Modeling Amps

Guitarists are a fickle lot over technology.     

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? Hmmm…

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 the 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. And most of us use pedals now for overdrive…

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 (and expanding all the time) 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 listed below a few amps that are worth a look. These you can generally plug in and play (with a cab where required) rather than being ‘effects processor’s’ which are usually floor based and require plugging into your amp.

Having said that a few, like the Kemper Profiling amp and Line 6 Helix range blur the lines of what an amp is!


ID:CORE range £130 – £400
Silverline range £360 – £700
Website: Blackstar


Amp £550 – £950

Website: BluGuitar


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 £600 – £1200

Website: Hughes & Kettner

Line 6

Spider V range £100 – £450
Catalyst range £240 – £450
Helix Floor range £449 – £1149
Website: Line 6


CODE range £150 – £300
MG Gold range £75 – £300
Website: Marshall


Peavey Vypyr X1 20w Modeling amplifier top controls

Vyper X range £199 – 379
Website: Peavey


CUBE range £120 – £620

Website: Roland


MINI Go range £160 – £300
VX range £140 – £230
Valvetronix range £180 – £250
AV Series £290 – £370

Adio Air £290
Cambridge 50 £265
See our review
Website: Vox 


THR range £180 – £450

Website: Yamaha 

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