Episode 44 of the Bite-Size Guitar Podcast looks at what guitar plugins are, why you might want to try them out, and how to get started.
If you’ve never tried using some plugins before or connected your guitar to a computer, this episode will give you a quick look at why you might want to try them out.
Listen to the podcast using the below player or search for Bite-Size Guitar Podcast in any podcast app.
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If you have a question about this episode or any other question about learning or playing guitar, ask it here and I’ll answer it in a future episode.
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Here are some useful guides and tutorials to get you started with plugins:
- Guide to Guitar VST Plugins (includes a list of plugins to try out)
- Guide to DAWs for Guitar
- How to Connect Your Guitar to a Computer
- Guide to Recording Guitar at Home
- How to Run Plugins as Standalone
Also, check out my YouTube channel for video tutorials explaining how to record guitar and use different DAWs.
Podcast Episode 44 Transcript
Hi, I’m Aaron from guitargearfinder.com and this is episode 44 of the Bite-Size Guitar podcast.
In this episode, let’s have a brief look at something fun you can do with your guitar when you connect it to a computer. Let’s have a look at something called plugins and the things you can do with them. A lot of guitarists enjoy using plugins so if you’ve never tried using them before, have a listen to this episode. In this episode, let’s look at what guitar plugins are, different ways you can use them and how you can get started.
I’ll go through the basics here, then you can check out my detailed guide on plugins on my website for step by step tutorials and downloads.
What are Plugins
First off, what are plugins? A plugin is a piece of software that you can either use on its own, or you can run it inside another program such as a DAW.
Let’s say you’re recording a guitar track and you want to add some subtle reverb to the track after you’ve already recorded it. Instead of re-recording the part with a reverb pedal or amp, you could use a reverb plugin to add studio-quality reverb to the track.
This is as simple as dragging a reverb plugin over the track in your recording program.
What makes plugins great is that you can easily tweak and change the plugin’s settings at any time. If you want to change the type of reverb, adjust the reverb level, or any other setting, you can do it at any time without it permanently changing your recording.
There are plugins for pretty much anything you could think of. There are plugins for guitar effects, plugins that model guitar amps and cabinets, mixing and mastering plugins, or even plugins that let you add completely virtual instruments to backing tracks or recordings.
Why Should You Use Plugins
There are a lot of different ways you can use plugins. I’ll just briefly talk about three reasons why you might want to play around with some plugins. Some of these reasons you might not be interested in, but I’m sure you’ll find at least one of them useful or fun to play around with.
The first reason is if you want to get into recording your guitar.
There are two ways you can use plugins for your recordings.
If you like to record your guitar amp using a microphone, you can use plugins to help with mixing and mastering. You can use plugins to add reverb if needed, or you can use plugins as tools such as noise gates, tuners, compressors, or EQ adjustments.
This is the same if you record an acoustic guitar with a microphone. Plugins can be used to shape and enhance your tone or to help with mixing.
Alternatively, you can plug your guitar directly into your computer and use plugins to handle every aspect of your guitar tone.
You can use plugins to simulate a specific guitar amp and cabinet, add stompboxes or rack effects, or you can use plugins to try out different amp models to figure out which one best fits your recording.
Some guitarists aren’t able to record a cranked tube amp at home, so plugins can be used to create impressive-quality tones all using software.
For an example of what I’m talking about, you hear a different example of plugins in action at the start of each of these episodes. I recorded a few different versions of the little guitar riff you hear at the start of each episode, then for each episode I play around with different plugins to create different amp tones and effects. Some of the effects and tones you’ve heard are pretty standard guitar tones, while others have been more out-there with the effects. Over the next few episodes, I’ll play around with more out-there effects so you can hear more extreme examples of what plugins are capable of.
The next reason is to use plugins to create backing tracks or jam tracks for you to play guitar over. Plugins aren’t just for guitar effects, there are instrument plugins that use either modeling technology or samples to replicate the sound of other instruments. You can use these plugins to create realistic sounding drum tracks, piano, bass, or even an entire symphony.
If you write a song or want to play a cover, you can quickly throw together a backing track for that song using plugins to fill in for drums, bass, keyboards, or any other instrument you want.
The quality and range of instrument plugins available today is incredible.
For example, here’s a quick drum beat I threw together in less than a minute using a drum plugin.
Now I’m a terrible drummer and if I tried to record myself playing on a real drum kit, it wouldn’t sound anywhere as good as what you just heard. But with a plugin, I can easily create realistic-sounding drum tracks far better than I could create with a real drum kit. Of course, a real drummer recorded professionally in a studio will always sound better, but this is pretty good.
Did I mention that the plugin you just heard is completely free?
While there are a lot of expensive plugins out there, there are also a lot of free and very low-cost plugins that sound great. One of the reasons you might want to play around with plugins is that they can be a cheap or zero cost way to experiment with different tones and instruments. There are guitar plugins that give you access to hundreds of guitar pedals and amps based on real world gear.
Outside of recording guitar or creating backing tracks, the third reason you might want to play around with plugins is just for jamming. Load up a plugin such as AmpliTube, BIAS FX, Line 6 Helix Native, or any other popular guitar plugins and you’ll instantly have access to hundreds of modeled pedals, amps, and cabinets.
Some of my students like to use these plugins to help them figure out what type of amp suits their style. They can use the plugin to learn about the differences between popular amps and switch instantly between them. Most plugins include amp models based on Marshall, Fender, Orange, VOX, and others. A lot of them also include models based on boutique or rare amps that most of us will never get to try out in person.
On the effects side of things, you can use a plugin to learn about all the different types of effects commonly used with guitar. Each plugin is like having a multi-effects pedal on hand. A lot of them are modelled on real pedals, while other plugins can go much further than what you get in typical stompboxes. I’ve written a lot of songs that started out thanks to a spark of inspiration I got from a plugin.
The main point I’m trying to get across is that it’s a lot of fun just jamming with different plugins. Even if you’re someone who plugs your guitar straight into your amp and no effects in between, I suggest playing around with plugins.
How to Get Started With Plugins
Okay, hopefully I’ve made it clear why you might want to play around with some plugins. So let’s look at how to get started.
The first thing you need to do is connect your guitar to a computer. I have a video explaining four common methods you can use, so check it out to see which method might suit you. There’s also a guide on my website with more detailed advice and options.
Depending on what gear you have, you might already have everything you need to plug your guitar into a computer. So check out the video before you go and buy anything.
If you play acoustic guitar, you can still use plugins. You’ll either need to use a microphone to get your guitar sound onto your computer, or if your guitar has an inbuilt pickup, use that to plug in.
Once you have your guitar plugged into your computer, there are two ways you can use plugins.
The first way is to use plugins within a DAW. DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation and it’s what people use to record, edit, and mix tracks. There are a few different DAWs and you’ve probably heard of popular options such as Pro Tools, Ableton Live, FL Studio, Reaper, or others.
The basic idea here is that you open up the DAW, set up a track for your guitar, then you can add as many plugins as you want to your track.
I have a series of videos explaining how to use different DAWs with guitar, so check them out to see what it’s like to use a DAW to record guitar. There’s also step-by-step guides and tutorials on my website for the most popular DAWs.
The big advantage of using a DAW with your plugins is that it gives you a lot of flexibility. You can set up a track for your guitar and add some effects or amp modelling plugins, then you can create a track for bass or drums, or import songs or backing tracks to jam along with.
Even if you’re not interested in recording your guitar, a DAW can be a handy tool to have. A lot of live performers use DAWs such as Ableton Live to set up loops or add effects to their tone.
The other way you can use plugins is as standalone. What this means is that you open the plugin on it’s own without needing to use a DAW. Most popular effects and amp modelling plugins such as BIAS FX or AmpliTube give you the option to install a standalone version when you install the plugin.
When you install a standalone version, you can simply open the plugin and jump right into jamming with it.
Not all plugins come with a standalone version, but there is a way you can make almost any plugin run as standalone. Check out the tutorial on my website to learn how.
Ideas to Get You Started
Hopefully I’ve given you a good enough overview of plugins to give you an idea why you might want to play around with them. I haven’t gone into specifics or step-by-step details here because I just wanted to explain why plugins are worth trying out.
I have an entire series of tutorials, guides, and videos covering plugins, DAWs, and recording if you want step-by-step advice. I also have a list of plugins you might want to start with including free options you can download straight away. Check them out on my website to get started.
Also check out my guide and video explaining how to connect your guitar to a computer to see how easy it is to get started with plugins.
If you’ve never tried using plugins before, download a few free ones and experiment with them. Have fun with them and I’ll talk to you next time.