Since the rise in popularity of digital amp modelling and profiling the game has really changed. This post isn't about which is better. You can decide that for yourself. This post is about something that comes up very often, the problem of where to start.
I love my valve amplifiers. I'll always have one. Read my previous blog post about all of that. However I love the convenience of the digital side of things. Between work and home I have three main go-to devices; my Roland Cube 30, Peavey Revalver software on my work computer and Amplitube for my iOS devices. I've been using these things for years and I have my own ways of working with them and know how to use them quite well for the job I need to do. One of the huge advantages of them is having a whole range of sounds from digitally recreated amplifiers and effects at your fingertips. However this is also one of the biggest disadvantages if you are not careful as it can cause option paralysis because of the sheer range of things that you can do.
Years ago a guitar playing friend of mine was telling me about his FX unit that he had that had a lot of amp modelling included in it. He said it was like, walking into a room full of amps, effects pedals, speaker cabinets and microphones and being able to use any that you liked in any combination. This is an enticing thought and especially with the affordability of some of the options (especially iOS/android apps) it's very easy to quickly rack up those options. However the problem is that the sheer volume of virtual gear means that people can get lost as they don't get to spend enough time with any one piece of gear as they try everything out.
At the risk of sounding old (I'm 38), back in the day when I started playing I had a cheap Horner solid state amp and that was it. No FX, just the amp. However I learned to appreciate what it was, then as I gradually upgraded my gear I learned to find out more about what I liked. If I had started now with all the options available then I would be completely lost as I love tinkering and finding new sounds. I certainly wouldn't be getting as much practice as I should be doing.
So with options like these available where do you start? Here are a few pointers to get you going.
1. Keep things simple: Presets are a great way to get started but many of them are there to showcase what the product can do and may not be totally usable. If you are starting from scratch use the simplest preset that you can find with as few things going on (FX, microphone position options etc) as you can. You just need the sound of the amplifier.
2. Find a single amplifier that works for you: Think about the sound that you want. Do you want an overdriven sound? Something clean and glassy? Something high gain? A good place to start is a simple amplifier with as few controls on it as possible. Some of the more advanced products will give you all the controls under the sun which is useful if you plan to, for example, use multiple channels. However the less you have to distract you from getting a good sound the better.
3. What do your guitar heros use: This may be a dangerous one if you like someone like The Edge or Adrian Belew but by doing a bit of research on a particular sound you can usually find what bits of equipment people use and use that as your basis for your sound.
4. Invest in a good speaker system or headphones. I use this one...
4. Learn how to use an amp and your effects properly. I'll save this one for another post....
There's a lot of fun to be had with these new guitar toys and you should definitely get stuck in. The technology is getting better at an incredible rate and whilst I don't believe that it will ever replace real valve amplifiers you can bet that it will become easier to use and of a more realistic sound quality as time goes on. Not to mention more affordable. Have fun with it!