If any of you guys know me, you know that I have a permanent hard-on for my Fractal AxeFx Ultra, and although some of you may hate my tone, you would be silly to think that you couldn’t dial in a tone that your weird ears like, and then some. This one is for the gear nerds out there.

This is more than a Fractal plug, I swear. Let’s call this more of an open test/experiment in progress because I am in the midst of quite an awesome dilemma at the moment. I am stuck between deciding on how best to use my AxeFx in a live situation, because both options it affords are amazing.

We just did a little tour in Australia with Dillinger and Maylene, and on that tour we were getting amps from backline companies (read: different amps every day). So we figured the best way to get some consistency would be to plug our AxeFxs into the effects loop return of the amps and use them for their tube power sections. This worked out pretty damn well for the most part; you could hear how each different poweramp had its own distinct sound, but when it was awesome, it was AWESOME. Only at one show did I actually get the amp I had asked for, and that was an Engl Invader (150 to be more precise) and that EL34 poweramp sounded so godly that I thought perhaps that was the way to go. Or at least something similar: a good tube poweramp (may make more sense for a rack unit ala Fryette 2/50/2 or Mesa 2:90) through a 4×12 cabinet. Good old Preamp->Tube Poweramp->Cab->Mic->PA in a live context, which is what 99% of bands do nowadays. And with this setup you get that amazing feel of a tube amp and that response they are known for.

However there is another option with the AxeFx, and that is going direct.

I have always had a slight issue with this for 2 reasons. One, I didnt like the idea of having to rely on monitors and the house soundguy to have ANY stage sound at all. Sure you could go the in-ear route if you are made of money, but that is EXPENSIVE, at least for us as an entire band at this point in time. The second issue is that we still play shithole venues where the PA is just for the kick and vocals at best, and not having stage sound would force us to use that PA for the guitars which would be a huge epic fail.

So I realized that perhaps going Full Range Full Response might be a solution to this. Essentially that means getting a nice PA speaker (or something that can replicate the full range of sound unlike a guitar cab which is very limited spectrally) to replace your cab. The PA speaker would be replacing your poweramp and cab (and you would run cab and poweramp simulation on the Axefx), and would also allow you to go direct to the board at the same time in a daisy chain. This way you have stage sound for yourself and the crowd. I tried this set-up recently with a set of Mackie HD1531’s and man, I have to say that it’s unreal. It made me realize just how directional traditional cabs are and why I am tempted to crank them so much live. I wrote a column about how to set your live tone, and that was based entirely off of the directional nature of cabs and the way that cabs react to louder volumes. This is completely different when running an FRFR setup; the sound is incredibly consistent from any position and volume, and the sound dispersion is unreal. Maybe the only debatable downside is that it doesnt sound as inherently “amp like,” but then again you have to think of it as the final sound, as with the traditional method that “amp like” sound would be miked up and run through a PA where it would lose that sound in the end. So in the grand scheme of things I still think this new method is better overall.

I’m going to stop here for now because I want to get that setup and try it at practice and A/B it with the tube poweramp/cab setup. Eventually I might want to do one tour with each to compare them in a more relevant context. But this should be a fun (long term) experiment and I will update everyone when I have more useful info.


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