The Contortionist Sucks

Amplifiers Vs. Digital Modeling


tube amp vs axefxby Cameron Maynard

Technology, in the field of musical instruments and equipment, has streamlined the creation of so many new ways to get your musical sound out to your audience. There has never been a better time to learn how to play music – musical products are becoming more intuitive and easier to use. Shifting into a digital world and leaving the mechanical, innovation in the field is expanding exponentially. This transcendence is quite magical, but it is also a double-edged sword. You can liken it to automobiles in the past few decades, or you can compare it to computers – they all show the same pattern. In the world of electric guitar, this technology threshold is just as apparent when you discuss guitar amplification.

Tube amplifiers have been a secret weapon for most guitar players because it allows for a greater range in dynamics and greater response to touch. On the other hand, however, many guitarists have started utilizing algorithmic modeling of these classic amp sounds. Basically, engineers develop software that, with outstanding accuracy, imitates the sound profiles of many amps – old to new. This eradicates the necessity to carry heavy equipment to and from venues, and it helps make traveling as a musician much easier. However, I personally am not very romantic towards these milestone improvements.

For me, playing live has everything to do with the fact that you can embrace the spontaneity and really absorb the expression in the moment. So to just take all of that away, I feel you are losing something special. Now, the simulated sounds get better and better at tracking your dynamics – but in the end, the sound will always be a predetermined calculation based on the algorithms. When you play on a tube amplifier, the sound coming out is literally the result of the mechanisms and the “real” equipment at work. The sound is always random (in the best way possible). You never know quite how it’s going to react; this is such a beautiful thing! So maybe you have to replace the tubes every year if you use it extensively or maybe you encounter other “old-school” technical difficulties; but if you are a guitar player that really wants the most expression and communication with your sound, give it a shot. It really works for me.

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