06 Oct Modeling Amps (2020 guide)
Guitarists are a fickle lot. You’ve got a digital phone, digital computer/laptop/tablet, a digital radio, use on-line social media, stream music digitally but, you don’t want a digital amp – no way. You believe that something designed in the early 20th century is way better.
Okay, at full volume a valve amp can sound glorious – warm, soulful and with corking overdrive – but who plays at full volume? Valves are tricky little devils that may sound slightly different each time you use them, giving inconsistent tone. So, if someone came up with an amp that sounded as good as a full blown valve amp, at all volumes, in all situations, wasn’t ‘delicate’ and didn’t break your back lugging it around you would be interested right?
Enter the digital modeling amp which comes as a combo, head, rack mount or floor processor.
So what exactly is a modeling amp?
Basically, it is a solid state amp (although some, like to Vox Cambridge 50 have a valve in them) with added bells and whistles that enable it to ‘reproduce’ the sound of a valve amp using digital technology. They have come an awful long way since the bean-shaped Line 6 POD introduced digital technology to guitarists many years ago.
Many top touring bands now use rack-mounted modelers exclusively as it enables them to reproduce their ‘sound’ night after night in all venues and in all conditions – trying to reproduce that studio sound that took months to perfect in a live setting can be a nightmare…
If you can’t afford ten amps or haven’t the room then a modeler could be for you. Most will have a range of inbuilt clean, overdrive and distortion amp models based on classic/legendary amps such as those from Fender, Marshall, Orange, Vox, Dumble and Mesa/Boogie that we have all heard on our favourite recordings and would love to own. The more sophisticated have hundreds of amp, cab and effects models, together with on-line updates so you can find any sound you want, save it and then use it again and again, if you don’t quite like the inbuilt models.
When they first came out the criticism was that they didn’t sound ‘authentic’ but today, with advanced digital technology and sound capturing techniques, they are getting closer and closer to the real thing. Another issue for guitarists is that they don’t always ‘react’ in a dynamic way like a valve amp can and may sound less ‘natural’ when overdriven, but a lot of valve amps need high volume to achieve this which you can’t have at home.
So, affordable, robust, lightweight, versatile, with built in effects (no pedals required), good sounding and no valves to go wrong – what’s not to like?
Which one to choose
Combo, head, floor processor or rack? The choice is very wide as are the complexities and the prices. You can start with a ‘simple’ combo with a few models for less than £100 or go for a £2000+ bells and whistles processor and all points between. One consideration is your technical aptitude (or ability to read and understand a manual) as some have touch screens and plenty of buttons and switches which may take months to fully understand.
We have profiled below what is available today – modeling amps that you can plug in and play (with a cab where required) rather than an ‘effects processor’ which is usually floor based and requires plugging into your amp.
ID:CORE range £115 – £400
Silverline range £370 – £700
BluGuitar Amp 1 £600
Boss Katana range £90 – £450
Website: Boss Amps
Mustang range £200 – £450
Champion range £290 – £350
Tone Master range £800 – £950
Website: Fender Amps
Hughes & Kettner Black Spirit range £800 – £1200
Website: Hughes & Kettner
Kemper Profiler range £1500 – £2500
Spider V range £100 – £450
AMPLIFi range £350 – £450
Website: Line 6
CODE range £150 – £300
MG Gold range £60 – £300
Roland CUBE range £115 – £450
Yamaha THR range £160 – £600
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