Six ways to get a rock sound (without a band)

Virtual instruments are now good enough to replace real musicians. Not such good news if you want to join a band, perhaps, but great news if you want to create one… virtually.

How to create a rock sound

Bands, eh? Who needs them? There are egos to deal with, tantrums to test you, musical differences to master and royalties to split. In short, who needs the camaraderie, the life-long friendships and the lasting memories of the joint experience being in a band gets you? And especially when technology can do it all for you (well, the music-making bit, anyway).

Software can be your surprisingly sustainable bandmate. Okay, it won’t be your best buddy in a pub, or your shoulder to cry on on the tour bus, but it can be your virtual bassist, your drummer, your guitarist or your acoustic or distorted star player, and all from the solitude and safety of your studio. Here’s how…

1. Acoustic pickings

How to create a rock sound, Native Instruments Sessions Guitarist Strummed Acoustic

For your acoustic-guitar player, you could do a lot worse than Native Instruments’ Session Guitarist Strummed Acoustic (£89). This Kontakt instrument is what they call an ‘always-on-call, professional session guitarist’, so you can play chords, articulations or just about anything else which has been heavily sampled from a dreadnought acoustic.

Orange Tree Samples has also done the hard work of sampling the real thing over several acoustic and electric Kontakt instruments, a standout acoustic being Evolution Steel Strings ($179) which features a Martin D-16R steel string with everything playable. It does, as they say, ‘change your perception of what is possible for MIDI-based guitar simulation’.

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2. Friends electric

How to create a rock sound, UJAM Instruments Virtual Guitarist IRON

There’s an even wider choice of titles to offer you a virtual electric guitarist – indeed both NI and Orange Tree offer electric versions of those we covered above. Other standout titles include Applied Acoustics Strum GS-2 ($99) which models both electric and acoustic or, for out-and-out rock, there’s UJAM Instruments’ Virtual Guitarist IRON (£129). This is one of the most straightforward instruments to get your head around and even if you don’t know one end of an axe (that’s a guitar, by the way) from another, you should be rocking in no time.

Finally, check out the entire Shreddage line from Impact Soundworks ($99 to $149). Shreddage 2, in particular, is designed for rock and metal and can do everything from chugging rhythmic playing to screaming leads and solos. Who needs people?

3. Your virtual bassist

How to create a rock sound, Impact Soundworks Sheddage

To be honest, you can probably replicate the bass end of rock with a decent synth plug-in, but there are several ‘proper’ virtual-bass instruments out there, too. We’ll return to Impact Soundworks with Shreddage 1 (£59) which does both guitar and bass, and Shreddage Bass: Picked Edition ($59) which offers a cleaner DI bass sound.

Native Instruments has around half-a-dozen different Scarbee virtual bass instruments (£59 to £89). Take your pick from the Fender Precision Basses from Scarbee Pre-Bass and Pre-Bass Amped, or the more punchy power of a Rickenbacker 4003 from Rickenbacker Bass.

Finally, Spectrasonics Trillian ($299) is a more expensive bass option, but it does more bass than most – pretty much any low-end sound you can imagine, all at a high quality.

4. Distortion options

How to create a rock sound, Native Instruments Waves GTR-3

Anything from Logic’s Pedalboard effects to third-party bundles such as Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig Pro 5 (£169) and Waves GTR-3 (currently $39) will get you the distortion you’re looking for. The chances are, though, your DAW will have more than enough effects capable of giving you screaming leads for rock.

5. Drums

How to create a rock sound, Toontrack Superior Drummer 3

Technology was invented for beats and there are stacks of ways of getting rock drums, from samples to complete instrument-like DAWs, such as Toontrack’s Superior Drummer 3 (£305). Indeed, there’s a whole feature on the subject of hi-tech beats – so come back next time for just that…

6. Vocals

How to create a rock sound, Yamaha Vocaloid Cyber Diva

Possibly the one last technological barrier to overcome is a plug-in to reproduce the human voice, although some have tried. Yamaha’s Vocaloid ($225 to $360) has been trying the longest and has a range of singers which are undoubtedly capable of better results than the early versions of the software were.

To be honest, though, while the instruments in your rock band can all obviously be handled with ease through the range of titles we’ve listed here, the voice… well, that’s probably something you are either going to get another human to do, or try it for yourself. The robots are coming, for sure, but their vocal-rock credentials aren’t quite there yet.

Want more tips? Check out our guide on creating great guitar sounds here.

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