Is it the end of the tube amps are king era?
Not so long ago, the apple of the worship guitar player’s eye was a stereo tube amp set up. More often than not we dreamed of a Vox-style amp and a Fender-style amp, what a great sound. There is absolutely no denying that tube amps are amazing and the ideal sound. Hence why the standard measure of every modeler is how much they sound like the real thing.
For as awesome real amps are, there are some huge practical disadvantages that can be avoided by the modern guitar player.
I love tube amps and to me there is nothing like being on stage with a cranked AC-30. That type of situation is almost never possible in a church setting. Tube amps are loud, heavy, expensive to buy, and expensive to maintain. Despite all these issues, for years we would haul around our amps and our backs are still recovering. All for the love of the tone!
Tone is a huge word for us in the guitar world. And for years amp modelers couldn’t deliver quality, warm tone; which is why we’ve willingly thrown out our backs lugging our gear around.
But we’re now in an era where the majority of the negatives of going digital are behind us.
If you can take the time to dial in your settings and presets, you may even prefer a modeler more than an amp.
The mistake that so many make when comparing the two is when they listen with an amp in the room then throw on their headphones to compare it to the modeler.
That is not a fair comparison. It is so easy to fool yourself with the volume of the real amp and the actual air moving in the room you are listening. A better comparison is micing the amp, sending it through a board and out into your in-ears. To me that is where the modeler often wins.
Where tube amps fail
I have been in so many situations with backline amps, minimal stage volume, mics that get bumped backstage, or engineers that simply don’t have the capacity to put in the same effort into getting a great sound as I would. When using a modeler you are taking most of those variables out of their hands, making it easier on everyone, & guaranteeing you’ll have a quality consistent sound, no matter the room you’re playing in.
The best things about amp modeling
One of my personal favorite things about going with modeling is all the options.
I love that I can use a Tweed Bassman sound on one part of a song and a JC-120 the next. Being able to go through so many different types of amps and effects with a few clicks or the turn of a knob helps you to really find the sound you are looking for.
Every time you boot up your rig it is like going to the best guitar shop you can imagine and being given free reign to try everything.
There is also an incredible online community where you can share different profiles, presets, and IRs (impulse response). You can access all of this with headphones on, in your bedroom, with your roommates or family in the other room sleeping.
Cost is another huge bonus with amp modeling.
Most of the amp modeling products offer a catalog of amplifiers that would cost tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to own the real life amps that have been profiled. The same can be said for the effect options.
If you are looking for the most tonal options with the lowest cost, amp modeling is the winner by far.
While there are not many “cheap” options, if a $2,000 product can replace $2,000 worth of pedals and $3,000 worth of amps I’d say that is a great deal.
So now you are probably thinking, “Okay, maybe I’ll give this a shot…”
If you are looking at jumping into the world of amp modeling it can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. You’ve probably heard of units like Kemper, Fractal, and Helix or pedals like the Strymon Iridium, Walrus Audio ACS1, or the Line 6 HX Stomp. I can confidently say that every until mentioned will do a great job replacing your amps.
The level of quality across the industry has done nothing but improve dramatically over the past several years.
What you should consider when looking should really be based on the specific features of each product.
You need to ask yourself practical questions like:
– what’s my budget?
– stereo or mono?
– should the unit cover all my effects and amps or just amps?
– do i want to profile my current amps?
– level of preset switching ease for on the fly patch changes?
– desktop editor or do all editing on the unit?
– do i want simplicity or seemingly endless editing ability?
As they say “there is a lid for every pot”, do some research related to your desired features and when possible try it out at the guitar shop or try a friend’s.
I am not going to be the person that claims the triumphant reign of tube amps is over, because I don’t believe it is.
I just believe that with the number of high quality options that are relatively accessible and affordable in the modeling space, for most players that is the more practical option. It simplifies everything from your setup time to the responsibilities of the front of house. Plus you can save $100,000 by downloading a Dumble profile versus buying the real thing(I know you’ve looked on Reverb).
Keep your tube amps if you want. You just don’t have to bring them to church if you don’t want to. Trust me, the first time you can load in with one trip and not have to use a cart, you’ll thank me.
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