Modelers vs. Tube Amps (3)
This is the third in a series of three articles comparing tube amps to modelers from various viewpoints.
I like tube amps, but they're not without their limitations:
- weight - lots of iron in those transformers!
- reliability - tube wear, failures, microphonics
- cost - you're paying for components that don't benefit as much from manufacturing economies
- volume - gotta deal with that "sweet spot"
OTOH, tube amps have that sound which is absolutely fantastic when it works for you.
Point is, tube amps aren't always the best tool for the job. Witness the market for power attenuators. Tube amps are loud. Sometimes too loud. Certainly too loud for playing at home. Arguably too loud for playing a lot of smaller venues with the trend toward lower stage volumes. So what do we do? We choke the heck out out of our tube amps using attenuators that kill a lot of the "magic" of the amp.
I have a Vibro-King and a Twin Reverb RI. (Yah, I love big tube amps... Those little EL-84 amps have no headroom to speak of. I just don't get the mindset that says you've gotta crank your amp so that it's pushing out distortion all the time.) But I've put my tube amps in the closet for the indefinite future...
What? I bought a modeling processor and a PA. Why? Several reasons:
- I got tired of moving sixty- or seventy-pound amps. Even with a luggage cart negotiating stairs can be challenging.
- I need big warm cleans at lower volumes.
- I want additional variety in tones without buying more amps or pedals.
My new rig works out well... If the venue has a PA (most do around here) I bring my modeler and guitar. For smaller, quieter venues (I've been moving toward playing solo guitar at places like galleries and wineries) I have a 40-pound stereo PA that I can carry with my free hand.
Right now I have one patch that I use. It gives me an amp with a feel and tonality that works well for the way I play, plus a small collection of effects programmed on the floorboard's pedals. I don't particularly care that I'm using but a fraction of the modeler's capabiities. The way I look at it is that there's plenty to explore should I ever feel the need. And the whole rig (modeler floorboard and PA) cost way less than any of the tube amps I was considering to lighten my carry...
Modelers and pure-analog SS amps are getting better. Peavey Transtube amps have been mentioned several times. I had one for a while and it was a pretty good amp in terms of response to playing dynamics. Let me put it this way: I've played tube and SS amps that are worse than the Transtube technology. It's not so much a matter of the technology as it is the specfic implementation.
Most of the big-name modelers are pretty good. The current crop (Line6, Boss and Vox) are already a couple years old, but they're holding up well. I think it's silly to look at the vast flexibility of any modeler and believe that it should be capable of meeting all of your needs, just as it's silly to look at your typical "swiss army knife" tube amp (Mesa/Boogie, anyone?) and assume that it can replace a stable of great amps.
Modelers, like tube amps, have their own characteristic sound; you should audition them in terms of whether they'll meet your specific needs. IME, Line6 excels at modern high-gain tones, Boss does cleans and pushed cleans very nicely and is unsurpassed for effects and programmability, and Vox does Vox tonality and response to player touch extremely well but is not up to par in the effects arena.
As a listener, I've listened to live music where the guitarists have run tube rigs, SS rigs and modelers. Many styles of music. Big venues, small venues, pro players, amateur players... I've come to the conclusion that the player is way more important than the rig.