In the late 90’s, “guitar amp modeling” became a thing, specifically with a company called Line 6. The POD, a kidney bean-shaped device, emulated to varying degrees of success, 16 different classic and modern guitar amps. The boon was that it could be plugged directly into a mixer or recording device, required no miking, and allowed guitarists the freedom to both record silently, as well as experiment with tones they might have otherwise not have access to.
Sounds awesome, right? It was. It is. Sometimes. Of course, as with anything technology related, the POD evolved. POD. POD 2.0. POD XT. POD X3. POD HD. POD HDX. With each revision, the POD arguably improved, both in versatility as well as sound quality.
And also as with anything technology related, POD gained competition, from Roland, Digitech, Avid, Korg, and Zoom, as well as higher end companies like Fractal.
So in light of how good these devices have gotten, particularly the “good stuff” like Fractal’s AxeFX, why would you possibly still want tube amps and stomp boxes? They’re expensive. They require maintenance. They’re loud and often inconvenient to record or play quietly. They’re far, far less versatile.
I’ll tell you why.
Modelers are, for all intents and purposes, purpose-built computers. Even the simplest one is complex compared to a two channel tube amp. There’s one reason.
But speaking personally, while I LOVE technology, modelers just lack the emotion, the lust, the mojo of a good tube amp. There’s just no romance in digital perfection. There’s also something inspirational about a bunch of colorful pedals on the floor, tweaking each knob in real time.
Okay, so none of this is scientific at all, and terms like “emotion”, “lust”, “mojo”, and “romance” have absolutely zero to do with a piece of musical equipment, logically speaking. But the reason why I think they’re still relevant, at least to me, is because with electric guitar, amplifiers (and by extension, effects pedals) often become very much as much a musical instrument as the guitar is.
I’m not saying modelers can’t be inspiring, they can. For some people. Many people.
But for me, there’s too much that gets in the way, for someone that likes to tinker, like me. Endless menus “kill the muse” for me.
I will still use modelers, particularly the excellent (as of late) software versions like BIAS and S-Gear. But my first love will always be a good tube amp.