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My current recording set up is a guitar going into a Line 6 GX interface, into SONAR Artist. I use the built-in amp sim (TH2) to get my sounds. It works fine for demoing but that's about it.

My question is this: is it worth it to use guitar effect pedals if I am just going direct into a pre-amp/interface? Am I going to get a good sound out of that? I don't even own a guitar amp, but I wanted to go grab a new guitar and maybe some new effect pedals (I don't have anything right now). Might it be a good idea to do this, then run it into an amp sim on a "clean channel" setting to simulate a real amp?

I guess I am mostly worried about overdrive/distortion pedals, I'm sure a delay/reverb would still do it's job just fine though DI. Hope someone can shed some light on this, as I couldn't find anyone asking this specific question anywhere else.

If anyone already does this, I wouldn't mind hearing some recommendations on amp sim/pedal combinations.

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Yes - if you want effects, running them is effective both pre-DI or on an effects loop from Sonar.

On stage, I always use my Line6 pedals. And generally I use the amp sim on board and use the XLR outputs straight into the house PA. If I use on stage amps, then I just disable my amp sim, and mic the amps (then DI them to the house PA) - on board my pedal I have a noise gate and preamp, then distortion/overdrive, then modulation, then filters, then delay - followed by the amp sim toggle.

In the studio, I have exactly the same setup - Line6 into Cubase, with the amp sim enabled in the Line6 pedal. This means you are effectively running as live - which is the way I like to record.

However:

If you connect your clean guitar to your DAW, and then run your pedals from the effects loop, then you have a lot more flexibility over your guitar sound. Play once, and then tweak to your heart's content. You should not be worried about distortion (only remember that they generally come earlier in the chain than delays - unless you are trying for that kind of prog/psychedelic/barely controlled thing)

The amp sim should be after all the effects, but if you have a preamp, there are choices you can make that end up with different sounds, but are a matter of preference.

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This comes down to what you define as a "good" sound. Sure the effects will work in a DI setup either before the DI input or in an effects loop but you will get the sound which is created by that particular setup. One way to think about the whole situation is The Amp Is An Effect And Adds Color To Your Sound. Plenty of guitar tracks are recorded DI Im sure and with great results at that but you will get a very "DI" sounding guitar. Amp simulators will get you part of the way there and they are getting better as time goes on but they will never completely replace putting an SM57 in front of your favorite Marshall. The main reason I would attribute this too is that when you use over drive or the like you are driving the amplifier and changing the input which in turn changes the sound the amp generates, you will also get some coloration from the amp its self, on top of that the nearly infinite amount of mic positions and angles will add even more versatility and color to a rig.

Is it worth it?

Sure if you want to use an effect that is not available in the DAW you have set up (although there is a plug in for just about everything these days). If you get a sound YOU like then thats all that matters.

overdrive/distortion pedals

I have found in my experience that going DI from OD/Dist leads to a very metallic tin like sound. Over drive in many cases just drives the signal to the point of clipping and when you go DI you can hear more of that detail than pushing it through an amplifier first (which will smooth some of that out).

This also depends what distortion sound you are going for. Its easy to get that kind of modern heavy metal (think metalica/pantera) through a DI style set up even with out an amp sim. But that older, more overdrive sound (think Zeppelin, Hendrix, even Van Halen) you will have more luck with an amp. Some of this is attributed to the fact that early distortion was simply caused by turning the amp all the way up and actually clipping the amplifier its self (this is how EVH says he got his early tone, Marshall Plexi all the way up). In this case no amount of distortion pedals will get you that warm crunch.

Pedal Suggestions

While I don't DI often, I have on occasion when recording really clean guitar tracks. I really like MXR pedals, just in general, they make a great noise gate, compressor and a few solid distortions(Distortion + and Distortion III). The Phase 90 is an all time favorite of mine but be careful when using it paired with hum buckers, the input is notoriously hot and you can get a nice little bit of harmonic distortion if driven from the right guitar.

Other than that there are lots of multi pedal simulation boards out there that I have tinkered with and generally moved away from. They are nice as they provide lots of functionality in a small package but I have always found their tone lacking and somewhat digital.

Bose makes just about every pedal under the sun and they are ok, they offer a nice range at a fair price point but some of there pedals I have found lack tone as well or are overly complex with not enough knobs. The classic boss super overdrive is a great pedal.

Electro Harmonix is a solid name as well and makes some really cool stuff. I am a fan of their big muff pi when it comes to that older fuzz sounds and the small clone is a nice chorus pedal. My only complaint from them is size, I dont know why but their pedals are HUGE. The PI is easily the size of 4 MXR pedals.

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As many things it's a question of taste or better of what you want to achieve.

Consider one thing: If you record an electric guitar, that is plugged into an amplifier (e.g. a tube amp) there might be added some natural compression (depending on how your levels are), which again mixes with some reflections in the room.

If your room does not have some bad resonances, that amplify certain frequencies way too much, you will have a very equilibrated guitar sound. If you record that with a dynamic mic (SM 57, ...) or/and a condensator room mic (watch the phasing), then you will achieve a more realistic "electric guitar" sound, easily.

Then I would say it is not the good choice to chain that signal through some guitar pedals.

If you want to have that DI-ish sound, go for it.

And if record it straight into your DAW / recorder, I don't see any problems in recording that signal again through a chain of guitar pedals. Perhaps you get better sounding results if you use a reamping box (something like the Palmer Daccapo), which can also remove hum and other noises.

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