Modelling amps are modern digital amps that generally use an analogue circuit mixed with a digital circuit to provide you with an amp that can imitate or emulate other famous amp types. This is by far the easiest way to attain a number of different tones (that you’d normally get from different amps) in a single amplifier.
You’re normally given a plethora of tones to flick through until you find the one that works for you and you’ll generally have effects on-board to play around with too! However, as with anything, different price points give you different options and sound quality. Modelling amps start at budget amp levels and can go up in price, even past tube amp price points like the Kemper and the Line 6 Helix.
Modelling Amps: what to look out for
There’s plenty to consider when choosing the best modelling amp for you. Here are some of the most important things to look out for:
- Amp sounds – how many sounds do you think you’ll need? Many affordable modelling amps feature a handful of modes to choose from, while pro-grade offerings feature hundreds of presets and user slots.
- Cab sounds – an extension of this is having cab simulations (sometimes called impulse responses) to choose from. Again, this is usually featured on pro-grade modelling amps, and gives you more tonal versatility.
- Built-in effects – will you be using existing effects with your modelling amp, or do you want it all in one box? Most modelling amps have some effects, but premium models often boast a huge selection.
- Controls – will you be performing or recording with your modelling amp? The former might require a more tactile interface including footswitching. If you’re recording, tweaking on the fly won’t be an issue.
- Connectivity – similarly to the last point, how will you be connecting your amp? Headphones? Straight to USB? Out to a guitar cab?
Popular Modelling Amp ranges
While there are more modelling amp options on the market than ever before, a number of options have emerged as particular popular/prominent. Here’s a rundown of the big hitters:
Line 6 have, for decades, spearheaded the modelling amp movement. The Pod and Spider amp solutions are among the most popular guitar gear products of all time. With the Helix, Line 6 shook off the stigma of digital amp technology, offering a stunning professional amp modelling experience. Combining their knack for digital audio technology and intuitive user interfaces, the Helix is as easy to use as it is comprehensive. There are a number to choose from, including a rackmount version, a full-size floor version, an isolated effects unit and more.
Why buy a Helix?
The Helix range is attractive because it not only offers pro-grade sound and easy-to-use design – there’s an option to suit everyone. You might want an ultra-compact modeller to go into your gigbag, or you might want a fully-fledged mothership for the studio. Either way, you get great sound and features with Line 6’s trademark finesse. Here’s a snapshot of what you get with the Line 6 Helix:
- 70+ amp sounds
- 190+ effects
- 37 guitar cabinets
- 16 microphones
- 6 varieties, from fully-fledged rack system to software bundle
- Extensive I/O for easy incorporation into your rig
- Ultra-intuitive colour-coded interface and easy footswitching options
The Kemper profiler aims to go a step further than the competition. The aim is to offer more detail and control, so you can tweak your sound at every stage. One of the main attractions of the Kemper Profiler is in the name: amp profiling. This goes beyond just modelling the sound of an amp – a Kemper will actively replicate any amp you want. By connecting your amp and playing a series of tones and samples, the Kemper scans the sound of your chosen amp and reproduces it in real-time. The results are outstanding.
Why buy a Kemper?
If you’re willing to spend a bit more time to learn a new set of features, and you want absolute control and tonal versatility, the Kemper Profiler is for you. As mentioned above, it’ll replicate any sound you want – but it also comes with heaps of classic amp profiles to get you started right out the box. Undoubtedly one of the leading live/studio amp solutions of the past decade. Key features include:
- 200 amp profiles
- 72 effects
- Easily create your own profiles from scratch, or buy/download extra profiles online
- Extensive I/O for easy incorporation into your rig
- Powered models include built-in class D power amps
- Comes in amp head or rackmount form factor
The Boss Katana range includes some of the bestselling amps in the business. Offering a simple, accessible modelling solution and great tube-like tone at an affordable price point, it’s a winning formula from Boss. Again, there’s a few models to choose from. These range from the ultra-compact Katana Mini to the full-sized Katana 100 or Katana artist, both of which are extremely giggable amps. These go beyond simple modelling/practice solutions – they’re extremely handy tools for guitarists of all styles and abilities.
Why buy a Katana?
If you’re looking for a great selection of reliable, versatile sounds on a budget, you’ll find a Boss Katana that works for you. You might simply want a compact practicing solution with more sounds up its sleeve, or a versatile rehearsal/live amp. Either way, you’ll never spend more than £500, and the range starts around the rather modest £80 point. Not bad, eh? Here’s a cross-section of Katana features:
- 7 models from micro-amp to giggable combo
- 5 amp modes to choose from: Clean, Crunch, Lead, Brown and Acoustic (3 modes for the Katana Mini)
- Built-in effects taken from Boss’ huge roster
- Connect directly to a computer or smartphone for easy tone tweaking
- Accessible sub-£500 price point
Atomic have spearheaded the compact modelling amp concept with their trailblazing Amplifire range. The aim is to provide an ‘amp in a box’ solution, complete with easily accessible preamps, a tactile interface and built-in effects. Treading the line between multi-FX unit and modelling amp makes the Amplifire an easy, intuitive experience regardless of your style.
Why buy an Amplifire?
If you’re a multi-FX veteran and you fancy exploring a broader tonal landscape, the Amplifire range has some great options. Starting at just under £300 and never going above £600, they offer an end-to-end amp modelling feature set at the cost of many standard multi-FX units. This makes them excellent value for money, and the fact that they come in a familiar pedal/switcher-style form factor makes them incredible accessible. Here’s what to expect:
- 3 varieties to choose from, from compact pedal to broad 12-switch powerhouse
- Easily selectable presets with tactile EQ/tweaking controls
- The biggest model (Amplifire 12) is still less than 40cm wide, making the whole range ultra-compact
- Simple, useful connectivity for gigging and recording alike
Headrush entered the modelling arena with the Headrush Pedalboard, featuring a quad-core processor, highly responsive tones, and 20 minute looper and a touch-screen interface. The aim was to combine intuitive controls with tonal versatility at a reasonable price, and the Headrush delivers on all fronts. With a great selection of amps and effects to choose from, you’re good to go right out the box, and the familiar pedalboard form factor makes it an easy learning curve for guitarists.
Why buy a Headrush?
If you’re looking for a great all-rounder that packs more of a punch than its price point suggests, the Headrush is a great options. Not only does it sound great, but its simple touchscreen interface is a breath of fresh air. Excellent connectivity makes it highly versatile for both live and studio guitarists. Key Headrush features include:
- 34 amps
- 15 cabinets/impulse responses
- 48 effects
- 10 microphones
- 7-in touch display for swipe and tap tweaking
- Smaller Gigboard version crams the same functionality into a pedal-sized enclosure
Fender’s Mustang range is designed to offer hassle-free access to popular guitar sounds. Ranging from the compact LT25 to the full-fat GT 200 combo, these are among the most popular practice amps on the market – but they’re versatile enough for recording and gigging guitarists.
Why buy a Mustang?
If you’re not too keen on spending ages tweaking sounds and exploring menus, you’ll want something a little simpler. That’s where the Mustang range comes in; as mentioned above, it’s all about hassle-free access to great sound. These amps have an excellent selection of sounds from the offset – they called it a ‘greatest hits’ of guitar tones. A colour display, headphone connectivity and USB recording/update capabilities make the Mustang amps excellent companions for guitarists. Key features include:
- 5 models to choose from, from around £150 to £500
- Dozens of built-in presets that can be easily browsed using the controls
- Dozens of amp types to choose from (number depends on the model)
- Dozens of effects to choose from (number depends on the model)
- Fender Tone Cloud app lets you save and restore your favourite presets
- USB connectivity for recording straight to DAW or updating firmware
Best Modelling Amp for Practice
Modelling amps come in many shapes and sizes but for home practice you’re probably after a small combo amp with a few effects. You’ll want a smaller amp to keep the volume down and keep the neighbours sweet but we’d suggest anything under about 50w for home use.
Smaller amps normally have smaller speakers which don’t have much bass response and won’t have the same oomph as a bigger amp but for jamming along to backing tracks and getting a number of different tones at home, a small modelling amp will do the trick. Check out the smaller modelling amp options from Boss, Vox and Yamaha.
Best Modelling Amp for Recording
If you’re after a modelling amp for recording, you’re going to want pro quality to make the most of your recording. Often, smaller amps modelling amps like the Katana 50 will have a recording function however it won’t be of the same class as pro modellers like the Kemper amp, Line 6 Helix or Headrush.
The Kemper is probably the king of recording modelling amps with it’s ability to model or ‘profile’ literally any amp in the world and tons of presets online shared by users who have modelled their own amps you’ll never run short of ideas. Not to mention the huge array of quality effects too!
Best Modelling Amp for Gigging
The best modelling amp for gigging completely depends on your set up in the band but a lot of modelling amps will actually have an emulated XLR output which means you can plug directly into the PA system and forgo having to mic up the cab! If your modelling amp doesn’t have a speaker you’ll need to be careful of how you actually monitor your sound. The Line 6 Helix is the winner in terms of ease of use and professional sound but you’ll need an FRFR cab to make the most of it live.
You can also use modelling amps like the Boss Katana range in a gigging situation as long as you get one with a high enough wattage to give you enough volume to be heard in a mix. Normally the best modelling amps for gigging are also the best modelling amps for pedals. This is because gigging amps will have enough headroom to allow your pedals to sound great when plugged in. It’s that simple!
Best Modelling Amp for Metal
The best modelling amp for metal will be any modelling amp that has a great high-gain setting on it emulated American style amps. The Boss Katana amps have got fantastic high-gain sounds on them but you also wouldn’t go wrong with the Fender Mustang GT range or anything by Blackstar. If you're looking for something all-encompassing, many of the biggest metal players use pro-grade modelling solutions like the Line 6 Helix or Kemper. As mentioned earlier, these amps offer unprecedented tonal accuracy and versatility, meaning you can hone in on the ultimate metal sound.
Best Modelling Amp for Blues
The best modelling amp for blues will be one that allows you to get an American Tweed sound on your amplifier for those Fender-esque blues tone. Fender have got their own modelling amp range called the Mustang GT amps and obviously provide you with those great Fender tones but many other brands have got the right bluesy, overdrive style amp models available for you to get those Bluesy tones.
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