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 flat-frequency-response system. 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 Response) solutions.
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 any more.
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.