Gain staging for plugins?

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Jonathanthomas83Jonathanthomas83 Frets: 3491
edited June 7 in Digital & Modelling
I know this has been a mental topic recently, but is there really a best practice for this other than "don't clip your interface inputs"?

I've found that to do that I'm having to alter the gain when switching from Les Paul to Strat, for example...but is that not then defeating the object of having different guitars? Or is that just not the way it works?

To further complicate matters, I'm very much enjoying DI'ing using my Cranborne Audio EC1 instead of directly into the RME. However, word has it that a 1M ohm is preferred for guitar stuff, which the RME has, but the EC1 has 1.5M ohm, is this a problem? Sounds and feels great. It's also nice being able to dial up and down the gain on that unit than having to dive into software to do it when I switch guitars.
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  • monquixotemonquixote Frets: 17863
    tFB Trader
    I usually set my input level to a safe bit under clipping the interface and consider the wav being laid down as completely separate from the signal level going into a plugin which if I need to tweak I can do with one of those "Utility" plugins most DAWs have.

    As an aside this is one of the reasons I love U-He because their presets say what the input gain should be to get the preset sound.
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  • Jonathanthomas83Jonathanthomas83 Frets: 3491
    Thank you, that’s a good point, I should check manuals more.

    Thank you for your answer
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  • HeartfeltdawnHeartfeltdawn Frets: 22539

    To further complicate matters, I'm very much enjoying DI'ing using my Cranborne Audio EC1 instead of directly into the RME. However, word has it that a 1M ohm is preferred for guitar stuff, which the RME has, but the EC1 has 1.5M ohm, is this a problem? Sounds and feels great. It's also nice being able to dial up and down the gain on that unit than having to dive into software to do it when I switch guitars.
    If it feels and sounds great, why change it? 

    Something like the Countryman DI has a 10M ohm DI input. The Radial JDI passive DI box using a Jensen transformer has a 140k ohm input. As I seem to be talking about the IK Axe One all week, this is why I like the variable impedance control and JFET v Pure switch. Different tonal options are easy to play with and, like you, I like to be able add a little bit of gain outside the software. 

    With Tonex and the Axe One, I'm setting the gain at 0 right now. I add a little to some clean amps. 



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  • Jonathanthomas83Jonathanthomas83 Frets: 3491
    edited June 7
    Indeed, I’m just curious to understand impedance a little more, I guess, especially as @Digital_Igloo commented on a different forum that it’s desirable to have a 1M ohm impedance for this kind of thing and I’m curious to see if 1.5M ohm is negligible or if it really does matter theoretically, because practically, it is great, to my mind.

    @heartfeltdawn I'm glad you chimed in, I was wondering if you had any advice regarding the Strat vs Les Paul thing I mention above. I’m having to cut gain for the Les Paul as it clips, but that seems counter productive as they’re two different guitars and I want the differences to be noticeable. Well, it is noticeable, obviously, but in any case, I’m curious as to how you handle different guitars.
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  • HeartfeltdawnHeartfeltdawn Frets: 22539
    I really wouldn't worry about the 1.5M ohm rating of the EC-1. Amps are all over the place. Here are two amps I've played a lot in the past and their High input specs:

    Roland JC-120 (current spec)              680 kΩ
    Cornell Romany amps                          2.2M oms

    Speaking about using Tonex now and gain, the Tonex app has the input on 5. Bought some of the Amalgam amp packs tonight and remembered watching an Amalgam video where they said the input should be on 5. If you use Tonex as a plugin within Reaper, the input is at 0 so that's something to remember. Gain on the Axe One I set for 0 (fully left). Using those basics, I'll find a gain level that suits me on the amps and then tweak a little on the Axe One. Personally I like a lower impedance on the A-One as it rolls off a bit of the top end. I might add a little smidge of gain on A-1 here. 

    I've not got a clue about different guitars because I've got one guitar here and one elsewhere that is away on loan. Both of them are 335s, humbuckers, pretty similar output level. I've got a hankering to build a Telecaster so maybe I'll have all of that fun later. 

    I think the adage attributed to Joe Meek sums it up: "If it sounds right, it is right". 



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  • Jonathanthomas83Jonathanthomas83 Frets: 3491
    I really wouldn't worry about the 1.5M ohm rating of the EC-1. Amps are all over the place. Here are two amps I've played a lot in the past and their High input specs:

    Roland JC-120 (current spec)              680 kΩ
    Cornell Romany amps                          2.2M oms

    Speaking about using Tonex now and gain, the Tonex app has the input on 5. Bought some of the Amalgam amp packs tonight and remembered watching an Amalgam video where they said the input should be on 5. If you use Tonex as a plugin within Reaper, the input is at 0 so that's something to remember. Gain on the Axe One I set for 0 (fully left). Using those basics, I'll find a gain level that suits me on the amps and then tweak a little on the Axe One. Personally I like a lower impedance on the A-One as it rolls off a bit of the top end. I might add a little smidge of gain on A-1 here. 

    I've not got a clue about different guitars because I've got one guitar here and one elsewhere that is away on loan. Both of them are 335s, humbuckers, pretty similar output level. I've got a hankering to build a Telecaster so maybe I'll have all of that fun later. 

    I think the adage attributed to Joe Meek sums it up: "If it sounds right, it is right". 
    Thank you, mate, I appreciate your advice. I think I'm overthinking it a little. However, like you, I've discovered that high gain NAM captures sound a bit bright with the EC1 and am certainly noticing that high end roll off on the lower impedance of the RME sounds a bit more natural with those, but for clean amps, the EC1 is working brilliantly for my needs.

    So you've got an interim laptop for now, what's your plan, do you have a better computer on the way?
    Read my guitar/gear blog at medium.com/redchairriffs

    View my feedback at www.thefretboard.co.uk/discussion/comment/1201922
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  • HeartfeltdawnHeartfeltdawn Frets: 22539
    Thank you, mate, I appreciate your advice. I think I'm overthinking it a little. However, like you, I've discovered that high gain NAM captures sound a bit bright with the EC1 and am certainly noticing that high end roll off on the lower impedance of the RME sounds a bit more natural with those, but for clean amps, the EC1 is working brilliantly for my needs.

    So you've got an interim laptop for now, what's your plan, do you have a better computer on the way?
    Yep, found that out today alright. Finally jumped in for Gig Performer 5 and started playing around with NAM, Tonex, and Native. Definitely liking dialling the impedance down a little on the Axe One and using the JFET. 

    Funnily enough I was thinking about a new laptop today...



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  • NerineNerine Frets: 2234
    Set the input level where it sounds good. 

    Surely the gain control on the amp sim can compensate a bit of needs be? 

    A bit more or less drive isn’t really a massive deal breaker seeing as the input gain knob is likely easily accessible. 

    Seriously, just use your ears. Far too much is made of all this stuff. YouTubers can’t think of anything new to say so proclaim this is a problem. It just causes a load of uncertainty and their input adds nothing to the debate because they all want to be seen as an authority. 

    Most of them legitimately chat shite. 

    Do you want the sound to be gainier? Cool. Turn your interface’s gain knob clockwise or turn the gain control in the plugin clockwise. 

    Does a preset name mention it being clean? Yes? And you’re getting some overdrive? 
    Turn the input gain anti-clockwise. Or check with your lowest output guitar. Still too overdriven for your liking? Turn the input gain down. 

    That is literally all there is to it. It doesn’t need to be made any more complex than this. 

    The tone wont suffer. The feel won’t suffer. It’ll either be less gained up or more gained up. That’s it. 
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  • StuckfastStuckfast Frets: 2431
    The usual recommendation is that the input impedance of the preamp / interface should be at least 10x the output impedance of the source. In theory going above 10x shouldn't make much difference. The impedance of passive guitar pickups is highly frequency dependent so it's possible that 1MΩ might not be 10x the source impedance at some frequencies, I guess. 
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  • Nerine said:
    Set the input level where it sounds good. 

    Surely the gain control on the amp sim can compensate a bit of needs be? 

    A bit more or less drive isn’t really a massive deal breaker seeing as the input gain knob is likely easily accessible. 

    Seriously, just use your ears. Far too much is made of all this stuff. YouTubers can’t think of anything new to say so proclaim this is a problem. It just causes a load of uncertainty and their input adds nothing to the debate because they all want to be seen as an authority. 

    Most of them legitimately chat shite. 

    Do you want the sound to be gainier? Cool. Turn your interface’s gain knob clockwise or turn the gain control in the plugin clockwise. 

    Does a preset name mention it being clean? Yes? And you’re getting some overdrive? 
    Turn the input gain anti-clockwise. Or check with your lowest output guitar. Still too overdriven for your liking? Turn the input gain down. 

    That is literally all there is to it. It doesn’t need to be made any more complex than this. 

    The tone wont suffer. The feel won’t suffer. It’ll either be less gained up or more gained up. That’s it. 
    I don't disagree with any of this, just interested to see how others approach it.
    Read my guitar/gear blog at medium.com/redchairriffs

    View my feedback at www.thefretboard.co.uk/discussion/comment/1201922
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  • theimageofalltheimageofall Frets: 127
    Interesting video here on setting the input on your audio interface at zero and adjusting the input on the amp sim plugin.

    https://youtu.be/jXKZqJtjLkg?si=irk2YlrHlro-uGQU

    I tried it and haven’t looked back. I was never really happy with how amp sims felt and it looks as though it was gain staging in my case and the above worked well for me.
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  • Interesting video here on setting the input on your audio interface at zero and adjusting the input on the amp sim plugin.

    https://youtu.be/jXKZqJtjLkg?si=irk2YlrHlro-uGQU

    I tried it and haven’t looked back. I was never really happy with how amp sims felt and it looks as though it was gain staging in my case and the above worked well for me.
    Thank you for this. It's topical because over recent days, before seeing such advice, I decided that it might be worth just trying zero gain whatsoever from the RME and see if it's just better to up the gain in the software. I've been having some great results. Seeing this video validates that thinking and ever since watching it last night, all I'm seeing is advice to set your interface gain to zero and up the gain (if needed) either by using a gain plugin or by using the input gain on the plugins themselves. Brilliant. I feel like I'm getting somewhere now, so thank you so much for posting this @theimageofall!
    Read my guitar/gear blog at medium.com/redchairriffs

    View my feedback at www.thefretboard.co.uk/discussion/comment/1201922
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  • theimageofalltheimageofall Frets: 127
    Jonathanthomas83 Thank you for this. It's topical because over recent days, before seeing such advice, I decided that it might be worth just trying zero gain whatsoever from the RME and see if it's just better to up the gain in the software. I've been having some great results. Seeing this video validates that thinking and ever since watching it last night, all I'm seeing is advice to set your interface gain to zero and up the gain (if needed) either by using a gain plugin or by using the input gain on the plugins themselves. Brilliant. I feel like I'm getting somewhere now, so thank you so much for posting this @theimageofall!
    No worries. Was a game changer for me and transformed the way amp sim plugins felt!
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  • PolarityManPolarityMan Frets: 7353
    Nerine said:
    Set the input level where it sounds good. 

    Surely the gain control on the amp sim can compensate a bit of needs be? 

    A bit more or less drive isn’t really a massive deal breaker seeing as the input gain knob is likely easily accessible. 

    Seriously, just use your ears. Far too much is made of all this stuff. YouTubers can’t think of anything new to say so proclaim this is a problem. It just causes a load of uncertainty and their input adds nothing to the debate because they all want to be seen as an authority. 

    Most of them legitimately chat shite. 

    Do you want the sound to be gainier? Cool. Turn your interface’s gain knob clockwise or turn the gain control in the plugin clockwise. 

    Does a preset name mention it being clean? Yes? And you’re getting some overdrive? 
    Turn the input gain anti-clockwise. Or check with your lowest output guitar. Still too overdriven for your liking? Turn the input gain down. 

    That is literally all there is to it. It doesn’t need to be made any more complex than this. 

    The tone wont suffer. The feel won’t suffer. It’ll either be less gained up or more gained up. That’s it. 
    I think the thing is you dont know where you might be introducing clipping, especially in amp sims that have multiple internal stages like pedals, then preamp, then cab, then post effects etc. 

    I mean you can trouble shoot back from that stuff but knowing where you're supposed to be shooting for input wise is kinda nice. 
    ဈǝᴉʇsɐoʇǝsǝǝɥɔဪቌ
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  • dangriffithsdangriffiths Frets: 585
    Yeh main reason is consistency and if you want to use drive pedals in conjunction then it is really important to take this approach as you won’t ever know if something actually fits the rig if the core tone is continually changing
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  • HeartfeltdawnHeartfeltdawn Frets: 22539
    Thank you for this. It's topical because over recent days, before seeing such advice, I decided that it might be worth just trying zero gain whatsoever from the RME and see if it's just better to up the gain in the software. I've been having some great results. Seeing this video validates that thinking and ever since watching it last night, all I'm seeing is advice to set your interface gain to zero and up the gain (if needed) either by using a gain plugin or by using the input gain on the plugins themselves. Brilliant. I feel like I'm getting somewhere now, so thank you so much for posting this @theimageofall!

    That's the approach I've taken for all of my stuff. Again back to the Axe One, it's dead easy to set the gain to zilch and then use the impedance controls With other audio interfaces, I used the IK Buffer Boost in the same way: zero gain on the interface, connect the BB via XLR, tweak the impedance controls, and I have the clean boost there if I need it. 



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