Getting Started With Impulse Responses for Guitar

Impulse responses are often one of the most misunderstood tools that engineers and producers have at their disposal when it comes to recording guitars.  Much like the process of routing signal into your computer for the first time, getting started with impulse responses becomes second nature very quickly, and can give you some of the greatest sounds in the digital world.

Why are people afraid of impulse responses?

Some of the most common concerns we’ve heard are:

  • Are these made for Mac or PC?
  • Why do they come as .wav files?
  • What plug-in do I use these with?
  • Aren’t these just simulations like POD Farm?

Or the worst – I tried impulse responses and I just didn’t like how they sounded.

For beginners, these are all very valid concerns. Luckily, impulse responses are much simpler than many people give them credit for.

What is an impulse response?

An impulse response (IR, for short) is a sound measurement that takes into account the conditions around a guitar cabinet speaker, including the room, microphone and mic preamp. This information is stored in a .wav file to be loaded into a convolution plug-in.

An impulse response does NOT include the tonal characteristics of an amp head, which means gain & effects need to be applied using other tools. As far as the end-user (you & I) should be concerned, IRs should be replacing the cabinet in a traditional, live guitar setup.

Because impulse responses are stored as .wav files, they are universally compatible, relying on your computer and software for the heavy lifting.

What should I use to load my impulse responses?

There are no shortage of convolution reverbs and guitar-focused plug-in suites on the market today, so if you’ve got something that supports loading IRs, you’re already a step ahead of the game.

If not, we recommend starting with something that’s got an easy interface, such as Two Notes’ Torpedo Wall of Sound III. Torpedo Wall of Sound III is FREE for evaluation, making it perfect to learn on and try out impulse responses for the first time. It also comes with plenty of built in features including tube amp simulation and support for AU, AAX, RTAS, & VST.

KEEP IN MIND: Not all convolution plug-ins are going to have amp simulations or effects, which would likely make the impulse responses sound “dull” (imagine trying to play directly out of a speaker cabinet). This is possibly the most common reason engineers and producers get frustrated and give up on IRs; and it’s completely avoidable.

If you don’t have access to an amp simulator to run into your impulse responses, there are definitely some free and cheap ones out there with basic features. Another option is a more advanced technique where you can run an amp into your DAW/IR. RedWires did a great post about using live amps with impulse responses that’s a bit more detailed than we’ll get into if you’d like to check that out here.

Why do I need impulse responses when I’ve got an amp simulator?

Impulse responses are quickly becoming the gold standard for quality and accuracy. Amp simulators and emulators do a great job mimicking their real-life counter parts, but it’s not always 100%. By taking an exact chain including the placement of the microphone and every nuance from speaker to interface, you’re getting the real deal.

For beginners, this is great because you have access to the signal chain that the pros are using and can load them onto your tracks instantly. It cuts out a ton of steps versus micing a real amp, letting you record your music faster.

For those that have been using impulse responses a bit longer, it gives you a chance to maintain consistency between sessions since loading the IR for the 100th time will sound exactly the same as the first time you loaded it. Think of how easy that makes overdubs & redoing different parts!

Ready to try it out yourself?

Using impulse responses can be broken down into these easy steps:

  1. Open your session containing a DI guitar (you can also use a guitar tracked through your amp without a head using a load box)
  2. Run your guitar through any pre-cabinet chain you’d like to use in your amp sim (stomp-boxes, amps, etc)
  3. BE SURE your cabinet is turned off within the amp sim
  4. Load Wall of Sound III (or any other IR Loader) into the channel after your amp sim & before any other effects/plugins
  5. In Wall of Sound III, Select Menu>Select user impulse directory & navigate to the folder that stores your impulse response files
  6. Access all of your IRs stored in that folder on the left side of the plug-in under the “User” tab
  7. Experiment! You’ve loaded your impulse responses, and as long as you maintain the folder they’re stored in, the list should continue to update as your collection grows.

Before you go, don't pass up 5 Ways Impulse Responses Will Improve Your Workflow.

If you’re ready to take your guitar recordings to the next level, go pick up an evaluation copy of Torpedo Wall of Sound III & our latest pack of impulse responses now available at Joey Sturgis Tones. If you’ve got any questions on getting started, you can always reach out to us for assistance.