Having spent much of my 20s lugging big, unwieldy amps around, you could say that I arrived late to the miniaturisation party. Like many guitarists before me I worshipped at the altar of sweet, pure tone that can only be summoned by the warm glow of a vacuum tube. I loved my amp — it had been my musical accomplice for many years, and when paired with my meticulously arranged collection of vintage stompboxes, it provided the perfect sonic gratification for a budding axe-wielder. I was happy with my setup, and had you told me it was about to change, I would have gone white with fear and clung obsessively to the torn tweed of my faithful tube amp in protest.
But change it did. Having done some session work for a keyboard-centric act, the call came in to play some shows in Tokyo. Of course, I said yes! But as the phone call concluded it began to dawn on me... we'd be flying. I couldn't fit my Peavey Classic in the plane's overhead compartment, and I'd heard horror stories of rental gear proving unreliable. By the time the phone was safely returned to my pocket, the search was on. I'd need a rig — something small and compact. A weight was about to lift, both figuratively and literally!
Don't get me wrong, I still love my tube amp. But the quality–of–life improvements that this device has brought to the table (or stage) is undeniable.
The first challenge would be choosing the device that was to become my inseparable partner in guitar-riff savagery. The Grand Canyon-esque market of amp modellers and stompboxes seemed vast and intimidating, but after intensive research I found a processor which fitted the bill at a very favourable price — and I couldn't deny, it sounded great! Though only 13 inches wide, it somehow manages to cram in six footswitches plus an expression pedal, and is home to 68 effects, 10 amp/cabinet models, a looper and a drum machine (it barely resists the urge to throw in the kitchen sink). All this, and the ability to chain up to seven effects at any time, allowed me to create complex patches that would be a nightmare to replicate with individual effects pedals. I was sold.
Rehearsals ran smoothly. The ease of backup and restoration of patches enabled me to set up in advance and effortlessly recall multiple shows' worth of patches and settings, all within the time it takes to pose the inaugural question: "Are you ready to rock?!" Though years of working with stompboxes had certainly raised my tap-dancing game, I was most definitely not missing the thrill of the dance now.
Don't get me wrong, I still love my tube amp. But the quality–of–life improvements that this device has brought to the table (or stage) is undeniable. Especially when you consider that my amp and processor are not mutually exclusive — though my overseas touring rig has been replaced with a miniaturised counterpart, it's proven equally useful as a front-end effects box for a nice tube amp. My trusty Peavey lives on to rock another day!