The Complete Guide to Guitar Amp Simulators




Guitar Amp Simulators

In the world of music production, the quest for the perfect guitar tone is a never-ending pursuit. Guitarists and producers alike are constantly striving to capture that timeless, iconic sound that can only be achieved through a real guitar amp. However, lugging around heavy, expensive gear to every recording session or live performance can be quite cumbersome. This is where guitar amp simulators come in.

An amp sim is a piece of software or hardware that emulates the sound and behavior of a real guitar amplifier. It allows musicians and producers to create authentic tones without the need for physical amps, mics, and cabinetry. By using advanced digital algorithms, these simulators mimic the unique characteristics of various types of amplifiers, speaker cabinets, and even microphone placements, providing users with an extensive range of virtual gear options. 

Whether you’re a bedroom guitarist looking to experiment with different amp tones or a professional producer trying to streamline your recording process, a guitar amp simulator can be a game-changer. It offers convenience, versatility, and limitless possibilities in sculpting the perfect guitar sound for any musical genre or style.

What is a guitar amp simulator and Why Use One? 

Amp sims is a piece of software or hardware that replicates the sound and characteristics of a real guitar amplifier. It allows musicians to achieve the same tonal qualities and effects as they would get from playing through a physical amp but without the need for expensive equipment or excessive volume levels.

These sims offer various presets and customizable settings that can emulate different types of amplifiers and cabinets, giving users the flexibility to create their desired sound. They often include options to adjust parameters like gain, tone, and reverb, allowing for fine-tuning and experimentation.

Additionally, amp sims typically offer the ability to record directly into a computer or audio interface, making them a convenient tool for home recording and digital music production. Overall, they provide a cost-effective and versatile solution for guitarists who want to explore different amp sounds and capture high-quality recordings. 

Benefits of Using a Guitar Amp Simulator

There are a ton of benefits to using a simulator rather than a traditional amp. I’ve outlined the top 10 in the section below.

  1. Cost savings: Sims are typically cheaper than purchasing a physical guitar amplifier. They eliminate the need for additional cables, microphones, and other equipment, saving you money in the long run.
  2. Portability: With a simulator, you can take your entire collection of amp models and effects wherever you go. They can be easily installed on a computer or mobile device, allowing you to play and practice wherever you are.
  3. Versatility: There is a wide range of amp models and effects, allowing you to experiment with different tones and styles. You can easily switch between different virtual amps, cabinets, and effects to create the sound you desire.
  4. Recording convenience: Sims can be directly connected to your recording software, eliminating the need for extra microphones or complicated setups. This makes it easier and more convenient to record your guitar tracks at home or in a studio.
  5. Silent practice: Amp simulators often come with a headphone output, allowing you to practice silently without disturbing others. This is especially useful for late-night practice sessions or when living in an apartment or shared space.
  6. Easy customization: Unlike physical guitar amps, amp simulators can be easily customized and adjusted to suit your preferences. You can tweak the amp settings, add or remove effects, and adjust parameters to create your own unique sound.
  7. Learning tool: Guitar amp sims often come with built-in features that can help you improve your playing skills. Some simulators offer metronomes, backing tracks, and recording capabilities, making it easier to practice and track your progress.
  8. Consistency: With a guitar amp simulator, you can achieve consistent sound quality regardless of the venue or location. This is particularly useful for live performances, as you can bring your virtual amp setup and recreate your familiar tone on stage.
  9. Noise reduction: Amp sims can help reduce background noise and interference, offering a cleaner and clearer sound. This can be especially beneficial in environments with a lot of electrical interference or when using high-gain settings.
  10. Software updates: Many of these programs receive regular updates and improvements from the developers, providing new amp models, effects, and features. This allows you to continually expand and enhance your virtual amp collection at no additional cost. 

How Guitar Amp Simulators Work

Software-based amp simulators are digital recreations of real guitar amplifiers and speaker cabinets. They aim to replicate the sound and feel of playing through a physical amplifier, often emulating specific models or offering a range of generic amp tones. These amp simulators can be used in both recording and live performance settings.

There are two common types of software-based amp simulators: plugins and standalone applications.

1. VST Plugins: VST (Virtual Studio Technology) is the most common plugin format for amp simulators. These plugins can be used within digital audio workstations (DAWs) like Ableton Live, Logic Pro, or Pro Tools. They offer a wide range of customization options and usually include virtual stompbox effects, cabinets, and microphone simulations.
2. Audio Unit (AU) Plugins: Audio Unit is a plugin format designed for macOS and can be used with DAWs like Logic Pro. AU plugins offer similar functionality to VST plugins but are specifically designed for the macOS environment.

Standalone applications

1. Standalone: These applications can be used independently without any DAW. They often come with a graphical user interface that mimics the physical layout of an amplifier. Standalone applications are suitable for live performances or practice sessions where you don’t need to use a full recording setup.

2. Integrated: Some guitar amp manufacturers provide standalone software applications that accompany their hardware amplifiers. These applications allow you to control and tweak the parameters of the hardware amplifier via your computer, enhancing the overall amp experience.
Notable examples of software-based amp simulators include:

1. Guitar Rig by Native Instruments
2. Amplitube by IK Multimedia
3. Bias FX by Positive Grid
4. Helix Native by Line 6
5. ReValver by Peavey
6. Overloud TH-U by Overloud
7. S-Gear by Scuffham Amps
8. Neural DSP Plugins
9. Waves GTR
10. Softube Amp Room

Each software-based amp sims has its own unique features, tone options, and user interface. Some have a free version and some are quite expensive. Blue Cat has a free amp sim that is great for beginners. It’s important to experiment and find the one that suits your needs and preferences best.  

Top Guitar Amp Simulator Software

Now that you know a little about sims, let’s dive into some of the most popular software programs and sims that are currently available in 2023.

iK Multimedia AmpliTube Tone X

The iK Multimedia AmpliTube Tone X is a software that emulates the sound and characteristics of various guitar amplifiers and effects pedals. It allows users to recreate the sounds of famous guitar rigs and experiment with different amp and pedal combinations.

AmpliTube5 offers a wide range of features such as a customizable interface, realistic amplifier modeling, effects and signal chain customization, and a variety of presets for different musical styles. It is commonly used by musicians, producers, and guitar enthusiasts as a tool for recording, practice, and live performances. 

Scuffham S-Gear 2.9

The Scuffham S-Gear 2.9 simulator is a digital guitar amplifier and effects software. It is designed to replicate the sound and response of real analog guitar amplifiers and effects pedals. This simulator allows guitarists to plug their electric guitars directly into their computer and access a wide range of realistic amp tones and effect sounds.

The S-Gear 2.9 simulator offers a variety of amp models, including clean, crunch, and high-gain options. Each amp model is meticulously crafted to replicate the characteristics and tonal nuances of famous vintage and modern amplifiers. Additionally, the simulator provides a selection of high-quality effects pedals, such as overdrive, distortion, delay, reverb, and modulation effects.

One of the key features of the S-Gear 2.9 simulator is its dynamic response. It aims to replicate the feel and touch sensitivity of playing through a real tube amplifier. This means that the sound and response will change depending on your playing style, from light picking to heavy strumming. The simulator also offers a range of tweakable parameters, allowing users to fine-tune the amp and effect settings to their liking.

The S-Gear 2.9 simulator can be used standalone as a recording tool or live performance solution. It also supports integration with popular digital audio workstations (DAWs) to use it as a plugin within a larger recording or mixing setup.

Overall, the Scuffham S-Gear 2.9 simulator provides guitarists with a versatile and realistic virtual amplifier and effects experience, allowing them to achieve professional-grade guitar tones without the need for expensive hardware.

UAD Fender 55 Tweed

I personally like the UAD Fender 55 Tweed because of its authentic vintage tone and feel. The Fender 55 Tweed accurately captures the warm and gritty sound of a classic Fender Tweed amplifier, allowing me to recreate that vintage guitar tone in my recordings. The amp’s dynamic response and touch sensitivity make it feel like I’m playing through a real tube amplifier, giving me the same level of control and interaction with my instrument.

Additionally, the UAD Fender 55 Tweed’s built-in effects and adjustable settings allow me to further shape and customize my sound, making it a versatile and powerful tone tool in my studio.

Overall, the UAD Fender 55 Tweed is a fantastic amplifier plugin that brings the iconic Fender Tweed tone to my recordings with incredible realism and musicality. 

Native Instruments Guitar Rig 6

The Simulator from Native Instruments Native Instruments offers several guitar amp simulator plugins, including the Guitar Rig Pro software. This software allows users to emulate the sound and characteristics of various guitar amplifiers, cabinets, and effects pedals within a digital audio workstation (DAW) environment.

The Guitar Rig Pro software features a vast collection of different amps, cabs, and effects, allowing guitarists and producers to create a wide range of tones and textures. It includes classic vintage amp models, modern high-gain options, and everything in between. The software also offers a variety of microphone models and positioning options to further shape the sound.

Users can also add additional effects like distortion, delay, reverb, and modulation to further sculpt their guitar tone. The software allows for precise control over parameters such as gain, tone, and volume, allowing users to fine-tune their sound.

Kuassa Cerberus Bass Amp Simulator 

The Kuassa Cerberus Bass Amp Simulator is a software plugin designed to accurately emulate the sound and characteristics of vintage bass amplifiers. It is developed by Kuassa, a renowned audio software company.

The Cerberus Bass Amp Simulator offers a wide range of features and controls to help musicians achieve the exact tone they desire. It includes three distinct amplifier models, each based on classic bass amp designs. These models are known for their unique tonal characteristics and are highly regarded in the music industry.

The plugin provides a comprehensive set of controls, such as gain, bass, mid, treble, and presence knobs to fine-tune the sound. It also includes a built-in compressor and a flexible cabinet simulation section, allowing users to further shape the tone and create a realistic bass amp experience.

One of the standout features of the Cerberus Bass Amp Simulator is its versatility. It can be used as a standalone virtual bass amplifier or as an effect in a digital audio workstation (DAW). This means that users can easily record and manipulate their bass tracks directly within their preferred recording software.

The Cerberus Bass Amp Simulator also supports a wide range of digital formats, such as VST, AU, and AAX, ensuring compatibility with popular DAWs and operating systems.

Neural DSP

The Neural DSP Simulator is a software application that emulates the sound and characteristics of various guitar amplifiers, effects pedals, and cabinets. It is designed to provide guitarists and musicians with a high-quality virtual guitar rig that can be used within a digital audio workstation (DAW) or as a standalone application.

The simulator uses advanced algorithms and modeling techniques to recreate the sonic characteristics of specific guitar gear, allowing users to customize their tone by choosing different amplifiers, pedals, and cabinets. It offers a wide range of options, including classic vintage amps, modern high-gain monsters, and boutique pedals. Additionally, it provides a variety of microphone options and recording techniques to capture the desired sound.

The Neural DSP simulator also offers features like impulse response (IR) loading, which allows users to import custom cabinet IRs to further enhance the tone. It supports MIDI control, allowing users to automate and control parameters using external MIDI devices. It also includes other features like noise gates, a tuner, and a range of post-processing effects.

With its realistic sound and extensive customization options, the Neural DSP simulator is highly regarded by guitarists and audio professionals alike. It provides a convenient and cost-effective solution for achieving professional-quality guitar tones in the digital realm. 

LePou Plugins

LePou Plugins are a group of virtual guitar amplifier and effect plugins created by French developer, Poulin. These plugins are designed to simulate the sound and characteristics of real guitar amplifiers and effects pedals.

They are widely used by musicians and producers around the world for recording and live performances. The LePou Plugins offer a wide range of options and customization, allowing users to achieve various tones and styles. Some popular LePou Plugins include LeXtac, LeGion, and LeCab. The plugins are available for free download on the developer’s website.

Line 6 Pocket POD Guitar Amp Emulator

The Line 6 Pocket POD Guitar Amp Emulator is a compact and portable guitar amp emulation piece that allows guitarists to achieve a wide range of tones and effects. It is designed to mimic the sound and feel of traditional guitar amplifiers but in a smaller and more convenient package.

The Pocket POD features over 300 presets, covering a variety of iconic guitar tones. These presets can be easily accessed and tweaked using the unit’s intuitive interface and LCD display. Guitarists can also create and store their own custom presets, allowing for endless possibilities when it comes to finding the perfect sound.

In addition to the amp modeling, the Pocket POD also includes a range of built-in effects such as delay, reverb, chorus, and more. These effects can be used to enhance and shape the guitar tone, adding depth and dimension to the sound.

One of the standout features of the Pocket POD is its portability. It can be easily carried in a gig bag or backpack, making it ideal for practicing on the go or for musicians who frequently travel. It can be powered by batteries, an AC adapter, or via USB, providing versatility and convenience.

Zoom G3 Guitar Effects and Amp Simulator

Last but not least, the Zoom G3 Guitar Effects and Amp Simulator is a versatile and powerful tool for guitarists. It is capable of emulating over 100 different amps, cabinets, and effects, allowing users to create a wide range of tones and sounds.

The G3 features three large LCD displays that provide a clear and intuitive interface for accessing and adjusting the various parameters. It also has 94 built-in stompbox effects, such as distortion, modulation, delay, and reverb, to enhance and shape the guitar’s sound.

One of the standout features of the G3 is its ability to run up to six different effects simultaneously, with three available patches that can be easily switched on the fly. This allows guitarists to create complex and layered sounds without needing multiple pedals.

The G3 also has a built-in expression pedal that can be used to control various parameters in real-time, such as volume, wah-wah, or pitch shifting. This adds another level of versatility and expressiveness to the player’s performance.

In addition to its effects and amp sims, the G3 also functions as a USB audio interface, allowing seamless integration with recording software. It also has a built-in drum machine and tuner, making it a valuable tool for practice and performance.

Setting up and Using a Guitar Amp Simulator 

Here’s a step-by-step guide on setting up and using a guitar amp simulator:

  1. Connect your guitar to your audio interface: Use a standard instrument cable to connect your guitar to the input of your audio interface. Make sure to check the input settings on your audio interface to ensure it’s set for guitar-level signals.
  2. Install and launch the amp simulator software: If you’re using a software-based amp simulator, download and install the program on your computer. Launch the software once it’s installed.
  3. Set up your audio interface: Connect your audio interface to your computer using a USB cable or any other compatible connection. Ensure that your audio interface is selected as the input and output device in your computer’s audio settings.
  4. Configure the amp simulator settings: In the amp simulator software, you’ll find numerous options to adjust your guitar tone. This typically includes choosing amp models, speaker cabinets, and effects. Experiment with different settings to find the desired sound. Many amp simulators also provide the ability to edit parameters like gain, tone, and volume.
  5. Select the appropriate input and output: Within the amp simulator software, set the input to your audio interface input channel where you’ve connected your guitar, and set the output to your desired audio device, such as headphones, studio monitors, or speakers.
  6. Fine-tune your tone: Depending on the amp simulator software you’re using, you may have additional controls to further refine your tone. These can include adjusting EQ settings, adding modulation or time-based effects, and shaping your sound using a virtual pedalboard.
  7. Check latency: Latency refers to the delay between playing your guitar and hearing the sound through your setup. Use the lowest possible buffer size on your audio interface to minimize latency. If you notice any noticeable delay, you may need to adjust your audio interface settings or invest in a lower-latency audio interface.
  8. Record or play live: Once your amp simulator is set up and your tone is dialed in, you can start recording your guitar directly into your recording software or play live through your monitors or headphones.

Remember, amp simulator software and hardware options vary, so make sure to refer to the user manual or online resources specific to the equipment you’re using for more detailed instructions. Additionally, be open to experimenting with different settings and exploring the various amp models and effects to find your own unique sound.

Tips and Tricks for Optimizing Guitar Amp Simulation

While each simulator is slightly different, there are tips and tricks that work for all of them. 1. Read the instructions: Before starting the simulator, always read the instructions or user manual thoroughly. Make sure you understand the basics of navigating, controlling, and operating the simulator.

  1. Start with the basics: If you are new to simulators, begin with the basic training exercises or tutorials. This will help you become familiar with the controls and the simulator’s functions.
  2. Practice regularly: Like any skill, regular practice is key to improving your performance. Dedicate a specific time to practice on the simulator, whether it’s a flight simulator, driving simulator, or any other type. Consistency will help you build muscle memory and improve your skills.
  3. Set specific goals: Identify specific areas that you want to work on and set goals for yourself. 
  4. Use the simulation settings: Many simulators allow you to adjust the difficulty level or customize certain settings. Utilize these features to match your skill level or challenge yourself as you progress. Adjusting settings such as weather conditions, vehicle performance, or AI opponents can enhance the realism and tailor the experience to your preferences.
  5. Learn from your mistakes: When you make errors or fail in the simulator, take the opportunity to analyze what went wrong and learn from it. Understanding your mistakes will help you improve your skills and avoid making the same errors in the future.
  6. Seek out tutorials and guides: Look for online tutorials, forums, or guides specific to the simulator you are using. These resources can provide valuable tips, tricks, and insights from experienced users that can help you improve your performance.
  7. Pay attention to feedback: Many simulators provide feedback on your performance, such as scoring systems, performance metrics, or instructor commentary. Pay attention to this feedback to identify areas where you can improve and make adjustments accordingly.
  8. Experiment and explore: Don’t be afraid to experiment with different settings, scenarios, or techniques. Exploring different options within the simulator can help you discover new strategies or improve your overall understanding of the simulation.
  9. Stay engaged and have fun: While simulators can be used for serious training or practice, don’t forget to enjoy the experience. Stay engaged, immerse yourself in the simulation, and have fun while learning and improving your skills. 

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Edward Bell Author

A ukulele player pretty much from birth, Edward has gone on to play banjo, lead guitar, and bass for a number of bands and solo projects! Edward loves talking, teaching and writing about music!

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