Think You Can Tell Amps from Models?

UPDATE, Friday Sept. 23: The contest is now closed! Read the results here. But although the prizes have been claimed, but you can still challenge you ear for fun here!

Listen and win — if you dare!

Ready for some fun, kids? [Evil clown laugh.]

Join the Amps vs. Models Contest! The winner gets a fabulous prize: Any three Seymour Duncan stompboxes. The runner-up gets to pick any two, and third-place gets one.

Just apply your ear to this simple test. I’ve recorded four boneheaded guitar phrases. Each appears twice, once through a real amp, and once through a software model of the same amp. The trick is, I’m not telling you which clips features an amp, and which ones don’t.

Here are the eight clips:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

And here are the answers in no particular order:

A. 1965 Vox AC-30 [amp]

B. Vox AC-30 [model]

C. 1959 Fender Bassman [amp]

D. Fender Bassman [model]

E. 1970 Marshall 50-watt [amp with 1970s 4x12 Marshall cab, Celestion 25-watt speakers]

F. Marshall 50-watt [model]

G. Diezel VH4 [amp with 4x12 Diezel cab]

H. Diezel VH4 [model]

Just jot down your answers, like this:

  1. D
  2. E
  3. A
  4. F

…and so on. Then email them to me. The first three participants to get all eight answers correct are the winners. If no one scores 100% by Halloween, the prizes go the the three highest scorers. If there’s a tie, well, I’ll think of something.

Fine print: There ain’t no fine print!

But I will mention that the analog amps are all-original vintage classics, except for the Diezel, which is new. The demo guitars are a ’63 Strat and an ’81 Les Paul. The mic is a Royer R-121. And all the modeled sound were created using various plug-ins in Apple’s Logic Pro.

I recorded the guitar parts into Logic, pumped them through the analog amps using a ReAmp, and then re-recorded them via an tube Avalon preamp and Apogee I/O, but no additional EQ, compression, or any other processing. Next, I tried to match the recording with the software. The matches aren’t perfect—anyone with decent ears will hear that the file pairs aren’t identical. But can you tell which is which? (For the record, I probably won’t get a perfect score myself if I try taking the test in a few days.) More important, which ones do you prefer?

These audio files on the page are mp3s. If you feel that hi-res files will help you decide, you can download them all in 96kHz/24-bit format here.

May the best ears win!

P.S.: I promise not to publicly humiliate any losers. (Though I reserve the right to send a taunting email or two.)

124 comments to Think You Can Tell Amps from Models?

  • Brilliant! You get to make a point about guitar modelling AND hold a competition at the same time! I’m not being facetious, I love it.

  • joe.gore

    Nicholas! You have made the very first of what I hope will be many posts here. And your very first word was “Brilliant!” Hope it’s not all downhill from here! ;)

  • I feel honoured! I was hoping I could set the bar really high for you and leave it to you to keep the standard up! Nah, I’m confident you’ll keep it interesting. There was a review you wrote for Guitar Player a few years ago for a TC Electronic multifx – one that cost more than my car, if memory serves – but I loved the writing so much I read that review over and over! So if you can make that shiny box worth reading about, then I can look forward to more evil laughing clowns.

  • This is such a clever idea. I’m going to try but I’m sure I will epically fail this test.

  • cool contest – thanks for putting this on. pretty wild how you were able to dial in nearly the exact gain and EQ for each of the above. rock on!!

  • Joe M.

    This is awesome. I’m gonna get a few of my friends to do this too. I can’t wait to see the answers. Heh, I think my guesses were pretty far off but I guess we’ll see. Well, thanks for the cool opportunity! Oh and nice playing as well!

  • Donnie V.

    Cool contest, I’d love to know how I did. The models and the real deal were VERY close. Sad thing is, in my mind it was harder to match the clips to the amps. We’ll have to wait and see…

  • joe.gore

    No instant winner yet — but some good ears out there!

    Yes, this is HARD! :)

  • It’s crazy how close they are! Are you going to give up all your software secrets too, Joe?

  • Neil

    Nice site Joe, and cool competition. Would be cool if you could post the actual amps after the competition ends so we can see which we guessed right and wrong…and laugh.

  • Patrick

    Awesome stuff, thanks man!
    I recognized all the amps but well model vs. real amp is f—ing hard…

  • Glenn J

    This is a great idea for a contest, not only is it fun, but the prizes are looking very very attractive. I hope to see more of these contests from Seymour Duncan in the future! Evan gave us the head’s up for this in the forum. :)

  • Aceman

    Hey Joe, great talking to you at the Seymour Duncan User’s Group day about this!

    As I have always said, if it FEELS good, and it SOUNDS good, it IS good. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter to me, as long as I like the sound. In fact, [blasphemy!] there may EVEN be a few modeled amps that sound better than the real thing for whatever reason.

    Modeling has a lot of bonuses to me. I love being able to flip a knob on my Roland and go from Old Skool AC/DC JCM 800 grind to 5150 Big Hair Metal instantly. I love having Fender amps with extra knobs. I am a huge fan of the Digitech CF-7 Chorus Factory. Lot’s of extra tweeking on the various chorus models that wasn’t part of the originals.

    Of course, there is something to be said for the righteous organic tones of say, that Bogner XTC that was the jam Friday night. (You were working the mojo on that Black Beauty!)

    I drink a lot of wine. For years connoisseurs have known to do blind tests, and have been finding out that often, a budget brands takes names and kicks ass compared to a well known ego bloated historic/iconic brand. The term cork sniffing is used for a reason.

  • Wade

    Cool idea. Wouldn’t be surprised if my ear had them all backwards. Funny how what you “think” you hear is often much different from reality. Thanks Joe.

  • GREAT idea, fun contest! I’m so anti-modeling I can’t listen objectively because I want the models not to sound good. Plus, listening to one mic is like trying to get the sense of a landscape while looking through a soda straw…but I tried anyway, what the hell.
    Thanks for the great pickups, keep up the good work!

    • joe.gore

      Hehehe — a late relative of my wife was the engineer at NBC during the ’40s and ’50s. He was the tech guy for Arturo Toscanini and Glenn Miller, among others. Back then his gig consisted largely of moving an orchestra of musicians around a single mic, trying to get the right balance.

      So to your mind, Byron, does any pre-stereo recording sound like it exists through a soda straw? Duke Ellington? Robert Johnson? Not being snarky — I’m genuinely curious about those perception issues. Please explain! :)

  • Sean

    This was an awesome idea. I hope my ear is good enough to at least pinpoint my main touring amp, The 59 Bassman, both the real amps and Models sounded very similar. You did an amazing job Eq’ing them together.

  • Jack Williamson

    It’s tougher than it seems, but still really fun!!

  • blake

    Fun contest and great idea. Having owned several modeling amps/programs I was always under the impression that I could tell a difference but man, sometimes, I’d really question if I could or not. Let’s just assume I could since it helps me justify my many tube amp purchases to my fiance. haha. Looking forward to the results! Love to get some new toys but also justify my nonstop gear spending. haha. Thanks Joe!

  • Robert

    Using Axe-FX II really helped me practice for this as the sounds that come out of that box are about 99% the same. I think I can figure which one is an amp and which is a model, but telling the models apart is a little more difficult to me.

    • joe.gore

      Hey Robert — I haven’t worked much with Axe-FX,though some friends I trust dig it a lot,so it’s good to hear that the sounds are roughly in the same ballpark.

      But — hehehe — you didn’t ID the amps and models with 100% accuracy. Not that I could either,mind you…

  • Eric

    Here’s hoping this old man can win. 37 year veteran player but standing in front of 1/2 stacks for so long I am half deaf.

  • kahawe

    Dude, it is called Diezel “VH4″ and not V4…

  • Tom

    Man, I’ll admit this was hard. Now I could make all the excuses in the world about ideal recording, PC speakers, microphones etc. but hey, the fact is when it comes to the recordings it’s very difficult to tell the difference!

    Now live? That’s a different story. You couldn’t even prise my Marshalls from my cold, dead hands. It’s in person you can appreciate the dynamics of an old Super Lead!

  • Dylan

    Can I ask what modeler/software you used for this?

    You did an awesome job!

  • Shahir

    Tougher than it first sounded. Good stuff! Can’t believe you still don’t have three winners!

  • John

    This was fun! While I could definitely tell there was a difference between the two, I didn’t know which was which! It probably would have helped if I had ever used an amp modeler. I tried to go with the logic that the model would sound “too perfect” when compared to the amp. I don’t think I did too well!

  • Jim

    This was much more difficult than I had anticipated. I look forward to the answers being revealed. Good luck to everyone else who gives this a shot.

  • captbob

    I don’t know the amps, but I think I can tell the modeled from the analog amps. A better test might be an a/b test that is basically: pick the analog amp v. modeled amp.

  • Paul

    Still no three perfect answers? I would guess that most guitarists would have a good shot at identifying all the amp types correctly. And I don’t know about the odds for guessing real amp/modeling, but even when guessing randomly, you’d have a 1/16 chance. I’m curiously awaiting the answers…

    (And I hope I’m correct, I always wanted a Shape Shifter…)

    By the way, I agree with the “soda straw” comment from Byron Fry. When I’m recording a guitar that should be featured high in the mix, like a solo, I would always prefer stereo miking or a bit of ambient miking thrown in. Maybe modeling can nowadays perfectly recreate the sound of a (mono) close-miked amp, but that’s certainly not my favorite kind of guitar tone. It doesn’t come close to how the guitar sounds in the room.

    • joe.gore

      So I repeat my question: Do all mono recordings sound like they’re made through a soda straw? I certainly don’t think so — some pre-’50s recordings impart profound sensations of space and perspective, albeit in not in the left-right field. And do you have any idea how many great, classic electric guitar recordings were captured with a singe mic?

      Of course, we’ve got two parameters here: the room ambience that might be captured by a mic positioned some feet from the speakers, and whatever simulated stereo effect might be created by panning the two sources apart in the mix. Of course, if you record with an omni mic (or a fixed figure-8 mic like a Royer), you’re capturing a great deal of room ambience via a single source. Plus, a lot of times two-mic configurations are panned to a single mono position in the mix, à la early Zep. For rock, pure mono guitar sources sound bad-ass and heavy. Though yeah, sometimes it’s nice to simulate a reflected sound via a low-level delay sound, like many mixers do to make a lead vocal sit nicely in a mix.

      In any case, modeling can simulate any conceivable miking scenario. You could, for example, route a single guitar track through two different impulse response reverbs, one of a close-miked speaker, and one, say, 6 feet back in the same room. I’ll do some posts on this in the near future. :)

      • Paul

        (Warning: lost post)

        About your first question: I haven’t heard nearly enough pre-’50s / mono recordings to give a reasonable answer to that. I’m sure they sound surprisingly good. But probably *because* they were room-miked, not close-miked. (So that’s indeed the other parameter: distance & room sound, not whether it’s stereo.)

        And I know that the majority of electric guitar recordings have been done with a single close mic, even on some of the best sounding, most classic albums. For metal and heavy rock that “in your face” sound is often perfect. But I would humbly claim that some of those classic recordings could have sounded even better! Firstly, that’s of course subjective. And secondly, in the context of the entire mix, the difference is probably negligible. So I’m not claiming they have been doing it wrong all the time.

        I really *want* to love modeling. I would love to be able to play and record with headphones in the middle of the night, and be inspired by the sound. And I’ll even concede that modelers can model the sound of a close-miked tube amp perfectly. Or at least as close to perfect as I would ever need. That’s what your test shows after all!

        But unfortunately, my experience has always been the following:

        First, I’m playing through my amp in my room, thinking “wow this sound ROCKS!”, being really inspired.

        Then it’s time to record the ideas, and I turn on my modeler. I add a bit of stereo reverb to get a bit of a room sound. And I start playing through headphones, maybe even pretty loud, and still I think “meh. This sound sucks.”

        So then I decide to just put a close mic on my amp, and record that rocking sound I got before. I’m recording my parts, being really inspired (I’m hearing the amp sound in the room after all).

        Finally, I’m listening back to the recorded parts on headphones, and… The modeler sounds better??! Or, if I positioned the mic really well, the two recordings sound comparable.

        So I can only conclude that the sound of a modeled/close miked amp plus stereo reverb doesn’t come close to the sound I’m hearing in the room.

        So is my reverb not good enough? Are my headphones not good enough? Although I don’t have the ultimate high-end gear, it’s pretty decent, the difference can’t be that big. Is stereo that important? Or is it maybe simply the distance?

        Guitar amps are notorious for sounding wildly different in different positions. In particular, the angle to the ‘beam’ in front of the speaker is important. But in my experience, the sound also starts to ‘sweeten’ if you move away a bit from the speaker. And maybe that’s not only because of the room sound. I would guess that even when recording in an acoustically dead environment (like a desert), putting the same mono mic a few meters away from the amp sounds better than putting it close to the amp.

        Do you agree? Or, to get this away from the subjective part, do you agree that it will sound significantly different?

        Summarizing, I haven’t yet heard a modeler that models the sound I want to hear. I’m not sure exactly where the magic lies, but just adding a bit of delay or stereo reverb doesn’t do the trick for me.

        I must admit that I haven’t heard the Axe-FX or the latest software modelers yet. And I have never tried impulse response reverbs. So maybe the solution is out there. In any case, I would love to hear about it! I’m looking forward to any upcoming posts about it.

        • joe.gore

          Long posts are welcome! :)

          Thanks for such a thoughtful reply. These are topics that will probably appear a lot here, since I’m obsessed with them! Hope you’ll join us! :)

          Seems like a real weak link for you is the ambient processing — the delay and reverb. Which happen to be really crappy on a lot of the popular hardware modelers. It’s no accident that I prefer working on a computer, where you generally have a lot more control over those things. Of particular interest to you might be the whole world of impulse response/convolution reverbs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convolution_reverb). These let you mimic acoustic spaces, and even speakers and microphones, with phenomenal accuracy. You could, theoretically, make an impulse response of the room you like to practice in. A good IR reverb is included with Apple’s Logic and some other DAWs. There are also great plug-in versions from AudioEase, Trillium Lane, Waves, and other developers. I’ll definitely be looking at these in upcoming posts!

  • Julien

    Well, that was tough :)

    Have you decided when you’re going to end it and reveal the answers? I’m curious just how far off my “[not] quite perfect” was.

  • Guillermo

    Indeed, I can´t believe how close the modeled amps sound. It´s a good thing because it made me do a little bit of research (I hadn´t even listened to a Diezel before)

  • Peter Trott

    My first amp was a Fender Bassman, circa 1969, so I thought I’d be able to recognize that sound. But then, I was playing a bass through it… I’m looking forward to seeing the answers. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.

    • joe.gore

      Love those Silverface Fenders — I swear, they sometimes sound as good as any blackface. But the tweed Bassman is a very different critter. Actually, it’s somewhat common knowledge that early Marshall amps pretty much copied the tweed Bassman circuit, though both Fender and Marshall veered off in different directions in subsequent years.

  • Joseph

    It’s not a 1/16 it’s a 1/256 chance of getting them all right… just a heads up.

    • Joseph

      Whoops, that’s not correct.. it’s 1:40320… 8 * 7 * 6 * 5 * 4 * 3 * 2 * 1…

      • joe.gore

        Yeah, that sounded wrong to me. But I haven’t had a day of math since high school geometry back in the Pleistocene some years ago.

      • Paul

        The 1/16 odds are based on the assumption that you would be able to tell the amp types. I know, that already a bit of an assumption, but these are mostly very different amps, and also very well-known/often-recorded amps (except for the Diezel), so I would expect that a lot of guitarists would be able to tell.

        And even if you have no clue about the amp types, you can probably match the modeled and recorded sample to each other. ;-)

        So in that case, the odds are still 1:3840.. (3840 = 4 * 3 * 2 * 2^4)

        And if the odds are indeed 1/16, the expected number of participants needed before there are 3 winners is 48. (Geometric distribution.)

        [/mathgeek]

        So I’m expecting a winner any moment now…

  • Scott

    It’s a lot trickier than you’d think to tell them apart. I use modeling for recording and I have used it for some live applications too but I’ve had way more success on the recording end getting the sounds I want.

  • Drop the permutation talk or I’ll break out my big brain and show you how it really works! It will be a thread killing post. What a bunch of geeks!!!!! Just because you can doesn’t mean you should!!! Stop yapping about the lottery odds start listening. LMAO!

    I’m just hoping the clips are actually the sam amp in a pair….I can tell the Recto from the 5150 from the Marshall on my amp at least.

    • joe.gore

      Thankfully, I haven’t yet had to ban any topics — after all, the blog is only a week old! But it would be pretty hilarious if math got banned before religion or politics. ;)

      Besides, I already have a permutation thread going on here: http://bit.ly/r8IhKy

      It only goes to 24, though, so I can handle it. Barely.

  • Great competition, really shows off how far modelling has come.

    I’ve always been a ‘mics and amps’ only type of guy, but recently had to switch to using a Palmer PDI-03 & reamping later (I have to be silent now) and I’m really pleased with the results I’m getting.

    If we are all having such trouble telling the difference with single guitar tracks it would be near impossible to spot them in mixed songs.

    Tube amps and mics method will never die though. Never.
    (I hope)

  • joe.gore

    “If we are all having such trouble telling the difference with single guitar tracks it would be near impossible to spot them in mixed songs.”

    Key point. :)

  • Robert

    After listening to the high quality version, it seems to me that the low quality version is easier to tell apart. I thought it would be the other way around though…

  • Really cool contest! Thank you for organizing it!

  • Chris

    Great contest Joe! Thanks for doing all of this. : ) Even with an ear for these things, it’s difficult to discern every one as model or amp. If nothing else, you’ve proved that it’s not always a night and day difference.

  • Peter Trott

    I won’t mention numbers, not wanting to get banned, but I don’t think the math in the posts above can possibly add up. I’ll have to ask one of my engieering buddies…

    But I’m curious as to who uses models? I mean, in my high school band I had a Fender Bassman. Its sound was wonderful, and I never thought about changing it. But I sold it to pay for tuition when in college. My next band a few deca…years ago, I had an Acoustic 120 bass amp that I loved, and aside from a Small Stone phase shifter stomp box, I never felt the need to change its sound, either. Why does anyone want to model any other amps? Band tend to have a signature sound (or, in my opinion, they should). Of course, this was all live performance. I guess it may be different in the studio. But I’m an old fogey who has that apparently outdated notion that musicians should live or die by their talent, not by the talent of the guy at the mixing board. Songs like “96 tears” and “Louie, Louie” were huge hits because they were real, unadulterated, full-of-feeling, “we aren’t great, but boy are we having fun” songs. You can hear the errors, and it makes the songs all the better. So, to wrap it up, my opinion is that if you want to sound like you’re playing through a Marshall stack, buy a Marshall stack! (Come around next Sunday for my next sermon, “The Evils of Auto-tune.”)

  • joe.gore

    Sounds like a lively sermon! But would you be so kind as to deliver it on your lawn? I don’t want those dang kids messing up mine.

  • I used to play through Marshall 2203′s and Flag 2×12′s and loved it, but often had problems getting that sound to FOH due to mic-ing and eq issues. It would sound godly on stage and meh out front. (sometimes). I began using HK Red Boxes on my stereo Marshal setup and nearly immediately got compliments that things were sounding consistently good. I then began playing a theater gig, yearly where I was invisible in a pit or backstage and of course started with amps, but caved pretty quick and began using modeling (Boss GT-5) and strangely enough, because the only sound your heard were monitors, the playing field was level and what you heard at your monitor was pretty close to FOH. I’ve had people come up raving about how great it sounded and asking what amps I was using and would often hear a compliment revised to advice about how I could sound better, to which I nearly always replied, “You can’t take it back! You said yourself how good it sounded!” (jokingly of course, but in a mix, going to a medium room the difference is lost. In a very small intimate club setting an amp can be a joy, but for consistency? I’ll take modeling every time.

    • joe

      Yeah, that’s the sort of scenario where modeling really goes to bat for you.

      A lot of players compare the sound of a modeled amp to the sound of standing in front of a blasting cabinet. But it seems the real comparison should be not to what you are accustomed to hearing, but what your listeners hear: namely, your final track or the FOH mix.

  • I know I’ll never feel the thrill of stepping on my Rat, into stereo delays going into a pair of 2203 JCM800′s push some deep Flag cabinets! The hairs on my arms would stand on end . . . but that was just in my sweet spot; the sound out front suffered frequently and things like wall-current and fluorescent lights really tortured me too. But I’ll never forget hitting that button into those Marshalls. When it’s right, the bandmembers really felt it too, so there’s definitely something wild about that, which doesn’t seem quite the same; I have a sustainer system, so it makes the modeled dynamic feel pretty damned alive and visceral, so that’s another element. It’s all fun though!

  • Great job on this Joe! I must say I feel very confident in my choices. If I’m wrong, I’ll have to change my mind in a big way!
    To me all of the clips are very close on a macro level, but in the nuances of the tone I always preferred one over the other. In my mind. models have a phasey quality on the high end, and the semi distorted sounds aren’t as “integrated.” It’s like you can hear different parts of the tone being distorted in different ways.
    On a real amp the distortion spectrum is smoother. So, going with my huge bias, I just picked the clips I like the best as the amps!
    One problem I’ve had with the models is I don’t like the latency, I can always feel it, even in hardware units like the Pod.
    But did an amazing feat of engineering getting them this close.
    Thanks!

  • joe

    Thanks for the kind words, Brian! I had a blast putting it together.

    I’d love to comment on your comments, but I really don’t want to say anything that might provide clues that early contest entrants didn’t get.

    But I can’t help adding this. :)

  • Kevco

    The fake hint link was a really sick Joe, just sick. Clownrolled!

  • ezcomes

    I would like to note, that I don’t have any modelling software outside of my VOX AD50VT…and, three of the amps are way older than me, and I cannot afford them or the Diezel.

    This is a cool contest, and I look forward to seeing the answers! To see what I hear as true, and the same with others as well.

  • el reclusa

    That was HARD! In at least a couple of places, it was just as hard to tell one amp from another as the real thing against the model… looking forward to finding out how WRONG I am! :)

  • Dionisis korkolis

    The sample answers spell DEAF…..cute

  • Daniel Thompson

    I never thought my tin ears would be able to discern the difference between amplifiers, let alone between modeling and original. Boy was I surprised! Great contest!

  • Shiv

    Pretty great giveaway. Whoever wins either deserves it (cause they have amazing ears), or they’re mostly lucky. Either way, you’ve got to earn this one (in a way), and it makes this way more interesting. Keep these going on!

  • I guess I got pretty close, the amp models are really tough to tell from each other. Waiting until Halloween to find out is going to be even tougher.

  • Amps and models sounds are very close! you did a great job!
    It’s a funny contest, my ears works hard ;-)

  • Dan

    Yes, I can tell the difference between amps & models- the models are the skinny ones and have long legs!

  • Bill

    One of the “10 Commandments of Guitar Douche-baggery” is to instantly proclaim that anything digital sounds “fake”, “sterile” and “is filled with digital artifacts”. In the absence of the ability to know what is analog and what is a model I must refuse to accept that any of this sounds good, no matter how much I like the tones.

    A/B’ing amps and models? It’s pure heresy! How many guitar douche-bags must suffer disgrace for your little stunt?

  • Gil

    Wow!! tough, tough test!! I’m gonna use the age card (I may be 71 by the calendar, but only 16 in boy years) and just say that now I know why I had trouble listening to the Seymour Duncan audio clips to decide whether to change out pickups…..

  • brupop

    Great fun Joe, funny stuff Bill and Dan.
    And while I didn’t get them all correct, I enjoyed listening and cipherin’.

  • Eddie

    This is such a great competition. With so many people saying that they can really tell the difference between tube and models i’d love to see them to be proved wrong!

  • plexicrunch

    Cool piece, Joe. As an Axe-FX diehard AND an owner/user of great vintage amps (Marshall, Vox, Fender, Orange, Hiwatt), I can say that modeling done well offers approximately one zillion advantages with very few drawbacks. The sound of a Marshall half stack flapping your pants is something that’s hard to give up, but if you get over the emotion of that visceral experience and just play, modeling all the way. But whatever floats your boat is good. Happy playing.

  • Tom

    Thanks for this contest, it was fun to participate.

    I have been using modeling for quite some time. I love the flexibility this type of rig, and it has worked very well for me. Although I admit I’ve felt it still isn’t quite as good as the real thing, but close enough as to where I am happy with it. Because it is consistent and extremely flexible and tweekable.

    I have say these samples were very hard to distinguish apart. You did an excellent job matching up these sound samples. I can’t wait to see the correct answers. And also to know what you used to make the models.

  • John

    This give me hope that my modeling amps and guitars may be fooling most of the people most of the time!

  • Bruce Boome

    I’m not even going to try. I,ve always maintained that a good modeller sounds like a recorded guitar, not like it does to the player in the room. Therefore to the player, the feel of it is different- which could result in him not playing as well as he might (we all know that when it sounds and feels right we play better). But to the listener, he probably wouldn’t know- and if he’s not a guitarist, care. Even playing live, most guitarists mike their cab- giving something like a recorded sound to the audience.So if the player can adjust his attitude, and expect to hear a recorded guitar sound he can get good results. There’s a lot to be said for portability if you don’t have the resources to hire a roadie ;-)

    • joe

      So true, Bruce. In fact, you might have written my conclusion for me!

      Yes, players have a choice of comparing the sound of a model to the sound of a recorded amp, or to the sound of standing in a room next to an analog amp. So your satisfaction with models depends largely on who your audience is. If you’re playing for yourself, the model may never be gratifying. If you’re playing for listeners (via recordings or through a PA system), the gap narrows to the point of being meaningless.

  • Cool contest Joe – harder than I thought!

  • Everett Young

    The problem with this test is that you’re reamping, and when you record the guitar by direct-lining into Logic, you lose the impedance characteristics of the amp, and perhaps (I’m not an electronics expert) some interplay between the guitar pickups and the amp’s electronics.

    I was stunned to find, recently, that my amp models and my real vintage Fender amp sounded virtually the same when I re-amped, but when the guitarist plugged straight into the Fender, there the difference was startling, and I had to admit that re-amping is not a suitable answer, at least not always.

    I am NOT one of these people who thinks the “real thing” is always better. I have done plenty of shootouts, for example, between modeled compressors and real high-end compressors, same with eqs, and I’m convinced that the digital recreations are indistinguishable from the real things. People are fooling themselves if they think they can hear those differences. But I was not fooling myself a few nights ago when I had to throw up my hands and admit that re-amping was killing the beauty of this guitar part.

    I have no doubt that, in this particular shootout, the models will hold up. They are wonderful, and do a great job of emulating what an amp does to a sound. However, the analog direct line input does not match the real amp’s analog input characteristics, and I’m afraid that contributes a good bit to the tone.

    • joe

      Hey Everett — thanks for a thoughtful post!

      You touch on two genuine issues with re-amping: the interaction between the amp and pickups, and impedance load. Both are complex, hard-to-quanitify variables, and both vary ENORMOUSLY according to the type of guitar and pickups you use, how loud your amp is, where you stand, what sorts of pedal and cables you use, how reflective the recording environment is, and probably a buttload of other factors, notably the nature and quality of your digital recording signal path.

      The most extreme case (the one in which you may perceive genuinely meaningful differences between live and re-amped sound) is if you are plugged directly into a loud amp without pedals while facing the amp. Even if you’re not playing with feedback-level gain, the sound of the amp can excite the strings, adding nice resonance and perhaps making them “sing” a bit more. But bear in mind that the HUGE majority of guitar recordings, classic and otherwise, were made with the amp isolated from the guitars to the extent that there is no meaningful interaction. Also, you can replicate this interaction when recording direct by listening through studio monitors rather than headphones. Crank the monitors loud enough, and you can get pretty much the same interaction you’d get standing next to a screaming amp.

      Now, I can barely understand the physics behind impedance, let alone explain them intelligently (though my pals at Seymour Duncan have labored mightily to explain it to me). But practically speaking, the issue boils down to this: plugging into some things (crappy cables, crappy/old pedals, or just too much cable or too many pedals) increases the load on your pickups, robbing them of signal, especially treble—your tone sounds dull. If you’ve ever noticed a difference between playing through a pedalboard with all effects bypassed and plugging directly into an amp, you’ve encountered this phenomenon.

      But before making too many assumptions, consider that a buffer in your signal path counteracts this tendency—and many common stompboxes, from Tube Screamers to Klon Centaurs, include a buffer circuit. Additionally, some recording preamps (like the Millennium TD-1 I used to track my examples) include switchable impedance settings.

      Buffering vs. true bypass is something guitar nerds argue about incessantly—just Google “buffer vs. true bypass.” IMHO, this debate is a gigantic time suck. There’s a simple solution: Get a buffer and actually LISTEN to it at various points in your signal chain (especially before all your pedals and/or after all your pedals). Notice a difference? Then use a buffer.

      Hmm — maybe the soon-to-convene Tonefiend Makers Club should do a simple buffer project . . .

  • Jim Nicoletti

    I would like to thank Joe for doing this. Great tool.
    I’m a Analog Snob, hack guitar player that records to 1/2 tape.When I saw this contest I thought great, should be easy. I listened to the tracks at the most twice each on my my 8 year old laptop. Some of the tracks I thought where more evident. My ears tell me that when your playing chords or rhythm the overtones that happens with an amp is more musical. The single line stuff is harder to notice the difference. I guess modelling has come a long way since I gave it a proper chance. Thanks again and good luck to all.

  • Anthony

    Seems to me , Like were all gone lose.
    its a lose lose situation.
    I would still like to win those pedals…

  • Mark

    Aloha Joe, It’s so amazing to me how you and your brother “Al” have such a different sense of humor. Your interests are so different too. Anyway, I’m even more amazed at how far technology has come since the days of my Gibson “Maestro” Fuzz Tone. When I thinks of any customizing gear,(toys) Seymour Duncan is the first and only name I think of. Mr. Duncan has come out/up with the most innovative products that even the pros pro appreciate. If that weren’t enough, he has employed such qualified and dedicated people to represent his staff. People like yourself Joe. (at this point I’m thinking, even if I don’t guess the contest correctly, maybe all this sucking up will win me something) Please, if you don’t believe me, wait for all the other dudes who will respond to this post. (if I need to suck up some more, please let me know) I’ll do whatever to win those pedals.
    Sincerely, Mark

  • Sid Kar

    Hi Joe,

    It would be interesting to see some statistics too when you finally show us the answers. Like how many got it right, and individual stats for each amp and the like.

    Thanks for this interesting contest. It was great.

  • Greg

    hey, just wanted to comment and say that this was really hard!! just got your reply email, telling me my answers werent perfect, which i expected… but still, it is extremely hard to tell the difference!!

    i was reading the other comments and someone said something about how hard it would be to tell after all the other instruments were added to the mix, and thats a great point!! amp modeling has certainly come a long way!!!

    after hearing this, i am a bit skeptical of those who say they can still hear all the differences between the real thing and models… they either must have damn good ears, or 99% of us must be tonedeaf!!

  • jay

    cool contest man 0 I might go for three of those delays though

  • Everett again

    Hey Joe,

    Can you tell me…is there a genuine interaction between an amp’s electronics or tubes and the guitar’s pickups? Or is the impedance load the only “alteration” the amp makes to the performance of pickups, remaining static throughout a recording?

    If the impedance load is the only thing, then one can still justify using ElevenRack’s impedance variation function–which I do, and I think it helps. However, if the amp’s electronics are, on the fly while you’re playing, reaching into the guitar itself to change the performance of the guitar from note to note, then this is a process which in principle can’t be modeled, and models would appear to be at a permanent, irrevocable disadvantage.

    Note I’m not talking about standing in front of the amp. I pretty much always record with the guitarist sitting in the control room unless I specifically want feedback. Maybe for some parts I just like the sound of 25-foot guitar cable? Nice and mellow! (But it was that same long cable I was using to input direct into an expensive preamp, which left me with a little unwelcome nastiness in the high end, as well as less “breathability”–the part sounded compressed.)

    Of course, what it sounds like is still what matters. Yesterday, I chose an 11rack sound over a guitar-plugged-into-amp sound just because, though close, I thought the 11 rack just sounded a bit cleaner and fit the song better. But I could imagine that cleanliness being unwelcome and going with the amp in a different song.

    So obviously both 11Rack and a real amp are useful to have around. But I still want to have the knowledge. So, can you tell me…is the amp playing the guitar as well?

  • Everett again

    I will add too that, in re-amping, equing hi-end out of the direct-line guitar sound before sending it on to the amp–an attempt to simulate the effects of impedance loading–helps a little, but does NOT get me there. I’ve tried hard.

  • Ed Ten Eyck

    Fun contest. I’m really curious about the answers. At first, I thought it would be easy, now I’m not sure if I got any correct.

  • Nuno Carmona

    Modeling is definitely here to stay and Joe’s given an excellent example of the state of the art. Congrats

  • el reclusa

    I might be wrong, as I’ve never used the “name brand” Reamp, but doesn’t it have some kind of drag control on it to load the signal, thus simulating the interaction of pickups?

  • Marcelo Ocanto

    Not even three of us have yet guessed the answers. The difference between amps and models is a matter of us only. So, think about your listeners, they won’t care if you’re pluggin into and 5000$ boutique amp, and old radio, or a toaster. The points is, models can sound good, amps can sound bad, so don’t waste any more, make your music, have fun, and make others have fun!

  • I do feel this would be slightly easier if having to guess which amp each one is in addition to the model or not wasnt a factor. But whateves its still fun

  • James Knowles

    I play bass and dabble with guitar, but feel I have a good ear so I gave it a shot. I have heard them all but the Diezel, but am no expert. That being said, my guesses have been sent and am eagerly awaiting how I did. My birthday was on the 11th so this would be a wicked late birthday present. ;) Only time shall tell now.

  • Don’t feel so ashamed of my Line 6 HD147, 3x Rec. stolen : ( , but I do love my versatile and effects filled amp, tube snobs be damned. Cheers.

  • prinspatrick

    Great contest! Love it!

    Although I love tubes, I always thought that one day digital will be equal and you have proven it.

    Let’s face it: if you ask a tube-snob what’s better a real vox of the 60′ or a new one. they will tell you all the old one. (and I agree since I have an old one at home). Also the fact that all modelers are based on old types, not the reissues confirms this.

    Logical that means that the early tube-amps are 100% best and everything after that is less.

    Now the early digital modelers where far from 100%, BUT they only grew better and better over the years and as today the differences are so subtle that one can only conclude that they are as good as the originals.

    It’s my stong believe that within 5 years tubes will only be used by endorsers, fortunate ones and of course all those who listen by their eyes and not their ears!

  • Bernard Piller

    Great shootout!

    My 2c: If you have a good current modeller (no latency, good dynamics) and you are playing through a FRFR system or recording it, it’s equal to a tube amp (miced in a sound cabin and also played back through a FRFR system).

    The ONLY difference with a tube amp – for me – is the “amp in the room” feel that so many of us want or even need when playing.
    I also think a good old tube amp is actually less hassle in a live situation. It can be hard (and expensive) to get a good stage sound with a modeller.

    • joe

      Thanks Bernard!

      I agree that analog amps are often less hassle when gigging. With an amp, you have a pretty good idea what to expect when you show up at a gig. I would only use a modeler on a gig if a) I carried my own small PA system, which I generally do in such cases, or b) knew and trusted the house sound system, or c) had a guaranteed soundcheck with a trustworthy engineer.

      • Robert

        While I know what you guys are talking about analogs being a bit less hassle, U have found that using a “modern” axe fx modeler has given me a more consistent sound in venues and tweaking wasn’t really a necessity once the tone was dialed. It’s also nice to have 2 separate amps to switch between in one convenient, easy to carry box. =)
        Although, the psychological thrill of playing through an awesome tube amp still CAN’T be modeled.

  • Cool contest, I personaly prefer an analog amp on any model…this was my setup for a long time and I ususally get my tone from two amps rather then two pedals….still no mattar which was which all the parts sound great and you can really hear REAL guitar sounds out of a modeling device.

  • gui

    hi, i usually spot a modeller, but that was a really tricky one. Did i miss wich modeller was used in the test?

  • Niall

    Great contest! Got the models amazingly close to the real thing! Really tricky.

  • Very nice contest.
    The truth is that Modeling Technology today is at a very high level from all companies. I’m sure that through a studio recording it’s not possible to recognise if an amp is real or is VST or modeling rack fx or pedalboard etc. But in the “real world” and i’m talking ’bout live gigs, the differences are recognizable.
    So from me for modeled sounds, thumbs up for studio use, but thumbs down for live use.

  • Marcelo Ocanto

    ok, 2,3,5 and 8 are the models…

  • zok@volny.cz

    Love this thread! For me it is important to understand if I liked the sound and feel of it at all. It does not matter if it was analog or digital. The blues sound and feel I like (SRV, JM, KWS … ) I used to hear only on their recordings and they were all recorded using the real amp (probably more than one) , and no digital modelers (as far as I know). I wonder how digital modelers could replicate that sound and than I would like to compare. Many of us are going after some specific type of sound and feel that we know from our guitar idols.

    You may try to guess how I recorded the following three songs…

    http://www.soundclick.com/player/single_player.cfm?songid=10702878&q=hi&newref=1

    http://www.soundclick.com/player/single_player.cfm?songid=10843961&q=hi&newref=1

    http://www.soundclick.com/player/single_player.cfm?songid=11023737&q=hi&newref=1

  • Vlad

    Great and very exciting.
    Especially because I tried to separate the real ones from the models by a few other attributes, which you can hear on the records also.

  • Fact is we all should be able to afford the Axe-FX II. You get an Axe-FX II, then you get the greatest EL84 Tube Power-Amp there is, then you get 3 cabs (1×8, 2×12, one FRFR) and bam, you’re ready to go.

  • PVDHP Vadim

    What amp simulators was used it this test? Tell please.

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