STL Tonality Howard Benson Guitar Plug-in Suite

New Gear/New Toy Review: STL Tonality Howard Benson Guitar Plug-in Suite

STL Tonality's new plug-in has guitar tones and sounds sampled from Howard Benson's and Mike Plotnikoff's private amp collections. This VST/AU/AAX plug-in has recreations of guitar amp setups and sounds documented in copious session notes from Howard and Mike's record productions that were archived over the years. Some of these settings took hours--or even days to develop in the studio.

STL Tonality uses Benson's five classic amp tops and five different speaker cabs shown in the GUI. There are amp/cabinet/effect pedal combinations used on records from Bon Jovi, Santana, My Chemical Romance, Daughtry and many others.

The amp modeling algorithms work at a circuit component level to derive the subtle and unique differences of the actual tube amps themselves--they break up and distort in a smooth, organic way.

After installing in Pro Tools, I inserted STL Tonality on a clean, direct guitar track recording to begin my testing. The GUI has: Input and Output controls, a one-knob noise gate that worked well here, a tuner, and your choice of five different amplifiers labeled Amp 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

In the manual they are basically described and any guitar player will know them immediately (No names are specifically mentioned). The different amps come up when you select Amps and they all have the typical tube guitar amp front panel controls including master volume and bright/normal and/or lead/clean in the case of Amp-2.

You may then select and connect any of five different cabs. Cabinet sounds are from impulse responses and there is the ability to load your own IRs into an empty cabinet slot. You can turn off the cab in the plug-in for just the amp's tone or lock down your cabinet choice for cycling through different amps or presets maintaining your chosen cab--great for exploring or just quickly changing cabinets when double-tracking guitar parts--something that is often done when building your own "wire choir."

The Pedals page has three pedals in a chain beginning with: a tube screamer, BPM-sync Delay, and a reverb pedal with Pre-Delay and a Wet/Dry control. These three stomp pedals have the usual controls plus a Pre/Post switch on the delay and reverb pedals. This switches their effect(s) either before the amp (Pre) or after the amp (Post). Since STL Tonality works as either a stereo and/or mono-to-stereo instance, you can have stereo reverb and/or L/R slaps from the delay pedal.

I was looking for a crunch tone for a solo guitar track--I wanted it stereo and big sounding. I counted 45 presets divided between Howard Benson, Mike Plotnikoff and STL Tones folders and selected the Myton Low Rider and began tweaking amp controls. I changed Routing to Mono-to-Stereo and used a very tight delay setting and added a short ambience from the reverb pedal. I saved it as CleanStereo in my own personal bank--what could be more intuitive and simpler.

Playing live through STL Tonality was just as marvelous--my old Fender Strat sounded great and I liked the way it responded to playing dynamics and that many good sounds are easy to arrive at quickly. I found it to be one of my smoothest and glitch-free plug-ins--I tried to "break it" with moving knobs fast and many mouse clicks but STL Tonality is elegantly programmed and works solidly with minimal CPU usage.

The Howard Benson Guitar Plug-In Suite, with exclusive presets crafted by Benson, Plotnikoff and STL, is available for both 32 and 64-bit DAWs, on both Mac and Windows for $129.99 from the STL online store. Audio and video demos available.


Barry Rudolph is a recording engineer/mixer who has worked on over 30 gold and platinum records. He has recorded and/or mixed Lynyrd Skynyrd, Hall & Oates, Pat Benatar, Rod Stewart, the Corrs and more. Barry has his own futuristic music mixing facility and loves teaching audio engineering at Musician’s Institute, Hollywood, CA. He is a lifetime Grammy-voting member of NARAS and a contributing editor for Mix Magazine. barryrudolph.com