A great virtual amp can take your guitar recordings to the next level since not many of us can record a 100-watt tube head at home. There are attenuators, sure, and lots of modern amps are being built with direct outs for “silent” recording. Still, a tube head with an attenuator is not only more expensive than a virtual amp, but takes up real physical space and obviously weighs a heck of a lot more. Going the plugin route is a very reasonable alternative these days!
If you’re just stepping into the amp plugin game, this list should give you some good starting points with longtime favorites as well as more recent breakthroughs in amp sim technology!
AmpliTube 4 is a guitar/ bass amp and effects sim as a standalone application or as a plugin.
AmpliTube emulates an entire guitar/bass signal chain from instrument to recording device in a realistic and intuitive way. It comes with 33 pedals, 25 amps, 29 cabs, 12 mics, and 15 rack effects units designed for recreating realistic analogue guitar tones in a simple plugin.
In addition IK Multimedia’s own amp and cab designs, Amplitube also comes with emulations of amps by Fender, Marshall, Vox, Mesa/Boogie, and Roland!
Toneforge by Joey Sturgis Tones is a proprietary line of virtual amps “made for and by musicians, producers, and engineers.” Rather than attempting to emulate classic amps, Toneforge features all original designs for the highest quality virtual amp experience possible.
From JST, “Toneforge takes any direct input guitar signal all the way to fully mixed guitar tone with unique all-in-one design.”
Toneforge is geared more towards metal/hard rock players, with signature amps by Jason Richardson, Misha Mansoor, and even a bass amp by Rex Brown.
Nembrini Audio offers the BST100 Super Overdrive amp sim as well as a Marshall-esque MRH810, in addition to a slew of rack effects that are free downloads. The owner, Igor Nembrini, has been involved in creating some of the most popular amp plugins over the past decade. His expertise has lent itself to some absolutely incredible plugins.
Native Instruments first put out Guitar Rig in 2004 and included three tube amp emulations. Over the past 15 or so years, Guitar Rig has naturally grown up quite a bit!
Guitar Rig 5 currently comes packaged with 17 amps, 27 cabinets, and 54 effects. Native Instruments’ award-winning Dynamic Tube Response Technology lets you create incredible tones with and natural-feeling virtual amp experience.
There’s also offers a free version called Guitar Rig 5 Player with one amp model, 17 cabs, and 13 effects.
Ignite has been making amp simulations since 2009 and are well versed in analogue modeling because they actually build hardware amps. One of their interesting practices is that if you commission a custom tube head from them, they’ll send you the plugin version of it before your build is even finished!
Ignite offers 11 different plugins including IRs, amps, and pedals.
STL Tonality is an all-in-one guitar plugin suite developed for Andy James, engineer/mixer Will Putney (Gojira, Every Time I Die), and producer Howard Benson (Bon Jovi, My Chemical Romance). Each of their signature amp sim pack includes the tools they rely on most often to get the guitar tones they need.
STL also produces Kemper profiles, Axe-FX presets, and more.
BIAS Amp 2 by Positive Grid another fantastic virtual amp designer. Like the majority of amp sims, the plugin recreates the tone and feel of a real tube amp.
BIAS Amp lets you mix and match components to create your ideal amp. It comes with a feature called Amp Match which allows users to clone the tone of real hardware, or you can connect to the ToneCloud to gain access to thousands of custom amps from artists and recording studios.
The developers over at Neural DSP have really blown up over the past few years because of their painstakingly accurate emulations of Fortin amplifiers. If you’re looking for a state-of-the-art virtual amp plugin, Neural DSP is definitely worth trying.
Their most recent release was the Archetype amp designed in conjunction with Australian virtuoso Plini. It’s a very versatile amp, from crystal cleans to high gain, suiting Plini’s eclectic playing style.
From Neural DSP:
“State of the art tube amplifier modeling and versatility are the backbone of [the Archetype virtual amp].
We wanted to try something different this time, so we worked with Plini on designing his dream amplifiers, engineered from the ground up to perfectly cover the vast dynamic and tonal range his music requires.
These amplifier designs were then obsessively modeled with extreme accuracy. The result is three refreshingly new amplifiers: a crystal-clear Clean, a tight and articulate Rhythm, and a powerful and defined Lead. Virtual Amplifiers that are not only unique but can also excel in all styles.”
Line 6’s Helix rack and floorboard units are groundbreaking hardware amp simulators. The same technology driving this equipment can be harnessed in native plugin format as well, for a fraction of the cost of its hardware counterparts.
“The Helix Native plugin features accurate recreations of vintage and modern amplifiers, speaker cabinets, microphones, and effects, as well as extensive signal-routing capabilities and an intuitive user interface. Not just for guitarists, the Helix Native plug-in is also ideal for producers and engineers, sound designers, film/TV/game composers, electronic musicians, and anyone else seeking to craft new and exciting sounds and special effects.”
Brainworx have developed some incredible hardware emulations in recent years. Available natively via Plugin Alliance, Brainworx amp sims include the Diezel Herbert and VH4, ENGL Retro Tube and Savage, Ampeg bass heads, and more!
Waves recently teamed up with PRS to bring their own emulations of three fantastic PRS amplifiers: the Archon, Dallas, and Blue Sierra.
“PRS Archon delivers shimmering cleans or aggressive overdrive; push it harder and you get glorious distortion. With its lush gain, the Archon is ideal for lead or crunching rhythm, while also offering a clean channel that players of all genres will appreciate.”
“PRS Blue Sierra/V9: Never-before-released even in its hardware form, this ultra-rare amp was an early original format for the PRS J-MOD 100. Evocative of boutique American guitar amps, it is equally great for clean sounds and for medium-gain overdrive tones. No matter the setting, you’ll find it easy to get a big 3D sound and hard to get a bad one.”
“PRS Dallas provides the sounds of classic American reverb amps. The all-tube design produces an open classic tone for huge-sounding cleans, or multiple variations of overdriven sound with natural-sounding reverb. Originally designed by chief PRS amp designer Doug Sewell, this highly musical amp offers sweet highs, solid lows and beautiful mid-range tones.”