You Ask: What’s the big deal with tube emulation technology?

As amp modelling advances, will we be able to distinguish emulation from the real deal?

Vacuum tubes side by side

This week, we have a query from Vince Leonard, who’s not convinced that tube emulation technology can replace an actual tube amplifier.

Vince asks: “Considering how good transistor amps are now, I do wonder why anyone, pro or amateur, would bother with valve technology at all? I’ve never had one. You’ve got processors that emulate up any amp sound you want, then there are the Roland and Boss amps, some with a plug-in capsule that looks like a valve… but isn’t!

“Is this the end of valves? Far from it. It seems there are still many people out there making true valve amps. Aside from the three kings – Fender, Marshall and Vox – there are numerous makers from both England and the US hand-building top-quality products selling for top-dollar prices.

“There must be something in the way a vacuum tube interacts that moves people enough to spend, in one example, £5,000 for a 15-watt combo. Then there’s the hybrid valve and transistor amps. Although the tone of an all-valve unit is as much down to circuit design as anything else, one thing all modelling amps have in common is that they emulate old valve amps! That tells you something.”

Kemper Profiling Head

Advertisement

Hi Vince, you’re right in observing that the Holy Grail for modelling amps has been a faithful recreation of classic valve tone and feel, and it does say a lot – not just about most guitar players, but also the history of popular music in general.

The likes of Kemper, Fractal and others have got closer than ever before to replicating authentic valve tones, but when it comes to feel, many guitar players find a certain mojo in those old glass tubes that digital technology still can’t fully capture. Is it snake oil? We’re inclined to believe that anything that makes you enjoy playing the guitar more can only be a good thing.

Send in all your burning guitar questions via Facebook or to editors@guitar.com, and we’ll try to answer as best as we can!

Advertisement