How to design Axe FX Patches like a Pro
In this article, I’m going to give some tips that I’ve come across while spending countless hours/days dialing in Axe FX III patches. This is for straight forward workhorse rock/metal patches and will not cover anything too experimental. I will go through each block according to the image below. Hope this saves you lots of time!
Input: make sure to set your input gain accordingly for the particular guitar you are using. I would advise against using the gate in the input block. We have a gate later in the chain.
Compressor: this is my first block. This is optional. I do not like a lot of compression, so this is set for extremely light compression. It is mostly used as an input boost. I would leave it bypassed until everything else is dialed.
Drive: Also optional, but can be really useful. The 808 Tube Screamer models are popular. I really like the Heart Pedal as well. Unfortunately this block requires a lot of dialing in and I would honestly leave it bypassed until the amp is sounding good by itself. Don't forget the low cut on the tone page.
Filter: A little trick I got from Austin Buddy. This is optional but if you play low tunings, metal, extended range guitars, you may want a low cut before it hits the amp. You can do this using your drive pedal and the amp block, however, the filter block has less clicks involved to dial in and may save a few seconds!
Amp: A critical block, but I would wait to dial this one in until you get your cabinet situated! A couple quick recommendations off the top of my head: For cleans check out the USA Pre, Fender Bandmaster, and Shiver Clean. For classic rock check out the Marshall and Friedman models. And for metal, the FAS and 5150 models. And for nice leads I really like the Bogner Ecstasy. Make sure your Amp and Cabinet choice are paired appropriately. If you go with a high gain head, the cabinet setup should be similar to what you’d be using in real life (a 414 oversized cab, etc). The Input EQ is really powerful and can help tighten your sound. I also really like engaging the Boost function.
Gate: This is a trick I got from Leon Todd. Check him out on YouTube. He has some of the best Fractal tutorials around and is a great player. The noise gate block has more controls than the input gate. And it works better after the amp block. Try it out! This is optional, and mainly for high gain and djent players.
Cab: THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT BLOCK. Make sure your cab selection makes sense with the type of amp rig and music you are making! I prefer to use third party IR packs like Ownhammer Heavy Hitters V1. It’s an extra hassle to load them up, but they’ve spent time combining mic and cab sounds and it makes your life easier. A good recorded guitar sound has an sm57 and some other mic (often a royer 121 or a u67) blended together. The cab block is easy to overdo if you try combining too many IRs. It will start to sound phase-y and bad.
Also there are a few intriguing features in this block i.e. the preamp, room, and air section. I’ve messed with them extensively and would NOT recommend using them. The preamp would be cool but I barely notice any difference unless it is driven hard and it’s usually not worth messing with. The room feature is cool, but I leave it off because the reverb block can do all this and more. Lastly, the air knob seems cool but I’ve found it to cause problems. You can use the EQ to add air.
PEQ: Parametric eq block after the amp and cab. This is a game changer. Get some EQ moves out of the way before you need to do it in your daw. For metal, I cut some low mids around 365hz. And I boost the highs a bit. It actually really depends on your guitar and taste. You can do this last, after everything else sounds good. This is not necessary if you want your sound to be less polished. Some guitarists like to hi cut and low cut their leads to get a dark, focused tone. I just make really tiny adjustments like 2db increments at most to add polish. Up to you!
Send/Return: A game changer. I am not even using it as anFX send, but more like an extension of my rig! Get plenty of extra real estate. If you haven’t used these before, all you need to do is turn up the return level on the return block. Essentially all it is doing is making my axe fx patch two rows long instead of one!
Chorus: This is a must have effect for lead guitar and bass in my experience. No need to put that much though. 10-30% mix tops will sweeten up your tone. I like it to be barely noticeable. There are numerous good type options.
Delay: Good effect to have on deck to foot switch on and off. It’s nice that you can time align it to your session tempo. The delay block has its own EQ setting that is fun to dial in.
Reverb: If you want a really close mic’d sound, leave this off. But I like a little room added, for playing’s sake. I will use this instead of messing with the Cab Block room parameters. There’s great reverb options. A little goes a long way. You can do crazy effects too if you want for leads and ambient sections. The springs, halls, plates, and honestly almost all of them are really great.
One last closing remark. Do yourself a favor and save some scenes for your preset. And give them useful titles! The Scene Manager tab is really useful for this and worth learning how to use. Also another quick note, I like to leave open rows at the bottom in case there's a second guitar or bass player at the session. You can record two players at once on the Axe Fx III!
Let me know if this was helpful! Happy tone chasing.