This was the tag line I saw on an advert in a recent Guitar Player magazine for Hughes & Kettners new Switchblade Guitar Head. The amp is the worlds first totally programmable all valve head. On first impression the specifications are impressive…… 4 Channels, Clean, Crunch, Lead, and Ultra. 128 presets with included midi footcontroller, plus onboard digital modulation and delay effects. The list price of around a grand makes this sound like an impressive peice of kit. Both Guitar Player and Guitarist magazine have given the amp rave reviews. But what made me chuckle was the immortal line “Modelling is dead”. It’s almost Monty Pythonesque.
Now this is funny for a number of reasons. First is that I’ve always felt the guitar industry (press/manafacturers) has been forcefeeding the technology to us musicians and that this was the future, whether we liked it or not.
A future that would be very benificial to them as besides the R & D costs. There are far less bits inside a modelling amp, no valves, rectifiers and the like. So therefore if they used common microprocessors as many companies do (your washing machine has a couple of the same chips that your camcorder has etc.) the kit would be cheaper to produce and the profit margins therefore higher.
Now I feel that certain sections of the guitar press got onboard the modelling bandwagon a little too far. Admittedly the Line 6 POD was an amazing product, but generally modern digital recordings tend to compress sounds and so the POD gave great useable sounds in those situations. Bung it through any amp and its less convincing. Especially when the effects are turned off.
Secondly the whole Modelling amp phenomenon has seemed nothing more than a load of hype. Essentially all modelling amps are nothing more than a sophisticated Multi FX unit bolted onto a transistor power stage. This is fair enough, but for the last 5 years I’ve been reading the same reviews year after year on the latest wonder amp and the life cycle of these amps normally goes like this….
“Famous manafacturer releases wonder amp for say £1000 rrp. The reviews in Guitarist/Guitar Player/Guitar are amazing. The usual stores do it for a hundered or so pounds cheaper. Then no one buys it…..so a cheaper less feature packed version of the amp is made, as the original one is discounted down beyond all belief. Then a new one appears about 15 months later…..the usual suspects in the guitar mags believe the PR hype about more accurate tones and the cycle begins again.
Now modelling has got a foorhold in the market, but it’s strictly at the cheaper practice amp/ small combo market. If you go and see a gigging band on the toilet circuit, it seems valves are still king.
But then Line 6 came up with this…
Guitarist Magazine ran an article on the Line 6 Variax and its Acoustic sibling last year. The article appeared to be telling the reader thats lots of people are using Variax’s. What was funny that these users of modelling guitars were not so enthusiastic to be seen with one Pete Townsend was playing a J-200, Jez Williams from Doves a 335, Jerry Donahue as expected a Tele….. Even on Line 6′s own website they can only manage a stock picture of U2, despite their boast of Edge as a Variax user.
Now don’t get me wrong. I use a Line 6 DL-4 Delay modeller and its a brilliant peice of kit. But I don’t think it sounds like an accurate reproduction of the delays its set out to emulate. Rather its just a very useable peice of kit with some excellent sounds.
But back to Hughes and Kettner. The company also make a very expensive modelling amp in the form of it’s Zentera range. These have been on the market for a few years now and at around £2 grand are probably the most sophisticated modelling amps on the market. Unfortunately every review I’ve read says that they are incredibly difficult to program.
So therefore I’d love to know who is using the Zentera and what do they make of H & K’s proclamation that modelling is indeed dead.