November 22nd, 2022 | John Dines
Stereo rigs are awesome. Anyone who’s hooked up a fancy delay or reverb to any pair of amps knows that it’s hard to go back once you’ve immersed yourself in that soundscape. Direct rigs are also awesome. It’s very common these days to see players pairing an “amp in a box” preamp pedal with a cabinet simulator, running direct to a PA or recording interface and doing away with amps altogether! We at Origin Effects think about direct rigs quite often as it’s one of the most popular uses for our RevivalDRIVE series of Analogue Amp Recreation pedals. So, let’s have a look at putting together a stereo rig without an amp in sight, and how to make it as simple as possible.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll build our imaginary rig around an Origin Effects RevivalDRIVE Compact pedal. We think this is one of the best pedals out there for recreating all the important tonal bits of a real valve amp, while not taking up much space or brain power. In our rig, the RevivalDRIVE Compact is our amp. We’ll also need a cab – a virtual one, of course. Some of our in-house quality testing at Origin Effects is done using the Two Notes Torpedo C.A.B M, so that will be our cab in this instance. It goes without saying that lots of others are available.
So far we have our amp (RevivalDRIVE Compact) and our cab (C.A.B M), making up the basis of our rig. Any typical mono pedals that you’d place in front of an amp, such as compression, overdrive or boost, can be placed in front of the RevivalDRIVE. But what about the stereo stuff? In a “real” stereo rig, you need two amps, each with its own cab. So, does that mean we need two RevivalDRIVE Compacts and two C.A.B Ms, as they are both mono pedals? Well no, actually.
In a “real” rig, your amp (or amps) is the only way of hearing yourself. If you want to hear stereo signals, you need two amps. For a wet/dry/wet rig, you’d need three! You can see why people tend to keep it simple and use a single, mono amp. With direct rigs, however, actually hearing yourself is a completely independent process from your rig signal chain – you have stage monitors or in-ears for that. This means you can get more creative with you’re the order of your pedals.
Traditional guitar wisdom says you’d need a stereo pedal such as a delay, fairly early in your signal chain. This would split your signal into left and right, then feed these to a pair of amp simulators running into a pair of cabinet simulators. This would be like running all your effects up front into a pair of amps.
Slightly more modern convention says you could run a mono amp simulator first, then your stereo effects, then a stereo cab sim. This is equivalent to running your effects in the FX loop, or running a preamp and a stereo power amp like in an old ‘80s rack. Both these approaches require more amp and cab simulation than we want to use, so we’ll use an approach previously confined to the studio. In a recording environment, it’s normal to mic up a single amp and cab and apply the effects afterwards, meaning your signal chain is effectively “amp, cab, effects”. Obviously this is impossible in the world of real amps on stage, as the cab must be the last thing in the chain. But in the virtual world of our direct rig, anything is possible.
By running our RevivalDRIVE Compact first (with other drives in front if required), then our C.A.B M, then our stereo effects, we have a studio-style signal path on our board and only used a single amp simulator and cab simulator. In fact, this can actually improve the fidelity of our effects too! Because they are placed after the cab sim, delays and reverbs won’t be subject to the extreme filtering imparted by a typical guitar speaker, as this process is happening earlier in the chain. Instead, the full range of the delay and reverb tail will be heard, just as if you’d applied these effects “in post”.
Let’s hear the difference between all these approaches.
For some real bragging rights, cabinet simulators with two outputs allow you to run a wet/dry/wet setup. Simply connect one output to your stereo effects and set the mix to 100% (or turn on “kill dry” if your pedals allow). Your stereo pedal’s outputs will be the wet outputs Then, take another feed from the cab sim’s other output. This is your dry channel. Granted, you’ll need a sound engineer who can spare three inputs and you may have to deal with mixing your effects in parallel, but this is probably a subject for another article. For now, let’s just say that wet/dry/wet rigs are another fun way to get massive guitar tones.
Now you know how to get huge stereo rig tones from a mostly mono signal path – no extra amp or cab simulators required – all direct to the PA or your recording interface. And this studio-derived approach might even mean your effects sound better than ever! Now put your headphones on and pretend to be in a stadium…