Give Me Convenience?
So let me start by saying that I'm generally speaking a pretty old school kind of guy. Seems to me that back in the day, things were better made, built to last, simple and easy to make sense of. I've got a pretty healthy collection of old guitars and amps, but I have a confession to make… since I've been at my new studio (3 months now), I had only turned on real amp yesterday!
The amp modelling thing never flicked my switch, I got a Line 6 POD when they came out and like most others at the time were pretty impressed but it just didn't have the life (dynamics?) of a real amp. They made some huge steps, but we're not quite there yet to my ears. In the last decade, technology has been moving pretty quickly, and while there were some impressive attempts at modelling guitar amps, it wasn't until I got a hold of a Kemper Profiling Amp that I felt that the zeros and ones had finally made it happen at a level where I was considering using one professionally. Please note that it's certainly a matter of taste, the AxeFX and Line 6 Helix are also superb and excel at different things, this isn't an ad for the Kemper and I have no relationship with the company! I'm talking more conceptually than product endorsement.
The first thing that anyone thinking of moving over to virtual amps is that they don't sound like a 'real amp in the room with you', so don't expect them to! They're usually better because good profiles sound like a great amp cranked to just the right volume, in a great studio with a great mic in front of it, through a great pre-amp into a mixing console. I think this is a very important point, and without good studio type monitoring you're unlikely to get the full sonic experience, and I think some people expect it to sound like 'an amp in the room with you', which it doesn't. For headphone use it's better than an amp I think and having a great studio sound to record with is awesome. I also record the dry guitar signal at the same time as the main amp signal so at any point I can feed it back into the Kemper to change amp or to add another amp to the sound. This is not a new idea, it's called re-amping but is a lot more hassle to use real amps!
For me, this 'signal chain' is the primary benefit. I have lovely amps, top quality mics, great pre-amps and mixer, but I can't crank a Marshall quad box at 2am when I'm feeling inspired. And I don't dig having to worry about mic placement, running cables, EQ on the pre-amp, keeping an eye on levels into Pro Tools and if I'm upsetting the neighbours or my family… when I just plug in the Kemper and get an as good (or better) sound in a few seconds! And I can switch amps at the turn of a switch and try out lots of things which obviously with real amps is considerable more hassle.
One thing that was missing in many earlier attempts at modelling or profiling was they never seemed to 'feel' the same, the dynamic range felt more limited, and it was nigh on impossible to get that "slightly dirty clean that broke up more when you played harder" thing which we all love! I've never been lucky enough to play a real Dumble amp, but some of the Dumble profiles (particularly the ones by M Britt!) have that wonderful touch sensitivity and break up that made those amps so desirable – and you can get that tone without mortgaging your home!
I have my monster pedalboard patched in with my Kemper too, the drive pedals, compressors and wah-wah go into the front and delays in the effects loop. There are really nice effects built into the Kemper, but I prefer using pedals, maybe for the tactile experience, or perhaps because I know how to get to sounds I want quickly. They interact in the same ways as real amps too, something else I wasn't expecting but really appreciate. Many of the profiled amps for the Kemper have classic overdrive pedals built into the profile too (great for when you want a Klon in the front but don't have one!).
I must say that I recently got a Line 6 Helix in the studio and while I still prefer the amp sounds of the Kemper, the effects section of the Helix is wonderful, and I love the routing possibilities and ease of use. Editing and saving to the computer makes it a lot simpler than writing down favourite settings on a bunch of pedals for sure, but not sure yet if I'm quite ready to ditch the pedals yet.
Another thing to note with whatever virtual device you use is speaker cabinet emulation. I saw fellow YouTuber Pete Thorn using some IR's (Impulse Responses) which (put very basically) is the EQ between what comes out of your amp and what you'd get into the mixing desk with a certain speaker box and mic. Man, they have that down!! I was frankly amazed at the huge difference it made and how accurate the sound is. I've been using the Wall Of Sound III plug-in by Two Notes, and it's just superb. I now run my Kemper with the speaker settings off and then run it into Pro Tools and use this plug-in. It's easy to change cab style, mic and placement and even multiple cabinets. I can't imagine recording and not using this now, even with a real amp going into a load box (like the Fryette Power Station) I'd be using this for the speaker emulation. It's that good.
Technology has caught up in guitar land and while for my band project I still prefer the rattles, hum and inconsistency of real amps, pedals, mics and the process, for day to day recording, filming and sessions, modern technology is the king of convenience and such a time and hassle saver I use it almost every time. If you've been wary of this new-fangled technology stuff, then go, give it a look, I suspect you'll be impressed.
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