I’ve been thinking again and as usual that means I’m getting philosophical and a little grumpy… all this thinking has led me to the question – “Once digital modelling has won and there a no longer any amps/effects to model, what happens then?”
So, right now you are probably thinking “Another blog from a guy who works in the analogue pedals markets slamming digital modelling… *yawn*… here we go again” but hopefully after reading this you’ll see that I’m not here to whinge and moan, just to maybe shed a little light on to what could happen, once SkyNet goes live.
Before I get going I need to tell that I absolutely love modelling gear. I’ve spent countless hours playing with them and always had a truly majestic time. I owned what was possibly the first full featured modelling unit, the Roland GP-100 (check out this old video manual from Nick Cooper, the guy who demo’d it to me back in the ’90’s, which lead to me instantly buying it) and it was without a doubt absolutely perfect for what I needed at the time. I don’t expect it will sound as good as I remember, but in my head it was, and still is, awesome. At the time I was playing in a “The Police” tribute plan and that unit, powered by a Marshall 9100 all valve power amp into a Marshall 1960 4×12″ was devastatingly effective. Some of my happiest memories of playing live were with that band… Moving forward 20 years I’m lucky enough to be able to play with some of the more contemporary units as well, everything from the Boss GT-100 to the Kemper Profiler (or as I like to call it, the Haunted Toaster) and have a passing knowledge of the Fractual AxeFx. I think they are all amazing units and if I was a richer man, I’d have and use them all with pride. And yes, if anyone from Yamaha is reading this, please send me a Line 6 Helix, that thing is amazing – if I had a hat on right now I’d tip it in your general direction.
However, as much as I love them, I have to also admit that the whole modelling thing really really annoys me. It’s not so much that they exist, it’s when they are called “the future of guitar tone” I start to see red. How many times have you heard “Man, I bought an AxeFX, I sold everything I had, I don’t need anything else, everything else is pointless”. If you are anything like me, you’d have heard that hundreds of times. But, you see, the thing is and the question I always ask is this, if the modelling devices become so cheap and so good that they then force the analogue guys out of business, who the hell are the modellers going to model?
The ‘conventional’ musical instrument industry is currently amazing… I’m going to avoid the obvious route to talk about effects, but instead I’m going to bring amps into the conversation. There are companies out there that are slaying the market with new and exciting products… From Mike Fortin who not only makes amps under his own name but also at Randall; to Daniel Klein at Port City and everyone in between (I could list them here but I’m certain you get the idea). New and exciting definitions in tone are being forged everyday, new standards of hi gain, medium gain, rock amps, clean amps and every other kind are here, right now in 2015 and it’s really exciting… Imagine what it will be like in 2, 5 or 10 years time. I literally cannot wait to hear them.
Bringing it back to the subject matter, from what I can see the modellers are not creating anything new, their entire sales pitch is to recreate everything and put it in one place. For the touring/gigging musician this is fantastic, but what about in terms of the future of tone, where does it leave it? In an ideal world people will see that the modelling stuff has purpose, real purpose and has an extremely valuable place in our industry but; should it be classed as the future? Yes it should, and rightly so BUT ONLY PART OF IT! Everything has a purpose and everything has a job, let’s not get things confused here. If you like, you can look at it this way – If modelling had existed in the 70’s and all future instrumentation development had stopped, we’d not have the JCM800. We’d not have the modd’d JCM800 and so on… It’s all very well having an app of ten different 70’s Marshall’s in it, but personally I’d take the modd’d JCM800 one! Now, apply that to amps of today and what they will lead to in the future.
I guess what I am saying is that modelling stuff is fantastic, buy it, love it and use it. But please, if you have any sense of excitement for what may be happening in 5, 10 or 20 years time, also keep buying amps and pedals from your favourite builders. Because if you do, they can then produce new and exciting instruments, new aspects of tone that you’d not yet thought of that can then go into the future modelling units… Modelling is a tool, not a total solution and we should work really hard to keep it in check a little. They aren’t the future, they are a convenient stroll down memory lane with zero concept of the future. As you may have guessed, I really don’t want to see the day that instrument SkyNet goes live.