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Against the "preamp" product category, in favor of "amp emulators"

It is difficult to categorize distortion-box products. There is so much marketing spin and meaningless marketing labels. All distortion pedals have always advertised "sounds like an amp", which is absurd and inappropriate. Why would it necessarily be a good thing to put an amp-sounding pedal in front of an amp? Some have tons of effects -- the Digitech/Johnson products come from a strong effects background, with tube preamp distortion added afterwards, and lately, with full-amp modelling added, hardly subtracting any of the original extremely complete effects parameter list. Others have little or no effects. Multiple conventional preamp voicing is a distinctive feature. The Line 6 DM-4 is certainly that, or 2101's preamp distortion choices. The other extreme is miked-amp modelling, of which POD is best example; you can hardly use the POD as a conventional distortion pedal unless you disable a lot of the "sounds like an amp" features. Some gear is effects-dominant (the Digitech 2101 with a little cab-sim and DI ability; others are amp-dominant (such as the SansAmp, which is the original dedicated amp simulator but not exactly a "processor".

The guitar-gear companies have only recently started including the vague word "tube" in their product names. Next, I'm watching for them to say "Power Tube" or "Virtual Amp" or "Power Tube Simulator" in their product names, showing greater awareness of what exactly which, most distinctive components of tube amps they are trying to reproduce.

The word "preamp" is anathema. It assumes that there is a cranked tube amp generating tone later, which carries all sorts of careless old, entrenched assumptions about tubes and effects placement. "Preamps" are out, "amp emulators" and low-watt amps are in. Anything called a "preamp" implies that it is dependent upon a separate tube amp for basic Tone generation -- yet, at the same time, the preamps usually go ahead and put echo effects before the amp, contradicting the idea of using a tube amp for basic Tone generation.

Though multifx units claim to have "speaker simulation", I have not listed them in my Amp Tone site, because their "simulation" is merely treble rolloff (well, thanks for trying, I guess, but no thanks). However, I will include multieffects units when they start claiming to to incorporate not only speaker simulation, but also, emulation of power tubes, output transformers, and mic's. What will impress me then is those units which are savvy enough to treat the entire amp emulation stage as merely another effect module, and encourage putting time effects after that virtual-tube-amp module.

Generations of tube-amp awareness, jargon, and hype

  1. 1. In the first wave of Guitar Player articles, they emphasized guitars.
  2. 2. Finally in the mid-80s, Guitar Player started acknowledging that tube amps contribute something to the tone.
  3. 3. Then they got lost in the preamp-tube delusion, during the multieffects processor era of the late-80s to late-90s.
  4. 4. Finally, Guitar Player has started to acknowledge the contributions other than guitars, pickups, preamp distortion, and effects -- that is, power tubes, output transformers, guitar speakers, cabinets, and microphones, as well as room reverberation including room frequency response. The emphasis has moved from the *start* of the signal-processing chain (from guitar to the amp's fx loop) to the *end* of the processing chain (from the power tubes to the post-mic mixing-board fx loop, post-mic eq, and post-mic echo-related effects.

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