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Reprinted from harmonycentral.com with the permission of the author and publisher Craig Anderton
Programs like IK Multimedia's AmpliTube, Native Instruments Guitar Rig, and Waves GTR model a complete, computer-based guitar effects rack. As long as you're able to get audio in and out of your computer, you can create and edit your "rack" onscreen, with a degree of flexibility that's hard to do with conventional setups - but there are both pros and cons to taking the software path.
WAVES' GTR processor models both the amp and several different effects.
Pro: Owning the amount of gear that's virtualized in these programs, let alone creating a setup using that gear, would be insanely impractical.
Con: There's always a slight delay between the time you play a note and the time you hear it, owing to the computer and audio interface's latency (delay caused by processing time). Mitigating factor: Today's fast machines can deliver latencies below 3 milliseconds. This is about the same delay as moving three feet further away from a speaker, and is virtually unnoticeable.
Pro: With a software-based system, there are no issues about getting individual effects devices to work together (impedance matching, levels, etc.).
Con: When playing live, toting around a desktop computer can be a drag, and a laptop usually has to be "babied." Mitigating factor: Products like those from Open Labs, and the Muse Receptor, are road-worthy plug-in hosts that are more convenient than desktop computers and more rugged than laptops.
Pro: The cost of a computer and suitable program is much less than buying the hardware needed to create an equivalent setup.
Con: You don't have the same kind of hands-on control associated with most hardware, unless you buy and set up a control surface.
Pro: For studio work, this type of program is a dream come true. No matter what sound the producer wants, you'll probably be able to provide it.
Con: Your audio interface has to work with guitar. Mitigating factor: Some software FX packages include an hardware interface optimized to work with both guitars and computers, and more audio interfaces include special inputs specifically for electric guitar and bass.
Pro: You can get a lot more sounds and flexibility than with traditional setups.
Con: Nothing has exactly the same sound and feel as a tube amp. Mitigating factor: When sitting in a mix, few people (if any) can tell that a modeled amp sound isn't the real thing.
Bottom line: For live use, you might still want to go with a hardware modeling box or conventional amplifier setup, although computer-based solutions are becoming increasingly attractive. But in the studio - assuming you like the sound and feel - the sky's the limit with this new breed of guitar-oriented programs.