Here's Dweezil Zappa endorsing Native Instrument's Guitar Rig 5. I've used this software, it's actually pretty good, very flexible, awesome sounding, and costs about $200.
There are now several kinds of software amplifier emulators, some of which are 100% free and are just as good. The biggest advantage to using a software guitar setup is that you can not only configure it in ways that a physical setup can't be, you can pack dozens of amps and effects into a laptop and bring them with you. You can also share those sounds with other players!
Zappa hits on a lot of these points, which are true for software setups as a whole. Obviously, some will sound better or have more features than others, but for the most part, they all work the same.
Some things to keep in mind when using a software amp (or any modeler, for that matter):
- It can be as simple or complex as you want
- It can do things physical setups can't
- Just like an amp, it's going to have a unique sound
- It may not "feel" the same, but that's not bad
Once you get past the idea of it not sounding like you "think" it should sound, you can start playing with the unlimited possibilities, and make something useful with it. Make your own sounds, your own set lists, play with effects and see what you can do. You are free to create!
Is a software amp/effect setup right for you? They're more flexible and cheaper than vintage/boutique hardware. If nothing else, it's a good tool to have in your arsenal. I, for one, have no qualms about using a laptop guitar amp simulator live. And if you try a free one, what have you got to lose?
I'm working on finishing up some articles and videos of demoing Guitarix in a live performance setting. Until then, here's some screenshots of my rig in action! The last picture is what the laptop looks like when you put Guitarix in "Live" mode. The buttons at the bottom light up as you use MIDI triggers to turn on/off effects, so you can easily see what's switched on. Also, if you have a pedal mapped to volume or wah, it shows what position the pedal is at. (That's going to get a video demo as soon as I find the time!)
You can store presets in banks, so you can set up your sounds according to songs and sets.
Some of you may have been wondering what my actual guitar setup looks like, so after some prodding from the Google+ Worship Guitarists Community, I decided to make a short video and explain what I've got and why I'm using it. Let me know if you have any questions.
In my quest to minimize, I will probably be rearranging some of this equipment, but I will still keep an actual amp setup in case my computer crashes in some way. Just wish MIDI controller pedals were cheaper on Ebay! Sheesh.