The most tiresomely predictable thing to do when discussing so-called modelling amplifiers is to focus on the humorous potential of the “modelling” element, so this is exactly what we’ll do.
When a person sets out on a modelling career, they are often naive to the ways of the fashion world – wide-eyed and innocent, they expect glamour and style. For a lucky few, this is the reality: catwalks in Milan, champagne on tap, and wide-spread adulation. However, most are bitterly disappointed; they are used for a few tawdry catalogue shots and end up feeling like a second-rate clothes hanger in a dispassionate world of mindless consumerism.
Modelling amps are much the same (er, really?? – Ed), though the modelling in this case stands for amp and effect modelling; these amps contain digital circuitry that can mimic a whole range of guitar tones, from classic amps of yesteryear to the latest whizz-bang effects pedals. But which is the Kate Moss, and which is the no-name hopeful? (this analogy isn’t working – Ed)
Here, dear reader, we guide you through your options…
Vox Valvetronix VT+ Series – from £129
Vox is a classic name in British amp manufacturing, having started out shortly after the second world war. Their AC30 amp line is an all time classic and has defined the tone for several generations of guitarists. With the Valvetronix VT range, they have attempted to squeeze this history into a compact, reasonably priced range of combo amps. Have they succeeded? In a word, yes. Starting with the VT20+, these amps offer a massive range of tones and have the unique feature of a 12AX7 output valve to really warm up the sounds coming out of the internal digital processor. The range of amp models included is generous, with 22 built-in models ranging from high-gain types to classic vintage models. The effects options aren’t as impressive, but are very high quality, and will satisfy most players. All-in-all a great option if you want that tube sound on a budget.
Roland Cube XL Series – from £79
Roland are of course known for their exemplary keyboards, but not many people know that one of the first products that the founder of Roland – Kakehashi-san – produced back in the ‘60s was a guitar amplifier. As such, they know what they’re doing and their Cube amps have become a staple of bedrooms and stages across the world. The latest incarnation – the Cube XL range – feature Roland’s “Composite Object Sound Modelling”, which is marketing-speak for really good reproductions of classic amp sounds. The other good news when it comes to Roland amps is that they include a whole suite of Boss effects (Roland also make Boss pedals), meaning you get the real thing, not just a copy, when dialling in your effects. The larger models even have a Boss’ legendary looper functionality built in. The Cube XLs are also very lightweight and super-sturdy, and have controls on the top so you don’t have to do your back in each time you change your sound.
Fender Mustang Series – from £90
Fender amps have been popular since before Rock ‘n’ Roll was but a twinkle in some jazz cat’s eye, having first been produced by Leo Fender at the end of World War II. The Mustang Amp series (no relation to the classic Mustang-shape guitar) were released in 2010 and were an instant hit with players looking for Fender quality at a knock-down price. With a name as hallowed as Fender’s, these amps had to be good, and they don’t disappoint; they sound incredible. With at least 24 super accurate models of Fender and other amps built in (more on the Mustang 3 and up), and Fender Special Design speakers pumping out some extremely authentic tones, they are ideal all-rounders. What’s more, each amp in the series features a USB connection, allowing you to plug into your computer and edit your sounds even more. Aside from the sound and the gizmos, these amps are really easy to use – with intuitive knob-based sound and effect selection.
Line 6 Spider IV Series – from £80
Line 6 are a pretty new company, having only been founded in 1996; a baby compared to the other manufacturers featured in this round-up. However, they’ve become hugely popular for good reason: they make top-quality gear. The Spider amps are no exception and, on their fourth incarnation, they’re better than ever. Line 6 have focussed on making it easy to dial in the tones of specific musicians so if, for example, you fancy dressing up as Jimi Hendrix one day, you can dial in an amp tone to suit. As a company, Line 6 became famous for pioneering the whole concept of amp modelling with their now industry standard “Pod” effects modules. All of this technology is included in the Spider Series, and they consequently sound great and are packed with neat features.