Ultimate Guide to
Cab Simulator Pedals

Over the last few years, it has been apparent that many modern guitar players want their rigs to be more compact, manageable and portable; especially for those that frequently gig.

With the small form-factor of guitar pedals, manufacturers have tried to develop ways to convincingly squeeze the sounds of amps into these tiny, ergonomic stompboxes. And now, some of these can even emulate the sounds of speaker cabinets!

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Written by

Elliot Stent

What Are Cab Simulator Pedals?

In the 21st Century, there are tonnes of ways that us guitar players can attain great tones. Whether that be through traditional valve amps, modelling amps or DAW software plugins; frankly - we’re spoilt for choice.

A lot of guitarists, though, are gravitating towards the idea of having all-encompassing pedalboards. By that, we mean a board that includes not just typical effects pedals like overdrive, delay or chorus, but that also features preamp and cab simulator pedals that can emulate the classic amp and cabinet setup.

Cab simulator pedals do exactly what they say on the tin. These clever little units are able to imitate the tonal characteristics of guitar cabs, despite their relatively small size and affordability.

What Is A Guitar Cabinet?

Before we describe the full capabilities of cab sim pedals, let’s first explain what guitar cabinets actually are. A guitar cab is a set of speakers that is typically fitted within a wooden enclosure. In terms of purpose, a guitar cab projects the sound that is created by an amplifier head, or by an amp combo that has an external speaker output.

While that may sound quite boring, the guitar cab market is actually quite diverse, and unbeknownst to some; a cabinet can heavily influence your overall sound. With different speaker sizes and configurations available, you can get anything from simple single-speaker 1x12” cabs all the way up to monstrous multi-speaker 4x12” cabs.

These different types of amp cabinets have their own unique qualities and idiosyncrasies. For example, compact single-speaker cabinets may not be able to push as much air as some of their larger counterparts, but they usually have a tighter and more punchy sound. Big multi-speaker cabs, on the other hand, can project much more volume and generally have a broader sound that emits more low-end.

Closed Back vs. Open Back Guitar Cabs

While speaker sizes and configurations are the variables that most guitarists shop by, it’s worth noting that cabinets can also be distinguished by another design trait - ‘closed back’ and ‘open back’. These terms refer to a cabinet’s type of construction.

Closed back defines a cab that fully encloses its speakers, not letting any sound escape from the rear. These cabs generally have a very focused sound with lots of low-end thump. Open back cabs are quite different, as they have an area at the back of their enclosures removed; letting sound escape. These sound brighter and more airy than closed back cabs, with greater presence and sparkle.

What Does A Cab Simulator Pedal Do?

Cab simulator pedals are designed to emulate the sounds that guitar cabs can offer. While genuine cabs can look impressive on stage, they are usually very heavy and therefore quite cumbersome to transport. Cab sim pedals, however, are far more ergonomic as they are small, light and can be easily mounted onto pedalboards.

These stompboxes therefore eradicate the need for real guitar cabs, and they’re incredibly handy for live performances as they allow you to plug directly into front-of-house PA systems. With so many venues seeking ways to make stages quieter; many guitarists are using cab sim pedals as viable alternatives to their traditional cabinets. They can also be plugged straight into mixing desks and audio interfaces for direct recording; making them excellent studio tools.

But some of you may be thinking - “how do cab simulator pedals work?”. Glad you asked. These stompboxes reproduce the sounds of cabinets by using ‘I.R.’ (impulse response) technology. If you’re unfamiliar with impulse responses, they basically enable the acoustic characteristics of a space to be captured. But this innovative technology can also be employed to harness the sonic qualities of guitar cabinets, and cab sim pedals essentially host multiple cabinet impulse responses as dedicated presets.

GFI System Cabzeus on Andertons T.V.

How Do I Use A Cab Simulator Pedal?

The majority of cab simulator pedals are quite sophisticated, and therefore come equipped with many presets of different cabinet configurations and speaker types. This makes them incredibly versatile; you’re not limited to just one cabinet sound but instead have plenty at your disposal.

As we alluded to in the previous section, cab sim pedals are excellent for use in the studio and are not solely built for live performance. For example, recording a real cabinet can be time-consuming as you usually have to play around with microphone placement in order to attain the sound that you want. You may also completely swap out the type of cab to pair with your amp, thus prolonging the process even more. But with a cabinet sim pedal, you can easily just switch between presets to find your optimal tones.

Some of the more comprehensive cabinet simulator units out there offer even greater flexibility. With deep-editing parameters, you can swap out microphone emulations, control their virtual placement, and also change the room sound for different ambiences. Most cab sim pedals also boast USB ports that allow you to connect to a computer and edit more efficiently with companion software. Some of these even let you import your favourite third-party impulse responses and upload them to your pedal!

Speaking of connections, these pedals typically feature 1/4” jack inputs/outputs that are compatible with conventional guitar cables. Most mixing desks and audio interfaces also feature these, making it super-easy to plug a cab sim pedal straight into them. However, there are some cab simulator pedals that have XLR connectors too, which are more typically found on active PA speakers.

'Pedalboard Straight To PA!' on Andertons T.V.

Where Does A Cab Simulator Pedal Go In My Signal Chain?

A cab simulator pedal should be placed at the very end of your pedalboard's signal chain. This is so that it can send your entire processed guitar signal to a dedicated PA system or audio interface. This isn’t too dissimilar to the method used for power amp pedals, but whereas a power amp pedal lets you plug into a guitar cab, a cab sim pedal is obviously used as a cabinet substitute.

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