Any guitarist knows the difficulty of trying to get that perfect sound out of your guitar, and blues guitarists especially love to dial in a warm, rich tone that was made famous by guitarists like Gary Moore, Alvin King, and Eric Johnson.
But most of us don’t have the money to spend on all the guitar pedals and valve amps that various blues guitarists made legendary. Fortunately, it’s the digital age, and there are more than enough amp simulators and plug-ins for blues guitarists to dial in the exact tone they’re looking for.
We’ve put together a list of the best available amp and FX sims you can use in finding that perfect guitar tone.
Overloud TH-U is an entire suite of guitar amp models and FX pedals. It features 89 guitar amp models, 50 cabinets, 77 pedals and rack effects, and a lot of really nice features for putting together your ultimate FX chain. Most of the stuff is unlicensed but based on real-life models, and there is a nice handful of licensed amp models from companies like Randall, Brunetti, DVmark, and THD.
The non-licensed stuff is easy to recognize, like a “Tube Nine” overdrive pedal that is obviously based on the Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer, famously used by Stevie Ray Vaughan. Or a Rox wah pedal, based on the Vox pedal made famous by Jimi Hendrix in songs like Voodoo Child. Hendrix was such a legendary guitarist, he’s inspired everything from pop culture to his own online slot game which is available on Casumo.com.
The best thing about Overloud TH-U is its ease-of-use, as setting up your FX chain is simply a matter of drag-and-dropping components. It also features 3D cabinet simulation, which means you can experiment with microphone positioning to really alter your tone.
While the product is full of rock and metal inspired amps and pedals, blues guitarists who want that smooth, clean tone will find no shortage of FX to play with. You can, for example, experiment with the tube amp simulator, which lets you swap out various pre and power tube models, so you can really dial in a warm, fuzzy tone like B.B. King and Eric Clapton.
Positive Grid Bias FX 2
Biax FX 2 is another full suite of amps, pedals, and other FX like Overloud TH-U, but has a lot more community support. Speaking personally from experience, I prefer the more DIY approach of Overloud TH-U and tinkering with your FX chain, but Bias FX 2 offers a community area where you can just download presets from other users. It’s also available for mobile devices.
This offers a significant advantage if you just want to plug in and play, and there are tons of community presets available. For example, if you want to sound exactly like Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, just search “ZZ Top” in the community section and you’ll find bunches of presets made by fans who closely modeled the FX chain based on Billy Gibbons’ real-life equipment.
Overall, Overloud TH-U and Biax FX 2 do nearly exactly the same thing, so it’s just a matter of whether you want a more DIY approach (Overloud), or being able to just download preset FX chains and play immediately (Bias FX 2).
Blue Cat’s Re-Guitar
This is an incredible VST plug-in which can simulate different guitar pickups and body styles. I can’t gush enough about how awesome this plug-in is. Imagine you’re playing an entry-level Ibanez guitar, and you really wish you had that classic Les Paul Standard ‘50s tone with 57 Classic Humbucker pickups.
You just plug in your guitar to your DAW, launch Re-Guitar as a VST, and choose the pickup style and guitar body you want to emulate, and that $150 Ibanez will sound (almost) exactly like a Les Paul with 57 Classic humbuckers instantly.
Softube Vintage Amp Room
If you’re after a really retro blues guitar tone, you can’t go wrong with Softube’s Vintage Amp Room. It’s a guitar amp and FX suite similar to Overloud and Bias FX, but focuses exclusively on vintage models, such as the Marshall Bluesbreaker 1962.
With Softube, you’re sacrificing a huge variety of amp models for a very precise focus on vintage models from the 3 majors (Marshall, Fender, and Vox), and Softube did an excellent job of capturing the tonality of those vintage amps for digital emulation.
I’ve talked a lot about the various amp model suites out there, but at the end of the day, amp simulators still deliver a “digital” sound that won’t give you 100% perfectly authentic blues guitar tone. That’s where IRs (impulse responses) come in.
Impulse responses are signals captured from real-life speaker cabinets with various microphone placements, to really capture the authentic room acoustics and reverb of different mic and cab setups. It’s separate from your guitar tone, but ultimately impacts it in a very meaningful way.
For example, let’s say you build an entire FX rack in Overloud TH-U. You’ve added a Tube Screamer pedal, a Marshall amp, a delay pedal, and any other FX you want in your sound.
But now you want it all to sound exactly like it’s being played out of an authentic Mesa 4×12 cabinet, with Celestion V30 speakers, that’s been professionally mic’d up with Shure SM57s in the studio. That’s what guitar impulse responses do.
There are a lot of companies that produce guitar impulse responses, but you’ll see Ownhammer mentioned the most in guitar forums. Other brands worth looking at are Redwirez and 3 Sigma Audio.