Studio Diary #46: My Philosophy For Building Pedal Platform Presets For Digital Modellers

When I started building my own pedal platform presets for the Axe-FX 3, my goal was to recreate the sound of my old valve amp rig. I really wanted to demonstrate how these pedals might sound if you put them through your own valve amp at home.

I’m not trying to do that any more.

In this blog post, I’m going to do my best to explain why. Grab a drink, there’s a lot to talk through!

Table of Contents


I’m building a new pedal platform preset for my Axe-FX 3.

In the past, I’ve tried to use the Axe-FX 3 to replicate how a pedal would sound through one of my real valve amps. I’m now abandoning that approach, because the end recordings do not – and cannot – show you how any particular pedal would sound through your own rig.

Going forward, I’m going to build new pedal platform presets to create the best rig that I can for my pedals.

What Was Your Old Approach To Pedal Platform Presets?

Before I started using the Axe-FX 3 as my main pedal platform, I used to use affordable valve amps like the Blackstar Studio 10 6L6 and Marshall DSL 20HR for my pedals. Both great pedal platform amps to this day.

The whole rig sounded great in the room. Eventually I tried mic’ing up my speaker cabs to do some demos. The recordings sound terrible.

But I still wanted to capture the sound of my old rig. So I dialled in my early Axe-FX 3 pedal platform presets to try and re-create the sound of my Marshall DSL 20HR through a pair of 1×12 open-back cabs.

The Axe-FX 3 is full of models of great amps – including some legendary pedal platform amps. By and large, though, they’re amps that us home hobbyists will never own, either because of cost and/or because they’re not practical to use at home.

I thought that, if I could get the Axe-FX 3 sounding like my old valve amp, then my pedal demos would help my readers understand how a particular pedal could sound through their own rigs too.

I was wrong.

Some Problems With The Old Approach

There’s some key reasons why my old approach was doomed to fail.

Recorded Audio Will Never Sound Exactly Like The Amp In The Room

(Sorry if it feels like I’m pointing out the obvious here. There was a time when I didn’t know this. I only really understood this after trying to mic up my own speaker cabs.)

When you listen to audio demos on my blog, you’re hearing the sound of recorded guitar. That’s always going to be different to how the amp sounds in the room.

To record a guitar, we have to use microphones to mic up a speaker cab. This simple – and unavoidable – step has a huge impact on the final tone.

  • Each microphone captures a different sound (that’s why professionals often use multiple mics on their speaker cabs).
  • Mic placement (where we put the microphone relative to the speaker cap) changes the sound that the microphone captures.
  • Microphones don’t capture sound the way that our hearing works.

For all practical purposes, there’s no avoiding this. Even a purely digital setup is emulating this analogue step.

On top of that, we’re not just hearing the frontal sound of the speakers in our combo amps and speaker cabs. We’re also hearing the sound that’s leaking out the back, which is then reflecting off the wall behind before it reaches us. Close-mics on a speaker cab don’t hear this; in fact, we’re often close-mic’ing to deliberately avoid capturing these reflections.

It all adds up to a huge difference.

My Digital Modeller Can’t Replicate My Affordable Valve Amp Setups

This isn’t a complaint about accuracy. My digital modeller of choice simply doesn’t include models of any of the valve amps or speaker cabs that I’ve used for pedal platforms. At the time of writing, it also doesn’t have any DynaCab models for common budget amp speakers like the Celestion V-type or Seventy-80.

I can’t just take one of the models from my digital modeller and tweak it to sound like one of my affordable valve amps. These affordable amps have their own unique sound and behaviour.

So, even if there was a way to make the recorded tone sound exactly like the sound in the room, I wouldn’t be able to dial up those sounds anyway.

It didn’t stop me trying!

Your Rig Is Different To Mine

Who here uses a Marshall DSL 20HR with 16 ohm Celestion speakers (one Celestion A-Type, one Celestion Blue) in a pair of Victory 1×12 open-backed cabs for their pedals?


While I still think it’s a great rig for what I want, you’re going to have something else. Whatever you have, it’s going to have its own sound. It’s going to take pedals differently. And we’d probably dial it in differently too.

So (even if I could, which I can’t) is there much point in recreating my old analogue setup in my digital modeller? I’d enjoy it, but does it help my readers if they’ve come here to research a pedal that they’re interested in?

My Performances Would Never Sound Like Yours

Hopefully, yours would sound better!

But yeah, if you believe that tone is in the fingers, then you must (by extension) also believe that two different guitarists would sound different through the same rig.

Certainly for me, one of the reasons why each of my demos is a live performance (i.e. no reamping of a looped signal) is because my playing is influenced by how the rig sounds and how it responds to my playing. There’s a feedback loop going on there.

My performance literally changes because of the rig.

If you played through the exact same rig, you’d sound different to me. You’d mute the strings differently. Your picking dynamics would be different. You’d react to the sound and feel differently.

And that’s assuming you can resist the temptation to start tweaking pedal and amp knobs in the first place …

My Approach Going Forward

Going forward, my plan is to create the best rig that I can for each pedal, without worrying about whether or not my readers will be able to get the same sound in their homes.

Different Pedals Need Different Platforms

There is no such thing as the One True Pedal Platform™ .

Drive pedals don’t exist in a vacuum. They’re part of a signal chain, and each one is designed to do (one or more) specific things to that signal chain.

  • Some are designed to be the main source of dirt.
  • Some are designed to recreate the sound and feel of a specific amp (or type of amp).
  • Some are designed to shape the tone of the signal before it hits the main source of dirt.
  • Some are designed to boost / fatten / saturate an already-overdriven amp.

Those aren’t mutually-exclusive; some pedals are designed to do two or more of those at the same time. And I’m sure that there’s other roles too that I’ve missed off the list.

On top of that, pedals are designed to go into different styles of amps.

  • American-designed boutique pedals are often designed to go into Fender amps (normally something like a ’65 Deluxe Reverb aka the “blackface” sound).
  • Pedals that are designed to go into an already-overdrive amp are often designed to go into something Marshall-like or (occasionally) into a vintage 50’s Fender amp.

And then, what do you do with amp-in-a-box pedals? Does it make sense to run those into the opposite style of amp (e.g. run a Marshall-in-a-box (MIAB for short) pedal into a Fender amp, and run a Fender-in-a-box pedal into a Marshall amp)?

One thing’s for sure. If I run every pedal I try into the exact same rig, I’ll be wasting my time with some of them. And what’s the point of that?

This means that I’m going to need multiple pedal platform presets. Even the mighty Axe-FX 3 cannot cram all of them into a single preset.

1×12 Speaker Cabs Wherever Possible

Just because I can use the Axe-FX 3 to build impossible-to-buy and impractical-to-use-at-home rigs for pedals, it doesn’t mean that I want to. I’m still a home hobbyist, and I want my pedal platform presets to still have some grounding in reality.

At the heart of that is the choice of speaker cab.

Most of us home hobbyists play combo amps. They typically come with a single 1×12 speaker. If we have a head + cab rig, the vast majority of those will be a 1×12 cab or maybe a 2×12 vertical cab.

Hardly any of us will be playing through 4×12 cabs at home.

I don’t know about you, but there’s no way I could even fit a 4×12 cab in my house. And there’s certainly no way I could use it. My neighbours would (rightly!) be very upset if they had to listen to that level of volume.

Plus, there’s plenty of folks out there on YouTube who do demos using 4×12 cabs (either real ones, or virtual ones via an IR loader). They’re all much better at this too than I am. What’s the point of me doing that too?

Coming back to the virtual speaker choice … my priority is to build the best rig I can for the pedals. If that means that I need to throw in speaker cabs that you’d never use at home, then I will do it. I just want it to be the last resort rather than the go-to approach.

Not Just For Pedal Demos

I want to use the same preset for pedal demos and for recording music. Oh, and I also want to be able to just have fun too when I’m not recording anything.

Basically, I want to be able to take the tones that I write about on here, and put them to use. I don’t want to write about one tone but actually use a different tone for myself.

I think that the easiest way to do that is to use the exact same preset for everything I do.

That means I need the preset to:

  • have some effects for playing rhythm guitar for demos
  • have an easy way to switch off all effects (and sum to mono) for recording music
  • have extra effects and maybe a looper too for just having fun

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far, I’m grateful. This blog post is a bit of a brain dump, and I’m probably the only person that it’s useful to.

I’ve written this to avoid repeating myself in the future. I’m going to refer back to this a lot as I get into writing up the amp & cab choices and also the way I’ve got the post-FX routed.

I’ll also come back and add more things to this blog post if/when I realise that there’s more to say / explain on the topic.

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