Recently, we looked at 5 reasons why you SHOULD go digital. But there is another way to look at guitar gear, and today we look at the pros of keeping analog guitar gear!
Analog Guitar Gear: 5 Reasons You SHOULDN’T Go Digital
Analog Guitar Gear: It Can Be An Obsession…
We recently looked at 5 reasons why you should go completely digital with your guitar rig. While there are a lot of pros to that approach, there are also some limitations. So today we look at the analog guitar gear approach, and look at the “pros” only, and the limitations of digital.
At the end of the day, there is no “right” answer when it comes to guitar tone. You can use whatever you want, and your actual playing is more important than the gear. Analog guitar gear use is usually tied to nostalgia, but that isn’t always why a guitarists chooses the analog route.
I often run into a guitarist every now and then, that absolutely does not care about gear of ANY kind. These people are rare, and often extremely good players with tons of musical knowledge. But they might only have a couple of guitars that they like, and a few pedals with their amp.
That’s all they have, and these rare guitarists seem to have blinders on when it comes to new gear. They don’t search for the new “thing” like most of us guitarists. Honestly, I wish I could be like that. These are usually great players that just prefer what they have, and that limited gear is all they use.
I have also seen the opposite, where a guitarist has a house full of guitars and gear. Sometimes, they are just hobbyist players that love to collect gear. These people are less rare and are often collectors, especially when it comes to analog guitar gear.
For the rest of us, it is an inherent trait among almost all guitarists to be obsessed with gear. We love to hear about new guitars coming out, and new amps and effects. I know plenty of people that are “pedal heads” and they have more of a collector’s mentality.
But then there are guitarists that are just obsessed with EVERYTHING related to guitars. Analog guitar gear, digital, new guitars, and anything involving guitars is a lifestyle to people like us. If you are reading this article, you are probably obsessed with guitars.
I know this, because I am one of these people. For years, I collected little bits and pieces of gear and amps. I used to have a roomful of gear that I thought I would never sell or give away, but I did downsize in the end. I have almost made the switch to totally digital gear, and my solid state BOSS Katana.
But that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate analog gear, because I absolutely do! I love getting new pedals in to review and check out, but I still go back to my digital stuff in the studio. Digital is just easier for me, and it increases my studio workflow.
But I also love a great tube amp, cranked up loud on stage. There is something about that dynamic that is almost indescribable. It is the reason so many people still hang on to their analog guitar gear, even if most recording is digital gear.
The thing about using analog guitar gear, is that it really hasn’t changed much since I was born! Tube amps have changed a little bit, and we have some hybrid setups now. But mostly, analog gear has stayed the same, and that’s the charm!
This is part of the appeal, right? When you plug up into a Marshall Vintage Reissue, you are basically playing a piece of history. Actually, it changed history forever during the invention of Rock and Metal. This is the amp that some of your heroes probably played, and the same can be said of vintage pedals.
Think about how many legendary pedals and amps have been reissued to “vintage spec” over the years! There are tons, and they never stop selling or lose popularity with guitarists. The market for this kind of stuff is starting to go down, but that is very recent, and minimal.
So what are the pros when it comes to using analog guitar gear? Today we are going to go over each aspect and see what makes analog still so appealing, after all of these years.
1. Digital Gear Needs Programming
This was the number one reason I stayed away from digital gear for so long. When I first got a taste of Line 6 Edit software, I was a little… overwhelmed, to say the least. There were so many choices for amps and cabs, with different mic combos as well.
That is a lot to take in, and I would often just take a preset that was “close” to the sound that I wanted, and then dial it in for my guitar. I think a lot of guitarists use this technique too, and it does make it a little easier.
But for gigging, you have a lot to think about when it comes to multi-effects. You will have to have a preset for each tone you need, and they need to be at least a little “harmonious” when it comes to intensity and volume.
All of this takes time, while analog guitar gear is usually more limited. For me, this is a GOOD thing, since I seem to work better with some limitations. The last time I toured/gigged, I used a Blackstar HT40 and a couple of effects pedals.
This minimalistic setup forced me to think about which guitar I should use, and how I should use the guitar knobs and pickup positions to get different tones. I like that kind of simplicity, and I often received compliments after the show about how good my rig sounded.
Sometimes, a Les Paul into a loud tube amp is just “the answer” to your tone. Yes, digital gear is fun, and a useful tool. But there is something about the limitations of a small rig of analog guitar gear that just works for players. No programming or computer tweaking, just plug in and play!
2. Analog Guitar Gear Holds Value
This may be a small one to some people, but that depends on your personality type. Many guitarists that are famous are known for sticking with one brand, like Steve Vai. These guitarists find a brand, and stick with them for their entire career.
But I know plenty of professional guitarists without any brand loyalty at all. Traci Guns is a good example, and he will play a Strat, Les Paul, and Telecaster all in the same show. He plays whatever he feels like the song may need, or what his mood dictates.
So if you are that type of person and you like to chase tones, then selling and trading are probably something you need to consider. Analog guitar hear holds its value much better than digital gear. I have a Line 6 POD HD that is basically worthless when it comes to re-sale value, while my Marshall JVM will probably always be valuable.
The same can be said for pedals, and sometimes you see regular pedals suddenly become valuable overnight due to hype. Look at the “Bad Monkey” debacle that has been going on lately! JHS Pedals recently did a great video on the Bad Monkey Pedal, and while it sounds good… is it worth that high price?
Probably not, but as digital gear gets better and better the older digital models become outdated. But tube amps and vintage pedals usually hold their value. Look at how much vintage gear costs, compared to a “vintage” digital product.
3. Updates & Loss Of Support
Remember that Line 6 POD HD unit that I was just talking about? Well, it no longer gets any updates at all. This is fine, since the unit is over a decade old at this point and I would never expect a company to continue to update an older product. But this eventually happens with all digital gear.
On top of this, this means that if there are any bugs in the software they will never be fixed. In my case, I still use the POD HD from time to time on recordings because I have tones that are great, dialed in already and primed to record. But there will never be any amp models added, or new effects.
With analog guitar gear, you are mostly in control of your sound. Is your reverb an older pedal that just doesn’t sound good anymore? Then you can just buy a new one! The same goes for any type of effects, and you can just replace older pedals with newer ones.
This goes back to simplicity at the core. New effects and sounds can be updated on digital gear, and you can have 100s of different effects, but if the unit is old? You’re out of luck. These units might still sound great, but they are “stuck in time” when it comes to updates.
Analog gear allows you to pick and choose the pedals that you actually use on a regular basis. Do you use all 90 different effects that comes with digital gear? If not, then it makes more sense to just have a few pedals that you will always use, and never have to worry about updating.
Right out of the box, the Marshall DSL is a great amp for many applications. The two channels can cover four stages of distortion, giving you total control of your sound. The distortion is classic Marshall and sounds great. The DSL is almost a blank canvas when it comes to crafting tones.
4. Repair Issues & Longevity
This is a big reason to stick to analog guitar gear, and the more simple your gear is, the better. This is especially important when you tour or play shows. Simple and reliable is the rule of the road if you ask any guitarist that plays gigs.
Just like your actual guitar, gear needs maintenance too. This can be a whole lot easier with analog guitar gear like tube amps and pedals.
Now, I am not saying that you should change your own tubes and bias your amp all by yourself without the proper knowledge. That kind of repair is usually better left to a professional tech, but the point is that it can be done.
On the other hand, digital gear is mostly disposable. Like so many things in our world today, once something like a Helix is broken and out of warranty? It just goes to the landfill, usually. There are some techs that can fix some of the digital gear, but not many.
If the digital product is out of warranty, then you are just out of luck. While on the other hand, analog guitar gear can usually be repaired. You can even learn how to fix guitar pedals at home with a soldering iron, as they are not as complex as you might think.
When it comes to tube amps, this is why we see so many older ones still floating around. I see Fender amps from the 1970’s all the time, and chances are they have been repaired at some point. This is a lot like cars, since older cars are easier to service because they lack the computer components.
It can be easy to backup all of your digital files, and just buy a new unit with digital guitar gear. You can then load up all of your presets into the new unit. But analog guitar gear does have the advantage when it comes to longevity.
5. The Sound
Okay this one is entirely subjective right? Modeling tech has become so close to the real thing, like the recent NAM Plugin. These new amp captures are VERY close to the sound of a tube amp with a mic in front of it. Nearly identical, in fact, and modeling has finally caught up.
But it doesn’t “feel” the same to me, and I think most guitarists can agree. Yes, for recording purposes, modeling amps sound great and can make things so much easier. Time is money in the studio, and being able to just pull up any sound you want saves money.
Almost every studio I have visited recently in Atlanta and Nashville have tons of guitar plugins and digital rack gear like the AxeFX. I can see why these are used so often, but the studios still have “real” amps as well.
Why? If these big studios use amp sims and modelers, why even keep real amps around?
Look, I cannot explain just how a tube amp just sometimes… saves the day when you are recording. Sometimes a Shure mic in front of a cabinet gets you a sound that you just can’t get from a modeler. The speakers pushing air from a loud amp just sometimes works better.
Often, it is down to science. A mic in front of a loud amp, might fill in the frequency spectrum of a mix. When it comes to mixing a song, you use whatever suits the song.
Again, this one is totally subjective and you might think that a modeler can get the exact same tone as the tube amp it is based on. Technically, the modeler CAN get the exact same tone. But there is some kind of magic to a tube amp, at least to me.
The same thing can be said about playing live. A loud tube amp just sounds amazing, but the problem with that is that stages/venues have changed. It has been a long time since I have seen a band using a half-stack on stage. In fact, almost every band I have seen lately had a digital rig.
I get it, the venue and the sound man have a stage setup and you have to adhere to their rules. Towards the end, I could barely turn up my amp on stages and the sound personnel would have preferred a direct line.
But there are still great reasons to keep a “real” amp around, even if you don’t use it often. Every now and then I use a real amp on recordings, and while you would never know which track the real amp is, I do. I certainly like to shake the walls whenever I can, in an empty studio!
Analog Guitar Gear: Wrapping Up…
Just like when we looked at the reasons to go completely digital, there is a case for keeping some analog guitar gear around. Just like I said in the aforementioned article, there is a case for using both. There is no “right” answer when it comes to tone, and it is really a personal thing.
In fact, a lot of guitarists still use a “hybrid” setup that features a real amplifier, with digital effects to support the amp tone. This allows a “best of both worlds” scenario for these guitarists. Likewise, some still use completely analog gear while others use totally digital.
There really isn’t a good answer when it comes to digital versus analog, and it will completely depend on your needs as a guitarist. That’s why guitar is so fun and cool! You can use whatever you want to get your tones, and at the end of the day it is your playing that matters.
There are some stages/venues where digital would not be an option, and that can be a problem. You can always bring along an FRFR speaker for venues that do not have a great sound system. But that almost ruins the whole idea of downsizing in the first place, right?
I think that no matter how far digital technology goes, and no matter how accurate it becomes, there will always be a market for analog guitar gear. Especially when it comes to vintage gear, since there will always be collectors of amps and pedals.
There is a certain mystical quality when it comes to plugging up to an amplifier that is older than you. Maybe it is all just placebo, but just like some guitars have “mojo” to them, so does gear. You can play two Mesa Boogie amps of the same model, back to back, and one might sound better.
So for that reason, I think analog guitar gear will always be a “thing”. There has been talk in the guitar community about the possibility of “real” amps just disappearing completely, and being a rare item. i don’t think so, not as long as we still feel “the mojo“.
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