With solid-state, modelling and valve tech all available, you may wonder ‘what is the difference between modelling amps and other types?’
Until fairly recently, the guitar amps only really offered two different technologies to create their tone: solid state and valve. Then, a new, computer powered addition joined the fray: modelling technology.
Each of these technologies arrived into the world with decades separating them, and yet all three technologies are still available in modern amplifiers. This is because each still has something to offer.
If you’re new to playing the guitar, you might wonder what is the difference between modelling amps and other types? Here’s a mini guide, starting at the very beginning…
Valve Amps/ Tube Amps
Tube amps are so called because they use vacuum tubes (thermionic valves as they’re known in the UK, hence why they’re also called valve amps). Tubes are actually pretty ancient technology.
At its simplest (a diode), a tube is pretty much like a filament light bulb. It allows a current to flow across a filament in a vacuum, which causes electrons to flow to an electrode.
This can be used to convert an alternating current to a direct current, which made valves a key component of most early electrical devices. Triodes were a later development, and could be used to amplify audio signals.
The first guitar amps were packed to the hilt with tubes, making them heavy, occasionally unreliable, and dependent on maintenance. So, why are they still made, and why are they so sought after?
Put simply, it’s all down to tone. Valve amps have very warm, very dynamic and responsive tone. When valves are driven, they start to compress very, which results in a very pleasing tone. When they’re driven harder, they start to break up and distort (overdrive). This is essentially how overdrive became a common guitar effect. Valve overdrive is very difficult to recreate convincingly.
- Natural, ‘organic’ break-up and overdrive
- Did I mention Tone?
- Occasionally unreliable
- Require maintenance
Solid State Amps
This technology began to replace valve technology in the ‘50s. Solid-state amplifiers use circuits that use semi-conductors, such that the electric current never leaves the solid materials (as it does in a tube). This is done via compact components that switch and amplify electrical currents, such as semiconductor diodes and capacitors.
Solid-state amps have some major advantages over tube amps. Firstly, they’re much lighter. They’re also much more reliable, and don’t require regular maintenance. Finally, they don’t have the same power-stage distortions as valve amps, which is great for bass amps and some guitar styles.
Tonally, they don’t have the same warmth or dynamic response as tube amps, however.
- Very light
- Very reliable
- Low power-stage distortion- great for clean tone
- Tone not as warm as valve amps
- Dynamics limited compared to valves
Modelling amp technology
Modelling amps aim to provide a ‘best of both worlds’ solution. To do it, they employ computer technology. To generate their tone, they use computer programs which mathematical models to replicate the effect that every component of a real amplifier has on a guitar signal. So, it takes a dry guitar sound in at one end, runs a lot of sums, and a tone that sounds like it has been run through a guitar amp comes out of the other end.
Because, essentially, the amps is just running a program, it means that many different amplifier tones can be recreated in a single amp. Often, recreations of classic amps are modelled, so that, at the turn of a dial, the player can cycle through many classic and desirable tones.
Because modelling amps are based around electronics and computer chips, they are very light, but still offer a flavour of valve tone.
- Huge range of tones and features
- Great sound
- Still, not quite valve tone…