Guitar plugins and VSTs, to many non-guitarist music producers, are used a lot more often than plugging into a real guitar amp.

There was a time when virtual guitars and bass amps were only used for demos, if even. There were frowned upon. MIDI guitars and bass just didn’t sound real. They sounded like, well, MIDI guitars and bass. Which is fine if you’re writing a dance track but terrible if you’re producing a rock record.

These days, there’s probably more virtual guitar and bass on mainstream radio than live instrumentation.

Although some producers still love to record guitar and bass amps, it’s much easier to do it through amp models. So, this begs the question, can guitar plugins replace real amps in recording music – the answer’s not surprising.

From Free Guitar Plugins To The Best Guitar Plugins, They Already Have

In the studio, guitar plugins have won. They are too easy to use, requiring nothing more than a few clicks.

There are certain kinds of music where the performers may insist on using real guitar and bass amps, and recording through a microphone going into the board. Rock bands, acoustic acts, and more live instrumentation-driven music may prefer this method.

But there are so many others who will insist on plugging directly in, and using a combination of guitar VSTs and amp modelers to achieve their desired sound.

In music like hip-hop, where there’s an eclectic mix of sounds that need to feature in the mix, a guitar or bass is only one of several sounds that need to fit. The performance must be captured as clear and dry as possible to allow for careful editing.

Therefore, to have more control over the sound of an electric guitar or bass, musicians must plug in. This way, you get a purer signal and then, applying a guitar amp model or bass amp model over that,  you receive a finished product that sounds amazing.

A lot of producers will say a guitar dry through an amp modeler is an identical sound, no different than if the instrument was recorded paired with the right guitar amp and then captured through a high-quality studio microphone.

Guitar Plugin Benefits: Ease, Portability & Quality

The benefits of guitar plugins and bass plugins, compared to plugging into an amp are clear.

It adds tremendous portability to what you can record, allowing you to do remote recording and recording with your laptop from anywhere.

There is also the ease of recording music direct into a laptop or computer, without having to worry about mic placement. No one is going to lug around a big amplifier just to record a guitar part or bass part. They’re either going to plug in directly or choose to use a virtual instrument to duplicate the sound, which is especially effective if it’s a bass part.

The quality cannot be ignored, either. As the algorithms have changed, guitar amp modelers, guitar VSTs, and effects processors sound better than they’ve ever been.

There’s almost no incentive to use a real amp, unless it’s to capture a live performance on the floor or onstage.

What Guitar Plugins Should I Use For My Recordings?

For the best guitar VSTs, there are many to try and each with their own advantages.

  • IK Multimedia AmpliTube 5 is an amp and pedal simulator with a massive collection of sounds to experiment with.
  • Positive Grid BIAS Amp 2 Elite has excellent core sounds, adjustable parameters, and allows you to customize your guitar sound according to how you like. The downside is it does not have any pedal simulators.
  • The Polyverse Wider is a stereo widener that is free and delivers amazing-quality sound with no phase issues.
  • The ML Sound Lab Amped is a simple amp simulator with solid core tones, dynamic responses, and a range of terrific presets.
  • The Valhalla Supermassive is a free delay/reverb guitar VST that is a must-have for any guitar player.
  • The Pulsar Echorec is a tape delay emulation plugin that really allows you to craft a unique sound for the instrument.

How Well Guitar Plugins Do In A Live Situation, i.e. Capturing A Live Recording

Will guitar plugins and amp models replace real amps on-stage? That’s a more difficult question.

The only guitars and basses being played in contemporary live music scenes rely predominantly on chemistry among musicians, either in rock, blues, jazz, country, or whatever the genre.

In some styles played live, real amps sound better. This is why Beyonce will still frequently use a band live to back her up despite the fact that she could perform all of her music to a backing track and it would make her audience just as happy.

So in a live setting, we’ll say that this might be where real amps still have their domain. They’re loud. They’re powerful. They can also be relied upon far more than software. A simple software glitch can ruin a performance. When all you have is your instrument and a speaker though, that’s a lot easier to control while performing.

Have You Tried Guitar Plugins, VSTs, & Amp Modelers? Let Us Know What You Think!

In the studio, the war has pretty much been won and it’s in favor of guitar plugins and amp models.

In the same way, no one is lugging around analog EQs, reverbs, and filters, you don’t need a real amp to craft a hit song.

Technology has progressed to the point where you can have an entire acoustic drum kit installed in your workstation, craft a bass line by inputting it through your keyboard, and plug in the guitar direct to cover some of those frequencies.

It’s easier to create a song using a two-input audio interface than it is to set up an amp and work tirelessly to achieve the sound you want.

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