Do Impulses Make Direct Electric Guitar Recording Usable?

Brandon Drury —  April 4, 2008

I’ve been called a snob. Apparently some members of RecordingReview think I should be a little more tolerant of crappy guitar sounds.. Call me what you will. I’ve been a guitar tone junky for many years. I know what excites me and life is too short to recording music that doesn’t. Up to this point, I’ve heard very few recordings that utilized direct recording of electric guitars that didn’t sound fake, plastic, boring, unacceptable, or funny crap.

Well, this week TDM2684 thought it would be funny to cost me hours and hours of writing in my upcoming home recording book when he informed me about “impulses”. I’m familiar with impulses for reverbs and even in the modeling of plugins found in the Focusrite Liquid Mix. However, I must admit that I don’t read the Guitar section of the New York Times anymore. Now that I’ve heard enough guitar impulses, it appears I’ll be setting noggin to revise mode yet again. (NEVER write a book!)

I was amazed to see that guitar impulses provide dramatic improvement in the sound of direct electric guitars. I’m not really up on how they work, but I have to say that the technology has taken a quantum leap with this impulse business. The lifeless, sterile sound is gone. The fizzy sound is gone. Not bad!

How Good Are These Impulses?
I always took pride in my ability to immediately recognize direct guitars when evaluating mixes on Recording Reviews. I’ve been stumped a few times over the years, but it’s usually a big deal when I am. I always end up asking the person what they used to record these guitars.

The new impulses show none of the obvious signs of direct guitar. I won’t be able to boast, “I don’t like the direct guitars” anymore in blind tests. This is a big deal!

The mixes I’ve heard that used direct guitar and impulses weren’t perfect. They sounded like good electric guitar tracks. Of course, good electric guitar tracks are…..well, Good! However, they are not great guitars. Of course, this brings up the question: How many GREAT sounding guitar tracks do we hear? Not many! The average beginner micing up a typical amp at home does not come up with tones like I’ve heard with the impulses. So for the guy using EZ Drummer for drums, who doesn’t own the amp of the century (1969 50 watt Marshall Plexi) or his version of the amp of the century, the impulses are a nice alternative.

It needs to be said that I come from the rock guitar side of the fence. In pop music, electric guitars typically don’t require the same locomotive power that rock guitars do. In pop music, I’d say that the guitar impulses are ready for the big time.

Direct Guitar Impulses Vs The Real Thing
So are direct guitar impulses going to replace the real thing for electric guitar recording in rock music? The answer to that depends. For the guy just trying to record some cool tunes in his basement and doesn’t feel like it’s cheating to use drum samples or direct guitar, I think creative and tonal possibilities have improved immensely. The ability to plugin and immediately make music without any regard for audio engineering is worth quite a bit.

For the guy that hasn’t pissed years of his adult life away honing his audio engineering chops, these impulses get you up to “good” sounding guitars instantly without losing your hair, wallet, or wives.

So here comes the real question. Am I going to switch to electric guitar impulses? (My hair and wallet are already gone!) I thought about this morning. I pondered life without my Rivera Knucklehead or my piece of junk wedge monitor with a G12H30 Celestion. Then I listened to a mix I had done yesterday. My real electric guitars (which happen to be among the best I’ve recorded) still sound bigger and meaner than the impulses (at least the impulses I’ve heard so far).

Then again, I often have to work REALLY hard to get the electric guitar tones happening. Sometimes I screw it up. I may screw up the next session. It wouldn’t be the 12th time! So it seems to me that these direct guitar with impulses may be a new possibility for me….I’m just not quite ready. Are you?


Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.

6 responses to Do Impulses Make Direct Electric Guitar Recording Usable?

  1. hey right on man!!!!
    Still if I had the set up to mic a amp I probably would, but like you said:

    “(the person)who doesn’t own the amp of the century (1969 50 watt Marshall Plexi) or his version of the amp of the century, the impulses are a nice alternative.”

    When I started recording I didnt have anything but a m-audio fast track pro, a guitar and a 1/4 cable…I had to look into amp modeling on a PC….and impulses saved my life.

    thanks for the plug!!! lol

  2. you might wanna link to this site :

    thats the site i got all my info from, so if someone has questions these guys got awnsers.

  3. Yes, impulses are a great alternative. I’ve been using them lately with amplitube, and getting some great results. You can’t tell the diff, especially if your guitars are double or quad tracked, like a lot of rock and metal is.

    I frequent the guitarampmodeling site as well. Some very good knowledge there, and free impulses as well. Give the Guitarhack ones a try, among the best. Also the new revalver MKIII has impulse modeling and the demos sound very promising.

  4. I created my own impulse from my MESA/Boogie gear and detailed the experiment in the forum here:

  5. hey guys – i just dabbled with these impulses the other night with Amplitube Jimi Hendrix and Guitar Rig2 and i was astounded at how great they sound! without realising it i was still jamming away 45 mins or so after activating it and i hadn’t even noticed the time. I guess that’s a good sign.

    While I’m keen to jump into this, I’m having a really hard time tracking down cheap/free Mac VST/RTAS plugins for handling the impulse responses. SIR2 is the one I’m demoing right now, but it runs SUPER SLOW on my system (i’m using a PowerPC Mac (not intel) and I also use Protools LE 7.4).

    Anyone have any hints for us digidesign/mac folks? ;)

  6. For Mac folks you are in the same boat I’m in…once you get going with Pro Tools you begin a journey of buying more and more stuff that you could just do with a $500 PC and cakewalk/used Echo audio card. Is the street cred worth that much? I decided to just apply for some loans and use the real Pro Tools ($250,000 of equipment) and get the certification I need meanwhile running what I just mentioned for my recording needs. Recording is one thing, audio certificates are another. You wont learn by running Pro Tools at home unless you can see how it works with the top preamps, mixers, mics, oh yeah and the latest Macs. Buddy of mine fell into the trap of buying a Mac on eBay not realizing you need to get a workstation not just any old Mac. For that price and if you are just recording guitar stuff, you could put the money into a good sound that will give you more street cred than having a Mac/PT, etc. You have to decide what you want to do in life, and getting a cheap Mac and anything less than a Digi003 will not get you anywhere so you might as well sell what you have and hope the next dude on eBay will think he is really getting a good deal.