Not just another amp-modeler

Line 6 has some history – that’s an understatement – with guitar-amp-and-effect modeling, in both hardware and software. Its current hardware range, Helix, includes fully featured and LE pedalboards, and a rack unit with optional foot controller. The company has swung the other way with a plug-in version; Helix Native doesn’t simply borrow the family name from the hardware, it maintains full compatibility. Presets created on any Helix product can be transferred to the others.

Straight off, Helix presents a cleaner design than most modelling software, with accessible modern graphics not overly concerned with providing images of the original gear in question.

Double-clicking a preset name in the column on the left automatically shows the relevant signal chain in the central display, with more detailed controls below that where you can swap out individual elements and adjust amp-and-effect settings.

The default arrangement provides two parallel chains, with up to eight ‘blocks’ in each, the blocks representing utilities, effects, amps, or cabinets; I love the sound of two amps working together.

You’ll get any guitar sound you want here, with amps represented from the WWII-era Gibson EH-185, through the obvious Marshalls and Fenders, to ultra-metal setups based on Marshall/Bogner rigs and effects including distortion, EQ, wah, and delay.

Helix Native

Overall, the presets work from the get-go, with none of the plasticky quality you can encounter with some modelling software and no latency issues. For each cabinet, one of 16 microphones can be chosen, with settings for distance, high/low cut, and early reflections – but not axis, which is odd, because that’s quite a common one.

If you’re having one of those days when you’re really bored with regular guitar sounds, there are blocks for pitch-shifting, harmonizers, and three and four oscillator tone generators.

If you had a last-minute call for a session, you could probably find and use something straight away. If not, look online – the compatibility with existing Helix hardware lets you exploit the many third-party presets available.

You definitely need this…

Whether you’re a more electronically minded producer with a need for flexible guitar sounds, or even a pre-existing Helix hardware owner, you could convincingly argue that the answer is ‘yes’ – and Helix Native is a definite step up from the inbuilt guitar effects and amp processors built into DAWs that also holds its own against rival amp modelers.

Helix Native

The simple layout of the interface encourages experimentation, and there doesn’t seem to be much restriction on what order amps and effects go in; just drag them around, and use the fixed points at each end of the chain to organize inputs and outputs.

Both of these have level controls and there’s also a dedicated volume block, so, in combination with your hardware and DAW, there are plenty of opportunities to manage levels, which will make a substantial difference to how the amps behave; you need to hit them with enough, but not too much, signal to make them work.

Helix stands up against any amp modeler, with the usual qualifiers… you need a good-quality audio interface and monitors and you need to make the effort to tweak the presets to your needs. It’s a great solution, and far better than the semi-adequate guitar amps and cabs that came with your DAW.