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Tube Amps Vs Digital Modellers: What Is the Way Forward?

There has been a lot of discussion in the guitar community lately about the future of tube amps. Or, valve amps as we call them in the UK.

Some herald the new wave of digital modellers and profilers as the future for all guitarists.

While others remain steadfast in the view that tube amps are the only way to go.

But, is the tube amp vs modeller debate so cut and dry? No, it just isn’t.

Let’s unpack this further:

Tube amplifiers aren’t the best choice for every situation. For example, in live performance situations, some players go down the route of a digital unit like a Kemper or AxeFX with a solid state power amp. 

Others go down the route of doing away with the power amp and going straight into the P.A. system.

It makes sense, right? Tube amps are heavy, often bulky and require more maintenance.

And, there are those who believe the tube amp is a dying breed.

Here’s the truth:

While digital units are more convenient and have improved greatly in recent years, they still sound artificial. To my ears – they still sound cheap. 

Granted, they’re far better than my first digital multi-fx pedal, the Zoom 505.

I own a Kemper, and I have done for a few years now. There’s a lot of hype surrounding this digital profiler, and others like the AxeFX.

But which would I rather play through?

I’d prefer any and I mean ANY tube amp to a digital profiler.

The real thing is far more enjoyable to play through – from the beautiful tube saturation to the way it responds to your playing.

So, for home and studio situations – there’s no beating a good old tube amp, in my opinion.

After all, these modelers aren’t trying to do their own thing. They’re trying to replicate the sound of a technology that has already been perfected. 

I’ve been occasionally dipping my toes into the digital modelling waters for over 16 years and there’s always the promise of “this new modeller sounds the best yet.”

Then, soon after something else that sounds microscopically better is released and the second-hand value of the old units drop like a brick.

Even now, who would want an AxeFX 1 when the AxeFX 3 is out? 

And, I’m kicking myself for getting a rack mounted Kemper now there is pedal board version available.

Old tube amps? They’re highly sought after and not just for the sake of nostalgia.

Here’s an example:

In the early 2000’s I owned a Marshall Valvestate. It wasn’t full tube (only 1 tube in the preamp section) but I enjoyed the tone and I’d genuinely want to own one again in the future.

What about that Zoom 505 I had around the same time? The only plausible reason I’d have for owning one again would be to film a video about how terrible it sounded.

Now, it’s important to mention how well these amps and modellers hold their value.

All of my tube amps maintain their value and have proven to be a better long-term investment than throwing money away with digital modellers.

After all, they’re not an imitation – they’re the real deal and no improvements need to be made to the tone.

Here’s the bottom line:

Whether you choose a tube amp, solid-state amp, a digital modeller, or a fully digital amplifier – tube amps are less convenient but they hold their value, and they sound like the real thing, because they are.

But, this doesn’t mean tube amps are the best choice for you and your situation. If you want plenty of tonal variety and don’t have the budget or space for a bunch of tube amps – something like a Kemper might be ideal. Similarly, for live use, they’re far more convenient.

This is my opinion but it’s your opinion that really matters.

Featured image credit: @darrenvorel.

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