Category Archives: Electronic Music

Some notes on software guitar processors

updated 2019-07-29

This is one of those posts that was halfway in the middle of being modified when I got interrupted and abandoned it. So let’s see if there’s anything salvageable in it:

sometime in 2015

Well, this is already 5 or 6 years old and there has been much progress in this field….the last version of the below was dated dec 2010.


I’m not much of a guitar player, and the guitar I have is of equal quality. So, can using VST guitar plugins make the proverbial silk purse out of a sow’s ear? Yes and no.

Here are some notes about a few demo and freeware versions I’ve used. Your mileage will certainly vary, but at the least it may be something for you to consider.

Also remember that many of these are continually being worked on and improved, so the versions I’m writing about are probably already obsolete as you read this.

Native Instruments Guitar Rig

My collaborator pointed me at this; the best part being that the demo version (5) sounds great even though it is very limited in the number of components you can select. Somewhere along the line I found an offer for this for $99. It’s still (in 2019) my best software guitar processor.

Amplitube (version 3 or 4?)

This may have changed but this was a real ripoff because for your $200 you got one or two amp models, one cabinet, and a handful of distortion and other processors. The NI product have nearly a complete library of models and processors.

To be fair, the few modules I was able to experiment with in Amplitube did sound great.

Line 6 (

I liked the POD but ultimately I couldn’t get the sounds out of it I wanted. Maybe my problem. In any case they now have a software only version, the demo is worth checking out.

Studio Devil BVC (


+ Free version  for eval! (BVC variant)

+ Cheap

Pretty nasty distortion tool which can border on shrill. A little of this goes a long way.

ReValver (

Free versions of this commercial product can be found that have a subset of its entire feature set. This is the ultimate tweaker tool. You have a tool box full of preamp and amp models and processors you can wire together into a virtual rack, sort of like the Reason model. In each device you can actually get in and edit it as though you were actually modifying the device’s electronics. Very powerful and capable of great sounds.

Not using it so much now in 2015 since the NI Guitar Rig 5 does everything it does.

♥ Dirthead 0.80

My favorite single processor. May require a little EQ to tame the “honkiness” you can get from a cheap guitar.

  • FREE!
  • Three levels of distortion
  • “Cabinet” switch is useful and adds good sound
  • Simple to use, stable, extremely light CPU footprint
  • Did I mention FREE?!

Voxengo Tube Amp

Voxengo BoogeX

After tinkering with these a lot, it became clear that they often had one or two great characteristics, but alone didn’t do the trick. This is where Ableton’s Rack paradigm comes in handy. It’s simple to create a Rack which is a layer of several of these tools. I have Racks that parallel three or four of them, usually Dirthead, Studio Devil and Boogex. Another channel with a Live Utility device allows you to add some clean signal.

Then you can map Macro controls to easily tweak the amount of contribution to the entire sound from each device.

Then I got a job…

Hallelujah and amen. Once I managed to get an income again (not through music…that’s not ever been anything in my life)–after some research I splurged on my guitar. First I paid an expert (Moze Guitars) to set up and intonate (is that a real word?) it. I replaced the pickups with EMG active pickups at great expense…the idea was it would be much more hum resistant. Not so sure about all that.

In any case, it’s a hell of a lot more fun to play now.

I decided my trusty DigiTech RP100 was due for retirement, so after some research I ended up with the Korg Pandora PX5D. That was OK for a while. It was cool how small it was – like pocket sized. Finally I replaced it with a Line 6 Pod XT.

As of 2019 that’s gone too. I have Ableton Live and NI Guitar Rig set up for short enough latency I can actually play guitar parts in real time. But if there’s ever any problem, I bounce the arrangement without guitar to a WAV file, move that to the Zoom R8 and play through that unit’s guitar modelers. That way I don’t even need to turn on the computer to work out guitar parts.

The short story is that it’s a great little unit but since this page is supposed about software I’ll write about these things elsewhere.

Last updated 3 Dec 2010

Snapshots from around the studio

Crow Caw Music Works International Headquarters

Gimme that comfy country vibe!

Guitar department - 2010

Guitar department - 2010

There’s a wealth of interesting detail here (depending on your personal understanding of the word “interesting”…) Notice the high quality $20 First Act guitar amplifier you can just see the top of under the desk. I’ve since relocated it a little bit and covered it and its mic with a heavy blanket. This seems to give me better guitar sounds…possibly because I can run it louder.

The photo below is from last fall, when I was still working on my piano lessons and the Novation Remote SL was still on the right hand side of the production desk. It’s sort of dark but you can make out one of the official CCMW Studio Cats on the task chair. When that happens I have to drag a wooden chair in to work on.

Last fall with Lucy

Welcome to the Crow Caw Music Works International Operations Center

Studio front door

Is this nondescript enough?

This rather forbidding looking entrance is the front door to the CCMW IOC.The loading docks and executive towers are on the other side of the building.

Another view of the front door

As mentioned elsewhere in this site, the hardware components are inexorably being taken over by software. The main production is handled by a big computer named Colossus with lots of software editors, synths, DAWs and processors on it. A few years ago Colossus would have been state of the art (it’s based on an Intel quad-core Q6600 CPU) but now it’s “venerable.” However, it still has the juice to do what it needs to.

This is what the main production desk looked like from the rear. It’s been cleaned up and improved since this photo. The rack mounted Intel box is visible at the lower left. The light gray box in the middle is the retired Macintosh G3. It’s still there since once in a while we need to resurrect old project files that run in Metro or Opcode Vision that are Mac only.

From mid-2009.

Last edited 20100605

New tracks: “Whispers of Doom” and “Robot Monster 3” – technical details.

Updated 2010 02 22

I’ve just finished “mastering” two new tracks that have been in the laboratory for a few weeks.

“Whispers of Doom: is pretty much like everything else I’ve been doing lately.

“Robot Monster 3” is more fun as it uses extensive dialog samples from the 1953 grade-Z science fiction movie “Robot Monster” – see page 43 in the “Listen” section:

These were produced once again in Ableton Live (currently v8.1.1.) They make extensive use of the fantastic sounding Zebra2 synth — you can hear it in the bass parts and some of the leads, The venerable soft synths Triangle II and Crystal were also used, along with a weird patch from Arturia’s Analog Factory.

NWEAMO festival in San Diego – Oct 2009

Experimental Music Concert at San Diego State University

College students going tribal

College students going tribal

Joshua Fried intensely focusing on some strange thing

Joshua Fried intensely focusing on some strange thing

Joshua Fried grabbing more input from his FM boombox

Joshua Fried grabbing more input from his FM boombox

Tristan Shone's DUb Brutaliser waiting to be inflicted on the audience

Tristan Shone's Dub Brutaliser waiting to be inflicted on the audience


NWEAMO is a cool organization now in its 11th year (as I understand it). Its mission is to maintain the connection between classical music and avant garde and popular. It makes sense the way they explain it. They support performances in Europe, the US and elsewhere as far as I know.

Anyway, last night was the first of two of these concerts they stage yearly in the US. Fortunately they are held at SDSU which is not far from my house.

The program was very excellent and fascinating and the only complaint I have was that it was too short! It lasted a bit under 90 minutes. In any case it was well worth it. Hopefully I’ll be able to add a bit more tonight.

There doesn’t seem to be anything recent on youtube, but do a search for NWEAMO and you can see videos from last year of previous performances in NYC and San Diego.

NWEAMO concert night; view east over the SDSU pedestrian bridge

NWEAMO concert night; view east over the SDSU pedestrian bridge

Update 4 October: I’ll go ahead and upload the snapshots I took last night. Amazing and intriguing work and a lot different than Friday’s performances.

I just wish I had some video and audio to contribute. As it was, it appears that I wasn’t really supposed to even take pictures, although I had the flash off and was careful to mute the camera.

Tristan Shone's Dub Machinery

Tristan Shone's Dub Machinery

Joshua Fried's shoes, steering wheel and electronics

Joshua Fried's shoes, steering wheel and electronics

Boogieing down to Joshua's mashup

Boogieing down to Joshua's mashup


Moving into the new century…

Well, not quite. As usual, I’m the last person in the world to adopt something new. In this case, I’ve finally bought a laptop.

I’ve been wanting to get a portable computer for some time. I’ve been waiting for a decent laptop under $400, but nothing was really suitable. There are Atom powered “netbooks” but I want to be able to at least run Live and Reason on it.

I saw a Turion-based system advertised at my local Fry’s store for $299. It was almost suitable, but the deal killer was the Vista Home installation. As you may know this is the version of Vista that can’t be upgraded to Windows 7 when I comes out. So I “splurged” for an Acer 5520 which is powered by a AMD Turion X2. It was another $100 but so far I think I’m glad I spent the extra money.

Then yesterday I spent another $100 on a security cable, wireless router and carry bag. It’s all good fun and now I’m another $500 in debt but happy…

Update on the laptop

Well, that turned out to be a bust. The Acer laptop was flaky beyond belief. I followed all the instructions, made sure the anti-virus and updates were all there, but after many hours of work the thing still didn’t work reliably.

I took it back to Frys which efficiently refunded my money. I ended up buying a Toshiba model which I have so far put many hours on without a single problem.

last modified 2010 sept

Where’s the new music?!

(June 26)

Well, it’s not really “NEW” but I’ve uploaded a nice copy of my Buddha Machine 2.0 remix (info on this page: OK, I can announce that I have at least uploaded something new! It’s a fairly long (7:23) piece from the loops from the second version of the infamous Buddha Machine, generously provided (under a Creative Commons license) by FM3. I put the track on bandcamp for anyone’s delectation.

(May 26)

As someone once put it to me: “Life is a lot of clutter.” There are so many things you have to do that keep you from making music. And as you get older there are more and more of them. Simplify dammit!

Anyway, I also have to confess I’m tinkering too much. I have a Novation SL keyboard/control surface I really haven’t optimized for use. It’s proving worth the time for me to delve into it and the “Automap” feature.

Anyway, my new strategy is to go ahead and chunk out some partially finished tracks. Maybe at some point I’ll set up some comment strategy to see if it’s even worth pursuing a particular musical idea…

Well, stay tuned and I’ll try to update. Before that I need to fix up the CSS for this site anyway. I’m sort of getting tired of the color scheme, but I’m afraid if I change one thing I’ll have to change everything…


I’ve written about this band before. Basically it’s one of the primary influences on me and my music. Even though they only released 2 lps (that I know of) in the 1980s, I still hardly ever get tired of listening to them.
I was just making up some MP3s for my portable player, and listened to “White Camels” off the second LP (“Electric Eyes”) again, and was struck with how excellent the simple guitar lead was they used for the out…it starts at about 3:56 and goes to the end about 5:18.
I’m going to go out on a limb here again and put up the file in a player, even though it’s a frank copyright infringement. I’m justifying it by the fact the record is nearly 25 years old and most people have never heard of it. So I don’t feel I’m taking royalty money out of anyone’s bank account.

White Camels
(5:18) from “Electric Eyes”
©1982 Warning
(click > to play)

(A note about the “Possibly related posts”: WordPress seems to generate these automatically. I would personally rather they weren’t there, since it isn’t real clear that the site doesn’t put them there, and I can’t control which ones show up. So if offensive, irrelevant or ridiculous links are posted down there, apologies in advance.)

Back to ambient…

Silencio draft#5 (about 22:00)
Appr. 22:00 long
©2009 tim p scott
(click (>) to play)

Going through old ideas I I decided to put back my Eno/Budd/Lustmord hat and the result is a new ambient/soundscape piece. It still needs some tweaking but in any case we’ll put up a player with the current draft on it for your amusement (warning; the draft is 20:00 long)

OK, on 19 Mar–after listening to this a couple times, I’ve figured out that it needs a new revision. The last half of it is closer to what I want, but the first part has to change. So check it out now and then next week I hope to have version #4 up to listen to on this page.

It’s also recommended that you listen to it in a very quiet environment since it’s extremely subtle.

(Note: if you see a list of “automatically generated links” below, that’s something that wordpress is doing that I don’t really approve of. I don’t know how it generates the links or what the rationale is for it. In any case, I’ll probably figure out some way to turn them off using CSS if they get really annoying.)

A new and excellent site for musicians:

Update stardate 4 Sept 2009

I’m liking this site more and more. If nothing else, their FAQ is the most fun to read of any site. They obviously understand “Web gruettiquette” and “independent music” well.

The little player tool that embeds into wordpress stuff doesn’t look so hot. I went back to their site to see if they had improved it any..doesn’t look like it yet.

The history

I found a site called “bandcamp” through some forums I read.  This is a new site for independent bands and musicians to put their tracks and albums, sort of like amiestreet and many others (some of which I describe on other pages of this site.) It looks very flashy and professional; obviously whoever is behind it has some $$ for programmers. At the moment it’s free in order to try to get musicians to put some content on it (otherwise…what good is it?)

I’m also getting sucked in by their nerdy+cool attitude in their newsletter and

I’ve signed up and stuck one song from “The Circle of Art” up just as a tryout. It will of course take some time and effort to set up a band page on yet another site, but it does look well thought out and feature rich.

One nice little feature is that they offer a player shortcode that lets you easily embed tracks back into a page! Isn’t that a nice feature? Thus:

This was the original shortcode:

Now they recommend I use this one:

which sort of looks the same to me.

(I can’t show the code that generates that player in, the “sourcode” tag doesn’t work for it either.)

Anyway–bandcamp is not a social networking music site where you can message the artists, rate their works, etc. (as far as I know so far) but more or less just a showcase at present.)

The other thing it doesn’t have at the moment is a “browse” or “search genre” feature. All the artists appear to be on the same level without a way to filter for certain genres, popularity, etc. Maybe these things will be implemented or maybe I’m missing them. More Will Be Revealed, Doubtless. But if you have your own promotion mechanism and just need a place to park your product, this looks like a good place to do it.

(Eventually this page will probably end up on “51-Places to put your music” but I just wanted to get this note written quickly.)

Note added 20090526

It looks like they’re implementing a way to buy tracks at “U choose the price” value.