How to Build a Virtual Cab Stack in Your Guitar Amp Modeler Using Impulse Response (IR) Files and Mix It

Mike “Dr Bonkers” Santasiero is the author of this article. Please see the About Us page and Portfolio  page for more details on this author.

At the bottom of my website page, just click on the flags and my website will translate the website text for you.

Below is the transcript of the video in case English is not your first language and you find the voice synthesizer difficult to follow along. I have a heavy New Jersey American accent, so I figured using the computer voice and providing a transcript may be easier than you trying to decipher my heavy accent:

Greetings, I am Mike a.k.a. Dr Bonkers from Dr Bonkers Soundlab.

Remember when you first played a guitar stack of two 4X12 cabinets and you felt that rush as your massive sound seemed to bend the light in the room?

Then you went to record it and it sounded so small when playing the tracks back, so you had to work with a good engineer to make it sound bigger?

Then when you bought your first amp modeler, you went through the same issue of things sounding smaller than you imagined them in your mind’s eye or ear. You played around with room mic impulse responses and all that seemed to do was make things sound boxy, phasey, or distant rather than big.

Part of the issue is that one mic per cab is not going to capture the “bigness” of 8 speakers moving air simultaneously. Too many mics on a cab though can cause phase problems which will hollow out your sound, rather than make it sound big.

Today I am going to show you how using multi mic mixes that most impulse response producers give you with their cab packs can be layered and panned to give you the perception of “bigness” in a drums, bass, and guitar mix context while leaving frequency room to fit a vocalist or solo guitar in that mix.

First, listen to your drum tuning and bass to see which guitar amp sounds will fit in that content with what arrangement your are playing. You will want your amp tone to handshake with the other instrument parts without throwing a proverbial blanket over the rhythm section.

I am going to use an Alice in Chains style rhythm section today for this demo.

Also for this demo, I will be using the Fractal Audio Systems Axe-FX 2 with screen shots of Axe-Edit to show the cabs that I am using for each part of the demo and show you how the cabs are panned in the mix. But you can do this with your own modeler or impulse response loader in your digital audio workstation recording software as well if you read the instructions.

For my bottom cab, I am going to use a mix I sell of a Marshall 1960B 4X12 loaded with Celestion G12-T75 speakers using a mix of certain mics that you can see in this screen shot. My mixes happen to have a little bit of a Crown pressure zone mic blended into these particular mixes to give some of the rumble and depth of the cab. This is how it sounds.

Sound clip 1 @2:17

For what would be my virtual top cab, I am going to use a 1983 Marshall 1960A JCM 800 Lead Series Guitar Amp Cabinet. This cabinet included the original four by twelve Celestion G12-80. They have a slightly different tonality that will compliment the 1960B. When I make a virtual amp stack, I do not like using all the same identical speakers and mics. Using at least two different types of speakers and mics tends to make things sound more full and real. This is how the 1960A slanted cabinet sounds.

Sound clip 2 @3:14

A typical way that you may want to use both cabs in a mix is to hard pan one cabinet to the far left in your mix and one cabinet panned as hard right in the mix. Think of a mix as an analog clock with hands, where hard left would be 7 o’clock and hard right would be 5 o’clock, then panning the cabs hard left and right will leave you maximum amount of space between 8 o’clock and 4 o’clock for all the rest of the instrumentation. However, this way of panning the cabs can sometimes make the guitar cabs sound unnaturally far apart. If you imagine your mix as a stage, this would put the cabs at farthest stage left and stage right.. Judge for yourself and please listen to this clip.

Sound clip 3 @4:15

Another common way of panning the two cabs in a mix, is pan the cabs at the 10 o’clock position and two o’clock position. This tends to create the perception that the cabs are more powerful. For some mixes, you may like this panning arrangement. This creates the illusion in a mix that your guitar cabs are placed left and right in front of the drum riser. In particular, you just have to be careful in the mix that no drums are panned in the exact same position and taking up the same dominant frequencies as your guitar tone. Otherwise you will be in a constant volume war with each of you asking for “more me” in the mix. Let’s have a listen to how this positioning of the cabs in a mix sounds.

Sound clip 4 @5:17

The next most common way to pan the two cabs is using the Phil Spector approach and pan them both at the 12 o’clock mix position, simulating a mono track. If there are any phase issues with your two cabs impulse response files, this panning most likely will expose the phase issues. Collapsing your mix to mono will also expose such issues, if you are concerned about mono compatibility of your mix.

If you are planning to use a single mono guitar track of two cabs mixed together and leave the mono track panned at the 12 o’clock position, you will compete typically with the bass guitar, bass drum, vocalist, and sometimes the snare drum too. So if you do this summing of the two cabs to one mono track, you will still probably want to pan that guitar toward one side of the mix or the other to give the other center panned instruments some frequency space.

If you are planning a Jimmy Page or Brian May style “guitar army” of multiple guitar parts, using mono mixes of your cab combinations may be the way you want to approach building your mix. In that case you want to make sure that each mono combination of cabs is different frequency-wise from the next guitar part so that they all co-exist and are distinct without turning into the sonic equivalent of a smeary muddy mess.

Let’s take a listen to the two cabs in a glorious mono type 12 o’clock mix position.

Sound clip 5 @7:00

Sloppy playing alert!!! For the next mix example I will introduce a second guitar part that is loosely doubling the first rhythm part. The 1960A and B cabs will be panned at 7 o’clock and 10 o’clock respectively for the first guitar part. On the second guitar part, an oversized Mesa Boogie 4X12 slant cab loaded with Celestion V30 speakers will be panned at 2 o’clock, while a Marshall 8X10 cab loaded with stock speakers will be panned at 5 o’clock.

Both of these cabs are also available for sale on my website.

I find the Mesa 4X12 tends to create a huge sound when paired with the Marshall 8X10. Likewise they also give a nice sonic contrast to the Marshall cabs without clashing with them.

By using this panning arrangement, the 2 guitars and 4 cabs create a huge stereo image that still gives the rest of the mix room while the timing differences give some ear candy and stereo panning fun for the listener. Let’s check it out.

Sound clip 6 @8:21

For the next clip we will have the Marshall 4X12 cabs panned at 10 o’clock and two o’clock. In contrast, the oversized Mesa Boogie 4X12 slant cab and Marshall 8X10 cab will be panned hard left and hard right respectively.

This method of blending two guitar parts gives less of that Rolling Stones bouncing guitars from speaker to speaker feel and more of the feel of a more massive guitar with some masking of the natural differences between parts. Please take a listen.

Sound clip 7 @9:10

For the last clip, we will reverse the panning position of the two guitars. The Marshall 4X12 cabs will now be paned hard left and right . Alternately, the oversized Mesa Boogie 4X12 slant cab and Marshall 8X10 cab will be panned at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock respectively. Please notice the subtle difference that reversing the cab positions makes in the mix.

Sound clip 8 @9:53

Thanks for your time today. If you like this clip and want more info like this, please like my YouTube channel or Facebook page and please bookmark my site to find out when the next video will be posted. Please feel free to share this clip too.

If you really like the cabs I am using, they are all available for purchase on this site along with a bunch of others. Your support makes it possible for me to give you more great IR files and video content. Thanks for listening and have the best day ever. Bye!

If you have any questions or would like me to address any more topics, please leave a comment below or on YouTube and I will do my best to give you the best info I can.


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