by Craig Anderton
When living in the world of guitars and amps, few things are more impressive than standing in front of a stack of cabinets. It’s not just about the visuals; multiple cabinets can add a tonal quality that’s impossible to duplicate in any other way. However, reality often intrudes in the form of how many physical stacks you can actually carry, hook up, and record (or play through live).
Fortunately, these days we don’t always have to live in the real world: We can live in a virtual one, and use amp sims to do our bidding. After all, one of the great advantages of amp sims is you can try out sounds that would be a hassle to set up physically—like stacking two (or more) different amps and cabinets, with different effects, and spreading them out in stereo.
If you record through a plug-in amp sim in your computer (in this case the track itself is dry, and the final sound results from the amp sim processing the dry track), you can duplicate the dry track and add another amp sim in parallel to stack the sound. But that means you don’t hear the stacked sound until after you’ve played your part, and it’s more fun to play through the stack, as it influences your playing.
You’ll want to split your guitar into at least two different paths to feed the different “stacks.” You can do this by inserting amp sims into two different tracks and setting each track’s input to the channel carrying the guitar, then monitoring the input signal through the computer (this function is typically called something like “input echo” or “live monitor”). This lets you hear the effects of any plug-ins. But that’s not always necessary; many amp sims can create parallel signal paths (that you can pan anywhere in the stereo field) all by themselves. Here are some screen shots that show how various programs handle parallel processing.
With IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube series, there are 8 routing options; routing 2 creates two separate, parallel chains.
Line 6’s POD Farm has a Dual button that creates two different signal chains, which essentially puts two POD Farms in parallel.
Peavey’s ReValver Mk III and Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig both offer “splitter” modules for their “virtual racks.” These let you split the input signal into two paths, where you can insert whatever amps, speakers, etc. you want. Then, the splits go into an output mixer for mixing and panning. (However, note that Guitar Rig lets you put splits within splits, whereas ReValver Mk III is limited to one split module per rack.)
The above setup uses Guitar Rig to emulate the sound of a guitar being split into two different amps and cabinets. The Split module sends the guitar through two chains, each of which contributes a different sound. Note how the Split Mix output can crossfade between the two channels and adjust the pan. Also, the B split has a phase switch.
Waves’ G|T|R has stereo amps, which provide the same basic function as stacked amps. However, if you want a parallel path where you can add effects and such independently to the two amps, then you’ll need to use two tracks, and two instance of G|T|R.
Here are some ways to use stacking in the studio.
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.