Top 10 Most Playable Guitar Plugins 2019
Every professional composer or producer has been in a situation where they need to add some cool guitar parts to their production. Even though guitars and guitar gear are at their peak at the moment with high-quality stuff that can be found for everyone’s pocket, let’s face it – sometimes owning a whole ton of pedals, amps and cabs is just not so convenient when you are on a deadline and crunching hours of work.
And honestly, most of us in the industry are always on some deadline. So setting up a rig, saving your setup, mic positions, etc. just doesn’t cut it and it’s too slow. That is where plugins and software solutions come in handy and that’s our topic for this post, so let’s dig in. This is our top 10 list of the most playable and usable guitar plugins of 2019 in no particular order.
AmpliTube has been present for quite some time and it seems that the guys from IK Multimedia are investing more and more resources to upgrade it with each new iteration. The currently popular one is AmpliTube 4 and you can get yourself a lite version for free and then buy additional amps, cabs, speakers and pedals from their custom shop, which is like going to an actual guitar shop, only virtual.
You can truly create your own custom tone in a matter of seconds and you can place your cab in a room of your choice. There are tons of simulations ranging from licensed stuff by Fender, MESA Engineering, Orange, ENGL and Ampeg and some unlicensed stuff, but you can easily recognise there is also Marshall, Vox, Peavey and other stuff as well. Multiple mic positions to really capture the tone you want and all sorts of stuff.
One interesting thing here is the option to actually change the speaker models in your cab so you can have a Mesa Boogie Mark 4 head connected to an Orange 4×12 cab. But you can replace the speakers from Orange’s default to something like a Celestion Vintage 30 or Bluebacks or whatever you like. The options are truly limitless. There are also tons of pedal models ranging from overdrives, distortions, fuzz, boost, delay, reverb, chorus, you name it.
Positive Grid is maybe the youngest player on the market of amp simulations, but they sure are very innovative and the fact that many top guitar players are endorsing them speaks very highly of their products. Their product range includes BIAS Amp 2, BIAS FX 2, and BIAS pedal. These lines of products are for more tech savvy players out there.
Bias Amp 2 features amps and cabs ranging from boutique clean combos over to insanely high gain heads. Compared to other guitar amp simulations out there, here you can really dig into amp electronics and change the types of preamp section tubes, power amp sections, transformers, gain staging and tone section so you can start with a classic amp model and end up with something fully customised to your needs. I am yet to see other developers doing this with their products.
The top selling point of Bias Amp 2 is amp matching. If you have an actual hardware amp in your studio and you really like the tone of it, you can capture the impulse response of your guitar amp into BIAS Amp 2 and use it in a digital domain, save it as a preset and you’re good to go.
BIAS Pedal is a product that enables you to create your own drive, modulation or delay pedal by tinkering with various components and then save it as your custom creation to use with BIAS Amp 2.
BIAS FX 2 is sort of a combination of the previous two products mentioned. Basically it is a comprehensive collection of guitar amps, cabs and pedals so you can create your own custom guitar rig for any purpose. You can also load your own creations from BIAS Amp 2 and BIAS Pedal and use them inside BIAS FX 2.
There is also the option of Tone Cloud where you can upload your presets and share them with the community and I have to say that there are some amazing products there.
One great option that the BIAS lineup offers is Guitar Match. What it does is that it enables you to completely re-shape the tone of your actual instrument before the amp. So for example you have a single coil Strat but you need some beef of a humbucker Les Paul. No problem, just follow the instructions on the screen and you’ll have it. Les Paul into a Telecaster? Sure thing! Telecaster into a metal shredding speed machine? They have you covered.
This one’s a freebie but don’t think just because it’s free it’s mediocre. From personal experience I can tell you that this one is a true gem and we mentioned it in our top 10 free plugins post. Emissary is truly engineered for the mosh pit because this is a fully high-gain metal machine. The guys at Ignite amps really know their stuff because they actually build hardware amp heads and Emissary is their best-seller. So they wanted to create a software version that does justice to the real thing.
One drawback (sort of) of this amp is that it only simulates the head with its preamp and power amp sections. But this is where the guys from Ignite Amps have joined forces with STL Tones so you can have their NadIR plugin for cab impulse responses bundled with Emissary also FOR FREE! They’ve got you covered with that and NadIR comes with some really good IRs but you’re not limited to only those because you can load many others that are available online, either as freeware or you can buy some really excellent collections. Give it a shot, you can’t lose!
Mike Fortin is the mastermind behind some of the most aggressive sounding amplifiers in recent history and his precisely engineered brutality has become a staple to some of the industry’s most legendary names. His uncompromisingly built tube amplifiers are coveted by some of the most notoriously aggressive players on the planet. If you’re looking for a mean hard-rock or metal machine then look no further.
Along with the amplifier and cab simulations you get Fortin Amplification’s Grind, Hexdrive and ZUUL pedals to enhance that high gain tone. Cab sim module of the suite can also load third party IRs next to the already featured ones with 6 mic positions.
What Fortin Nameless is to metal guitar players, Parallax is to bass players. Parallel bass processing has been used for decades. Dual rigs or multiple plugins are configured to distort treble for clarity and aggression and compress lows for a massive foundation. This is why Parallax provides everything you need to design the ultimate bass tone. It also features a cab sim section for creating that real low-end thump to your bass guitar. This one is brand-new so give it a go.
There are tons of starting presets from some of the most respected bass players and music producers to give you world-class bass tones in a matter of seconds. If you are a gigging musician and you don’t want to drag all of your expensive gear on the road, Parallax (just like Fortin Nameless) comes as a standalone software, not just a plugin, so you can plug into your laptop and you’re ready to rock.
You are all familiar with Waves being one of the best mixing plugin developers out there and guitar players among you know who Paul Reed Smith is and how much of an impact he has as a guitar designer with his PRS models. But maybe you didn’t know that Paul Reed Smith also designs some really beautiful guitar amps and Waves engineers have joined forces with him in order to bring you a really amazing suite of guitar amp and cab simulations.
There are three models in the collection, Dallas, V9 and Archon. Dallas gives you that nice Americana clean boutique and light overdrive sound. V9 is more classical with sounds ranging from clean, to standard rock, whilst the Archon covers all of your needs for high-gain sounds. Each amp comes with a cab sim section but you can also load your own IRs for more customised tones. This is the only collection out there officially licensed by Paul Reed Smith and the only one out there that actually features PRS amps. If they’re good enough for Alex Skolnick and Devin Townsend, they’re good enough for the rest of us.
Guitar Rig was my first entry into the world of guitar amp simulations back when I was starting out 10 years ago and I have fond memories of it. It basically gives you almost the same options as the other products on this list, with many amps, cabs and FX to choose from. There is also a free version which you can utilise for some clean and standard drive tones but real fun starts with the full version of course.
If you own Native Instruments Komplete bundle, chances are that you already have Guitar Rig 5 in your collection. Maybe this post reminds you that you can utilise it from time to time and that you can get some really great tones from it if you don’t want to hunt down other products from this list.
Line 6 are well-known for their top-notch products for guitar players and bass players alike and many of their products are on pedalboards of a lot of A-listers out there.
Helix is their latest iteration in guitar amp modeling which builds and enhances on the legacy of the fan-favourite POD series. If you don’t own a Helix hardware unit, fear not because Helix Native is a 1 to 1 recreation of the actual unit because this is an actual DSP software that’s built into the hardware version. The only difference is that you’re using your computer CPU and you have it as a plugin.
It comes packed with tons of different amp and cab simulations, effects and a never-ending list of presets to get you started. It will give you tons of inspiration and make your guitar sessions a whole lot easier. It doesn’t look as fancy and inspiring as others on this list, but it does give you a great tone.
ReValver is sort of the underdog on this list because I am yet to meet a composer or guitar player who actively uses it, but don’t let it discourage you from trying. ReValver is actually a rock-solid collection of amplifiers licensed by Peavey, ranging from Americana clean amps like Peavey Classic 30 over to high-gain 6505+ destruction. There are also some unique discontinued models like Peavey XXX and JSX endorsed by Joe Satriani. The focal point of this collection is the Peavey amps of course but you can buy additional models based on Marshall, Fender, Orange, Vox and others with tons of pedals and FX from their Amp Store.
ReValver was actually the first plugin to feature an actual instrument modelling with their ACT technology which enables you to totally change your instrument’s sound. There are models ranging from Peavey’s original creations such as Van Halen’s first Wolfgang, many classical guitar models like Strats, Teles and Les Pauls over to metal shredding guitars with active pickups, acoustic guitars, and bass guitars of course.
You can really create some amazing sounds with this collection and for the tech-savvy you can really dig into the schematic of the amplifiers to change tubes (or valves if you’re in the UK), transformers, gain staging, preamp and power-amp sections, you name it. You can also load your own cab IRs if you don’t want to use Peavey’s bundled cabs.
We all know Brainworx as one of the top-dogs when it comes to mixing plugin development but they have made some AMAZING guitar amp model plugins over the years, both for UAD platform and native users. Each amp is modelled to sound as realistic as their hardware counterparts and some of those amps include models supported and licensed by Friedman, Suhr, Diezel, Fuchs, Ampeg, ENGL, Chandler Limited and many other models not licensed but well recognisable like MESA Boogie and Marshall.
If you are a UAD user and own an Apollo interface you will highly benefit from your Unison high impedance input because it models the actual input circuit of a real guitar amp which acts as if you are plugging your guitar into an actual thing. But for those of you who don’t use the UAD platform, fear not because Brainworx has started re-modelling their UAD amps for native users as well and more models are coming every month! By the way, their Rockrack guitar modelling software comes in a free version to get you started!
Now, what are you waiting for? START ROCKING!