You’ve likely heard of the ongoing debate between solid-state amps and valve amps (also known as tube amps). However, modeling amplifiers are becoming increasingly popular due to their ability to emulate high-end guitars without having the same high-cost price tags.
A modeling amp is a guitar amplifier that includes numerous adjustments to help you mimic the sounds of high-quality amps. You can change the reverb, gain, tone, and many other settings to make the ultimate music experience. Modeling amps are often much more compact than traditional amps.
Throughout this post, I’ll explain everything you need to know about modeling amps, including whether or not you should use one, why they’re so important, and what gear they work with.
Pros and Cons of Modeling Amps
Modeling amps allow guitarists on a budget to make incredible music without shelling out on a huge amplifier. Not only do they come with numerous customizable options, but they also don’t take up a lot of space in your room. This makes them ideal for people living in apartments or those sharing their music space and their bedroom.
However, modeling amps aren’t perfect. There are many reasons why professionals rely on valve amps and solid-state amps to get the job done. It’s up to you to decide if the pros outweigh the cons enough to make you get a modeling amp.
Without further ado, let’s jump into the advantages and disadvantages below.
Pros of Modeling Amps
If you want to own a modeling amp, you’ll be glad to know the following benefits of having one.
- Modeling amps let you change your guitar’s sound output much more than traditional amps. You have numerous effects, loops, and other modifications at your disposal. These settings make modeling amps the perfect way for people to find out what kind of music they want to produce.
- Fender explains that modeling amps can weigh as much as 20 pounds (9 kg) less than their solid-state counterparts. If you’re worried about portability for gigs, travel, and other issues, modeling amplifiers are the way to go. Not only are they lightweight, but they’re also quite compact compared to other types of amps.
- Most modeling amps are much more affordable. They use a mix of digital and analog signals to help you create all sorts of sounds without breaking the bank. In fact, many modeling amps don’t cost close to the multi-thousand-dollar price tags you’ll see on tube amplifiers or solid-state amplifiers.
- They last a very long time (and don’t require very many repairs). Tube amps require you to change the tubes every couple of years, whereas solid-state amps can suffer severe internal damage if they tip over. The same rules don’t apply to modeling amps because they’re built with durability in mind.
- A modeling amp won’t take up nearly as much space as most traditional amplifiers. You’ve likely seen those massive solid-state amps that look like a mini fridge. Fortunately, a modeling amp is usually smaller than a microwave, making them much better for grab-and-go performers.
Cons of Modeling Amps
Don’t buy a modeling amp if you think the following cons are not to your liking.
- Modeling amps can feel a bit complicated to a beginner. They have so many adjustment knobs and switches that you might feel overwhelmed. There are plenty of modeling amps with fewer options, but they still have a lot more switches that make massive changes to your amp’s sound output.
- Spinditty shows that modeling amps can quickly become outdated. Technology is constantly evolving, which means digital modeling amps might not have the tech that you’ll need five or ten years down the road. This downside is more of a case-to-case issue since some people might enjoy their current setup without upgrading.
- A modeling amplifier doesn’t provide the same blowback that you get from a traditional amplifier. Solid-state amps hit you in the chest like driving a fast car. There’s nothing like it. Sadly, you don’t get the same airy, heavy-powered quality when you choose a modeling amplifier.
Can You Gig With a Modeling Amp?
You can gig with a modeling amp if you’re performing at smaller venues because you don’t need a lot of sound output. People attending small gigs aren’t likely to get fussy about a modeling amp being used over a traditional amp. A modeling amp’s lightweight design makes it very gig-friendly, too.
So, why do some bands prefer using modeling amps for gigs?
Bands need portability, and nothing says ‘portability’ like a compact modeling amp. You can plug it in quickly, letting you access your band’s genre presets and preferences. This quick solution makes modeling amps the go-to choice for countless bands who are gigging at bars, clubs, and other small venues in the area.
Bands that are just starting out often switch through various music genres. If you’re in a band and you don’t want to stick to one style of music, a modeling amp could be a great choice. These amps are often capable of accomplishing a much wider range of effects, distortions, tones, and other adjustments to take advantage of.
Touring or hopping between gigs often puts a lot of wear and tear on your gear. Thankfully, a modeling amp can take a beating without breaking apart. You don’t have to be nearly as cautious as you would with a tube amp, making modeling amplifiers a solid choice for many people.
Another reason is that most beginner bands don’t want to spend too much money on a high-end amplifier. They could risk losing a lot of cash if it gets damaged. Getting a portable, battery-powered guitar amp could help your band during gigs. You don’t have to lug around a huge amp or worry about it tipping over.
Does the Guitar Matter With a Modeling Amp?
The guitar matters with a modeling amp because you still have to consider the pickups, strings, and wood. All of the materials that go into building a guitar affect its resonance and overall tone. You can modify some of these traits with a modeling amp. The guitar is still quite influential, though.
Here’s why the guitar still matters, even if you have a modeling amp:
- Your guitar strings make a huge difference in terms of resonance and tone. For example, lightweight strings are easier to fingerpick, but they don’t produce a lot of vibrations (which can reduce their resonance). These slight distinctions carry over to the amplifier, regardless of which kind you have.
- The wood used to create the guitar changes how it sounds. Maplewood, spruce, rosewood, and many other kinds of wood are used to create various guitars. You’ll have to make different adjustments to change the sound coming into the amplifier based on what kind of wood your guitar is made of
- Your guitar’s size will undoubtedly alter its output, with or without a modeling amp. For instance, a jumbo acoustic guitar typically has more bass and resonance than a dreadnought guitar. Choosing your guitar’s size ultimately determines how it’ll sound coming through the modeling amplifier.
- Not all guitars have the same amount of frets or the same fretboard dimensions. Fretboard width makes a huge difference. If you have big fingers, you’ll need a wide fretboard. If you have short arms, a short, narrow fretboard can help immensely. All of these traits change how well you perform when playing through an amp.
- Many guitars come with onboard adjustments, including gain, bass, and treble. If your guitar has these modifications, you can change a lot of the sound output without messing with the modeling amp. However, the amp still changes each option. For example, you can max out the gain on the guitar and the amp for twice the gain.
As with all amplifiers, a modeling amp is only one part of the equation. The sound output is also impacted by the rest of the gear you use, including additional speakers, strings, picks, wood, etc. While a modeling amp can definitely improve and modify a low-end guitar, it won’t be a great replacement for getting a high-end ax.
Do Modeling Amps Work Well With Pedals?
Modeling amps work well with pedals, but you don’t need to use them. If your modeling amp doesn’t have the desired distortion settings, you could opt for a pedal. They connect to the same input as they would on solid-state amplifiers. Most people don’t use pedals with modeling amps, though.
Here’s a list of reasons you might want to use a pedal with a modeling amp:
- If your modeling amp doesn’t have a lot of options, a pedal could come in handy. Some base-level modeling amps don’t have a lot of distortion changes. You could get a distortion pedal to improve your amplifier without having to get a brand-new setup. This process saves a lot of time and money for beginners.
- Pedals add to the nostalgic guitar feeling. Every high-end guitarist eventually uses pedals. If you want to look, sound, and feel like your musician idols, a pedal will bring you one step closer. It’ll also teach you a lot more about the technical side of music, which influences how you produce.
- If you already have pedals, you could get a modeling amp with fewer settings to save money and space. You won’t have to worry about overlapping pedals since most modeling amps have effects inputs. These inputs instantly override similar adjustments on the amp’s interface, letting you choose which options you want to work with.
- High-quality pedals can improve your modeling amp’s performance. You can use top-notch pedals with a basic modeling amp to make it sound a lot better. Keep in mind that the cables matter, too. Improve the quality of every component in the loop to make your model amp sound great with or without pedals.
- Many pedals are interchangeable with other types of amps. If you have a couple of pedals that you use with a solid-state amp, you can quickly swap them over to your modeling amp. This means that every pedal you buy for your current setup will still have use for you later on in your musical journey.
According to Tone Topics, you can run almost any pedal through a modeling amp’s primary input or through one of the effects loops. You can still use speakers and headphones through the outputs. Check your modeling amp to know which pedals you can use and which input jacks you need.
Do Pickups Matter With Modeling Amps?
Pickups matter with modeling amps because they affect the guitar’s tone. The tonal input makes a huge difference in the way you set and adjust any amplifier. While you can make various adjustments to make your pickups sound better, the initial input will definitely change the way the amp sounds.
However, it’s safe to say that your modeling amp has a bigger impact on the noise output than your guitar’s pickups. The same can’t be said for the relationship between traditional amps and pickups because they don’t have as many effects and adjustments. It’s worth checking out how different pickups sound through the modeling amp, though.
How To Choose a Modeling Amp
To choose a modeling amp, decide the wattage that you want, check out which effect you prefer, and then consider the overall size and weight. You should also look through different brands since many well-known companies offer modeling amps.
Let’s take an in-depth look at this process below.
- Find out how many watts you want for your modeling amp. According to Fender, 30-watt amps are small, amps between 30 to 60 watts are mid-sized, and anything over 60 watts is considered a large amp. Small amps are good for bedrooms and offices, 60-watt amps are suitable for gigs, and 100-watt amps work for almost any room size.
- Decide which effects suit your play style. Some modeling amps sound like tube amplifiers, while others sound like solid-state amplifiers. You can also choose modeling amps with various effects, including distortion, chorus, reverb, and more. Make sure you look through all of these options before choosing a modeling amplifier.
- Consider how much room you have for an amplifier. The vast majority of modeling amps are fairly small. However, it’s important to think about how much room you’ll have in a storage case, closet, gig vehicle, and other places where you’ll likely bring the modeling amp.
- Look through various companies, including Fender, BOSS, Yamaha, and more. All of these brands are worth checking out, but they all have different warranties and reputations. For instance, Yamaha is known for excellent acoustic guitar amps, whereas BOSS and Fender are ideal for electric guitar amps.
If you’re looking for a modeling amp, the BOSS Katana 100 Speaker Amp (available on Amazon.com) is a solid choice. It’s a 100-watt modeling amp that customers claim is perfect for bedrooms, whole-house jams, recording studios, and gigs. Many reviews also point to the impressive effect loops and pedal compatibility.
Are Modeling Amps Worth It?
Modeling amps are worth it because they provide more effects than you’d find in a tube amp or a solid-state amp. While they might not have the same nostalgia or speaker blowback, they should be a part of almost any musician’s repertoire.
Ask yourself these questions to know if you should try a modeling amp:
- Where will you be using the amp? Reidys reports that modeling amps are great for people who play their instruments in apartments and houses that they share with other people. You won’t produce as much noise, nor will the vibrations wake the neighbors. That being said, a modeling amp might not be ideal for a huge concert.
- What kind of music do you play? If you don’t want to stick to one style of music, a modeling amp is a great choice. It lets you change almost every part of your instrument’s sound output, including the reverb, chorus, and more. You won’t find the same effects on many traditional amplifiers.
- What’s your amplifier budget? If you have $500 or less and you want a good amplifier that will let you produce high-quality music, a modeling amp can be a top choice. Those with a lot more money to spend might want to get the real thing, which kicks modeling amps out of the selection process.
- How much experience do you have playing the guitar? If you’ve never used an amplifier, a modeling amp might be a bit too complicated. You could choose one without all the bells and whistles if you want to simplify the amp. However, a traditional amp or a combo amp might be the better choice.
Modeling amps allow for so much versatility and control in your musical setup. They’re worth getting for most musicians, even if you don’t want to use them as your main amplifiers.
Check out this helpful YouTube video comparing real guitar amps versus modeling amps:
Modeling amps likely won’t replace traditional amps on the professional circuit any time soon, but they’re more than worth trying out. They come with several audio adjustment settings, letting you customize your experience and determine which amps you might want to use for live performances.