Is it time to retire the valve amp

Is It Time To Retire The Valve Amp?

Valve amps have ruled the guitar world for so long, it seems impossible to imagine them not being the number one choice for a great tone. But as Bob Dylan said, “The times, they are a-changin”.

Amp modellers used to be a compromise. Not sounding as good as the real thing but infinitely more practical. Often the target for tone bashing on guitar forums, they were seen as a joke by many who ignored the fact that you could actually get some pretty decent tones out of them.

Then the new generation came along

Since the arrival of products like the , Fractal Audio Ax-FX and the Kemper Profiler things have changed. These products finally deliver what we’ve been waiting for. Real valve amp style tones with all the extra practicality and editing options you don’t find with a valve amp.

Valve amps are amazing but for the average guitarist, they really aren’t a great choice anymore. They are far too loud to use properly at home or even when jamming with a band. Yes, you can turn them down but unless the valves are really cooking you aren’t going to be getting the best tones.

For recording at home, they’re not a good choice. Turn them up and you’re going to be getting complaints from your family and neighbours. Not to mention the effort it takes to mic one up properly. Then you accidentally bump the mic and your amazing tone has changed.

But they’re great for using live, aren’t they?

Sure, there’s nothing like turning up and feeling the sound waves bouncing off you while you rock out. There’s still no substitute for that. But the people in the front row might now be too happy when they can’t hear anything for the next month after getting their ears blasted all night. And do you really think you can get a decent mix for the rest of the audience? Not unless you’re playing stadiums and the bulk of the sound is going through the PA system.

It’s time to move on!

Us guitarists are a funny bunch. We love old gear and are resistant to change. New technology struggles to be accepted the way vintage gear is. We’ve now reached the point where ignoring new modelling technology is more than a little silly though.

If you listen to a recorded valve amp then a recording made with one of the top modellers you wouldn’t be able to tell which is which. I know many people will claim they can but it’s simply not true. There might be a difference but it’s no longer a case of one sounding better than the other. They’re just different in the same way two identical valve amps will sound different. Or if you move a mic slightly it’ll sound different.



The old argument used to be that modellers don’t react to your playing the way a real valve amp does. This is no longer the case with the latest generation of modellers. They feel just like a real amp and react to your playing dynamics the way they should. Set a distorted tone and play gently or roll down your volume control and the sound cleans up. It really is possible to use the old trick of having one setting to cover everything by using the controls on your guitar.

For recording, the modeller is king. Plug in and you’re ready to go. If you want to change the sound it takes hardly any time at all. No messing with different mics, mic placement, switching cabinets. No more lost tones by forgetting exactly how something was set up. Hit save and you can instantly recall the same sound which is invaluable if you want to record a certain part again.

Running dual amps is a breeze too and if you want access to a huge range of different sounds you’re not going to beat a modeller unless you have a huge and expensive amp collection. Not to mention mics, cabs and effects.

And for live use, the modeller wins again. Run through the PA system and the audience will hear a far better mix. They certainly won’t be asking if you’re using a ‘real’ amp or not. They’ll be thankful they can hear everything clearly without being blasted by a 100-watt beast on stage. And although you lose the feeling of being bombarded by your own guitar sound, you do gain hugely by being able to hear the rest of the band properly. Especially if you use . They might not be as rock and roll but if you can hear everything better you’ll play better too.

It might be hard to accept but the future of great tone has arrived. It’s only a matter of time until you embrace it or face being left behind.




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