Amplifier modellers and multi-effects intro
These days multi-effects and amplifier modellers are everywhere in the guitar world. I grew up watching amateur DIY bands playing live. Their guitar players had stacks of analog pedals with all different shapes and colours. And if they could afford them, they would have massive amps and cabinets.
This was in the 1980s and 1990s, however. Technology evolved quite a bit from there.
I remember skilled guitarist friends showing me the first multi-effects pedalboards back in the day. Mostly from Boss, well renowned for their many analog pedals. These initial multi-effects pedalboards sounded very digital, but would replace an otherwise massive stack of individual pedals. Later, she of them started adding some amp modelling to their signal chains.
Fast forward to today, the quality and availability changed quite a bit: Digital Signal Processing and embedded memory is cheaper, algorithms evolved, and lots of users saw the advantage of having multiple amps and effects at your feet (literally!).
Again don’t get me wrong here: stacks of amps and cool looking pedalboards with lots of individual pedals look very cool and serve a purpose. But it can be quite hard and expensive to amass and carry around a large collection of those.
With multi-effects and amp modellers you can:
- Still hook up to external pedals you already have, placing them anywhere in the signal chain
- Play in front of the amp without the amp modelling, if you have an amp of preference or if you have to use the same multi-effects in many different situations
- Use the multi-effects in the effects loop of your amp
- Use the multi-effects with amp modelling turned on and go straight to PA or DAW
So if you’re ready to pull the trigger and head in this direction, here are a few options I’ve considered:
- Fractal Audio AX8 (full version) or FX8 (effects only version) – well renowned by their realistic modelling. Missing an expression pedal (can be added separately) and hard to find in Australia. Sounds really impressive though.
- Line 6 Firehawk FX- cheap alternative to their flagship, the Helix. Sounds cool and has a simple to use interface with coloured switches and patch naming. Can be operated via bluetooth from an iPad app. The coolest feature is perhaps the fact that the app can download tones from an online library, even to try and match the tones of specific songs!
- Line 6 Helix Floor LT and Helix Floor – two variants of the same product, the Helix is very capable in terms of I/O, has realistic and impressive modelling, and an extremely flexible user interface that can be tweaked on the fly in live situations.
- Kemper profiler – this one sits in a different category for two reasons: it’s not a floorboard only (it looks like an amp head, but has a connected floor switchboard) and is able to profile existing amps directly. Impressive and amazing sounding but in a different category altogether.
- iPad driven solutions – both IK multimedia and Positive Grid have switchboards that can be used to trigger their apps running on an iPad. Nice gimmick but the sound doesn’t compare with the ones using dedicated hardware.
- Mooer Audio GE200 – cheap option that also supports Impulse Responses (like most of the above) and can sound good. Really portable alternative for constrained budgets.
- Boss GT-1 and GT-1000. I believe the latter was highly inspired on the Helix… Boss are the king of effects but to my ears their amp modelling is still not up to par with Line 6, Fractal Audio or Kemper.
I ended up opting for the Helix Floor as it had the best combination of sound quality, I/O options and user friendly interface with many customisation options be it via it’s own interface or via the connected Helix Edit running on Mac/PC. The key differentiator in terms of sound is when I started replacing the cab modelling with IR (Impulse Response) available online for many modellers. I will probably write a dedicated article on that.
Appart from checking them online I recommend the following:
- Watch the youtube videos, especially the ones geared towards the sound you want to achieve (ex: metal, thrash, etc). Try to get videos with players that use the same guitars you have.
- Head to the local store and try it out. Many things seem different when you’re just reading about them or watching an experienced player using them
Drop me a line if you want to chat further. Have fun selecting multi-effects and amp modellers for your guitar.