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Music

Capturing Lifelike Guitar Sounds Without Microphones: Part 2

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In the previous tutorial I showed you how Impulse Responses (IRs) have revolutionised the world of recording over the past 20 years. What started out as a way of creating authentic reverbs by modelling physical spaces has diversified significantly.

They're increasingly relevant to guitarists, as IRs are used in studios to replicate the sounds of speaker cabinets, and indeed, whole recording chains. They're quick, simple to use, readily available and significantly cheaper than their hardware counterparts.

Let’s look at how this is typically achieved.

Hardware or Software

Hardware

By this I’m referring to using an amp, or perhaps even just a pedal, as there are an increasing number of ‘amp-in-a-box’ pedals available. Perhaps it’s an advanced modelling unit, such as the Line6 Helix, or Fractal Audio’s AxeFX.

If it’s the amp, check to see if it can handle silent recording. This is an amp with a built-in loading facility so it doesn’t require speakers. If the amp doesn’t do this, you must either connect some speakers to it, or use a reactive load box. Failure to do either could result in permanent damage to the amp.

If it’s anything other than an amp, you can connect it straight to your DAW’s interface.

Software

If you don’t have an amp, or don’t want to use it, everything can be done ‘in the box’. Some DAWs, such as Logic Pro X, come with a built-in amp simulator. Failing that, there are a number of great plugins, such as Positive Grid’s BIAS FX. I use some of the amps from Brainworx, as they’re highly detailed.

Some software, such as the amp sims from Kuassa, come with the facility to load IRs. If it doesn’t, make sure that any cabinet emulation can be disabled, as you’re going to use an IR loader.

IR Loader

This is either hardware or software to house and run the IRs accordingly. One of the most ubiquitous pieces of hardware currently is the Torpedo Studio from Two Notes.

If you’re working ‘in the box’, software IR loaders are available. There are some free ones but I chose to buy Impulsive from 3Sigma Audio, as it has a greater range of controls, plus the ability to load more than one IR simultaneously. This latter feature allows you to blend cabinets.

Once you’re all set up, you can audition sounds before or after recording. This is especially useful as your mix evolves, and will avoid having to re-record parts just to make them fit in.

A Choice Of Speakers

Some IR loaders come with some free IRs, and you can also find some collections via an internet search.

But, if you’re prepared to spend a relatively small amount of money, you can purchase some high quality IRs, and that’ll really make a difference to your recordings.

Celestion is a world-famous manufacturer of speakers, particularly when it comes to guitar. In an extremely forward-thinking move, they’re now offering their speakers as IRs.

Lots of companies also offer models of Celestion speakers, as well as those of other manufacturers. I’ve found the IRs from 3Sigma Audio and Ownhammer to be particularly good.

So IRs are great for recording, but the really exciting aspect is their usage in the live environment.

Going Electric

Whether you’re playing to thousands all over the world, or just the occasional pub gig of a weekend, your set-up’s always a balancing act between the gear you’ve got, the sounds you want, and physically transporting it to and from the venue. 

Unless you’re a touring juggernaut like U2, you’re unlikely to take large amounts of equipment with you, so you have to design a portable rig.

Consequently, more guitarists are starting to come around to the idea of using modelling equipment and IRs, especially if the equipment’s expensive, rare or even vintage.

Many have embraced Kemper

Just like IRs, Kemper developed a way of modelling the characteristics of any physical amp with extraordinary clarity. Touring guitarists often model their favourite amps, allowing them to take their cherished sounds on the road whilst leaving the amps safely at home. Kemper even now do an amp head version, meaning that no additional power amp’s required.

Kemper, and others like it, allow you to load IRs or use the onboard ones. These are great pieces of kit but, unsurprisingly, are far from cheap.

Pedalboard

Thankfully, pedalboard-friendly products are starting to appear with some less than a tenth the price of pro kit such as Kemper.

For example, the Ampli-Firebox from Atomic is a preamp that can sit at the end of the pedalboard and plug straight into a PA via XLR connections. It not only emulates amplifiers, but hosts its own IRs, as well as third-party ones.

An even cheaper but no less exciting option is the Mooer Radar. This is an IR loader in a compact pedal format. Like the Ampli-Firebox, it comes with its own IRs, and will host others. This pedal would therefore allow you to connect the preamp of choice.

You could therefore have a complete rig on your pedalboard without any need for a physical guitar amp. You would of course need some sort of monitoring, however, in order to hear yourself. In any case, this is an ideal set-up for the travelling guitarist.

Acoustic

In the previous tutorial I showed you the difficulties of recording an acoustic guitar with microphones, in terms of consistency of tone, and so on. Thankfully, IRs now give us a very usable solution.

3Sigma Audio offer IRs of acoustic instruments, so not just guitars, but mandolins and even strings such as the cello. You can therefore record your guitar direct, using its onboard piezo pickup, and then overlay the IR of a mic’d guitar. Furthermore, thanks to a pedal such as Mooer’s Radar, you could do that live. No more quacky piezo.

Conclusion

The world of IRs represents some real advantages to both recording and touring guitarists. If you’ve not tried them, I encourage you to do so, as they allow you to:

  • Leave your gear at home
  • Access sounds from equipment at a fraction of the cost
  • Audition tones before and after recording
  • Get great reliable sound without microphones
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