by Metal Mastermind

March 24, 2021

recording with metal amp sims - tips

Many guitar players have ditched their oversized half stacks and amps and have reverted to recording with amp sims. Even some of the most well-known guitarists have done this.

Recording with amps sims and plugins is simply more convenient. And technology has come so far that the quality of tones, even metal tones, you get are top-notch. So it makes sense.

However, there are some challenges that many guitar players face when recording with amp sims. And that can be frustrating, which can keep you from creating music.

In this post, you’re going to learn 5 ways that will help you overcome those challenges in the studio. Here’s what you’ll get:

  1. The basic requirements (if you fail at this, you’re doomed from the start!)
  2. Level-setting for a quality sound and signal
  3. Rules for gain and EQ settings for a great metal tone
  4. The ultimate challenge when recording with amp sims (seriously, try this…you’ll thank me later!)
  5. Organizing and saving your amp sim tones

**You can watch our YouTube version of this post below (however, keep reading as there are some unique elements covered in the post!):

1 – Minimal Requirements for Using Amp Sims

Before you even get started with plugins and amp sims, you need to make sure your machine (aka computer…machine just sounds much cooler!) can handle the job. You need to make sure you at least have the minimum requirements to run your amp sims.

And it doesn’t matter if you’re using a Mac or Windows machine. We’re not going to get into the Mac vs PC war!

The bottom is that your amp sims do not care what you’re using. Just ask them…lol! Seriously, the only thing that matters is that you are meeting those requirements are met.

The good news is that if your DAW is running smoothly there’s a good chance that you have a proper machine. However, just know that when you add running amp sims or any plugins to the process, your machine has to work harder.

Here are the basic requirements for most common amp sims…

Mac Minimum Requirements

  • Intel Core i3 Processor (i3-4130 / i5-2500 or higher)
  • 8 GB of RAM
  • Mac OSX 10.14 (Mojave)
  • 80 – 400 MB free hard disc space per plug-in
  • An Internet connection is required to activate your license through iLok License Manager.

Windows Minimum Requirements

  • AMD Quad-Core Processor (R3 2200G or higher) / Intel Core i3 Processor (i3-4130 / i5-2500 or higher)
  • 8 GB of RAM
  • Windows 7
  • 80 – 400 MB free hard disc space per plugin
  • An Internet connection is required to activate your license through iLok License Manager.

**This information is from the Neural DSP website: https://support.neuraldsp.com/help/system-requirements

All that said, it’s recommended to get the best possible machine you can afford at that time. If you already have a machine, it’s crucial that you keep everything updated, like your operating system or adding extra RAM if needed. Amp sims and recording software in general are constantly being upgraded to keep up with the demands of technology.

2 – Proper Level-Setting

studio interface and hardware

When we talk about level-setting, we’re mainly talking about your interface. And that level will be based on the amp sim that you’re using.

The most common issue guitarists have with plugins and amp sims is that their levels are peaking when they’re recording. The problem with this is that your signal is going to be distorted, and I don’t mean the good kind of distortion.

And that’s the other issue. Oftentimes we metalheads are playing through high-gain amp sims. So you may not hear that distortion as it’s covered up by your amp’s gain. So here’s what you can do:

  • Drag your amp sim over to one track
  • Start playing and monitor the level of your interface (most interfaces will have an LED light or meter)
  • If that red light is coming on or if your meter is reading in the read, your interface level needs to come down
  • Likewise, if it’s too low, you’ll need to bring it up
  • Adjust until you have an appropriate level and clean signal

Here’s another test you can do to make sure your levels are set appropriately:

  • Record a guitar track using your amp sim
  • Then turn the amp sim off so that all you hear in the playback is the dry guitar signal
  • If that sound is distorted, your levels were too high

Also, keep in mind that using different amp sims may require you to adjust your interface level. For example, you may have your interface level set at 22 with one amp sim but another may require you to turn it up higher (or down lower).

3 – Amp Sim Gain and EQ Settings for Awesome (and Cleaner) Tones

Amp Sim for Metal Guitars Gain and EQ

One of the biggest flaws to playing guitar with amp sims is that us metal guitar players have a natural tendency to crank up the gain. This is okay if you’re just jamming. But if you’re recording, you need to treat playing through an amp sim as you would with a real amp.

The problem with having too much gain is this will create a muddy mix once all of the other instruments are included in the mix. And that’s not what you want.

Now you may be saying: “I can just record the initial guitar with high gain and then turn the gain down after the fact, right?”

You can. However, you must remember that your amp sim settings will play a role in your performance and how you play. And here’s why…

  • If your gain is cranked up you may not recognize some of the mistakes you make.
  • If your gain is set at a lower level, you’re more apt to play cleaner and your notes will be better articulated.

This doesn’t mean you have to turn your amp sim gain to something ridiculous like 3. Rather, you want to find that balance where you have enough saturation but without going overboard.

Another component to consider when recording with amp sims is your amp’s EQ settings, specifically your bass. Many metal guitarists like to hear that low end. That’s fine when you’re ust jamming. But when you’re recording, you want to save the low end for the instruments that are supposed to carry those frequencies, like the bass guitar and kick drum.

Here are some basic amp sim settings you can start with:

  • Gain: 6-7
  • Bass: 4-5
  • Mids: 4-6 this is based on personal preference
  • Treble: 6-7
  • Presence: 4-7 this will greatly depend on the amp sim you’re using

Again, these settings are just a starting point for you if you’re having trouble dialing in a usable tone with amp sims. For more tips on getting awesome metal tones with amp sims, check out our post: Guide to Getting a Good Tone with Amp Sims

4 – Your Ultimate Challenge with Amp Sims (Play Your Tracks from Start-to-Finish)

I’ll explain what this means. Here’s the deal…

When you’re sitting in your royal studio chair, it’s easy to take advantage of the modern process of recording and punch in and out when you make mistakes. That’s fine and all but there’s just one problem with that concept.

You’re not learning your song like you should. If all you do is sit in your studio and record music, that may be okay. But if you plan to play your music live, using this method could actually hurt you. Because you can’t punch in and out on stage.

So here’s your challenge:

  • Record your tracks all the way through from start to finish
  • If you mess up along the way, delete it and try again
  • Keep recording that track from start to finish until you nail it

Now, I realize that there will be some parts of the song that aren’t played throughout the entire song. But I’m talking about elements like your rhythm guitars. For most songs, those parts are played throughout the song as that’s your foundation for the song.

So I encourage you to play those parts all the way through. It will only make you better. We also give you some more tips on nailing an awesome performance in our post: The Golden Rules of Recording

5 – Save and Organize Your Amp Sim Tones

Amp Sim patches - organizing metal guitar tones

Have you ever dialed in the perfect tone using an amp sim only to lose that tone later? Hey, it can happen to the best of us!

This may sound like basic Amp Sim 101 stuff, but it’s certainly worth mentioning. In fact, once you read this you’ll more than likely open up your DAW and start saving and organizing your tones.

Here’s what to do:

  • Once you have a tone that you like or at least something that’s close, save it!
  • Be sure to name that tone with something relevant like the name of the amp or the genre the tone is being used for (ex: metal rhythm 1, metal rhythm 2, 5153 metal r1, Mesa lead 1, etc.)
  • Now you can start organizing the tones you save with this type of naming convention so that they’re easy to find.
  • If you want to take things to the next level, save this information in a spreadsheet to further describe each tone and what you’re using the for.

One of the keys to being a successful guitarist and musician is organization. And this will save you a ton of time and frustration when you go to record a song or album.

I hope these tips help you and make the process of recording with amp sims easier for you! Also, if you don’t have it yet make sure you download our free home studio guide.

Metal Mastermind

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