What Is A Modeling Guitar Amp: Everything You Need To Know

what is a modeling guitar amp

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Are you looking to buy a new amp, but you don’t know enough about different types of amps, especially modeling guitar amps? If so, then you’re definitely in the right place.

Modeling guitar amps are amps that come with an onboard array of features and effects to help you emulate other guitar amps, speaker cabinets, effects, and guitar tones. Modeling guitar amps accomplish all that by making use of digital technology. 

In this article, you’ll get to know all about modeling guitar amps, what is a modeling guitar amp, why many guitarists are turning to modeling guitar amps, the pros and cons of using a modeling guitar amp, and more. Continue reading to know all about the answers that you’re looking for.

What is a modeling guitar amp?

A modeling guitar amp is a guitar amp with an onboard array of effects and features that are designed for emulating other better-known guitar amps, speaker cabinets, effects, and guitar tones. This is accomplished largely through digital frequencies.

However, certain modeling amps tend to rely on analog circuitry for some effects as well. If you’re in the market for a new amp for gigs, practice, or studio, you would have encountered modeling amps. A few years back, you might not have had enough choices and you’d have probably overlooked a great modeling amp in favor of a tube amp.

However, digital technology has certainly come a long way in the past few decades or so. Modern modeling amps are much more cable of holding their own.

Amp modeling is essentially the digital reproduction of tube amps. This is usually done through an extremely detailed analysis of the original amps in labs from various manufacturers. The digital fingerprints of the guitar amps are made based on the original sound in terms of responsiveness and tone. Digital processors are extremely powerful.

Most guitarists often struggle to distinguish between the original tube amps and modeling amps during blind tests. The wave of modeling amps was started by Line 6, which is a reputed American manufacturer. The company debuted the Line 6 AxSYS 212 in 1996 before following up with the POD in 1998.

Why are guitarists turning to modeling guitar amps?

With the advancement in technology and improvements to digital amps, more and more guitarists are turning to modeling guitar amps. Here are some of the reasons why modeling guitar amps have become such a big hit –

1. Modeling guitar amps are lighter compared to other types of amps

As modeling guitar amps use microprocessors and computers, they are lighter and more convenient for carrying around with you. It isn’t uncommon for a small modeling amp to weigh between 10 and 20 pounds compared to the bigger ones which could be 30 to 50 pounds. Contrast it to a Mesa 2×12 amp/cabinet combination that could weigh more than a hundred pounds.

If a guitarist or musician is on the road frequently, a modeling guitar amp will be a great option. It helps people who don’t have a lot of patience or willingness to carry around heavy gear. Moreover, a modeling guitar amp often comes with a series of built-in effects.

2. Built-in effects to help musicians

It isn’t uncommon for modeling amps to have extra in-built effects than expected. This means that a guitarist will not have to carry around as many guitar effects pedals. While these pedals are lightweight on their own, their weight can add up, especially if carried around in a bag. For instance, modeling amps like the Line 6 POD have effects built into them like delays, flangers, chorus, and more.

what is a modeling guitar amp - professional guitarist playing electric guitar connected with marshall amp

3. Modeling guitar amps are more versatile

There’s no question that modeling amps are extremely versatile thanks to built-in effects like delay, chorus, distortion, and compression. However, they also mimic different amplifier-cabinet combinations. While the quality of the sound may not be as good as the traditional amp/cabinet combination, they’re great at what they do.

Moreover, due to the circuitry, it’ll be possible to save the settings and presets. Some amps can connect to the internet, and they’re available for software changes and updates.

4. The ability to save presets

One of the best features of the modeling guitar amps is their ability to save presets. These amps have the option to store sounds right into the settings. This way, you’ll be able to mess around with other parameters and settings. Then, you can restore your presets back to the way things were before.

A modeling guitar amp, due to its multiple effects and settings, can be used for most music genres out there. This includes genres like metal, pop music, bluegrass, country music, and everything else in between. A modeling guitar amp is essentially a jack of all trades, but a master of none.

5. Modeling guitar amps are much more reliable than tube amps

The reliability of a modeling guitar amp heavily depends on the way it is constricted, including the circuitry. For instance, an analog tube amp makes use of glass tubes that function in a similar manner as light bulbs. As a result of that, these types of amps are more fragile and susceptible to breaking.

Moreover, vacuum tubes usually wear out over time. This means that they have to be replaced after a certain period of time. Moreover, tube amps also decrease gradually in quality over time. In simple words, the tubes wear out slowly to the point that it can be hard to hear the amp.

The pros and cons of using a modeling guitar amp

Pros of a modeling guitar amp

These days, almost every top guitar amp brand includes a series of amazing modeling amps in their lineup. If not, then there are at least amps with digital effects. There are many benefits of using a modeling guitar amp. Some of the biggest pros of modeling guitar amps include –

The convenience factor

In the past, playing the guitar required great effort as you had to gather many components. You needed your guitar, an amp, all the pedals, power source, patch cords, pedalboard, and instrument cables among others. Yes, you can still go this route if you prefer it that way, and many guitarists do still follow it.

However, there’s a much more convenient alternative now. A decent modeling guitar amp with a foot controller, cables, and a guitar will do the same job as a pile of pedals, amps, and other components. Moreover, you’ll be requiring much less gaffer tape.

It’ll be more convenient for you to haul a modeling amp to a gig, plug it in, and start playing. You’ll not just save yourself from all the hassle of an annoying, complex setup each time you go out to play, but you’ll also save a lot of space in the van and go much easier in the back.

Modeling guitar amps are just as useful for practicing. There might be instances where you might not want to plug in your tube amp during practice sessions. On such occasions, you can connect a modeling amp, and it’ll deliver great distortion and a bunch of amazing effects. If you want to jam at home, all that you’ll need are a guitar, a cable, and a decent modeling guitar amp.

Sound of the amp

All these features like ease of setup and convenience don’t mean a thing if your amp doesn’t sound good. But how do modeling amps stack up against tube and solid-state amps when it comes to sound?

Yes, tube amps are capable of sounding incredible. For decades, amp manufacturers have been trying to promote solid-state amps as they capture the epic tube warmth and overdrive. While some of them have gotten pretty close, it has still been an uphill climb. Until a few years back, the general consensus was that modeling amps were even worse. For a long time, musicians and guitarists couldn’t stand digital distortion and didn’t want anything to do with it.

However, the public opinion on modeling guitars has changed over the past decade or some. There have been some wonderful releases like the Line 6 Spider, Peavey Vypyrs, and previous generations of Fender Mustangs. Both solid-state and modeling amp overdrive are head and shoulders above where they used to be a decade ago. One of the biggest hits is the Peavey Vypyr modeling amps. They utilize Peavey’s TransTube solid-state distortion with powerful digital processors for emulation and effects.

Another cool thing is that modeling guitar amps aren’t just capable of nailing one overdrive tone, but many of them. You’ll be able to dial in a crunchy British overdrive, high-gain American distortion, buttery blues sounds, and more. Some of them can also emulate specific amps like the Fender Twin or Marshall JCM800.

Dependability with the amps

When you’re flicking the light switch in your room, you’re expecting the light to switch on in the room. More often than not it does, but sometimes it can fail. While you can get annoyed when this happens, but you aren’t surprised. Light bulbs come with a limited lifespan, and they blow out sporadically. You’re then forced to replace them.

While this is a bit of a loose analogy, you could think of the tubes in the tube amps the same way.

Normally, they work perfectly when you turn on the tube amp. However, sometimes they may not work and need to be replaced with new tubes. While this is easy when you’re at home, but what will you do if you’re at a gig? If you’re going on gigs multiple times every week, you’re trusting the tubes to work properly over a hundred times per year (excluding the rehearsals). There will come a time when one of the tubes rebels against you.

If you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, you might find yourself having to fix your amp onstage. No one will appreciate it, neither your bandmates nor the audience.

While any amp can fail unexpectedly at any time, modeling guitar amps are considered to be much more dependable. They don’t come with parts that wear out and have to be replaced. Moreover, they aren’t required to be biased. Modeling amps don’t use any power sources, batteries, or patch cords, any of which could fail at any time. You can just plug in the amp and start playing.

Very versatility to use

Some guitarists are only looking for that one epic tone that reflects the sounds they’re hearing in their heads perfectly. If you’re playing in an original band, you likely wouldn’t want to sound like anyone but yourself. Moreover, you’ll want bandmates to recognize your sound and respect your tone. If this is you, then a modeling amp may not always be the best option.

Meanwhile, most guitarists often try to emulate different sounds and tones in their performances. Home learners are usually learning songs by other artists, so an amp that sounds like other amps will be useful.

Guitarists and musicians who play in cover bands do their best to cop the guitar sound on the original recording. A modeling amp that doesn’t just feature several effects, but also amp and cabinet emulation will mean that you can sound like the artist who recorded the song. The authenticity of your sound will register with the audience, whether they recognize it or not. 

Cost of the amps

There are many remarkable tube combo amps that are available for less than $1000 in the market. In fact, there are some great ones in the $750 range. With one of the amps, a pedalboard, five good pedals, cables, and a power supply, you’re looking at a guitar rig that costs around $1200-$1500 for gigging.

This isn’t really all that reasonable, but many believe that spending less is better in most cases. When it comes to modeling guitar amps, there are many good gig-worthy options available in the $350-$500 range. The foot controllers will cost extra, but despite that, you’ll be shelling out less cash than what you would have done on a tube amp and effects pedals.

Some modeling amps feature XLR outs such that you can run your signal directly to the mixing board. If you play at home or just want a practice amp, there are many great modeling amps for less than $200. Moreover, you won’t need to worry about tubes or pedals. All you’ll have to do is twist a few knobs and find the sounds that you want.

Cons of a modeling guitar amp

Now that you know the pros of using a modeling guitar amp, it’ll be equally important to know the cons. Here are the major disadvantages of using modeling guitar amps.

They can be overkilled for some guitarists

If you’re looking to achieve your signature guitar tone, you can probably find it in a modeling amp. However, a modeling amp isn’t really the best tool for the job. Like every great guitarist in history, you’ll likely want to explore different guitars, guitar amps, and effects. You should try different things until you’ve found the right combination for the song you need.

what is a modeling guitar amp - guitarist playing electric guitar with orange amp on the floor

Modeling amps are quite complicated

While the recent generations are easier to use than a few years back, there will still be a learning curve. Beginners and young guitarists who are more computer savvy might find it to be a big plus. However, for many old-school, plug-and-play guitarists, it can get quite annoying.

Way too many bells and whistles

Modeling guitar amps tend to come with many innovative features. Many of them are useful, while others could seem to be excessively much. Do you really need your guitar amp to interface with your PC? Does it even matter if your amp is controllable via a smartphone app? Moreover, if you’re a tech-savvy guitarist, you might enjoy these features, but for experienced, old-school guitarists, this is too much.You’ll get what you’ll get

If you don’t particularly like the chorus sound, your modeling amp is unlikely to have the option to replace the chorus pedal with a different one in the signal chain. However, some modeling amps will have pedals better than others, and some of them are even designed for it.

Technology can quickly become outdated

Lastly, this is one of the issues that often keeps people away from modeling guitar amps. Will a particular modeling amp still work the same in 5-10 years from now? Tube amps from the 60, 70s, and 80s still sound amazing today, especially if they’re well-maintained. But what if your modeling amp needs fixing after a few years? Will replacement parts for the model exist even if the amp goes out of production?

Are modeling guitar amps as good as tube amps?

If modeling amps can easily recreate the sound of expensive tube amps, then why do guitarists spend the extra money? Although modeling amps have come a long way lately, they’ve yet to accurately model how tube amps work. Experienced musicians can easily tell the difference. A tube amp will react and respond much more dynamically.

Meanwhile, there’s something natural and organic about the distortion coming from the driving tubes. There’s a reason why most professionals out there on the big stage have been using valve amps. But when you put a big, noisy tube amp in home situations, things can be quite different. Tube amps have to be driven or turned up for the tubes to work and give a distinctive sound.

Meanwhile, modeling amps give you a tube amp-style tone at lower volumes or through headphones. This means you’ll be unlikely to get as many complaints from your neighbors.

Modeling guitar amps still have their place and in many scenarios, they can be a better option than tube amps. A decent modeling guitar amp will give you more than enough options. You will get a clean channel and all kinds of distorted and overdrive channels. Where a tube amp may have a couple of channels, it isn’t unusual for modeling amps to have more than double that. Many of them also feature the ability to program and save your settings and preferences into a channel.

In fact, you can bring up your favorite settings at the touch of a button. If you’re looking for a wide range of tones available in an amp, then a modeling amp will be an amazing choice.

A modeling amp can be great for beginners as it’s a practical way of learning. You can learn the different types of amps out there and what types of tones different amps give. You’ll be able to experiment with different settings while learning. After a while, you can go a bit further and learn what type of sounds work best for particular situations.

For instance, a Vox AC30 might not be the best option for metal players. In the same way, a Triple Rectifier may not be the best option for jazz guitarists. Most modeling amps give similar sounds to both of these players, so try out different things and see what works. With this knowledge, beginners can start looking for the perfect tube amp once it’s time to nail the desired tone.

Modeling amps having in-built effects also come with the advantage of being more portable. Many guitarists still use individual pedals alongside their valve amps. All this equipment can eventually become cumbersome, especially if you have to travel a lot. A modeling amp is easy to transport, and it will be helpful during such situations.


Thank you for reading. Hopefully, now you know a lot more about modeling guitar amps, what is a modeling guitar amp, why many guitarists are turning to using a modeling guitar amp, the pros and cons of using a modeling guitar amp, and more. Modeling guitar amps are the digitalized guitar amps that come with an onboard array of amazing effects and features to help you emulate other amps, speaker cabinets, effects, and guitar tones. A modeling guitar amp will help you accomplish all these things by making use of digital technology.

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Rick is the founder of All Stringed. He started playing with a classical guitar when he was 10, but changed soon to electric guitar and later also to an acoustic. You can find more about him here.