Due to constantly advancing digital technology, even the most die-hard tone masters are enjoying the benefits of the latest amp modelling products. Even famous artists now rely on the convenience and range of tones available from amp modelling whether they are performing or practising or writing on the road or in the studio. If you’re looking for a modelling amp, here are a few things to be aware of.
What does a modelling amp actually do?
The term modelling usually refers to emulating or recreating the sound of something digitally. Amp modelling is basically Digital Signal Processing (DSP) that emulates the sound of different amplifiers and speaker cabinets. Amp modelling isn’t exclusive to plug-ins for your computer (and in fact started off with hardware – the Roland VG-8): today’s guitarists can find a host of guitar amplifiers, pedals and rack-mounted gear – all with the ability to model a variety of different amps.
Now that’s covered, what are the main advantages of amp modelling? Broadly speaking, there are four areas: convenience, reliability, flexibility and cost. One amp modelling product can provide the sound of hundreds of amps, speaker and even microphone combinations: way more than you’re ever likely to be able to buy, store, maintain and transport.
The potential of using a modelling amp
Imagine being able to combine the tone of a hot Fender Twin with two different 4×12 cabs for your lead sound and a stereo Roland JC-120 with a sweet reverb for your clean sound, just by just dialling up one of many presets.
The other advantage is that amp modellers tend to work well in most scenarios. Valves sound great, but remember they are a decades-old technology and come with some limitations. They sound best when cranked up and running really hot. But hot valves usually mean serious volume and vice versa! Many players know that to get the best from even a 20watt valve amp, your neighbours aren’t going to like it (unless they want to play along from next door). The valves also need to be treated much more carefully and require time to warm up; also the valves will need replacing from time to time by someone with the right equipment and knowledge. An amp modeller can imitate the coveted characteristics of a hot valve amp but at very low volumes or even through headphones, meaning you can play for longer and at much more unsociable hours with a full-on tone.
Emulating an amplifiers characteristics
Thanks to the latest DSP technology, it’s now easy to emulate a virtually infinite range of amp and speaker combinations. Complex algorithms have been designed to give ultra-realistic responses which simulate the result you get from a mic’d-up amp cabinet in different size rooms, with adjustable mic positioning and amp character that responds naturally to the way you play your guitar. This provides the player with an almost limitless tonal canvas on which to experiment, potentially saving them thousands of pounds and years of tweaking and experimenting. They sound great, straight out of the box.
Most legendary valve amps are also famous for a particular sound or characteristic but amp modelling can build on these by being able to adjust parameters of the modelled amp beyond what the original can do. For example you could have a much more adjustable EQ, more gain, less hum, an effects loop or different speaker configuration.
There are, however, different types of modelling algorithms, all of varying quality. Some provide a ‘snapshot’ of the tone that initially sounds great but once you start tweaking, they become much less authentic. Other modelling systems such as Roland’s COSM system actually model different aspects of all the individual components that make up your modelled rig, and well as the associated effects that countless guitarists have come to love.
But remember that all this complicated DSP requires hardware that’s up to the job. If you’re using software then make sure your computer can do the number crunching or you’ll get poor performance and the dreaded latency. Generally, purpose built hardware with dedicated DSP chips and algorithms will reward you with the best experience and tone.