Guitar amps are one of the most interesting and popular topics in the guitar world. Due to their importance, they have historically been produced by many manufacturers, the most popular being Fender, Marshall, Vox, Roland and others. With the constant development of technology in this field, the types of amplifiers are divided into three stages, depending on the way they work and the period in which they were invented. Chronologically they are divided into tube, solid-state and modeling amps.
Before we start addressing the question What Is A Modeling Amp it is very important to know why they were manufactured and what their specific purpose is. To get the answer, let’s have a look at their predecessors – and with that the need that birthed the modeling amps.
Valve/Tube Guitar Amps
Tube amps are the oldest type of amplifier. So it might come as a surprise that they still hold the title as the most popular among guitarists because of their natural, warm and unpredictable sound.
However, they are not perfect.
The tubes wear out over time and require constant maintenance. To function perfectly the tubes need more space, making the amplifier quite large and heavy to carry around.
Another major problem with the tubes is that they need time to warm up before they produce a good sound. So this means that you cannot play as soon as you switch on the amplifier.
There is a solution to this, and that is the standby switch, by which the amplifier is deactivated but not completely switched off. This is a good fix if you take a break between playing so you don’t have to wait for the amp to warm up every time you take five minutes.
But, of course, this is far from an ideal solution.
In response to these disadvantages, a new type of guitar amp was created – the solid-state amp. This product has managed to solve most of the problems that come with tube amps. Thanks to technology, the system that produces the sound in the solid-state amplifier is much smaller and lighter.
With this, both the weight and size of the amps decreased while the power stayed the same. This solves the problem with the amp being more portable.
Plus solid-state amplifiers do not require any special maintenance and are very durable.
Unlike the tube amps, these amplifiers are ready to play as soon as you switch them on, so you don’t have to wait for them to warm up, as you do with the tube amplifiers.
But despite all the advantages over the tube amps, they failed to retain the most important feature of the tube amp – the sound. With the solid-state amps, the sound is not as warm, but rather quite sharp, especially with overdrive.
Solid-state amps enjoyed a high status for a short period of time but soon lost it due to this shortcoming. However, they still remained popular and effective among bass players.
The next challenge was taking in mind all the advantages and disadvantages of the tube and the solid-state amps and creating an ideal solution.
The modeling (or digital) amp is the third and latest type of amplifier. When they first appeared, the sound they produced compared to tube amps was considered too synthetic.
Therefore, the initial impression of these amplifiers, especially among fans of the tube amps and the analog sound, was negative.
But it has been nearly two decades since the modeling amplifiers came about, which is more than enough time for them to correct their first impression and come closer to the competition.
What is a modeling amp?
The term modeling refers to digital imitation. Modeling amps are good at emulating or recreating the sounds and effects of guitar amplifiers, speaker cabinets, and effects pedals.
This process is known as DSP (digital signal processing). While they can mimic the sound of different amplifiers, the most impressive part is that they can all be housed in one unit.
Are Modeling Amps Good?
With the incredibly rapid advances in digital technology, modeling amps are getting better constantly. And they have indeed come a long way since they were first introduced to the public.
Normally, cheaper amps are usually targeted at beginners, which is understandable. And with their help, every new guitarist can experience the sounds of different types of amplifiers and effects to finally know exactly what equipment he will need to build his own sound.
However, cheaper modeling amps do not offer high-quality sound and usually sound synthetic and predictable. But despite this, they are often the first choice for more experienced guitarists when it comes to traveling on gigs constantly.
It comes to no surprise that the higher the price, the higher the quality. The higher price you go you can really see how much modeling amps are worth, and what they are capable of.
Although it is too early to match the sound of the already tested and established tube amps, some modeling amplifiers and processors are almost there. We are currently witnessing a strong and very tight battle between the tube amps and the modeling amps.
So if you are not a sound fanatic, very often you will find yourself unable to tell the difference.
What Are The Benefits Of A Modeling Amp?
Designed to overcome the problems of their predecessors, and with technology on their side, modeling amps have many advantages.
They are lighter because lighter materials are used to produce the sound. The size of these amps depends largely on the speaker but generally, the newer speakers tend to be smaller but still have great power. So a fairly loud modeling amplifier can be a lot more compact and quite light to carry around compared to a tube amp with the same power.
Modeling amplifiers are also much more durable and do not require constant maintenance.
What really makes the case for the modeling amp is the combo of different presets and effects. There are three main sections to modeling amps.
First and foremost – equalizer
This includes knobs for adjusting volume, gain, treble, middle and bass.
The second and most interesting part – presets
When it comes to the biggest manufacturers of guitar amps they have placed all the iconic models in this section. For example, with the Fender modeling amp, you can choose from a variety of sounds, such as Twin Reverb, Supersonic, Blues Deluxe, British 60 ”, British 80”, American 90 ”and Metal 2000.
The third section – effects
Here you will find the most basic guitar effects like chorus, flanger, phaser, tremolo, delay, looper and reverb.
In combination with the footswitch, these amplifiers do not need any extra equipment and you will find that a guitar and a cable are all you need. This is most useful when you have a live performance and do not want to carry any extra equipment if you can easily go without it.
Thanks to the technology they use, modeling amps have many possibilities when it comes to efficiency and practicality.
They have digital connectivity options with other devices so you can easily create the sound you want in a studio or a gig.
They support a USB connection to your PC for your home studio.
You can also download legendary setups created by artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Joe Satriani and many more.
They can also be ideal for practicing at home thanks to the aux input and Bluetooth so you can add backing tracks or songs to play along.
The headphones output makes practicing even easier because it can be played at any time without disturbing the roommates or neighbors.
Is A Modeling Amp Worth It?
Even though they do come close, when it comes to sound quality we will have to wait a bit more for modeling amplifiers to surpass the legendary tube amps.
But they have quite a few advantages to them, they are cheaper and have the advantage in size, weight, durability, and versatility. This makes modeling amplifiers a good choice for any musician. They are ideal for beginners because of the possibility of experiencing different amplifications and effects.
The same goes for guitarists who constantly travel and play a lot of gigs. Modeling amps are light and easy to carry around.
Plus there are also a lot of contemporary guitar players that use modeling amps, which proves they are suitable for professionals as well.
So whatever your level is, modeling amps are definitely worth it.