with amp sims as you’re plugged directly into your audio interface
- Tweakability – you are not stuck with the recorded sound; if you decide a sound isn’t quite right after you’ve recorded it you can change it right there in the software. With a real amp you are stuck with what you recorded
BIAS FX 2
BIAS FX 2 is the amp sim I have used the most. I find that it is easy to get great very usable sounds quickly. The amp and effects models are often based on real physical gear, and you can see which models are based on which gear on this page.
It is also not too hungry on computing resources. I regularly have 6-8 instances of BIAS FX running in my DAW in a project, and there is no noticeable impact on performance.
Another great feature of BIAS FX is the ToneCloud platform. This is an online resource, where anyone can share presets that they have made in BIAS FX. There are thousands of them available, and I have uploaded a few myself. There are some great sounds in there (there are some crap ones as well), but if you are looking for say a particular famous guitarist’s sound, you are sure to find something that will get you pretty close.
The two ways to use amp sims – plugin & standalone
You can either use amp sims as a plugin in a DAW, or in standalone mode. I use both, depending on what I’m doing.
- Plugin – this is how I record using amp sims. You add the amp sim as an effects plugin on a channel in your DAW, and you can use it to alter the sound much like using any other effects plugin in a DAW
- Standalone – this mode does not require any other software. You just start the amp sim up, and play through it just like a regular amp. This is what I do to practice guitar, particularly late at night through headphones when I don’t want to wake up the family playing through a real amp