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In Defense of Modeling Amps

posted Apr 21, 2014 16:40:57 by stanton.kramer
Over the weekend I spent some time trying different pedals at the store, albeit mostly Boss. None of the pedals floated my boat more than my cheap little $25 Behringer TM300 pedal. And as I have a bit of time, I thought I'd start a conversation.

What I've learned from my experience is that as cool and wonderful as tube amps are, I think some modeling amps get a bad reputation and are thought of as second class amps, possibly unjustly. From first hand experience I can tell you that modeling amps are not created equal. The store was pushing the Fender Mustang series, which left me cold.

I've now got three amps: A Line 6 Spider II 75/12. A Roland Cube 40XL and a Fender Blues Jr SE NOS. I first bought the Line 6 because it was in mint condition and REALLY cheap (lets just say as cheap as the Mustang I). I think of all the amps I've tried this one has the steepest learning curve for sculpting one's sound. As I was stuck in the learning curve mode I got the bug to buy the Roland. It is a great little amp and much more straight forward than the Line 6. I ignored my Line 6 for some time afterward. Lastly I found a deal on a nearly new BJNOS that I got because I offered a shockingly low price and they accepted. Now, as a disclaimer, in my apartment I cannot crank them up.

I will admit that the distorted settings are a little more difficult to dial in, especially at lowered volumes and can seem a bit overprocessed if not careful. But unless just playing blues, the BJNOS does need some sort of pedal distortion, especially at low volumes. So I bought a Behringer TM "Tube Amp Modeler" because if was cheap and can even use it in my modeling amps (in clean setting). In many cases I think it is better than their on board distortion effects.

But as I look as what I want to achieve with my BJNOS, need a distortion pedal (or several?), a flanger, chorus, delay, tuner, maybe a volume/wah. My Roland has all of those things built in as does my Line 6. In fact, for $40 I got a Line 6 FBV Express that gives me 4 channels, tuner, volume AND wah!

Were I a gigging professional I could see having a big tube amp and all those pedals. They are really cool. But so much of that stuff is built into my modeling amps already. Once you get your gear dialed in, can you really hear THAT much difference? I also have a Behringer A/B switcher so I can plug into two amps and select them on the fly. It seems that the more I work with it, the more I am impressed with my Line 6! I'm sure it's loud enough to cover many gigs, should I ever have the opportunity.

I think it will be interesting to do a "face off" of my TM300 vs "the usual" pedals. I'm just so curious as to how good a $25 pedal can really be in the shadow of those expensive boutique pedals. I will have to come up with a suitable cheap recording setup to share any of this stuff. Suggestions?

Looking forward to hearing what you guys have to say.

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27 replies
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ParéjJózsef said Apr 21, 2014 22:07:34
modelling amps are getting better and better. at the moment, I have a fender vibrochamp XD- it's sort of a fusion between tube amps and modelings, since it has tubes both for preamp and power amp sections, but it has 16 differently modelled voicings. I had a Yamaha THR10X, which was a great bedroom amp, but had to sell it, and a few weeks ago I tried a blackstar ID:15, and it is the best amp I've ever tried. it modells both preamp and power amp tubes, and has more features I don't even start typing. now I'm selling my amp, and getting a Line6 pocket pod, since I live in a dormitory, I can't go really loud- I can use it with my 2.1 speakers or headphones, and it is far enough for me- I would never use it with an amp, but it's great for bedroom :)
Just call me Joe ;)
Proud owner of my 7-string "Bear" LP.
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MichaelWamback said Apr 21, 2014 23:08:42
There is no doubt that the modeling in digital amps and pedals have been improving in leaps and bounds. Some of the gear that Zoom is putting out is just amazing. I was reading an article a while back about how they have been working to improve their way of modeling sound. The gap between solid state and tube is shrinking more and more every year.

And what's great about that is that you will eventually get a sound that you won't be able to distinguish from tube amps, but with the reliability of solid state. If you are lugging your gear around, it's just much more reliable. You can drop it off the tailgate and no harm done.
The two most important things to remember in life: "The only time it's acceptable to work with amateurs is if you are making porn." "If you want to work with clowns, join a circus."
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ParéjJózsef said Apr 21, 2014 23:16:21
and no overheating, and tubeswapping, which is really good- I know tubes are not really expensive, but when you have to swap 16 or 18 tubes in your EVH amp, you will feel it in your pockets, while on the other hand, solid state is cheaper to made, with basicly no maintenance cost... I would keep around a tube amp to play blues, because the tubes have a certain soul I love, but for anything else, a good modelling solid state- or modelling multieffect, preamp- would win.
Just call me Joe ;)
Proud owner of my 7-string "Bear" LP.
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stanton.kramer said Apr 22, 2014 16:02:10
Joe... I know a guy that takes that Line 6 pod to a gig and just plugs it straight into the PA. "We don't need no stinking amp". :)

Michael... I think the modeling amps have largely arrived, if you select the right one and use it the right way.

The thing that I'm finding out about modeling amps (or tube/pedal combinations) is that you have to know what sound you want. I found it extremely helpful to be able to A/B different amps in my home. For two days I had a Super Champ XD and lamented purchasing it when I could IDENTICALLY DUPLICATE the clean sound on my Roland Cube. In a stroke of luck the XD was defective and I was able to return it.

My Line 6 Spider II is now three generations old. But other than the digital presets, I like it better than the Spider IV (for basic sound). And though I bought the Roland afterward (foolishly perhaps) I like the Line 6 better for many things. How convenient is having a foot pedal that has a volume pedal that converts to a wah, four channel selector AND a tuner??? Got it used for $40 ($160 for everything!!!!).


I HAVE to find an inexpensive way to create quality recordings. My iPhone or digital camera just doesn't pick up the nuances.
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TelepathicTrafic said Apr 24, 2014 13:58:26
When I was a kid I got my first amp. A solid state no name type amp, 60W loud as hell. Still works great, still sounds great. Played it this week! I never knew the difference, and no one I played with did either.

Fast forward to my adult life and I wanted to get back into guitar after not playing much for years. I couldn't decide on an amp, ended up buying a VOX VT20+ which was barely over $200 out the door. Sort of an interim amp while I got back into it. A tube / solid state hybrid. Great amp. The tones it can produce are just very satisfying, and the use of different effects helped me decide what I liked.

For the last month I rented a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe III with a 12" Celestion. I have a few pedals now on a board and wanted to try it out with a tube amp. I don't know if its the larger speaker or what, but the Hot Rod blew me away. My pedals sounded better, the cleans were just better. Amp was just too friggin' loud .. could only put it on 2 in my house.

I bought my father in law a BOSS ME-25 to play with his solid state amp. Sounds amazing. The thing about presets is that they are already tweaked to sound good, and they do. A lot of people have trouble getting the effects on those things where they want them, especially casual players or dont want to fuss, just plug and play. In my case, I found the effects good on the VOX VT20+ but I wasn't able to tweak them to where I wanted, just not enough control over them, even for the casual player I am.

I'm not dissin' any amps, I say play what you like. Tone snobs are just that, it's not a contest.

I haven't quite decided but I'm leaning towards a Blackstar amp at this point, likely the HT20.
"I am for drink and the company of questionable women ... may your day hold equal favor!"
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stanton.kramer said Apr 24, 2014 16:02:28
TeleT

I share a lot of your sentiments. As a kid I had a Sears Silvertone twin 12 amp (head and cab). It was loud for sure. I don't remember the cleans sounding like cleans do today. They were just inventing fuzz faces and wah pedals back then. Just gave that amp away a few years ago, never thinking I'd play electric again (or understanding how much people would pay for it).

I hear you regarding the volume on the FHRDIII. I have a Blues Jr. NOS and can only put Master on 2 and volume on 2. I have a crabby neighbor who constantly complains. That Boss ME-25 costs more than my Line 6 amp AND pedal combined! I've collected a few CHEAP pedals which have taught me a lot. (photo below)

The Behringer A/B switch has become valuable for helping me dial in setting on my amps. For example, I can put my BJNOS on channel A and Line 6 on Channel B. By being able to instantly go back and forth I can then dial the sound I want on the Line 6 (I now have 2 preferred clean sounds). The 12" speaker on the Line 6 is awesome, btw. I did the same thing with a Fender Super Champ XD and my Roland. Perfect match on cleans.

The TM300 is incredible for a $25 pedal. I got it primarily to have SOMETHING for the BJNOS but discovered it works great in the modeling amps. Can provide a cleanliness in distortion more than the built in distorted settings. Also, the Compression pedal is a $25 version of the Boss CS3. Works as advertised. I demoed some Boss pedals over the weekend and didn't find anything that was SO much different that I had to have.

The thing is, I really don't know what I will like in a loud environment when I can (or have to) crank the volume.
Thanks for the reply.

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WayneJohnson said Apr 25, 2014 14:20:24
I have a Valve amp.. A Marshall, I would not be without it. I bought it 2nd hand with a 1960A 4x12 speaker, with the intent of using the speaker and selling the amp head.. but i plugged in the amp head and that was it...

ask yourself this though... why is it that us guitar types are so stuck on our old fashioned outdated technology? why don't we buy a line 6 variaxe and an Ipad, and have any sound we want at our finger tips for a relatively small outlay (okay, and a degree in computer programming to get to grips with the infernal things).

Imagine if wannabe racing car drivers insisted on using such old technology, drum brakes, carb's & white wall tyres.

the answer is simple...

Does Slash play a variaxe? what about Vai? or (insert name of guitar hero who inspired you to play in the first place here) no... then not for me...

;-)

I have heard some of the newer moddleing amps and they are very good but at heart, we have to accept that we are all basically snobs who want to be like (favourite guitarist) which is another reason why we want our headstock to say 'Gibson' and not 'Epiphone' or 'Vintage'

doesn't make us bad people......... promise!
[Last edited Apr 25, 2014 14:28:22]
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stanton.kramer said Apr 25, 2014 16:05:36
Interesting viewpoint Wayne. I love Marshalls and don't know why I didn't get one instead of the Fender.

You're right. We all want to sound like our favorite guitar hero. But can it really happen with ANY gear? And for most of us, can we REALLY hear the difference? I mean, you throw your amp pedals and guitar in there with another guitar player, some keyboards a bass and drums, crank the volumes... and you know.

And if you're good enough to play professionally, you probably have a sound guy on your gig. He's more likely than not to f/u the sound anyway. I remember last summer going to see Chicago (the band). Here is a top flight group and the sound guy made the horns sound like kazoos. Could I tell what amp the guitars were plugged into? Hell, I could barely tell they were guitars. While I'm dissing sound guys, I can't tell you how many concerts I've been to where the bass drum and bass guitar were so over-amped you could barely make out anything else. Saw Blondie once a couple years back, and if I didn't know her songs I would not have been able to tell what they were playing :0

But back to the original topic... Its fun to explore different sounds we can make. But if we want to do that with tube amps we will certainly pay a premium for old technology and possibly even more for the pedals that we plug into them. It's cool, but seems to make a hole in the wallet and a mess on the floor.

Once I get some decent recording gear I'm going to do a some blind tests just to see if our aural preferences meet out expectations. Thanks again Wayne.
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WayneJohnson said Apr 25, 2014 17:31:22
Dunno what you mean mate.. I play a 'fake' les paul through a marshall.. I sound exactly like slash. (If only in my head) ;-)

More seriously. I read an article today titled "improve your tone for 25c" the short version of which basically is... try a different pick.

The ultimate 'Tone' so completely subjective and influenced by so many things not all of which are wood and electrical bits.
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stanton.kramer said Apr 25, 2014 19:33:21


I sound like Slash too.... but I'm trying to sound like BB King :).

the short version of which basically is... try a different pick.

ABSOLUTELY! I have found this to be absolutely true.
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WayneJohnson said Apr 25, 2014 20:07:36
Lol... slash.. bb king... its all good mate!
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ParéjJózsef said Apr 25, 2014 21:50:30
of course we want the old :D If I ever had the chance, I would love to get involved in racing, with a beaten up hot rod with drum brakes. why? I for the fun! this way I can't loose :D and of course we all want valve amps with 2 4x12's mounted up because it looks and sounds killer, but, it's useless in a bedroom... and from this point, if you want to crank your amp, most people can't go over 1 watt of valve power, I have a 5 watt, and I've never turned it over 3,5. Modelling amps have the benefit of having the theoretically correct tone, which, for most people, is really good- I find the better ones good (Blackstar ID15 link and Yamaha THR10X link later :) ), but, you cannot check their problems and fix them easily, and they are really predictable... on the other hand, you don't have to carry a heavy amp, and it won't burn down in the middle of a show.

Yamaha THR10X
http://youtu.be/Vr7NQHrLQxY?t=2m39s

Blackstar ID:15/30
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdyrDsAmjdg
Just call me Joe ;)
Proud owner of my 7-string "Bear" LP.
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zoso666 said Apr 26, 2014 13:55:27
Personaly,
In my possession now i have several valve combos,marshall vintage modern,orange,ac30's etc and also several Bugeras (great amps!).
I also have a Yamaha DG 60 combo which,at lowe volumes,sounds amazing,saturated,warm and helps you play!
The valve amps,without pedals,at low volumes sound breathless,clanky,harder to get that "flowing" sound from your pinkies!!
However,as volume increases,the ball game changes dramatically and there is a response,a movement of air,a thump,a feel,a power,that ONLY valve amps create IMO. AND IT'S AN AMAZING "FEEL"rather than pure sound.
I will say,as i have owned pods,gallien krugers etc,that there is room for EVERY amp format,weather it is clean/saturated or anything in between.
I f you listen to a HI FI,you would look at frequency responses and on paper ,solid state wins every time,However if i played you dark side of the moon or something involved on a valve system,there is suddenly a "warmth" in the room and it is a much more pleasant experience.
So,it's not in the detail and what is on paper and specs etc,it is about warmth and feel and how the human ear perceives detail and information.
Remember when all bands recorded digitally,at first we all thought,wowo,so clear,so precise,then it wears you down and you listen to analogue recordings and suddenly you think it just sounds better!!
Just my opinion
[Last edited Apr 26, 2014 13:55:58]
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BrandonDickerson said Apr 27, 2014 02:49:09
I just ordered on of these,. Waiting for it to arrive to try it out. http://www.ebay.com/itm/291131090715?ssPageName=STRK:MEWNX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1497.l2649
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ParéjJózsef said Apr 27, 2014 17:48:20
I just traded my Fender Vibrochamp XD for a line6 pod xt live and a vox satriani amplug with a cabinet, I'm already selling the vox since I don't want it (just the 50 bucks it brings when sold :D)but the line6.....
I LOVE IT!
I never thought I'd ever say this about anything coming from line6, but this thin has a huge metal build, so many options(also had fx junkie pack installed, which is a huge bonus for me, I love spacy-ambient sounds it gives, and it would've cost about $50) I'm still exploring it, I use it with my logitech 2.1 so I can have stereo and a very natural tone, so far it sounds better than any amp I could've bought, and I am very happy with it- the only setback is that I still don't have a guitar, had to use my friend's which ruined a moment, but as soon as I get mine I'll post a huge NGD with pics and maybe a vid ;)
Just call me Joe ;)
Proud owner of my 7-string "Bear" LP.
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