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Buyer's Guides

Best Virtual Guitar Amps for Amazing Tone in 2022

Not so long ago, the delta between the tones you could get from a virtual guitar amp or amp sim couldn’t come close to the tones you got from pushing air with a real amp. That’s no longer the case.

So what is a “virtual guitar amp”? In this context it’s a plugin designed to recreate the sounds of real amps in the digital world. There are certainly dedicated plugins that focus on a single amp. But more often than not they offer a range of amps, cabinets, effects, even emulations of the best guitar microphones.

Best Virtual Guitar Amps

From timeless classics to boutique modern, there is something in each selection here that everyone can use.

Overloud TH-U Full

Overloud is billed as “amp simulation redefined”. This doesn’t seem to be an overstatement. It includes a whopping 241 combined amp, cabinet, effect, and microphone models.

It claims to be the first amp simulator to use both amp modeling and capturing technology. This means that every specific element of the rig translates. The response of the amp and cabinet, the microphones, and the room itself. It’s powered by 4th generation analog emulation technology and nonlinear processing, and to add depth and realism the cabinets use ReSPiRe 2 technology.

With it, you’ll get 89 guitar amps and four bass amps and 50 guitar cabs, and 2 bass cabs to pair them with. And if you’re an effects geek you’re in luck. It comes with 79 combined pedal and rack effects. You’ll be able to tailor your sounds with a choice of 18 different microphones, and you can mic each cabinet with up to four! And if the included state-of-the-art impulse responses don’t get you there, you can load in 3rd party or custom files.

If you want to get a feel for it before you try to tweak in your own sounds it comes with a staggering 1,000 presets, with new free presets released each month. But perhaps the most innovative feature is the Amp Tweak technology. This lets you mod the amps by swapping out preamp and power amp tubes or adding in a variac. You can also use it live and trigger it with a MIDI floor unit.

TH-U Full does a masterful job of taking the legacy of the gear that it models into the modern digital age. “Next-level” doesn’t even begin to describe what it can do.

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Neural DSP

One of the new players in the game, Neural DSP makes some serious next-level plugins. Pretty much every other guitar sim plugin gives you a variety of sounds and lets you create them as you’d like.

Neural DSP’s plugins work a little differently. Instead of creating a single plugin with a multitude of amps, effects, etc. they offer multiple but individual virtual guitar amp options. They are broken down into two categories - plugins that focus on single amps and Archetypes, which are essentially “signature plugins”.

When it comes to the amps they model, they don’t slouch. They offer some serious heavy hitters like the Tone King Imperial MKII, Soldano SLO-100, Fortin Cali and Nameless Suite. There are also great bass amps like the low-end experts at Darkglass, and the Parallax, which isn’t so much an amp sim as a bass design powerhouse.

Artist signature gear has been around for multiple decades. But the concept of signature plugins is still pretty fresh. Neural DSPs Archetype plugin line is just that. You’ll have access to meticulously crafted guitar rig sounds modeled for the digital realm from artists like John Petrucci of Dream Theater, Gojira, Cory Wong, and Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders.

Each amp sim comes with various effects to enhance the sounds, and the Archetype models are highly detailed to the specific gear each artist uses.

“Algorithmically Perfect” indeed.

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IK Multimedia AmpliTube 5 Max

AmpliTube was one of the original plugin amp sims, and after two decades and multiple iterations, it’s never sounded better. The interface is redesigned, you can customize your signal chain, and there’s even an onboard mixer for blending multiple amps, cabs, and DI signals just like in the analog world.

It offers over 100 amp, cabinet, and stompbox selections with 31 speakers and 18 different digital microphones to capture them. The heart and soul is the proprietary (VIR) Volumetric Impulse Response engine. And if you’re a tone tweaker feeling frisky there are over 143,000 IRs to play with!

World-class sounds aren’t the only selling point. A robust artist library lends you instant access to phenoms like Slash, Hendrix, Dimebag Darrell, and more. It comes in VST, AAX, and AU formats. So no matter what kind of system you run you’ll be able to use it.

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Line 6 Helix Native

Line 6 have stepped their game up in a major way. Helix was tailor-made to compete with the big boys in the amp sim world and hardware like Fractal and Kemper.

Native is a plugin that packs some serious punch under the hood. It runs on the company’s HX modeling technology and includes more than 60 amps (including bass amps), over 100 effects, and 30 cabinet models. You can also import your own impulse responses.

And every sound you create can be transferred to the Helix floor or rack unit.

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Native Instruments Guitar Rig 6 Pro

Another trailblazer virtual guitar amp plugin is Guitar Rig from Native Instruments. The 6th iteration features improvements to, well…everything.

Intelligent Circuit Modeling uses machine learning to reconstruct the way analog circuits function. This adds increased realism and dimension. The impulse responses are provided by 3 Sigma Audio and OwnHammer. And the emulations of three of the most legendary compressors are designed by Softube.

Guitar Rig 6 Pro includes some really unique effects that you don’t necessarily find in other plugins. Replika is a modulated and pitch-shifted reverb. Doppel-Filter gives you some unique filtering options. Perfect for bass, Transient Master lets you shape the transients. Reflektor is a convolution reverb that lets you create your own room sounds.

Artist presets give you the sounds of some of your favorite players that span the spectrum of genres. It’s called Guitar Rig, but you can use it creatively on any instrument.

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Waves GTR3

GTR3 is a stripped-down and highly affordable option. That said, it doesn’t skimp on tone. GTR3 gives you 30 modern and vintage amps and cabs, 25 effects, and 6 top-shelf microphone models. You also get 7 bass amps.

Effects can be synced to your session tempo and everything can be controlled via MIDI. A drag-and-drop system makes chaining together your sounds seamless. The coolest feature might be the Standalone ToolRack. This is a great idea that lets you just…plug in and use it. No DAW or recording rig required!

It doesn’t have a lot of crazy features. But if you’re looking for a solid amp sim plugin with great sounds that’s easy on your wallet Waves won’t let you down.

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Softube Amp Room

You’ll find Softube contributions to a number of virtual amp plugins. Finally, they decided to create their very own amp sim plugin with Amp Room.

The picture they paint is that of a guitar player walking into a decked-out studio full of every type of amp that any guitarist could want and be able to put it on their productions. But it doesn’t stop at amps and cabinets. You also get some fantastic processors bundled with them. Some of these processors include models based on the Distressor and Tube Tech compressors, Trident A-Range, and API compressor and EQ. There are also a host of pedals that will look quite familiar.

Amp Room includes nine amps, 16 cabinets, three studio rack units, 16 pedals, and various microphone options. The sounds include patches based on some of the most venerated classics of all time including Marshall, Fender, Vox, Engl, Mesa/Boogie, Orange, HiWatt, and Ampeg.

300 presets get you started, but the real value is dialing in your own sounds. Overall, this suite from Softube is one of the best virtual guitar amp packages around.

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Benefits of Virtual Guitar Amps

Unlike a real amp that generally offers a very distinct sound, virtual amp sims are purpose-built to be versatile. Most options offer an insane amount of control over your sounds. The way the cabinet interacts in the room, the room itself, microphone positions, and your signal chain.

Real amps and simulators have pros and cons, for more info read our full guide on real vs virtual guitar amps.

Reamping

This has always been one of the strongest selling points for virtual guitar amps - especially for recording engineers. When recording guitars, they’ll often mic the amp but also split the signal to get a clean DI track.

When you have printed guitar tracks the base sound is pretty much unchangeable. But what if it needs to be changed? What if it sounded great in the moment, but when you revisit it in the next session you realize it’s not working in the bigger picture?

The biggest benefit to capturing a clean DI signal during tracking is that you can always reamp it. A reamp box is essentially a DI box that works in reverse. It alters the impedance of the signal so that you can send it out of your interface, mixer, or recording desk and send it back into an amp and re-record as usual.

Or, you can simply throw an amp sim on the DI track. This means you have almost infinite options and time to dial in the perfect sound to fit the song. It’s not unusual for songs to be recorded as they’re being written. This means the guitar sound needs to evolve along with the production.

Great Tone at a Reasonable Volume and Price Point

It’s well-known that getting a tube amp to hit its sweet spot means it generally has to be just this side of cranked. This isn’t an issue if you have the space to do it. But most guitar players don’t. Many are playing and recording out of their bedroom or apartment. And nobody’s neighbor wants to hear you biff the intro riff to “Crazy Train” anymore than they already have.

Virtual guitar amps let you access world-class sounds without having to inconvenience anyone around you - or break the bank. You’ll also save on having to purchase other pieces of gear like pedals, power attenuators, and isolation boxes. 


Best Virtual Guitar Amps: Summing Up

What once seemed virtually impossible is now beyond possible. The capabilities of virtual guitar amps have exceeded anyone’s expectations. They pack in fantastic classic and modern tones, almost endless tonal combinations, customizable signal chains, realistic room sounds, and more all in an affordable package that allows you to rip it without making much noise.

There are so many plugin options out there you’ll have to check each one out for yourself to find the best for your sound. The future of guitar tones is here.