If you’ve spent a considerable amount of time and effort mastering your instrument, chances are, your knowledge base on other aspects of writing and recording feel lacking. Taking the time to learn to record your songs takes an entirely new skillset it seems. If you’re ready to start recording demos or releasing material on your own, these time-saving tools may help you achieve your tone faster, record your song with fewer technological hurdles, and focus on guitar-playing. Additionally, two on this list are important as research resources when trying to learn more about the tools being used by other guitarists. All of them have saved me time and frustration, resulting in greater productivity and a more accurate knowledge base.
1. Fractal Axe-FX
I cannot imagine a world without the tones I get from the Fractal Axe FX. The Axe Fx is by no means the only amp and effects modeler (just ask any Helix, Kemper or Headrush user), but it is arguably the most feature-intense. It models virtually every aspect of the signal chain, from the incoming voltage to speaker cone response. I’ve used it in studio as well as live, and it handles both excellently. You won’t find it at musiciansfriend.com or any of the mainstream music stores, however. This is probably one of the reasons so few guitarists are aware of its capabilities. I’ve used Fractal’s flagship unit for around four years now, and still cannot find a better solution.
I recently bought a Headrush after watching with wide-eyed-wonder all of the NAMM demos and walkthroughs. When I finally got my hands on one, I simply could not get the sound I wanted with the available amps and effects, which were far more limited than I expected. The Fractal Axe FX, on the other hand, comes with an enormous range of amps and effects, accompanied by a high degree of editing capabilities. In addition, the list of guitarists who sing its praises and/or endorse them read like a who’s who of guitarists. One thing you should know: it’s not cheap. One of the complaints you’ll find online includes the required learning curve, however. If the features seem a bit daunting, here’s my suggestion: start with the presets, which are usable, musical, and very natural-sounding, and slowing begin learning about the deep editing features, like the Impulse Response, routing and reamping capabilities. If you want to dial-in a memorable tone right away, I can’t think of any other tool that can get you there faster.
2. Logic Pro X
Most Digital Audio Workstations now have many of the same features, but the ease-of-use I found with Logic helped me focus on the music and less on the tool itself. I used Pro Tools for over 10 years and had no desire to use anything else. After all, Pro Tools is a mainstay in virtually every serious studio worth its weight. I had no idea that any other DAW could help me record faster or achieve a decent sound more easily. One day, my bandmates asked me to acquire Logic so we could pass a session back and forth and add instruments to a demo we were working on. This was in anticipation of an upcoming studio session. I reluctantly purchased and installed it, with the intention of removing it after the recording project was complete.
Long story short: Once I started using it, I never missed Pro Tools. Not once. Logic allows guitarists to make great-sounding recordings with less struggle and resources. Other systems require Waves or other plug-ins to really shine. Not Logic. It contained the tools, workflow and file management that was easy to understand, easy to return to after a long hiatus. The available instruments and sound library — especially the virtual drummer — are usable and perfect for recording your ideas quickly and easily. The UI is a pleasure to use, even after long hours of recording. One of my Pro Tools friends commented that it “looks like GarageBand.” Nonsense. Underneath the user-friendly interface is a super-powerful Digital Audio Workstation that can handle virtually anything you throw at it.
3. Premier Guitar Rig-Rundowns
Now for a resource that doesn’t require a purchase. The Premier Guitar Rig-Rundown videos are one of the most valuable resources for discovering the tools behind the sounds of your favorite guitarists. In addition, these videos feature interviews with the band’s guitar tech and demonstrate what is being used, why it’s being used, and what was replaced in previous rigs. You may be surprised which guitarist is plugging straight to the board from their Marshall amp, who is using the Fractal Axe FX instead of analog pedals, and who has their guitar held together with duct tape. I can’t think of very many resources that bypass all of the typical interview nonsense and go straight to the information useful to a guitarist.
I first became aware of Lander at SXSW a few years ago and was immediately impressed by the level of improvement their processing brought to my demos. They are essentially an automated mastering service. If you are cranking out songs and demos faster than you release, it may not be feasible to have all of these mastered at a costly mastering house. Landr’s low cost means you can give your songs the kind of polish they need for release without breaking the bank. This is where Landr truly shines. Most of the serious studio cats I introduced to the service were skeptical of the concept at first, as they should be. After all, mastering can’t do much for a song that’s been horribly tracked and mixed. But for me, Landr has saved me time and expense with my single releases and brought them up to broadcast levels. Pro Tools Expert recently put them head-to-head in a blind test against other services and Landr came out on top by 46%.
Equipboard is, in their words, building “the world’s largest database of artists and the gear they use.” Conducting a Google search for the source of, say, Kevin Shield’s tone, is a gamble at best. At Equipboard, they show you the pedals he’s using (one of them is a Vorg!) and post evidence of its use with a photo of his actual pedalboard. I’ve spent too much time researching these things on the general web, only to find misinformation, mythology, and hearsay. I prefer resources that demonstrate the evidence. Today, with resources like Equipboard and Rig Rundown, it’s easy to see with our own eyes what is behind these sounds. Before the availability of these carefully curated databases–especially in the early days of the internet–there were only rumors and second-hand information.