One of the best things about being guitar players is shaping and forming our own tones with a vast array of factors that produce what we want to sound like. From tube amps with two or three pedals to a modeling amplifier with all of the bells and whistles, being a guitar player has never been more interesting and challenging at the same time.
However, what if there was a way to combine the tonal dominance of a tube amp with the flexibility of a modeling amp? A few new companies are trying their hand at it, but they’re pulling from the past to move forward.
Founded in 2006, Fractal Audio Systems has pushed the boundaries of instrument amplification since its introduction. While there have been three iterations of their prestigious amplifier, their newest rendition is the Axe-FX III. This modeling amp is a powerful preamp/all-in-one effects processor with the most “raw power and features than any other guitar processor ever created.” The unique thing about the Axe-FX III is that is has two industrial-grade Digital Signal Processors (DSPs) that allows it to deliver uncompromised detail and realism unheard of in a digital modeler. With different effects and thousands of factory, legacy, and user cabinet emulations, the possibilities to craft and hone our own version of heavenly tone has never been easier (or fun).
Similar to Fractal’s move to blend the two worlds together is Kemper Amplifiers. The German company has created a sci-fi rendition of the idea that Synergy has also worked on in customizing classic amplifier tone. This amp allows the user to record their own models from real amps and create their own unique rendition of said amp. While it does come preloaded with some classic amplifiers, this multi-effects processor/preamp/optional power amp provides a revolutionary technology they’ve patented as Profiling, which allows the player to “capture the sonic DNA of any amp with the press of a single button.” This gives the player the option to essentially store their favorite tube amp tone into the Kemper and add that physical tonal essence of that amp to a portable solution that also has other amps to pull from. The Kemper is truly an innovative multi-amplifier experience.
Synergy Amps, a Los Angeles based amplifier company, has attempted similar revolutionary inventions. Synergy created a compact pre-amp housing that uses swappable pre-amp modules to emulate the iconic sounds of higher end boutique amps. They are currently partnering with the brands Friedman, Soldano, Diezel, Metropoulos, Morgan, Bogner, Fryette, Tone King, and Engl, which is a very impressive list. These pre-amp modules allow different amp styles to be accurately represented from a stock housing, bringing the boutique world of amplification into a more modern, more accessible light.
While this technology is something new, different, and innovative to the current guitar industry, this idea of a modular amp isn’t something new.
During the late 80’s when guitar virtuosos Ritchie Kotzen, Paul Gilbert, Tony MacAlpine, and Greg Howe began to dominate the scene, guitar innovation powered the music industry. Every company was trying something new to create “the next big thing.” Inventions like the Ibanez Tube Screamer distortion pedal left its mark and have remained a staple on pedal boards worldwide. Others were ahead of their time or too niche to find its groove.
This is where the Seymour Duncan Convertible Combo amplifier came in. Introduced in the late 80’s, the Convertible came in 60-watt and 100-watt configurations, with an innovative module system. The Convertible amp included five tube module parts that could be configured and swapped around in different ways to get unique sounds from the same amplifier without needing any effects.
While all four of these unique amps might not be everyone’s cup of tea, the advancements are wholly present. The desire to create something extraordinary to catch the curious guitar players’ fancy is always at the helm of companies’ thought processes. As they always say history repeats itself, and it is refreshing to see innovative ideas resurfacing.
Keep an eye out at your local pawn and music shops in case one of these rarities ever crosses your path!