It’s no secret that manufacturers are releasing more modeling amplifiers and multi-effects units than ever. Whether they can replace traditional tube amps or not is becoming more real. Time permitting, walk into your local Guitar Center. There, you’ll find a variety of modeling amps offered by classic names such as Marshall, Vox, Peavey, and Fender. These industry giants are all attempting to reproduce the classic tube sound.
First Thing First, I Love Tube Amps!
I own several tube amps that I love. Among my favorite are a 1969 Fender Champ Silverface, a Peavey Classic 30, and a Vox AC30 head with an Avatar cab. For some nice crunch, I also own a Marshall DSL5C. Each amp has a unique sound that can be used for different applications.
For example, the Fender, at 6 watts, can be used for home studio recording without being too loud. When turned up loud, the Peavey and Vox sound great. But when recording with them, things start to get a bit hairy. They are loud!
Introduction to Modeling
When you have a family trying to function, something has to give. Therefore, many years ago, I started getting into modeling software on my computer. Along the way, I picked up a version of Amplitude 2 from IK Multimedia. The range of options really impressed me. I now had so many options at my fingertips. Over time, I upgraded my version of Amplitude and started using Guitar Rig and even the Logic Pro X’s amps. All told the Logic emulations are pretty decent for stock.
For the most part, Amplitude has kept me satisfied, but I started to crave a modeling amp that was “outside” of the box and would allow me to have a variety of gear. Having a giant selection of amp models, cabinets, microphones, and effects all in one spot that I could play and hear just as I would with a regular amplifier was also appealing and the best of both worlds.
Eventually, I purchased a Yamaha THR30II and a Fender Mustang GTX 50. Both amplifiers sound great and can be used in several different ways. The Yamaha can sit on your studio desk, or if you want, it can be used without any extension cords on a charge that lasts about 6 hours. The Mustang has many more options as far as models and effects. It can also get loud. The Mustang models sound especially good, and that’s to be expected; after all, that’s the name on the front of the amp.
My latest purchase is a Boss Nextone Stage 40. I’m really, I mean, really impressed with the tones I’m getting from this amp. I used to own an original Roland Blues cube BC-60, and I liked that amp but traded it for something else. The Nextone is based on Roland TubeLogic technology, the same as the Blues Cube. I can tell you, it’s getting to be close in terms of sounds to a real tube amp, especially the cleans, and overdrive. High gain is still served best with my pedals.
The Real Question…Tubes or no Tubes?
But can modeling amplifiers actually replace my tube amps? That is a tricky question for me to answer. As much as I like these modeling amplifiers and their ease of use, there is still something magical about hearing the hum of the tubes firing up and striking that first chord. The compression, sag, or whatever you want to call it, provides instant gratification. This feeling falls flat with modelers.
I have embraced digital modeling, but at the same time, it’s very tough for me to part with my tube amplifiers as they really have some extra mojo to add to the mix.
In recent years, you’ve probably noticed a flood of new modelers entering the market, ranging from Kemper Profilers to offerings by NUX, Zoom, Ampero, Headrush, Line 6, and others. Consequently, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to make a buying decision. Considering where modeling was 10 years ago, you can’t deny how much these modelers have improved.
Maintenance and cost are other critical factors when choosing between tube and digital modeling amplifiers. Tube amplifiers require extra care, as they can be finicky and prone to rattling, and you’ll eventually need to replace the tubes. Depending on your needs, a new set of tubes can range from $75 to several hundred dollars. On the other hand, digital modeling amps require no extra maintenance and have no additional costs.
While tube amps still have their place in the market, digital modeling amp technology is rapidly advancing, and there may come a time when tube amps are no longer necessary. Tube amp technology is outdated, and research and development efforts are now focused on digital modeling amps, which are cheaper to produce, maintain, and transport. However, tube amps will remain a favorite among purists who value their unique sound and dynamics- that push of air you can’t replicate. Ultimately, the choice between tube and digital modeling amps comes down to personal preference and whether you value flexibility and convenience or the classic tube sound. For now, yes, they still are a thing!