MOD can produce great electric guitar tones, but it makes the user work for it and is, in places, far less intuitive/comprehensive than the competition. Since LV2 is niche, new quality amps are likely far away, and Guitarix is amazing (on par quality-wise, with some competition but way too deep to be immediately enjoyable) I suggest - if possible - to split, retune, beautify, and make Amp X into 3-4 separate plugins that would provide a complete, user-friendly experience for guitar players (in the style of much beloved for their sound and presentation Neural DSP plugins).
Here’s the (very) long version of it:
This will be a rather long post, and it’s directed mostly at the MOD Team (@jon forgive me for making you read all this), but I’d appreciate the voice of support from other MOD users if you can suffer through reading all of this, and you agree with the message.
Quickly about me. I’m primarily a guitar player, and while I’m an amateur and my needs are not very hard to meet (I operate in the realm of Fender-ish, super clean, or edge of breakup 90% of the time), I’ve been doing the digital tone chasing thing for a long while, and I played either full or trial versions of everything: Helix Native (tried hardware too), Neural DSP, Guitar Rig, Amplitube, TH3, BIAS, Kuassa, Scuffham, LePou, NaLex… you name it.
Let’s start with the most important: MOD can produce guitar tones that are very good, usable, and on par with some of the guitar-centric competition out there. MOD GUI can be outstanding. Some amps/effects look a bit generic/unpolished (the fact that one of my favorite sounding reverbs by Rakarrack, has a mix knob that gives a fully dry signal when turned to the right and reports values in a range of 0-127 feels a bit janky, but that’s a topic for a whole different discussion), but most of them look cool because they resemble real stompboxes. Many guitar players will no doubt appreciate turning real-looking knobs on real-looking amps like Onyx/Titan/Supersonic over the colorful squares in Helix Native/Quad Cortex.
All that being said, I feel like MOD makes achieving a variety of guitar tones far less intuitive than the competition. Let me explain that with a simple example, using plugins by the same developer. I naturally gravitated towards the Supersonic, because while I have never played the original amp that it models, from the description, it sounded Bassman-y, looked great, and has the UI resembling a classic, small Fender-ish amp (which most guitar players are super familiar with in either analog or digital version).
It took me a whole of 3 minutes to come up with 3 usable tones, even though the amp turned out to be a bit quirky. It has waaaaaay too much bass even at 12 o clock, but that actually made my guitar sound a bit Jazz-boxy so I got my first usable tone without turning any knobs. For the ‘clean with some hair’ kinda tone I dialed the bass all the way back, picked a brighter cab, and reduced gain post amp. Boom, second usable tone. Lastly, I decided to crank it for that Black Keys/Jack White kinda thing (again gain-staging after the amp, because the range of gain on most MOD plugins is kinda insane but that’s not extremely rare in the digital world).
Sound examples (literally took one minute to dial each one, no post-processing, just a bit room reverb on MOD):
Supersonic was a great, fun, enjoyable, intuitive experience, but there are some tones this amp is not good at producing, namely the higher gain ones. I could use an Onyx for that (which is similarly user-friendly but more complex and more versatile) but that wouldn’t illustrate what I’m trying to showcase, so I used another plugin by the developer of Supersonic, the Amp X.
The tone stack and cab parts of it are fairly self-explanatory, but it took me a very long time to get a feel for how the Pregain, Drive, Distortion (I think it’s called ‘Clean/Distortion’ on the Linux version, which while arguably less elegant is a bit easier to understand), and Mastergain interact with each other. Also, given the insane range on all the controls, I had to do some very drastic gain reduction post-amp and I think I gave myself some hearing loss regardless.
Anyway, I finally figured out that the drastic gain reduction combined with cranking the pre/power amp portion of the plugin can produce very good hard/rock and/or metal tones but I can then still use a… Fender Twin tone stack on top of it, which I guess is funny and could be done in theory in the analog world, but it is just about the most unintuitive thing I’ve ever experienced in all the years of my digital guitar-tone chasing.
So yeah, here’s the hard rock Twin Reverb sound for you all:
Rock you like a… Twin Reverb?
I’m not exaggerating that last part, and I understand that for some of the more technically-minded members of the MOD team and/or the community, this may not seem like a big deal, but it is.
I can already easily get all the basic tones I want from the Dwarf, so personally, I’m all set. And with all of the other plugins I can use on top of that, the possibilities are endless. However, I’m a fan of the platform, and I feel like it may really help it grow, if the process of getting the core, basic, guitar tone is not endless, but simple and intuitive.
I tried to scour the web in search of amp sims that could be added to Dwarf, but LV2 is still very niche so I failed. What’s worse is that developers of high-quality amp sims don’t seem to be super eager to implement it, which is frankly a bit troubling, and increased my motivation to write this post.
Fortunately, the current selection of effects in the MOD store is already fairly comprehensive. After giving the Amp X a shot, it became clear that it’s an amazing plugin, just as good as some of the other commercially available ones.
I realize the MOD team is very small, so I tried to think of a potential solution that could actually be possible to implement. I don’t know how realistic it is but here it is:
Amp X by Guitarix is very good, Supersonic is also very good, looks amazing and it’s far more intuitive. Would it be possible to make 3-4 plugins based on Amp X, with more limited controls, that could serve as more intuitive “levels of abstraction” for guitar players? For example:
- Clean Amp (call it something intuitive “American Clean” or “Crystal Clean” or w/e) - an amp that only breaks up at the maximum gain setting.
- Mid-gain amp (“British Punch”/“Creamy Tone” etc.) - am that goes from hairy cleans to rythm/rock sound at highest gain settings.
- High-gain Amp (“Modern Sound” etc.) - amp that can produce metal/lead tone at highest gain settings.
Each of the amps could have 1-3 tone stacks (Twin + Roland or Vox for clean, Marshall + Bassman for mid-gain, Mesa + Soldano/Rev for high gain, etc.). Each of the amps would only have one, most applicable selection of pre/power amp tubes hidden from the user (12ax7 for clean amps, mix with 6V6 for the high gain, etc.). The amps should only have simple controls (Gain/Volume, Bass/Middle/Treble/Presence for low-mid gain amps, + maybe some power amp controls for the high-gain one). Besides the Tone stack controls - which can be left exactly as they are now - the drive/distortion controls should be hidden from the user (set at an arbitrary value for each amp and maybe set up as a toggle between two ‘channels’ for the high-gain amp) and the gain/volume control ranges should be adjusted to make sense for each specific amp. A beautiful UI, on part with Supersonic/Onyx/Titan, wouldn’t hurt things either.
This looks better than many plugins I played sound:
This would allow MOD to offer/advertise an internally coherent, attractive amp selection, similar to what Neural DSP is doing with their plugins. It would also make the experience of guitar players much easier, more enjoyable, and far closer to ‘complete’ than what MOD has currently. Lastly, the Amp X could still be there for those folks who want to have all the controls and the hearing loss volume/gain ranges on it gave me…
Fine-tuning the values for each amp would be the tricky part, but since the code is already there, would you say that the implementation of the above idea is realistic? Can the MOD team even do it given that, despite their open-source nature, the plugin was developed by Guitarix? Are the Guitarix folks on this forum? I don’t know anything about programming but I’d be willing the help with the testing. I’m not a graphic designer either but perhaps I could help with the art for the UI if you provided me with the necessary specifications.
Thank you for coming to my TED talk.