GarageBand 10 makes the use of amp models and effects with external instruments very robust and functional. In this article I'll walk you through how to use GarageBand to setup a cascading delay effect with your guitar, using one of these experimental amp models.
I'm running a 2005 PRS CE 24 electric guitar through a Line 6 combo amp with a direct out going into a USB interface connected to a Mac Mini. It's an extremely basic (but effective) home recording rig.
If you need some help configuring your Mac to recognize your USB interface, here are a couple resources that provide more setup detail:
Most USB audio interfaces (and Thunderbolt audio interfaces) are configured the same way, with some kind of audio input and a direct connection outputting the signal to your computer. Once that's in place, you'll just have to make sure that the audio settings on your Mac are configured correctly.
You can certainly go straight into the USB interface from your guitar and use the amp models in GarageBand as your preamp without a physical, external amplifier.
I've found that it sounds a bit better when my preamp is external. Then I can use the GarageBand amp models for subtle tweaking in the EQ and more heavy modulating or ambient effects.
No pedalboard this time - just the amp and GarageBand.
Gear Used for this Project
iRig Pro DUO Audio Interface
Mac Mini with GarageBand 10.2 (use most recent stable release)
Mackie CR3-X Studio Monitors
Assuming you have the physical setup taken care of, the rest of this GarageBand tutorial will focus on setting up and tweaking the amp model within the software. I'll include a few audio samples as well as screenshots of the entire process.
Setting Up a New Track in GarageBand
Open a new project in GarageBand.
From the "Choose a Project" interface, which might look a little different if you're on an older or newer version of GarageBand, select the "Amp Collection" option and click "Choose."
The project window will close and automatically open your new project with a few amp model channels already set up.
That interface should look something like this:
If you haven't seen this screen before (perhaps this is your first time using GarageBand) take some time to get familiar with the interface. Notice that to actually engage one of the amp models, you need to click the small speaker icon next to the volume slider on the amp's particular channel.
If that button is orange, the amp model is engaged and processing your signal.
You can then make changes via the controls and EQ options at the bottom of your screen.
Once you're familiar with the interface, we can move on to selecting our cascading delay amp model.
Selecting and Editing the Cascading Delay Amp Model
On the left side of your screen you'll notice there's a library of amp models and sounds. Go to the left-most parent category and select "Experimental Guitar."
From there, choose the "Cascade" amp model.
You can now engage monitoring and tweak the amp model from the same interface.
If you want to make some additional adjustments to your EQ, or tinker with the cabinet and microphone simulation, click the small amplifier icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the interface.
This will bring up the following window with a closeup view of your amplifier, speaker cab and microphone.
These are the settings I used in the Cascade amp model while recording the following audio clip.
I like this amp model's sound because it has an ethereal quality to it that sounds a little thicker and more defined than just delay. In fact, we can remove the echo (which I do later) and still maintain the "thickness" of the effect. It's hard to pin down exactly what the sound is, but it's great for riffs in a minor key and even more dissonant-sounding chords.
Tweaking the Amp and Recording Other Samples
If you want to make some changes and record your own samples, use the controls at the top-center of your screen for recording and playback.
Click the red button to record your guitar's input into the mixer, which should look like the following screen shot:
After the initial recording, I went back to the main interface and made a few changes to the amp's tone.
There are four different effects being used on the Cascade amp model; distortion, filter, echo and reverb.
From this interface I moved the distortion knob up and cut the reverb back slightly to record a couple more samples.
Arpeggiated chord progression.
Melodic lead line with deep root notes.
You can hear a little more background noise with the drive and gain bumped higher.
To reduce the noise and "busyness" of the effect, I dropped the drive knob back to around 12 o'clock and the gain to about 30 percent. The depth control on the filter got a slight cut as well.
The result was a more chime-like echo that I thought gelled nicely with this lead lick in a major key, reminiscent of a slower version of "Today" by the Smashing Pumpkins.
Adding a Drum Machine Track
Now, I'll show you how I added a drum machine to my amp model and recorded the two together.
Click the "plus" sign button at the top of your track list.
From the "Choose a track type" popup, select "Drummer."
You'll now have a drum machine track you can use and make edits to for your recording. I changed the default selection to the "Neon" drum machine from the "Electronic Drum Kit" parent category.
Once you've selected a kit that you like, you can use the controls section (at the bottom of your screen where the amp dials used to be) to make changes to each element of that kit.
It should look something like this:
I setup a track that was primarily just a kick drum and a slow hi-hat rhythm that would act as a nice backdrop for my guitar.
Once I was happy with the drum mix, I dragged it out to loop for about two minutes, giving me plenty of time to record my guitar track over top. Since I wasn't able to be really exact about the delay time, I cut back the echo on my Cascade amp model and just relied on the other three effects.
That also helped to clean up the tone a bit.
The Final Product
My final product was an ethereal-sounding sequence of arpeggios in a minor key with a powerful electronic kick track running behind it. Personally, I'm a big fan of combining electronic beats with an analog-flavored guitar tone (yes - even if that tone is modeled digitally).
Make your own tweaks to the amp model and whatever drum track you choose. The qualities I went for were industrial and electronic groove with a distinct flavor of modern guitar melody in a minor key.
Yours might be different, so take the time to play around with that amp model to get something you like.
It's a good one to experiment with.
GarageBand has become extremely powerful over the years, certainly to the point of allowing you to make music without any instruments. I would argue, however, that the software is most enjoyable, and most effective, when it is being used in conjunction with external instruments.
Like I said, I'm a big fan of combining the vibe of electronic music with the more raw and organic appeal of the guitar, acoustic or electric.
Since GarageBand gives you plenty of tools to incorporate both extremes, it makes for a fun playground in which to meld the two styles and musical disciplines.
Leave technical inquiries and any other questions in the comments section. I'll answer as best I can.