Should I go back to tube amps?

metropolis_4

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
8,038
I spent many years hard gigging with tube amps. After being all-in on digital for 7-8 years should I try going back to using amps again? Or am I going to find it frustrating trying to go back?

REASONS I'M THINKING ABOUT A TUBE AMP
  • Simplicity of setup/prep for shows
    • My main work is theater. I tend to need to build a set of tones for a show, then that runs for 3-5 months and I move on to the next show. I find an amp + pedals rig allows me to prep the tones for the next show much faster so I can spend more time working through the music
  • Sound/Personal monitoring
    • I really do love the tones in my digital gear, but I'm a bit old school and for my own personal monitoring I miss the 3D sound of the amp sitting next to me for my own monitoring purposes.
  • I'm still a pedal-platform player at heart
    • I love drive pedals and fuzz pedals and layering different drives. I like to "play" my pedalboard and I miss the way tube amps and pedals integrate.

CONCERNS
  • Noise level
    • I need a very quiet amp for theater work. I know a tube amp will inherently have some noise so finding one that has a low noise floor will be important
  • Handling both clean-clean and edge of breakup in one amp
    • Something I struggled with in the past with tube amps was feeling like I couldn't find both in one amp. I live in the realm of an amp pushed to the point where it breaks up when I dig in hard. But I also need the ability to do things like percussive funk strumming where I'm digging in hard and have a very clean tone. This is easy with Digital, I'm worried it will be more of a challenge.
  • Finding the right volume level
    • For house, I'll always be running a mic or a direct signal. For stage volume levels it's all over the place for my situations. Sometimes I'm in a 16 piece orchestra with room for volume, sometimes I'm with just a piano and drums and need to be soft. I need to be able to adapt to what the gig calls for, so I'll need an amp that can sound good at a wide range of levels.
 

metropolis_4

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
8,038
Background story for those interested:

I spent many years hard gigging with tube amps, but then the type of work I do shifted towards areas better served by digital gear. So I switched. And for a while I went through a phase of gradually getting more and more complex in my signal chain, routing, and configuration of my rig.

Last year I hit a point of frustration and started remembering how simple my rigs used to be. I felt like I had no choice but to have these really complex rigs, but I started to wonder if I really did need the complexity or if I'd just gotten stuck in thinking I did.

So I stared experimenting with removing parts of the rig and simplifying. I started to find I was doing a lot of complex stuff I really didn't need, and that led to looking for ways to simplify.

First, I stopped using snapshots/scenes to build each individual sound and went back to a pedal toggle approach. I realized if I had 8 switches and used snapshots/scenes that gave me access to 8 sounds, but if I used those switches for 8 different effects/sound changes that gave me access to 8x8 sounds in the same preset. That led me back towards more of a pedal-platform approach like I used to do with tube amps.

Next, I realized I don't need one device to do every single thing. I have a lot of routing needs and often play 5-6 different instruments in a single show. I realized I could delegate some of that to other devices instead of requiring one single device that handles all of the instruments. That has led me to start thinking of my electric guitar rig as a separate thing from the rest, which makes room for some flexibility in what that rig can be as it's no longer required to be tied to the rest.

I've reached a point where my electric guitar rig is actually fairly straight forward and simple. Simple enough that it's made me start to wonder if I could possibly get by with a tube amp again, but I have a few concerns.
 

DrewJD82

Member
Messages
1,083
I’ve been contemplating this to a degree, though I’ll never get rid of my Fractal gear. I’ve fallen in love with my Strat so much I’m considering buying an amp that really just caters to the tones I can get out of it, something I throw a few pedals in front of and cover all the ground I need. It’s a more is more kind of thing rather than replacing anything, though.

And it’s not that I’m having a hard time coming up with tones with the III/FM9, if anything, it’s the total opposite. Every time I try a new amp going into actual guitar cabs I’m getting lost in it for a couple hours just finding how much variation can be had from just the pickups/playing and not even touching the knobs in the Fractal.

I still love pedals, too, and while I can obviously throw them in front of the Fractal stuff, my pedalboards would be getting HUGE if I started adding them in.
 

Jschoi

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
944
I tried going digital for all of 1-2 months before I decided I couldn't live with the tone. It makes you super dependent on the FOH to mix things well for you, and like you said, all other complexity.

Tube amps will be more work to lug around, mic, patch cables for pedals, etc.

Ultimately, the tone is what matters to me more. I'd sacrifice inconvenience of weight and lugging things around over digital sound. I know a good Kemper can get you 90% there, but it feels different. And I could never get used to it
 

metropolis_4

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
8,038
I’ve been contemplating this to a degree, though I’ll never get rid of my Fractal gear. I’ve fallen in love with my Strat so much I’m considering buying an amp that really just caters to the tones I can get out of it, something I throw a few pedals in front of and cover all the ground I need. It’s a more is more kind of thing rather than replacing anything, though.

And it’s not that I’m having a hard time coming up with tones with the III/FM9, if anything, it’s the total opposite. Every time I try a new amp going into actual guitar cabs I’m getting lost in it for a couple hours just finding how much variation can be had from just the pickups/playing and not even touching the knobs in the Fractal.

I still love pedals, too, and while I can obviously throw them in front of the Fractal stuff, my pedalboards would be getting HUGE if I started adding them in.

If I did this I'd definitely still keep a digital rig. I think I'm going in an opposite direction with gear right now. I've spent some years going through the fun of discovery of all the possibilities with digital, and now I'm in a different mood where I'm feeling more minimalist and wanting to move back towards simple.
 

metropolis_4

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
8,038
I tried going digital for all of 1-2 months before I decided I couldn't live with the tone. It makes you super dependent on the FOH to mix things well for you, and like you said, all other complexity.

Tube amps will be more work to lug around, mic, patch cables for pedals, etc.

Ultimately, the tone is what matters to me more. I'd sacrifice inconvenience of weight and lugging things around over digital sound. I know a good Kemper can get you 90% there, but it feels different. And I could never get used to it

I'm lucky to work with some excellent FOH sound engineers, so I'm not worried about that part.

One other thing that has made me start to think about going back is that I've realized I really don't need a super portable rig these days.

For a while I was trying to get the smallest, easiest to carry rig I could put together. I never wanted to make more than one trip to load in/out.

But with what I'm doing these days I set up my rig once at the venue, and it stays there for 3-5 months! So it's not the kind of thing where I need portable convenience to load in/out every show.
 

ejecta

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
7,358
I’ve been vocal about how I prefer amps when I can use them. I like the playing experience and tome more than a modeler. You’ve given a lot of info about your situation but unless I played the situation personally I can’t really give solid advice. Maybe if possible to try it with an amp and then with a modeler to see? That’s what I’d try and do.

Edit: @Blix has a good idea with the hybrid solution.
 

metropolis_4

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
8,038
How about a hybrid approach with a good amp with a small modeler in 4CM so you can use amp models too?

That's crossed my mind, and probably what I'll do (at least to some extent).

I'll probably keep an HX Stomp to route all my acoustic instruments through, and I figured I could also configure the rig in a way that I could use the tube amp + pedals as the baseline electric rig, but then give myself a way to switch over to the Stomp to use amp models when needed. I'll probably still have some level of MIDI controlling things so I could handle that all in the MIDI to re-route the electric signal and switch the input/output of the Stomp for electric.

Probably would be most useful for the times when I need the high wattage higher gain sounds that a small-ish low-ish watt tube amp wouldn't handle as well. Most likely if I go with a tube amp it will either be some form of either AC15, Deluxe Reverb, Princeton, or 5e3.
 

metropolis_4

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
8,038
In your line of work (theater) the idle noise level would be my concern. I love a tube amp as much as anyone, but my ss amp is so quiet.

This is one of my main concerns too. It seems to sort of be a crap shoot with tube amps. I've used some that are quiet enough, and others that aren't.

And it's hard to tell before you play a particular amp because noise levels seem to vary within a model. Seems like for any given amp you'll find some people who say theirs is whisper quiet while others complain about high noise levels. :confused:
 

cstmrts

Member
Messages
570
Have you thought about these new tube amps that have cab sim like the Revv D20 or the new Blackstar line?
You could send the sound throught XLR out and keep a cab near you that you could keep quiet, without affecting the quality of the sound the FOH gets.
 
Last edited:

metropolis_4

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
8,038
I’ve been vocal about how I prefer amps when I can use them. I like the playing experience and tome more than a modeler. You’ve given a lot of info about your situation but unless I played the situation personally I can’t really give solid advice. Maybe if possible to try it with an amp and then with a modeler to see? That’s what I’d try and do.

Edit: @Blix has a good idea with the hybrid solution.

In Sept I'm starting a 4-5 month run of Buddy Holly shows. I've been thinking that might be the perfect opportunity to test the waters.

In that show, I'll be in a pit for the first part of the show, and then at the end Winter Dance Party scene I'll be Tommy Allsup on stage. I was thinking I could try using digital while I'm in the pit, and then an amp while I'm on stage.
 

SavingThoreau

Member
Messages
199
I spent many years hard gigging with tube amps. After being all-in on digital for 7-8 years should I try going back to using amps again? Or am I going to find it frustrating trying to go back?

REASONS I'M THINKING ABOUT A TUBE AMP
  • Simplicity of setup/prep for shows
    • My main work is theater. I tend to need to build a set of tones for a show, then that runs for 3-5 months and I move on to the next show. I find an amp + pedals rig allows me to prep the tones for the next show much faster so I can spend more time working through the music
  • Sound/Personal monitoring
    • I really do love the tones in my digital gear, but I'm a bit old school and for my own personal monitoring I miss the 3D sound of the amp sitting next to me for my own monitoring purposes.
  • I'm still a pedal-platform player at heart
    • I love drive pedals and fuzz pedals and layering different drives. I like to "play" my pedalboard and I miss the way tube amps and pedals integrate.

CONCERNS
  • Noise level
    • I need a very quiet amp for theater work. I know a tube amp will inherently have some noise so finding one that has a low noise floor will be important
  • Handling both clean-clean and edge of breakup in one amp
    • Something I struggled with in the past with tube amps was feeling like I couldn't find both in one amp. I live in the realm of an amp pushed to the point where it breaks up when I dig in hard. But I also need the ability to do things like percussive funk strumming where I'm digging in hard and have a very clean tone. This is easy with Digital, I'm worried it will be more of a challenge.
  • Finding the right volume level
    • For house, I'll always be running a mic or a direct signal. For stage volume levels it's all over the place for my situations. Sometimes I'm in a 16 piece orchestra with room for volume, sometimes I'm with just a piano and drums and need to be soft. I need to be able to adapt to what the gig calls for, so I'll need an amp that can sound good at a wide range of levels.
Sounds like a Suhr Bella, to me. 44w/22w. Clean tone with built in boost for edge of breakup tones. Nothing takes pedals better. Quality build, and a low noise floor. Available in combo and with/without reverb.
 




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