It’s a tough enough job convincing folks that they shouldn’t look down on music software when it comes to stuff people use when holed up in recording studios. But the guitar amplifier is a public affair. Imagine a live rock band pulling out a laptop onstage instead of rolling out fearsome refrigerator size amplifiers. Or better yet, a fearsome wall of speakers that calls to mind a fortress that none could scale in the days before the fighter plane rendered such structures obsolete:
There’s a part of such displays of prowess that has nothing to do with the sound. It’s about the roadies. No band can carry this amount of mass onstage by themselves. To display this wall of wood and wire shows that one has the power to employ a crew that resembles the horde of anonymous soldiers in a Mel Gibson war flick. And it’s not just about patriarchy. Word back in the day was that Sleater-Kinney wouldn’t let the opening bands move their amps once they were in place after sound check. Would the walls of a medieval fortress move? Not bloody likely. Not even for a battering ram.
So it’s no wonder that guitar players bristle at the idea of losing the chance to throw their weight around by using something that looks like this:
Fortunately, I’m not suggesting they do so in public. Let me explain.
Guitar amplifier simulations have long been the stepchild of the burgeoning plug-in market. Everyone debates the pros and cons of software vs. hardware in general, so it’s no surprise you’ll find many undie musicians who sneer at making the switch when it comes to amplifiers. What is a surprise is that computer geeks uniformly admit that guitar amp emulations are lame. These are people who usually say they can’t tell the difference between high quality software and the hardware they emulate unless they’re in a high end studio listening to monitors that let you be as sensitive as that fabled Princess who once felt a pea beneath her stack of mattresses.
Like any princess, metalheads are very sensitive when it comes to their stacks. While combing through online forums to learn about amplifier simulations, I encountered one of them who was kind enough to let me in on a little secret: Redwirez. Redwirez is a small company that basically only makes one product: impulse responses, software emulations of the way cabinets respond to the charges they receive from the head of the amp. For the non-guitarist, a cabinet is the pure speaker part of an amplifier, as opposed to the head of a guitar amp, which has the controls that set the levels for treble, bass, gain, overdrive, etc.
…while others separate them into two wooden chambers, like so:
My virtual friend’s point was that emulations of guitar heads are actually very good. It’s the cabinet emulations that suck. This makes sense, as the hardest part to capture about an amplifier is the way it pushes air around in a circular physical way. His suggestion to the thread was to use the head of amp simulations by brands like Amplitube, Peavey, Softube, yada yada, but to replace the cabinets they make with the ones made by Redwirez. Redwirez makes a separate plug-in called mixIR that you can use to do this. If you own Peavey’s Revalver software, which I’ve been meaning to review in this series, you can load third party IRs like the ones Redwirez makes directly within Peavey’s plug-in window.
I tried this procedure for myself. I’m no Princess, so believe me when I say that the difference was pretty striking. You don’t have to be very sensitive to sound to notice it. I wouldn’t say that the results would make me want to use a laptop instead of an amp for a concert, but in the home studio where no one was looking, I thought it was awesome. It was like stripping a crappy coat of paint off an antique and polishing the wood underneath. The process of using the mix IR plug in is actually quite similar to applying stain and varnish – I won’t say Shellac – to wood. You can load up to 6 different impulse responses within the plug-in, choosing from variables including different kinds of microphones, different placements, different speakers, and even Neve 1073 eq and/or reverb settings. You can adjust the volume of each IR and pan it left or right in the stereo field as you layer them on top of each other. Here’s the window again:
The column on the right represents the names of different cabinets you can choose from. Here’s where I ran into trouble. You can buy these cabinets a la carte, which is the reasonable thing to do. I mean, no one in real life carries around 49 guitar cabinets, which is the number of refrigerators available on their menu. Redwirez has a reasonable pricing system where you pay $9 for your first cabinet, and one dollar less for each successive cabinet you buy. So I could have picked up 2 or 3 for 17 or 24 dollars.
If you go to this link you’ll understand why I didn’t. There you will see a flashing light surround a button that reads “Add to Cart.” Do Redwirez put this flashing ooze next to the cheap individual selections? They do not. They only put it next what they call the “Big Box,” the collection of all 49 Cabinets, which you can purchase for $125. Like a crow to tin foil, I zoomed to this button. My senses left me. If I wanted to be a metal Princess, I had to spoil myself with a large stack. I pushed the button, rushed to my cart, and bought the whole slew. Hiwatt, Mesa Boogie, Fender, Marshalls, Soldano, Orange, Peavey, JC-120, Vox, Ampeg SVT and B15, (yes, there’s bass stuff), the list goes on.
I know I’ll never prowl a football field sized stage in front of a real stack like Eddie. But Redwirez soundz so good, I can visualize all 49 of these cabinets teetering as they prepare to fall on top of me during a performance. There’s no better way to go.
Today I ran across the following article which proved that some shredders have found a way to save the shoulders of their roadies and spare themselves the hazards of stacks that teeter and topple precipitously over their heads.
Plastic surgery, rock and roll style. My remaining question: did the guys at Redwirez invent this trick to sell more plug-ins? With the plugz and the fakez, you get the best of both worlds!