Why Live Guitarists Are Switching Over to Amp Simulators

How many recent performances have you seen of guitarists without an amp in sight? How about all of those YouTube videos where insanely talented guitarists are playing with MASSIVE tone in a tiny bedroom? Chances are, even the guys with a “wall of amps” in the background aren’t playing through them. Guitar tone plugins are making their way into live sound, and there are plenty of reasons why.

It Starts With The Sound

Some of the biggest names in rock and metal have come forward advocating amp sims while touring. Need some proof? Nine Inch Nails has been using Apple’s Mainstage for their live shows since 2008. Animals As Leaders spend more than half their Rig Rundown talking about their amp sim use. For the majority of these bands, their fans like them for a specific sound, and these guys aren’t going to sacrifice tone for convenience.

Instead, they’re seeking out more portable equipment while retaining tone. Many bands are seeing that the sounds they can get out of their amp sims are just as effective as the real thing, even at times noticing a fuller sound in the digital realm that their old rigs would facilitate. Not to mention the ease of bringing a laptop or hardware amp simulator from gig to gig instead of the traditional load-in.

Less Troubleshooting

Just think about the last time something broke down in your rig. You’ve got to follow your signal through so many stages from the guitar’s output, through your pedalboard, and then the amp itself. Add on additional steps if you’re using active pickups, a wireless system, or if you’re splitting your signal off anywhere in that chain. It’s a nightmare.

Now imagine having your signal simplified down to a single audio plugin. You can see if signal is reaching the plugin input and if it’s coming out – all in one place. For those that change tones throughout a gig, there are several variations of foot controllers out there are well that function via MIDI.

Halfway There

Some touring musicians aren’t quite ready to give up their real amps yet, but that doesn’t mean they’re not using guitar tone plugins at home or in the studio.

While trying to decide on new sounds for an album, it’s so much easier to click through settings on a computer than bending over a pedalboard tweaking knobs and reordering pedals. Not only that, but you’ve likely got dozens of options to reach for that aren’t always accessible in the real world.

By working with various virtual guitar tone components in the digital realm, guitarists end up with a “virtual guitar shop” where they can try out the sounds they like & build their dream rig instantly. We’re not saying that guitar rigs are going to go away completely, but the shift toward integrating guitar tone plugins with the hardware you’re already using is well underway.