Impulse Responses: Your Quick Start Guide

Looking to unlock your in-the-box guitar tones by adding impulse responses (IRs), but not really sure where to get started? Fear no more! This guide will serve as your step-by-step tutorial on loading IRs into your session and how you can find the perfect IR for your song.

There are two major ways to load impulse responses into a session: the traditional way, using a dedicated IR loader, or the newer approach by loading directly into a virtual guitar rig like Toneforge.

Both ways have their benefits and drawbacks. A dedicated IR loader usually has a lower impact on your computer’s processing power, simply because it’s not as feature heavy as a full guitar rig plugin. It’s also a better solution if you’re recording a guitar amp with a load box outside of your DAW without a cabinet. For more on using IRs with a load box, check out Getting Started With Impulse Responses for Guitar.

Toneforge adds a level of flexibility you won’t find with a dedicated IR loader, and is the ideal solution when working with a cleanly tracked guitar DI. By using a virtual rig to load your impulse response, you gain quick access to other parts of the guitars signal chain without having to leave the plugin. Toggling from one menu to the next will let you change your gain, EQ, post-processing and more.

No one solution is necessarily better than the other; it’s just a matter of what you have to work with and what fits better in your workflow. I’ve certainly used both approaches in the past depending on what the session called for.

Loading An Impulse Response in Toneforge

Toneforge was configured to look and feel just like a live amp’s signal chain might.  The standard layout looks like this:

  1. Pedals
  2. Amp
  3. Cab
  4. Effects
  5. EQ
  6. Dynamic Processing

When loading up the plugin, you’re always going to start in the Amp section to set things like gain, presence & the amp’s EQ. Clicking over to the Cab section is where you’ll be able to access the IR loader feature.

By default, there are usually several options available in the plugin depending on the model you have. Things like cabinets, speakers  & mics can be swapped out for various tones. If you’d rather use your own IRs (which we’re guessing you might since you’re here), there’s a dropdown menu that allows users to switch from JST Cabinet to IR Cabinet.

Once you’ve switched to the IR Cabinet mode, the plugin’s cabinet features like mic selection get grayed out. Instead, you’ll be using the L button that shows up with IR Cabinet mode to load the impulse responses from a folder on your computer.

It’s important to maintain a collection of IRs that are named in a way you can understand them for organization and recall purposes. IR Packs like the Conquer All collection come sorted in folders by raw vs EQed, Cabinet type, and then get labeled with the amp, cab, mic & preamp type used for tracking.

If you’re storing multiple IRs in the same folder, there’s no need to continue going back to the L button every time you want to swap one out, just use the Left/Right arrows to toggle through every IR that lives in that folder. A well-sorted collection will allow you to hear 20 different tones in under 30 seconds.

Using a 3rd Party Impulse Response Loader

If you’d prefer to use a dedicated impulse response loader, there are plenty to choose from on the market. In Nick’s video walkthrough below, he shows you how to use Recabinet to load the Conquer All impulses:

Since each IR loader plugin is going to have a slightly different interface, it’s important to review their tutorials as well to make the most of the plugin. While many free/cheap plugins won’t have more than an IR selector/volume control, these plugins can also be found with all kinds of bells and whistles.

In Recabinet’s case, this comes in the form of being able to load two cabinets at the same time and blend the two together. This is huge when trying to blend something like a dynamic & ribbon mic on the same cab. Once again, make sure you’re working with quality IRs – a good IR creator is going to make sure everything is in-phase within the same pack, otherwise you’ll end up with unwanted cancellation.

Ready To Start?

Well what are you waiting for? Go out and get started using those impulse responses!

Some engineers seem to think there’s some kind of crazy magic that goes into using IRs, but there’s not. It’s really no more difficult than installing a plugin and opening it in your DAW. If you’re capable of doing that, you’re capable of using impulse responses in your sessions.

Hitting a roadblock along the way? Send us a note by visiting the Contact Us page, or come ask the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum, where thousands of engineers and producers share their experiences every day.