The Real Thing: An Aesthetic Comparison of Modelled Versus Traditional Guitar Amplification Technology in the Studio

Rob Keko & Ross McLennan Part of CW17

Since the rising popularity and widespread commercial use of the electric guitar in the 1950’s, advances in guitar amplifier design and technology have played a key role in shaping the soundscape, tonal characteristics, recording methods and production styles of contemporary music. In recent years, digital modelling techniques have created new ways of producing sought after guitar amplifier sounds, which have changed the way producers, artists and guitar players use this technology both in the recording studio and in live performance. This in turn has impacted on how listeners, concert attendees and music consumers hear and experience recordings and live music. Extensive comparisons between authentic and modelled amplification have been conducted in industry magazines. However, these tend to be simplistic or overtly commercial in nature with typical yes/no style responses. A more rigorous approach is required which ascertains both gut feeling, as well as a more considered aesthetic response to the two technologies. This paper, therefore, presents a comparative study between traditional and modelled guitar technology that contextualises these amplifier sounds within fully produced music. It presents a non-biased quantitative and qualitative study of audience reaction to music – recorded using Apple’s Logic Pro X software – which includes both amplification styles: authentic and modelled. The paper concludes with the results of the study and reflects upon the future of guitar amplification.