I switched from guitar
amps to more sonically transparent
keyboard amps decades ago.
A bunch of hand-built effects
provided my sound, and there
were many advantages with a
I could plug into any mixer,
recorder, or PA system, and the
sound would be as expected.
I eventually switched over to
small PA systems, and, now,
with the advent of amp-modeling
hardware and software,
more guitarists are also going
with FRFR (Full Range, Flat
Granted, amps provide a
unique tonal character. But a
multieffects, modeling hardware
box, or laptop running amp sim software provides a
lot more options than using
an amp. And, for many guitar
players, as long as big speakers
are moving air and the tone
is spot-on, there aren’t a lot
of reasons to deal with amps
The amplification system
is the easiest part. Powered
speakers from companies such
as Bose, Cerwin-Vega, Electro-Voice, Line 6, Mackie, PreSonus,
QSC, and Yamaha are
efficient, compact, and clean.
You’ll usually find several inputs
(but rarely hi-Z guitar inputs—
mic or line only), and, possibly,
some basic processors such as
EQ and reverb.
A major advantage compared
to amps is you can mount
powered speakers on poles for
better projection, as well as feed
multiple speakers (if desired
or needed) for better dispersion
throughout a room. One
potential drawback is that the
high-frequency response can be
too much for distorted guitar
(amp cabinets don’t put out
much above upper midrange
frequencies). Fortunately, you
can often trim the highs at the
powered speaker itself, or within
the processors driving them.
Multieffects Box or Computer?
Multieffect boxes from Digi-Tech, Line 6, Vox, Roland, and
others—as well as less traditional boxes such as the Kemper Profiling
Amp or Fractal’s AxeFX—
are convenient, built for the
road, tend to have extremely low
latency, and can provide a range
of sounds. Typically, they also
have footswitches and pedals,
obviating the need to add those
to your system.
Computers are more of a
“some assembly required” situation,
as you need a computer,
software, and an audio interface
to link the guitar, computer, and
amp. There’s also the issue of
latency—although even inexpensive
laptops can achieve latency
in the sub-10ms range, which is
adequate for most players. Nor
do you necessarily need a computer,
because many tablet and
smartphone apps can do the job
in basic live situations. However,
if you want footswitch or
pedal control, that adds another
element to your setup.
Making the Switch
If you decide to go FRFR,
you’ll need to learn how to
tweak your software and effects.
You’re probably used to a certain
tone from your amp, and
it’s unlikely whoever came up
with your processor’s presets has
the same taste as you (or plays
the same guitar). But once you
tweak and assemble your collection
of sounds with an FRFR
setup, you’re set for any FRFR
situation—in the studio or live.
Craig Anderton has played on
or produced more than 20 major
label releases, mastered hundreds
of tracks, and written dozens of
books. Check out some of his latest
music at youtube.com/thecraiganderton.
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