Tech Tip:Modeling Amps
By Myles S. Rose
In the past, I have written a lot on solid state amps versus tube amps and modeling amps versus the amp originals they are modeling. Modeling amps have many strong points. They offer many sounds for the dollar or in a given space, are lighter in weight than many tube amps, have many onboard effects in general and require much less ongoing maintenance than a tube amplifier. Many have recording outputs or facilities. Some think that in a live venue, modeling amps can have limitations. To my way of thinking, this live aspect is sort of a "yes and no". I see many folks with 50 watt amps in small clubs, where the soul of the amp is never tapped. Put an amp like a Line 6 Vetta, Fender Cyber Deluxe or Cyber Twin, or Vox modeling amp out there, and you may be surprised. These amps may be just the ticket in any size venue, and in small venues where maximum overdrive is sought at rational levels, they may be a super option.
During Christmas 2002 on a five-day cruise, there was one of the entertainers who covered just about every music style that was ever done, solo. He had a small rack with a Panasonic laptop. This held his song list and was on a music stand close at hand. It had a sound card of some sort, and internal drum machine, sequencer, and MIDI outs to a small synth rack. This was all fed into a stereo SS rig, used for PA speakers, and just there for clean sound. His Guitar amp was a Line 6 Vetta. His previous amp was a stereo 100 watt (50/50) tube amp with a tube preamp. We discussed the change, and I indicated that his rig was the best sounding rig on the ship with the Vetta. His rig was light, portable, and very versatile. In some cases, a modeling amp may be the ONLY proper choice.
Amps are like tools; you want the right tool for the job. Which is better; a screwdriver or pliers? It depends what you are trying to accomplish. If you play weddings, casuals, covers, and need a very versatile amp, these modeling amps deserve strong consideration. If you have kids looking for their first amp, there are many of these amps in nice price ranges that will not break your wallet. A modeling amp wuth onboard effects will probably save a lot of money too. Your kids won't be shelling out more money initially for reverb, chorus, and overdrive pedals. These amps in many cases do all of these things and more.
There are some places where tube amps are totally unacceptable. In the case above, on the ocean cruise, the crew on these cruise ships work seven days a week for at least a six-month tour. Same for the entertainers. The ship gets back on a Friday morning, and leaves late that afternoon. There's no time to take an amp to a tech. Every amp I heard outside of the Vetta mentioned above, sounded simply awful. Their output tubes were shot and their bias was way out of adjustment due to the tube wear. Add the factors of reliability, lack of required service, and the ability to cover many musical bases, and you get a nice picture.
I personally prefer the PROPER-wattage tube amp as a first choice, but I will take the modeling amp every time over the wrong tube amp. Why? Modeling amps allow a degree of touch dynamics and tonal ranges to be captured at most any level. You have all sorts of controls for this ability. A Fender Tweed Bassman in a small venue can never be cranked to it's level of tone potential for some music styles. A Line 6 Vetta may pull off the "tweed sound" of the virtual Bassman in a much more convincing and pleasing manner, at least to my tastes.
In closing, listen to these amps, and play them. See how they react to your touch.
Myles Rose is the owner of Guitar Amplifier Blueprinting in Los Angeles and also heads the Special Application Group (SAG) over at Groove Tubes. Myles also heads the Tech Support group at GT and you may send any amplifier, studio equipment, or microphone questions you may have to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Myles S. Rose
Guitar Amplifier Blueprinting
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