Since the very first time I tried the Line 6 Amp Farm TDM amplifier simulation plug-in back in the late 90's, there has been a place in my heart for amp sims. Sadly Amp Farm never made the transition to AAX but love them, or hate them, there is something to be said for keeping it all in the box. This style of plug-in has come a very long way to the point where a good number of producers and guitarists will not bother to put a microphone in front of a real guitar amp and many say they can't tell the difference between a good amp sim and the real thing. This is our list of the top 10 guitar amp emulation plug-Ins you should try on your mixes.
Avid Eleven MKII
I love the Avid Eleven MKII plug-in. It's easy to use sounds great and gives even the most tone hungry guitar player plenty to tweak to get their tone just the way they like it. Eleven (11) gives 33 amp head variations including Marshall Plexi 50 and 100-watt models, the stunning sounding SL (Soldano) Lead 100 and M2 (Boogie MK2) for all your screaming lead sounds. There are 15 different speaker cabinet models and 8 different microphone emulation either on or off axis. There are no built-in effects to get it the way. Eleven MkII is all about the guitar, the amp, the cab and the mic. Simple as that.
As a Pro Tools user, I am quite happy with the Eleven MK2 plug-in being AAX native and DSP only but it's a shame that users of other DAW applications are not able to enjoy a virtual amp that goes all the way up to 11.
Over the years we have produced quite a lot of Eleven and Eleven Rack content and you can check out some of our Premium Tutorial Content below which might give you some idea of how to tweak your patches to better your tone.
The team at Universal Audio are leading the way when it comes to authentic models of classic studio hardware. Well, the same can also be said for classic and vintage (yes there is a difference) guitar amps and cabinets. Universal Audio along with partners Brainworx have recreated some of the most desirable amp and cab combinations giving us everything from the super clean and warm tones of the Fender 55 Tweed Deluxe to the screaming overdrive tones from the Engl E656 VS and everything in between from the Friedman Buxom Betty. If you're after authentic tone and you are a UAD-2 DSP platform user then you really should check out UA's range of guitar amp models.
You can check out some of our more recent Universal Audio guitar amp reviews below and full product demonstrations are also available from the Universal Audio website.
Slate Digital make some damn fine plug-ins, but they have not created a guitar amp and effects simulation. Instead, what they have chosen to do is to add the Schuffham S-Gear guitar sim to their Everything Bundle. To me, this speaks volumes about just how good S-Gear sound. The amp, cab and effects sound very smooth and react in a way that guitar players are familiar with. The choice of amp heads and cabs is far from exhaustive but I have found it possible to dial in most of the more commonly used tones, from a bright clean tone, with, or without chorus and delay to rich crunch and drive tones that brake up in all the right places to smooth distortions to raging high gain lead tones. S-Gear has got it where it counts.
You can check out our review of the Scuffham S-Gear in the video below.
Softube Amp Room, Vintage Amp Room & Metal Amp Room
There are 4 models in the Amp Room range. There is Amp Room, Vintage Amp Room, Metal Amp Room and Bass Amp Room. These plug-ins are getting on a little bit so you might take a look at the GUI and think that this is not for me but Vintage Amp Room and Bass Amp Room are some of my studio secret weapons when it comes to beefing up guitar tones. OK, so primarily these plug-ins are a vehicle to get some room tone into your sterile DI guitar parts, but they work very well as stand-alone (inside your DAW) guitar amp sims. The controls are simple, yet powerful and the ability to just grab the mic stand and move it around is very cool and really does change the tone in a very positive way.
You can check out what Russ Hughes likes about the Softube Amp Room in his video review below.
Blue Cat Destructor
I don't think the team at Blue Cat Audio set out for Destructor to be a guitar amp sim, it's not what they are known for. But in creating this amazing filter and distortion engine they found that that had created an amazing over the top sounding guitar distortion and effects processor. So while Destructor is not an amp sim as such, if you pair it up with a clean amp tone to give you the guitar feel Destructor is going allow you to create something off the chart nasty while keeping control. It's is very easy to use and manipulate and the Destruction module in the centre of the plug-in is a very cool way to view what you are doing the sound you inputting. As I said before, this is not just a guitar processor, it's so much more. Destructor is an overload of filth, in a plug-in.
You can check out Dan Cooper's first look at the Blue Cat Destructor or check out Blue Cat Audio's demo video below.
Avid SansAmp PSA-1
OK so you might think I'm stretching the amp emulation title a little bit by including the Avid SansAmp PSA-1 plug-in in this list, but it is probably, for the Pro Tools users anyway the first plug-in we ever used to create a dirty guitar tone from a DI guitar part. I can say with some pride that I owned a hardware Tech 21 SansAmp PSA-1 and used it on stage for 3 tours and the plug-in sounds every bit as good as the hardware, without the hardware power supply issues. This plug-in allows you to dial in many different styles of distortion, from Buzz to Punch and Crunch, these parameters all impart a different type of drive and distortion. OK, so there are no other effects, or cabinet or mic emulation but sometimes, less truly is more. Remember also if you will that distortion is not just for guitars. Try putting PSA-1 on your vocal delays or backing vocals to give them some grit. The PSA-1 is also great on bass guitar too.
You can check out Russ Hughes tutorial on how to get the best out of the SansAmp PSA-1 plug-in below.
Brainworx bx_rockrack V3 Player
When not creating guitar amp emulations for the UAD-2 platform the team at Brainworx are busy creating native guitar amp plug-ins in the form of the bx_RockRack and the FREE bx_RockRack Player.
This free to download guitar amp sim contains 26 amazing sounding presets based on a Marshall JCM800 which in my opinion is the amp of 70's and 80's rock. The presets are fixed and can not be edited other than to change their input or output levels, but hey, what do you expect, after all, it's free.
Check out the bx_RockRack V3 Player in Brainworx demo video below.
Also, check out our Free Video Tutorial on using the full version of BX RockRack for big guitar sounds.
Peavey ReValver 4
If you like it heavy then Peavey ReValver 4 could be for you. With ReValver Peavey introduced the idea of taking the tone tweaking to the next level. There are a lot of parameters here. If you want to change the preamp and power amp tubes (valves) you can do, to satisfie even the biggest tone heads.
One thing this amp sim does very well is model, or you could even say clone Peavey's own amps including the super high gain 5150 and 6505 models. So let the guitar strap down low, put on something seriously heavy and play as fast as your pick will let you.
Check out Peavey's demo for ReValver 4 below.
Positive Grid Bias Amp 2
When Bias Amp came out I jumped on board. This is what I had dreamed guitar amp sims could be. Now Positive Grid offers us Bias Amp 2. This is tone super tweaking on a new level. Choose your amp head, adjust the preamp changing the tubes, sorry valves if you want to. Next adjust the tone stack, all the time keeping your ears on the prize that is the perfect tone for your track. Now add the power amp section, speaker cab and mics EQ and you have what I think is about as good as it gets right now in a software guitar amp emulation. It has to be said that with all this detail comes a greater level of complexity as compared to say the Eleven or the SansAmp plug-ins but that is not to say that Bias Amp 2 is tricky or hard to use, it is just more involved and not quite so instant. But if the tone is your thing, then this one is a must to try.
Check out the full Positive Grid demo of Bias Amp 2 below with our old buddy and Eleven Rack demonstrator from back in the day Sean Halley.
Overloud TH3 Full
TH3 from Overloud is for me one of the most instantly gratifying amp sims available. The presets are stunning, not just basic amp tones or the completely over the top ones covered in effects. I plugged in and instantly I was on stage blowing a solo in a big room or hall. TH3 is also the only amp sim in our top 10 which allows you to easily have dual guitar amp rigs for true stereo guitar tones.
TH3 comes with 203 models including 69 guitar amps and 3 bass amps, 37 speaker cabinets (2 bass cabs), 75 pedals and rack effects and 18 microphones. There are also over 1000 presets with one of the best preset library selection systems I have ever used.
Check out Overloud's TH3 demo in the video below.
We really hope you have enjoyed our top 10 guitar amp emulations. If you have any others to add to our list please let us know in the comments below.