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I am learning and experimenting with Maschine Mk2, a MIDI Keyboard, and Komplete 9 for my pursuit of making music, a very EDM/DAW approach. When I got Komplete, although it came with Guitar Rig 5 and all the add-ons, it doesn't see any use despite it being a very, very powerful guitar processing system with tons of amp emulations and Rammfire.

I played guitar for a little over a year back in high school, and used a $99 Squier Mexi-Strat, and a little 40W Marshall. For learning video game tabs and practicing chords, it was sufficient, but I always coveted the sound of the Warlock Widow. I felt the guitar sounded deeper, chunkier and more metal - many told me this was because of the pickups. Then, I didn't have the budget to experiment and didn't spend much time at a Guitar Center, so I never learned much more around the gear end of things.

This was right around the time the Line6 POD came out and amp emulation type stuff was still coming into being. Being a dumb high school kid, I turned up my nose at my friend's POD and championed the virtues of my "real amp". However, I do recall that in an attempt to convince me otherwise, he had me hook into the POD and got my piddly little Squier to sound quite a bit more "thumpingly Warlock-y", however it was still a bit lifelessly digital.

Now, things have come a long way, and stuff like Guitar Rig and Rammfire exist. I'm beginning to think I want to own a guitar again so I can enjoy the Rammfire I already own.

With so much advancement in the power of guitar DSP in the 10+ years since I last paid any attention, how much does the quality of my electric guitar actually matter now? If I just pick up another $99 Squier or something of that sort, can the DSP of Guitar Rig do the work to make it really slam, or will the mundanely plain pickups of it hamstring my efforts? How much of a difference would I actually see if I stepped up to the $250 for a Warlock?

  • I wouldn't say you were necessarily wrong to turn up your nose at a Line6 POD, and the quality of a guitar is probably more important than ever going into something like that because the more you digitally manipulate a signal, the more you degrade the original - thus you want the highest possible quality original to begin with. Playability, though, is probably just as big of a gain with a nice guitar as the pickups/wood/etc. Also, even pros who use digital modeling typically run their signal through all kinds of standard/analog gear as well. – Darren Ringer Feb 8 '15 at 1:47
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I used IK Multimedia amp modelling for a few years. The amp sims are top notch, but even so, I found differences in guitars that I used. I started with a Mexican Squier Telecaster with single-coil pickups. Although I was able to conjure up some decent lead tones, the overall tone was thin, no matter how I adjusted the eq. etc.

Then I tried an Ibanez Prestige 1570 with stock pickups (humbuckers) and the difference for high-gain models was HUGE. The cheap single-coils in the Mexi-Squier Tele (mid-90s production) could not produce the base tones I was hunting. I did not try a Mahogany-bodied guitar with my modelling software, but, I think that would give you a very dark, lower-mid base to build giant metal tones upon, if that is what you are after.

So, single-coils (Strat, Tele) for clean, or bluesy stuff, and humbuckers for thick, meaty metal meals, sonically speaking. Mahongany+humbuckers (Les Paul styled guitars) thicker, meatier, metal, and truly belly rumbling blues.

However, I do recommend that you have a decent quality all-tube amplifier for reference. Marshall Class 5 combo would work, for darker stuff, for bright stuff that's a bit trickier, you must pay for the pleasure of a nice little Fender, unfortunately. Find a used tube Princeton, and you are set. To my ears, there are still differnces between and all-analog sound, and digitized, no matter how "good" the D/A conversion is.

  • "I started with a Mexican Squier Telecaster with single-coil pickups. Although I was able to conjure up some decent lead tones, the overall tone was thin, no matter how I adjusted the eq. etc. Then I tried an Ibanez Prestige 1570 with stock pickups (humbuckers) and the difference for high-gain models was HUGE. The cheap single-coils in the Mexi-Squier Tele (mid-90s production) could not produce the base tones I was hunting." - Thanks, this is pretty much exactly the answer I was looking for, it sounds like I'll have to go for the Warlock after all... can't say I mind an excuse. [cont-] – user1002617 Feb 8 '15 at 17:59
  • You specify that the difference showed itself more in the higher gain patches - what would you say the difference was like as one moved towards cleaner, lower gain models? I'm mostly expecting to work with a lot of gain and processing, but it sounds like I'd still retain the freedom to use cleaner tones well with the 'heavier' guitar, should I so desire. The Warlock has some pretty distinctively heavy humbuckers, but it does have a switch (and it's easier to take meatiness out of a tone than add meatiness that was never there) – user1002617 Feb 8 '15 at 18:02
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    The importance of the quality of the guitar/pickups cannot be overstated. The modeler only emulates how an amp affects the source signal. It won't magically create a full, rich sound from a weak thin sounding guitar. – rossipedia Feb 9 '15 at 1:05
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Honestly, if you want to play high gain stuff, it's all in the pickup.

Get yourself a cheap guitar and then upgrade it with the top of the line bridge pickup of your choice (the pickup will set you back $60-150 if you can handle a soldering Iron yourself). You are looking for a high gain pickup of brands like Seymour Duncan (very popular is the SH-6), Bareknuckle or Dimarzio. Search Youtube for comparisons and get what you like. As long it's not a vintage voiced Humbucker or Single coil, you should be fine (and some people even like those).

Guitar wise I personally would not go for a Les Paul style model, because they have a shorter scale length (the length of the neck from the nut to the saddle) (24.75") than Fender types (25.5"). When you tune down, a shorter scale needs thicker strings and gets mushy faster.

For a good tight metal rhythm sound I'd also recommend thick bottom strings (e.g. on a Fender scale length 09-42 is the default for standard tuning. I'd go for something like 10-52). Go as thick as you are comfortable with.

Also, playing aggressively and with a hard pick makes a world of difference

TL;DR: Get a cheap guitar with good humbucking pickup. Go with thick strings, a hard pick and play aggressively

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How much does the quality of my electric guitar actually matter now?

Define your expectations. Find out exactly what you are trying to accomplish.

Many people obsess about the quality of the build and focus on the brand name. What makes a great guitar is not always the sum of the parts, sometimes it is the feel.

If I pick up another $99 Squier or something similar, can the DSP of Guitar Rig make it really slam, or will the mundanely plain pickups of it hamstring my efforts?

With tools like Guitar Rig, the power is in the hands of the operator. With a working knowledge of how to properly utilize this tool, perhaps you could make your guitar sound like it is worth more than $99.

But again, where is the line? What are you trying to achieve? These questions you must decide yourself.

How much of a difference would I actually see if I stepped up to the $250 for a Warlock?

You might hear 151 dollars worth of difference. You might not - it could sound worse. If a $99 guitar feels great to you, why not just stop there and be content you got a great deal? IF you want something new, perhaps your search for a great guitar is not yet over.

  • Well, to boil it down a bit, let's assume I have both a very high quality audio interface to capture the signal, and extensive working knowledge of the modeling software. My goal is mostly "screw around in Rammfire for fun", but I also want to be able to work with guitar tracks in my projects. What I want to know is how sensitive modeling is to the guitar's build quality. I can really tell the difference with traditional amps, but modeling has so much more power and depth that perhaps deficiencies in the input can be negated. With modeling, maybe a learner-grade guitar can melt faces? – user1002617 Feb 8 '15 at 2:48
  • @user1002617 - Of course! Knowledge is power my friend. With a good tool set and a deep knowhow, I would say it is definitely possible to melt some faces with a learner-grade guitar. – piofusco Feb 8 '15 at 3:21

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