Physical Cabs and Electronic Amps Make a Sweet Combination
by Jon Chappell
Amp sims are sounding better and better, and the convenience of carrying around a bunch of amps and effects in a laptop is pretty compelling. Although a lot of guitar players still want to feel an amp, not just hear it, there’s an easy answer: Combine the physical and virtual versions.
Fig. 1: No law says you have to use an amp sim's cabient, and most sims let you bypass it.
To take the cabinet out of your amp sim, either bypass it (see Fig. 1), use a “DI” setting instead of a cabinet, or with some programs, simply don’t insert a cabinet in its “virtual rack.” Then, send the laptop’s audio interface output to a power amp and cabinet.
With a standard guitar amp, you may be able to patch into an effects loop return and bypass the preamp stage completely. However, the amp will still influence the sound, which may or may not be what you want. It might be better to power your cab with a clean power amp, like the kind used to power passive speakers, as this will reproduce your amp sim’s sound as faithfully as possible. Suitable models are available from QSC, Peavey, Yamaha, Phonic, Crown, Lab Gruppen, Mackie, Alto, etc.
Today’s power amps are light and compact, and while they don’t use tubes, your amp sim will be emulating the “tube sound” anyway. You may even be able to build the power amp in your cabinet, and basically use your laptop as a collection of amp heads. So not only will you get the sound you want, you’ll feel it!
Jon Chappell is a guitarist and Associate Editor at Harmony Central. He has contributed numerous musical pieces to film and TV, including Northern Exposure, Walker, Texas Ranger, All My Children, and the feature film Bleeding Hearts, directed by actor-dancer Gregory Hines. He is the author of The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Essential Scales & Modes (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular For Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).