As a guitar teacher, I’m often asked to give advice and recommendations about gear to students.
One of the more common questions from intermediate to advanced guitarists is which route to take to pursue their tone. The options presenting guitarists are to go analogue (tube/valve amp and analogue effects pedals), digital (effects pedal / guitar amp modelling with specific digital hardware or a computer), or a combination of the two.
Modelling and Analogue Combined
The vast majority of guitarists end up with a combination of the two. Usually this consists of an amp and a variety of multi-effects pedals, single stompboxes and/or even a device like Line 6’s HD500x (a digital amp and effects modeller) plugged into an analogue guitar amp.
Tone vs. Price
It’s a hard decision to make. If you’re after the best tone, the usual advice is to go for a tube/valve amp and true bypass pedals (so that when they turn off, they don’t affect the tone at all). This route, however, can be very expensive; a decent amp will run hundreds if not thousands of dollars, and a decent effects pedal can easily be $100+. All-digital is comparatively cheaper, with offerings from Line 6, Digitech, Vox, Korg, Behringer and even a host of apps for iPads and Android tablets that cost just a few dollars.
‘A decent amp will run hundreds if not thousands of dollars … All-digital is comparatively cheaper, with … a host of apps … that cost just a few dollars.’
100% Digital Pedal and Amp Modelling
For my own guitar playing, I have chosen an entirely digital setup. I use Apple’s Mainstage 3 software running on a MacBook. This provides me with a choice of 25 amps, 25 cabinets, 35 different stompboxes, and access to Logic Pro’s studio effects.
Mainstage is currently not that common for guitarists. If you ask a keyboardist, they’ll know it well, but guitarists haven’t bought into the digital sound quite so much yet.
‘When I first made the switch [to modelling,] even my band said that the sound was great, and they’re all about big amps and large pedalboards.’
I’m pro-modelling. Some will say that it doesn’t sound as good and that they can tell the difference immediately. I’ve never had anyone tell me that they think I’m using modelling or that my guitar didn’t sound good. When I first made the switch even my band said that the sound was great, and they’re all about big amps and large pedalboards.
Should New Guitarists Try Modelling?
My advice to students and to you is to give pedal and amp modelling a go. Get one of the iPad apps or a modelling pedal and see what it can do. You may decide to stay analogue, but you might choose to go digital.
About the Author
Andy Hood is a guitar teacher and musician in Exeter, UK. He enjoys playing and singing in his band and spending time in the great outdoors with his wife and son.