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When it comes to creating the perfect guitar tones for metal, musicians have a range of options at their disposal. From the tried-and-true real amps that have been the go-to choice for generations, to the cutting-edge digital solutions that harness the power of technology, each approach offers unique advantages.

In this article, we'll explore three popular choices within the metal guitar community: real amps, amp plugins, and digital amp modelers. We'll delve into the top contenders in each category and discuss their key features, pricing, and suitability for metal guitarists. Whether you're seeking the raw power of a real amp, the convenience of amp sims, or the versatility of digital amp modelers, there's a solution out there to help you achieve your desired metal tones.

I. Real Amps

Real amps have long been the staple choice for guitarists seeking an authentic, tangible experience with their electric guitars. These amplifiers provide an unmatched level of inspiration and tone that many players find captivating. (Most amp plugins strive to emulate these amps.) There are many options but here are three standout amps that have earned a solid reputation:

A. EVH 5150

The EVH 5150 is a legendary amplifier that has become synonymous with Eddie Van Halen's signature tone. This beast of an amp delivers high-gain tones with unparalleled aggression and clarity. Key features of the EVH 5150 include powerful and responsive tube-driven circuitry, dedicated gain and volume controls for each channel, a built-in effects loop for integrating external pedals, and cabinet simulation for direct recording or silent practice. 

B. Mesa Dual Rectifier

The Mesa Dual Rectifier is a powerhouse amplifier known for its tight low end and crushing distortion. It has become a staple in the metal world, delivering bone-shaking tones that cut through any mix. Key features of the Mesa Dual Rectifier include multiple channels with distinct voicings for various metal styles, dual Rectifier tube-driven circuitry for thick and saturated tones, flexible EQ controls for precise sound shaping, and switchable power modes for adjusting wattage and headroom. 

C. Friedman BE 100 Deluxe

The Friedman BE 100 Deluxe is a boutique amplifier designed for the modern metal guitarist. Developed by renowned amp builder Dave Friedman, it offers a wide tonal palette ranging from classic British crunch to modern high-gain brutality. Key features of the Friedman BE 100 Deluxe include four channels with independent controls for maximum flexibility, hand-wired construction for optimal signal integrity, a custom-voiced BE/HBE switch for versatile tonal options, and an effects loop with a silent switching option. 

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II. Amp Sims

Amp sims, short for amp simulations, have revolutionized the way guitarists create tones in the digital age. These software-based solutions emulate the sound and characteristics of real amplifiers, providing an affordable and convenient alternative. Here are three notable amp sims that cater to the needs of metal guitarists:

A. Clairvoyant Amp Suite

The Clairvoyant Amp Suite developed here at Modern Metal Songwriter is a powerful plugin that offers a collection of meticulously modeled guitar amplifiers, specifically tailored for metal musicians. It stands out for its ability to deliver a useable guitar tone quickly, allowing metal guitarists to craft their desired tones with confidence and without spending needless hours tweaking.

For those who do wish to be more meticulous, the Clairvoyant Amp Suite features authentic emulations of iconic metal amps with customizable parameters, an intuitive user interface for easy tone shaping and tweaking, an impulse response (IR) loader for realistic speaker cabinet emulation, and an extensive selection of virtual effects pedals to enhance your tone.

Another key feature is the “tilt” EQ feature that allows for another layer of creative tone shaping. Priced at $70, the Clairvoyant Amp Suite provides metal guitarists with a comprehensive range of high-gain amp models and versatile effects, making it a valuable tool for achieving crushing metal sounds. 

B. Neural DSP

Neural DSP has gained a stellar reputation for its top-notch amp sims tailored specifically for metal genres. Their plugins offer a combination of highly detailed amp models and cutting-edge technology. These plugins have become go-to choices for their strong attention to detail and focus on delivering authentic, high-gain tones.

Neural DSP's amp sims boast industry-leading DSP algorithms for exceptional sound quality, collaborations with renowned metal artists to capture their signature tones, integrated virtual cabinets and microphones for realistic recording setups, and user-friendly interfaces with intuitive controls and presets. 

C. STL Tones

STL Tones offers a wide range of amp sims and guitar plugins designed to meet the needs of modern metal guitarists. Their collaborations with top artists and renowned gear manufacturers result in highly sought-after virtual amps. STL Tones' amp sims provide accurate recreations of iconic guitar amps with a focus on high-gain tones.

Additionally, they offer signature artist plugins that replicate the tones of famous metal guitarists. With a comprehensive selection of virtual stompbox effects and cabinet impulses, as well as flexible routing options for fine-tuning your signal chain, STL Tones' amp sims offer metal guitarists a diverse range of tonal options. 

III. Digital Amp Modelers

Digital amp modelers provide a comprehensive solution for guitarists seeking the convenience of a versatile all-in-one unit. These devices accurately replicate the tones of various amplifiers and offer a wide range of customization options.

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Here are three popular digital amp modelers that have gained acclaim in the metal guitar community:

A. Kemper

The Kemper Profiler is a renowned digital amp modeler that has set the standard for capturing the sound and feel of real amplifiers. It utilizes unique profiling technology to accurately recreate the sonic characteristics of specific amps. With its vast library of profiles from iconic amplifiers, including high-gain monsters, the Kemper Profiler offers metal guitarists the ability to explore an extensive range of tones.

It features an intuitive interface for deep tone customization and tweaking, extensive onboard effects, and cabinet simulations. Priced between $1,800 and $2,500 depending on where you look, the Kemper Profiler is a go-to choice for metal guitarists seeking a wide range of metal tones in a compact unit.

B. Quad Cortex

The Quad Cortex by Neural DSP is a cutting-edge digital amp modeler and multi-effects unit designed to provide the ultimate tone-shaping capabilities. Powered by powerful processing technology, the Quad Cortex offers highly realistic amp modeling and impulse responses. Its touchscreen interface allows for intuitive control and preset management, while an extensive array of virtual effects pedals, including high-gain distortions, further expands the sonic palette.

The Quad Cortex offers advanced routing and signal processing options, giving metal guitarists a powerful tool to shape their tone. Priced between $1,800 and $2,000, the Quad Cortex pushes the boundaries of digital amp modeling with its state-of-the-art technology and comprehensive control options.

C. AxeFX

The AxeFX by Fractal Audio Systems has long been regarded as a flagship digital amp modeler, delivering studio-quality tones and an extensive feature set. With highly accurate amp and cabinet simulations, the AxeFX provides metal guitarists with a vast collection of high-quality effects pedals, and processors.

Its detailed tone shaping and editing options allow for precise customization, and its seamless integration with recording setups and live performance rigs makes it a favorite among renowned metal musicians. Priced between $1,800 and $3,000, the AxeFX offers metal guitarists a comprehensive range of tones and effects at their fingertips.

Conclusion: Choosing the Right Option for Your Metal Tones

When it comes to achieving the best guitar tones for metal, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The choice between real amps, amp sims, and digital amp modelers depends on your specific needs, preferences, and budget. Here's a recap of the strengths of each option:

Real Amps: Real amps offer an authentic and tangible experience, providing raw power and inspiring tones. The EVH 5150, Mesa Dual Rectifier, and Friedman BE 100 Deluxe are excellent choices for those seeking the sonic qualities and craftsmanship of real amps. However, they can be costly and less convenient for home recording setups.

Amp Sims: Amp sims provide a cost-effective and convenient solution for achieving high-quality metal tones in a digital environment. The Clairvoyant Amp Suite, Neural DSP, and STL Tones offer a wide range of meticulously modeled amp simulations tailored specifically for metal genres. Amp sims are flexible, customizable, and often come bundled with virtual effects pedals and cabinet emulations. They are particularly suited for home recording setups, allowing you to capture professional-quality metal tones directly in your DAW.

Digital Amp Modelers: Digital amp modelers, such as the Kemper, Quad Cortex, and AxeFX, combine amp modeling, effects, and comprehensive control options into an all-in-one unit. These devices offer the versatility of multiple amp models, effects pedals, and deep tone editing capabilities. They are highly portable, making them suitable for both home recording and live performances. Digital amp modelers excel in delivering a vast array of tones and effects without the need for physical amplifiers.

Ultimately, the best option for you depends on your specific requirements, workflow, and tonal preferences. Experimenting with different options and finding the one that inspires you the most is key to unlocking your creativity as a metal guitarist.

Remember, whether you choose a real amp, amp sims, or digital amp modelers, the most important factor is your passion for creating music and unleashing your unique metal sound. Embrace the technology and gear that empowers you to express yourself fully as a metal guitarist and songwriter.

At Modern Metal Songwriter, we understand the importance of finding the right tools to enhance your metal guitar playing and songwriting. Join our Facebook Group, where you can connect with like-minded individuals, share your music, and gain valuable insights from the community.