Amp sims are a huge space saver for a lot of self-recording guitarists that don’t have high-end recording equipment and engineers that don’t have the space/desire/funds for a large guitar amp collection. They’re one of the first things that come to mind when you talk about software that’s redefined the recording industry as a whole, right behind digital audio workstations.
Much like other plugins, amp sims and virtual guitar rigs have replaced expensive hardware equipment with options that match (and even surpass) the tone of their physical competition. Amp sims give engineers various types of gain, effects, mic placements and much, much more. Coupled with impulse responses, a single amp sim can give you an endless variety of tones.
But let’s take a look at the part of the music industry that often turns away from the tonal capabilities of virtual guitar rigs. If you’re someone focused on vocal production, you might think you wouldn’t have a use for amp sims…
You thought wrong.
Pack A Punch
Vocal producers should be on a constant lookout for new and exciting vocal tone. The competition for playtime can often come down to the unique qualities of a vocal performance. Just look at how often pop music works to use phase & harmony to morph their vocals. Think about all of the editing being done to vocal hooks in hip-hop and EDM.
These genres rely on constant innovation – something your virtual guitar rig is more than capable of adding.
Are we saying you should send your vocal through a high-gain amp and expect an instantly useable result? Not at all – that’s not what the amps are expecting to process, which means you need to adjust to your source.
Unless you’re going for a highly distorted, harsh vocal tone, you’re probably going to want to start off by dialing back the gain and adjusting the EQ to suit the vocal in lieu of a guitar. Once you’ve got these settings adjusted, you’ll quickly find your vocals can be morphed into a compressed, punchy effect track. Try automating this effect into your track, or mix it in parallel underneath an unprocessed copy of the same track.
Stompboxes For Vocals
Another way that virtual guitar rigs afford engineers additional creativity is through the use of effects pedals/stompboxes. Every amp sim is different, but often you’ll find some form of time-based effects like reverb and delay.
Since these effect pedals were originally made for guitars, they often give a grittier, mid-focused tone than a dedicated plugin might. This directly translates into more presence in your effect sends. More presence is huge when you’re fighting to get your effects to cut through a dense mix.
If you’ve got half a dozen guitars crowding up your mix, consider fighting fire with fire: put that amp sim on your vocal and give it a fighting chance.
Vocal Delay Throws
Delay throws are one of the most common uses for effects sends, and amp sims provide a simplified interface for quick & easy implementation. Often with dedicated delays, you’re stuck spending half your time setting up the throw, and the other half tweaking unnecessary parameters (rolling off high end, matching tempo, etc).
By using a virtual guitar rig like Toneforge Ben Bruce, you can cut some of the more repetitive steps, making use of the natural frequency response of the amp & the session tempo sync on the delay pedal.
Check out Nick’s walkthrough of setting up a delay throw with Toneforge Ben Bruce here:
As you can see – a few quick tweaks gives you a punchy, usable vocal effect that cuts right through the song in minutes.
What Are Your Vocals Missing?
Nearly every element of your mix can gain some presence through the use of virtual amp sims, and you don’t need to worry about any kind of hardware damage or impedance matching like in the physical world.
Go ahead and try an amp sim as an effect in your next mix. Once you have, come let us know your thoughts on the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum, and see how others are making use of their virtual guitar rigs in unconventional ways.