Ampless Guitar Rigs: Electric Guitar or Pedalboard Direct to PA

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With the improving technology of amp simulation, it’s becoming more and more tempting to switch to an ampless guitar rig.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at your options for amp simulation and the downsides and problems you’re likely to encounter (and also how to combat these problems).

Let’s get started!

You’ll Need an Amp Simulator

If you want to plug your guitar or pedalboard directly into a PA, the solution is to use an amp simulator. Whilst it’s technically possible to run your rig direct without using an amp sim, if you’ve ever tried it, you’ll know the sound is just… bad.

There are a few ways to include an amp sim in your rig:

  • Amp sim pedal – If you already have a pedalboard that you’re happy with, including an amp sim at the end of the chain (or before mod/delay/reverb) will be your best option. These are just like any other effects pedal you might have on your board.
  • Multi-effects with included amp sim – The most convenient and compact option is to use a multi-effects pedal which has an amp sim built-in (e.g. Line 6 Helix or POD HD500x).
  • Amp sim plugins – You could download an amp sim plugin and run your rig through that before going into the PA. Although, this method is probably not going to be convenient unless you already include a laptop in your rig.

Amp Simulator Pedals

There are many amp simulator pedals on the market. Some of the most popular and frequently recommended amp sims are the Tech 21 Character series pedals.

The Tech 21 pedals won’t break the bank, but if you’re looking for a really budget-friendly option (perhaps if going direct to the PA is a backup option) the Joyo American Sound pedals are highly rated.

There are many other options to choose from too. I would recommend heading over to YouTube to watch some demos. It’s usually a good idea to buy a pedal second hand, then if you don’t get on with it you can always sell it and get most of your money back.

Where Should You Place an Amp Sim in the Chain?

You want to place the amp sim either at the end of the chain or before the mods/delay/reverb. Placing any pedals after the amp sim will be like putting them in the effects loop if you were using an amp.

Will You Be Switching Between an Amp & Direct to PA?

If you will be switching between using an amp and going directly into a PA, you might want to find an amp sim pedal with an on/off switch. This means you can easily turn the sim off without having to change your pedalboard.

If you use a pedal without an on/off switch, you’ll have to manually take the pedal out of the chain if you don’t want it on.

If you’ll only be going direct into a PA, then it doesn’t really matter if the pedal has this switch.

Multi-Effects with Built-In Amp Sim

If you’re looking for the most compact option, a lot of multi-effects pedals have built-in amp simulators.

There are quite a few options to choose from here ranging in price from a couple of hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.

The Line 6 Helix is possibly the most popular option, but AxeFX, Kempler, and the Boss GT 1000 are also good options to check out.

Personally, I’m using the Line 6 POD HD500x. This pedal is a few years old now but they are still pretty good and you can pick them up second hand for a very reasonable price.

There are plenty of YouTube videos comparing these pedals with one another and with real amps.

Here’s an example:

Consider a Powered FRFR Cab

When you cut out the amp and go direct into the PA, you open up a few potential problems. What if there aren’t enough channels on the house PA? What if on-stage monitoring is poor or non-existent?

If you’re using your own PA and gear, these might not be a problem, but they might be an issue if you’re using the house PA.

One solution to this is to purchase a powered FRFR cab. You can plug your pedalboard into the cab and essentially you have yourself an amp. And if the monitoring on stage is poor, you can use the cab as a monitor.

What Will Sound Quality Be Like?

In recent years, the sound quality of amp simulators has improved dramatically. Whilst they haven’t quite matched the level of real amps yet, they are certainly a viable option even for professional guitarists.

For example, Cory Churko uses an ampless guitar rig for his live performances as he shows in the video below.

Downsides of Going Direct Into a P.A.

Before you decide to go with an ampless rig, there are a few downsides to consider to make sure you’re fully prepared when you have a live show.

  • At the mercy of the venue’s PA – Unless you have your own PA and sound guy to use at your shows, you’re going to be relying on the venues’. For a start, they need to have enough channels on the mixer for your to go direct, and without your amp behind you, you comletely relying on the sound guy to get your sound right.
  • Problems with monitoring – A benefit of having a guitar amp is that it acts as a monitor on the stage. If there’s no stage monitor or it is poor quality, you will have trouble hearing yourself. As I mentioned earlier, a powered FRFR cab can solve this problem.
  • Sound quality not as good as a real amp – Although the sound quality of amp simulators is getting better and better all the time, it still isn’t quite the same as the tone of a real amp.

Wrapping it Up

So, it’s deffinetely possible to run an ampless guitar rig, you’ll just need to use an amp sim. You can buy an amp sim pedal, a multi-effects pedal with an included amp sim, or you can use a plugin. There are a few downsides that you need to consider, but if you account for these, going direct into the PA is a great way to simplify your rig and reduce the amount of gear you need to take with you to your shows.

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