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Help me understand if Helix will work for my needs and replace my current rig.

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Hi Folks.  My first post here.

 

I have been researching the Helix as well as the AX8.

 

I am 32, been playing tube amps for 12 years now.  I have a lollipop pedal board because I am too cheap to overpay the ridiculous pedal train asking price.  I find that no matter what tube amp i have(I've had a lot) there are always limitations with how i channel switch and use effects.  

 

I am in a gigging modern high gain metal/rock band and I am looking to simplify my rig.  Currently, I am running this setup:

 

Guitar=>pedal board(tuner, decimator, overdrive, flashback delay)=> laney ironheart=>mesa cab.

 

What i am trying to understand, is whether I can replace my current rig with this:

 

Guitar=>Helix=>poweramp=>mesa cab.

 

My BIGGEST concern, is TONE.  I want that great tube tone I've gotten out of my amps.  I don't want the positive grid bias sound or the pod sound.

 

I don't see many people using the Helix as their sole guitar tone source(aka no tube amp).  

 

Before I buy a Helix, should I feel confident in the setup I am proposing and the sound I am hoping to capture?  

Are there any limitations that I should be aware of?  

What would be a good power amp for this rig?

 

Thanks much for any insight you can provide me.

 

Also, here is my band to represent the tone I am going for.

 

[youtubevid}

[endyoutubevid]

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Lordy. The reality is that only you can decide that. I would highly recommend going to a store that has a "Loud Room" and ask if they would allow you to checkout just such a setup. The hard part is, that all of the warts (as you the player will perceive them) won't reveal themselves until you're actually gigging with the new setup. A lot of companies do have decent return policies these days so as long as you're careful with the Helix, buying one and using it in real world situations is the only way to get real world answers.

 

For me, unless I'm doing a really simple specific genre type gig, which is very rare for me, the inflexibility of amps, tube or otherwise will never cut it.

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I have been able to get away with just the Helix.  Our genre is varied as it goes from Miranda Lambert to AC/DC as well as 20th to 21st century playlists.  I was using three Mesas before ... an EL84 .50 Cal, a early Mark III no dot with IIC+ components, and a v2 "Blackface" Heartbreaker. I have been able to get a very close sound and response for the varied music I use.

 

Having said that, there are many players in this forum and others that use the Helix as well as other modelers in tandem with their amps.  SO, you will get many responses and replies.  However, it does come down to your ear.  No one can really tell you it will work for you.  Only you can decide that after playing a rig setup you are envisioning. 

 

One thing to consider that I have found coming from no if not limited amp modeler experience is that it will take more than just an hour to decide.  The Helix is an amazing unit with many tonal caveats that seem to come out of nowhere as I keep learning and fiddling and A/B'ing between recordings, my amps, and the Helix blocks overall.

 

YMMV

 

Dennis

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Moving from amps to a modeler generally requires some growing pains. Signal flow, the order of FX, etc can be set up in ways that you'd never even consider doing with a "real" amp. Experimentation, over a period of days or more likely a couple of weeks, will be the only way to decide if it's for you or not. As others have said, fiddling with a Helix (or any other modeler for that matter) for a few minutes or more in a store is not likely to be a terribly rewarding experience. Factory presets are generally useless, regardless of how good you can learn (heavy emphasis on LEARN) to make a unit sound. Some guys (myself included) transition away from amps and cabs altogether and run direct to the PA with just a monitor for their stage volume, others stick with some kind of power amp (tube or not) and cabinet, and still others never really make it work to their satisfaction, and swear off modeling forever.

 

Only one way to find out...drop some coin, and cross your fingers.

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I have been using the Helix rack unit now for about 6 months in more of a preamp fashion with a Koch 45W stereo tube amp

with a Wizard 2x12 cab.  These two pieces of gear have replaced a rack full of effects and two hi quality tube amps. (Wizard & Fargen)

 

It took about two months of learning and programming to get the basic group of tones I need for a typical gig.

We do Classic rock 60-'s thru 2k so a wide array of tones is needed.

 

So far, the Helix has stood up to the challenge.  Excellent dynamics, great workable tones that are easily edited on the fly,

and simple one rack, one cab setup.  I believe I'm about 85% convinced it can do the job really well.  The remaining 15%

will wither away with more tweaking and broader application of the features.

 

One piece of advice.....Study the tones from the Line6, Customtone site & guys like Glen Delaune & others to fully understand

how to structure a tone.  They are very good starting points and reveal how multiple paths work. 

 

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As many have alluded to here, you're making a significant change when moving to a modeler, particularly one with the range of capabilities of the Helix.  So the key question is how much time are you willing to spend with it to learn how to master it?

 

The first thing I always tell people that are considering this leap is to put in the forefront of your mind that unlike a traditional setup, the sound will be that of a studio produced guitar sound.  Think of it this way, when you go to record in a studio, there is one sound you hear when you're playing and capturing the track, there is a different sound when you playback that track.  That's because several things come into the picture when the sound is captured, most importantly the characteristics of the mic and the room ambience at the very least.  The same will be true of the sound coming from the Helix generally.

 

You're not simply modeling the amp, but also the cabinet, the mic, the mic placement, and even the early reflections of the room.  It's something some people have a hard time getting around.  The audience has no problem with it, because that's the sound they've been hearing from you live anyway if you typically mic your cabinet.  It's also the sound they're used to hearing when they hear recorded music.  But some people can't get past having a finished (produced) sound on stage because they're not used to it.

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At some point we are going to have to leave the 1950s technology behind. Soon and even now there will not be enough good wood for guitars. 

You have to change the way you think about traditional gear when you start programming stuff on the Helix, the usual rules and procedures can be and should be, bent in the virtual world of the Helix. There are no real speaker or pedal gear impedance and order issues. It is a slow progression to ween yourself off what you have always used and done, and indeed for some, rather impossible. They get in their heads "no modeling technology can ever sound and feel like an amp" and even when they try it they will not be able to accept it. 

Personally no one loved the sound of tube amps more than me, it took a long time to realize technology could and must move us forward or we are just walking around with a backpack personal phone w a 20ft whip antenna, "because they sounded better". 

I feel the Helix is not a unit for those who cannot create their own presets and have to copy everything or god forbid be stuck with factory examples. The real magic of this unit is what you can do to create ideas and experiments that would otherwise be impossible. It takes time to learn and some headphone retreating which may take away your practice and normal playing time but in a while you'll have some the best sounding stuff you ever played through and it will inspire you to be better and improve. Sure you can short cut and buy some of the better genius programmer presets but I cannot presume they meant for no one to tweak these to their own rig and response feel. Great for getting ideas and understanding how things work but the real magic is getting in there and creating your own personal stuff. Also quite satisfying that you did it and it is custom designed for you. 

No one can expect to replace and redo their entire rig and spectrum of tones in a short time, it takes some work and time to get what you need but I will wager if you do the time and learn, what you will end up with will sound better than you ever imagined, with near zero maintenance and failure issues. 

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As many have alluded to here, you're making a significant change when moving to a modeler, particularly one with the range of capabilities of the Helix. So the key question is how much time are you willing to spend with it to learn how to master it?

 

The first thing I always tell people that are considering this leap is to put in the forefront of your mind that unlike a traditional setup, the sound will be that of a studio produced guitar sound. Think of it this way, when you go to record in a studio, there is one sound you hear when you're playing and capturing the track, there is a different sound when you playback that track. That's because several things come into the picture when the sound is captured, most importantly the characteristics of the mic and the room ambience at the very least. The same will be true of the sound coming from the Helix generally.

 

You're not simply modeling the amp, but also the cabinet, the mic, the mic placement, and even the early reflections of the room. It's something some people have a hard time getting around. The audience has no problem with it, because that's the sound they've been hearing from you live anyway if you typically mic your cabinet. It's also the sound they're used to hearing when they hear recorded music. But some people can't get past having a finished (produced) sound on stage because they're not used to it.

But that wouldn't really be relevant for OP if he's planing on using it with a power amp and a cab. He will get the (imo overrated) amp in the room feel.

OP, I think you'd find that Helix responds very good as well as gives a lot of flexibility in your situation.

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I'd say to give it a go.

 

Start out with a 4CM setup with your current amp.
The switching possibilities, snapshots, scribble strips and number of quality effects is more than enough to warrant the price of the Helix.

 

From there on you can start to experiment with going straight to the poweramp of your Laney.
If you like it enough to ditch the Laney preamp and clean up your setup with fewer cables, good, if you don't, then stick with the 4CM.

 

Either way you get a lot of possibilities for a fair price.
 

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Most of what I play on guitar is heavier modern rock as well.

Helix preamps into your Laney power amp should sound good to start. But the different Helix pres may likely sound more similar through your Laney than you care for. I started with 4cm Helix pres into the power amp of a Mesa Recto, Mark V, Stiletto, and Simul 290. Each of them had their own coloration and none were really neutral enough to run Helix full amp models.

There are more differences between Helix full amp models, and frankly full amp models sound best to me. You can pretty much run Helix full amp models into any solid state amp into a guitar cab (Crown QSC, etc.). So maybe you can get your hands on one to try it. If you like it, a Crate Powerblock can be had for $100-$150 and fits in the Helix backpack pouch. Even if you don't use it long term, its a great backup amp for the stable. A Line 6 HD147 is intriguing as it is 300W, 150W stereo, with switchable impedance for full power at different cab loads (rare for solid state) and looks cool to boot. It has stereo effects returns which should work great for Helix.

Now if you try solid state and it lacks the last bit of tube flavor you can't live without (tube amp/cab interaction), you can go for a neutral tube power amp like the Fryette Power Station (I want) or Line 6 Spider Valve (I haveand curently use). These can take the Helix full amp models with very little of their own coloration. Spider Valve was made to take Line 6 POD X3 full amp models into its neutral 100W 6L6 power section. Fryette Power Station was designed to take an attenuated real tube amp signal or modeler through its neutral 6L6 power section into a guitar cab.

Note that Line 6 DT amps (I own a DT50) were designed for POD HD preamps and Helix preamps (recommended by Helix manual). I much prefer Helix full amp models into Spider Valve over Helix preamps into DT.

By going Helix full amp models>power amp>real guitar cab, you eliminate 50% + of the learning curve and frustrations trying to get a good tone since you are not dealing with cab/mic blocks or IRs. The most difficult, and often initially discouraging thing to deal with are those cab models and IRs. Don't get me wrong, there are good sounds to be had with them. There is just quite a bit to learn about them coming from a physical tube rig. It can eat your lunch and take many hours of trial and testing to discover what you like.

Almost every default Helix amp model into my Spider Valve>Mesa 212 sounds great right out of the chute. Then just a little tweaking from there gets me what I need. I've let go of the cab models and IR's and just let the sound guy mic my cab or mic it myself.

I will definitely say that I wouldn't go back to my Mesa amps and old stomps after Helix/Spider Valve. I fire them up from time to time, but just smile ear to ear when I go back to Helix/SV.

Maybe one day I will go FRFR or amp-less. But the guys in the band still play traditional amps and are loud in our jam space. So a traditional guitar cab works great for me right now.

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Most of what I play on guitar is heavier modern rock as well.

 

Helix preamps into your Laney power amp should sound good tto start. But the different Helix pres may likely sound more similar that you care for. I started with 4cm Helix pres into the power amp of a Mesa Recto, Mark V, Stiletto, and Simul 290. Each of them had their own coloration and none were really neutral enough to run Helix full amp models.

 

There are more differences between Helix full amp models, and frankly full amp models sound best to me. You can pretty much run Helix full amp models into any solid state amp into a guitar cab (Crown QSC, etc.). So maybe you can get your hands on one to try it. If you like it, a Crate Powerblock can be had for $100-$150 and fits in the Helix backpack pouch. Even if you don't use it long term, its a great backup amp for the stable. A line 6 HD147 is intriguing as it is 300W, 150W stereo, with switchable impedance for full power at different loads (rare for solid state) and looks cool to boot. It has stereo effects returns which should work great for Helix.

 

Now if you try solid state and it lacks the last bit of tube flavor you can't live without (tube amp/cab interaction), you can go for a neutral tube power amp like the Fryette Power Station (I want) or Line 6 Spider Valve (I haveand curently use). These can take the Helix full amp models with very little of their own coloration. Spider Valve was made to take Line 6 POD X3 full amp models into its neutral 100W 6L6 power section. Fryette Power Station was designed to take an attenuated real tube amp signal or modeler tthrough its neutral 6L6 power section into a guitar cab.

 

Note that Line 6 DT amps (I own a DT50) were designed for POD HD preamps and Helix preamps (recommended by Helix manual). I much prefer Helix full amp models into Spider Valve over Helix preamps into DT.

 

By going Helix full amp models>power amp>real guitar cab, you eliminate 50% + of the learning curve and frustrations trying to get a good tone since you are not dealing with cab/mic blocks or IRs. The most difficult, and often initially discouraging thing to deal with are those cab models and IRs. Don't get me wrong, there are good sounds to be had with them. There is just quite a bit to learn about them coming from a physical tube rig. It can eat your lunch and take many hours of trial and testing to discover what you like.

 

Almost every default Helix amp model into my Spider Valve>Mesa 212 sounds great right out of the chute. Then just a little tweaking from there gets me what I need. I've let go of the cab models and IR's and just let the sound guy mic my cab or mic it myself.

 

I will definitely say that I wouldn't go back to my Mesa amps and old stomps after Helix/Spider Valve. I fire them up from time to time, but just smile ear to ear when I go back to Helix/SV.

 

Maybe one day I will go FRFR or amp-less. But the guys in the band still play traditional amps and are loud in our jam space. So a traditional guitar cab works great for me right now.

 

Great post on this!

When I was AB'ing between my Shiva preamp and the Helix preamps into the Shiva poweramp, I found the Helix preamps a bit dull sounding.

Lacked the punch and 3D spread of the Shiva. When I switched the Helix preamp to full amp models (sans cab of course), it much improved the sound.

Seems counter intuitive, but they work better for me then the preamp only models.

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 He will get the (imo overrated) amp in the room feel.

 

Indeed, on the "imo overrated" thing.  I guess i'm in an unusual situation but as someone who only played "amp in the room" where the amp was set totally clean - no overdrive or distortion - and *then* with modellers - chiefly HD 500 and now HELIX - got to really discovering and playing about with overdriven sounds - where the "amp" power-stage could be maxed out in a way most of us could never do with 50W+ amps in the home - and have thus gone **straight** into a stereo FRFR PA  or Studio monitors - I think one can very quickly get used to just playing guitar and hearing it - much more like it will sound in a "final mix". 

 

I suppose it helps me that I hardly ever used to just play guitar solo - alone but instead have always preferred to improvise along to backing tracks or band In a box - and thus the "Guitar-in-mix" thing is more my natural mode. 

 

But to cut a long story short - I think its a good idea to just forget about striving for "amp-in-a-room"  and just get used to - and really enjoy - "amp-in-a-mix". 

 

After all - isn't that how most want their stuff to end up ?  being heard thru a good PA sound system by a 200+ audience - or in iTunes, CD or vinyl ? 

 

I do of course - get it - that those who've played and love to play in tiny venues where they get to hear mainly the sound of their own amp *directly* - through the air - rather than by means of a monitor of some kind - might miss how that sounds and feels.   But really that - great though the sound can be in such venues - is something only limited to tiny venues such as small rooms in bars or pubs.   Some of the best gigs i've heard have been in such places - jazz or blues jam sessions etc -   but is it really convenient for the guitar player ?  getting the balance of instruments right in such tiny gigs - where - say the only instrument going through the PA might be the vocals or a horn instrument - can be really hard.  And arguably sub-optimal. 

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Having gone through (what I think is) a similar transition to the OP, Helix into a power amp into his Mesa cab may be a near seamless transition in his gigging modern rock band. Especially if the other axe slingers haven't gone to modelers yet.

He could set up all of his patches for this rig to start and later add cabs/IRs/eq as he evolves and/or wants to record. There are some great Mesa Cab IR's out there from 3Sigma, Ownhamer, and others that probably match his physical Mesa Cab (Recto, Traditional, Road King, etc.).

A Crate Powerblock is a great, inexpensive option to get him going. It's good to have as a backup if he moves on or he can easily get his money back out of it.

I have to say I don't know much about the Laney Ironheart. It uses a 120W 6L6 power section (which is a lot of clean headroom) and may be somewhat neutral. I know a lot of Mesa and Marshall tone comes from their power sections. But maybe the Laney leans more on the preamps. If so, he may not need to get anything. I would try Helix full amps into the Laney power section>Mesa cab and A/B with Helix into any solid state amp he can get his hands on>Mesa cab, studio monitors or headphones (with similar Mesa cab block or IRs). This is how I figured out that my Mesa amps and L6 DT50 were NOT neutral, but my L6 Spider Valve and Crate Powerblock were.

 

Researching the Laney Ironheart, I came across the $399 IRT-X FRFR speakers.  He could do some cool wet/dry/wet stuff with a pair of these and his existing tube IRT amp, even without using IR's or cab models, as they go between your amp & cab and tap that signal and interaction. He could just use them alone now or in the future also.  They are a pretty cool concept.

 

http://www.laney.co.uk/products/irt-x/

 

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Man, you guys are super helpful.  Thank you so much for the information even if some of it is over my head.

 

When you say that a poweramp is "neutral" what do you mean by that?

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Most solid state power amps, both external rack-type and internal built into speakers (PA and FRFR), are considered to have linear/flat/neutral response.  This means they should pass whatever signal is fed into them an purely amplify it with not sound coloration of their own.  This is great for current gen modelers like Helix that capture a tube amp's sound and feel.  This can work well with both traditional guitar cabs and full range speakers.

 

Few tube amps are considered flat or neutral, especially guitar amps.  Much of a guitar amp's tone comes from its power section.  Fryette Powerstation and Line 6 Spider Valve were designed to pass a modeler's full amp models through to a guitar cab.  They attempt to additionally keep the tube amp/guitar cab interaction (dampening, impedance curve, etc.) that you got from playing a traditional tube amp into a cab.  This is more something a player can feel under their fingers and blowing his pant legs standing in front of a traditional guitar cab that anything the audience would hear or notice.

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Most solid state power amps, both external rack-type and internal built into speakers (PA and FRFR), are considered to have linear/flat/neutral response.  This means they should pass whatever signal is fed into them an purely amplify it with not sound coloration of their own.  This is great for current gen modelers like Helix that capture a tube amp's sound and feel.  This can work well with both traditional guitar cabs and full range speakers.

 

Few tube amps are considered flat or neutral, especially guitar amps.  Much of a guitar amp's tone comes from its power section.  Fryette Powerstation and Line 6 Spider Valve were designed to pass a modeler's full amp models through to a guitar cab.  They attempt to additionally keep the tube amp/guitar cab interaction (dampening, impedance curve, etc.) that you got from playing a traditional tube amp into a cab.  This is more something a player can feel under their fingers and blowing his pant legs standing in front of a traditional guitar cab that anything the audience would hear or notice.

Understood.

 

So it sounds like a solid state poweramp would be the way to go with the Helix?

 

Also, if i am going to use a solid state poweramp, would I be better off getting the Helix rack and then getting the control board with it so i can mount the poweramp and helix into one rack box?

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Understood.

 

So it sounds like a solid state poweramp would be the way to go with the Helix?

 

Also, if i am going to use a solid state poweramp, would I be better off getting the Helix rack and then getting the control board with it so i can mount the poweramp and helix into one rack box?

6 of one, half dozen of the other. Either way, there's a box sitting on your cabinet, and something else on the floor. At least the floor unit saves you a few bucks...

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Yeah, what cruisinon2 said.  Depends if you want to haul a rack or not.  There are plenty of small SS power amp options.

 

I like the Crate Powerblock because it's 150W at 8ohms and fits in my Helix backpack along with my floor version of Helix. The ISP Stealth small power amp could work too I bet as well as some of these micro bass heads with effects return jack.  

 

http://www.isptechnologies.com/portfolio/stealth-power-amp/

 

My Mesa Walkabout bass amp sounds really great with Helix into its effects return but is bigger than the Crate.  It sounds a feels a touch better than the Crate though.  I go back and forth on them depending if I'm a tone snob that day or want convenience ;).

 

Seriously, try to get your hands on any SS power amp from a friend or something to try with your cab.  I guess GC and some other music stores have good return policies too though.  A/B it with your Laney amp too.  You never know, that amp has some nice headroom and may have a pretty neutral power section.

 

Oh, and don't be too scared about running a SS power amp with more wattage than guitar cab.  You should be running them at well below max to avoid clipping and nastiness.

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I bought a rack with wheels that also flip tilts the rack. Pretty handy and it was not expensive. I think maybe the 4CM is a progression as it is hard to ween off of traditional guitar amp use. Took me a while and several modeler unit experiments before I could finally jump and just use modelers and tweak on my rig solely for that resolve. Not having to deal with tubes, buying good ones, matched and binned out supposed selections and getting bad ones in the batch, plus the maintenance of adjusting bias and the overall component lifetime of what it takes to keep a tube amp operating. The Helix finally convinced me to leave my amp age behind and move towards what can only be the future of guitar.

 

I am looking forward to what L6 can improve on the Helix like some HX quality delay and reverbs. Do wish they would make more of an effort to detail and explain EVERY param in the unit on the amps, IRs and effects. Seems every time I want to know what something actually does it is about impossible to get the info. Like the use of hum and ripple in amps, while these elements are not considered desirable for a quiet noiseless rig they are highly interactive with the amp models despite it is not very clear what they actually do and what amps benefit from high and low. Yeah I know, tweak it out, be nice to get back to playing more and spinning knobs less, information sort of helps that issue. 

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My progression was:

Pedalboard + Tube amp + cab

Pedalboard + Tube amp + palmer PGA-04 power soak & cab sim direct in

Pedalboard + Kemper direct in

Helix direct in

 

My tone was great with all of those setups, but they kept getting smaller and smaller as I get lazier and lazier. Now I couldn't be happier. I always monitor with IEMs and put my amps backstage though, so the amp in the room thing didn't matter to me. 

 

Going from a tube amp and cab to a modeler will be a big jump, but the tones you can get are limited only by your ability to dial them in. 

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FYI: L6 has informed me that the delays are indeed HX component modeled but the reverbs are pass downs from the HD POD. 

 

It is really hard for most players who have been ingrained using guitar amps for ages to get used to using a good modeler but it can and does work really well. I am sure there will be those who can never make the leap of change about like they cannot escape vintage nostalgia. 

 

Unless L6 performs a major HX redo of the effects I just may convert to using the Helix just for the amps and routing and farm out to quality pedals. Hate to build them back up again from the expense and what the Helix costs but I do dig the hell out of Strymon, Eventide, SA Nemesis, so forth. I cannot see the Helix ever really getting to that level as there is just so much adieu about the copy and mimic of vintage stuff which I never really liked when I had it. I am that way with amp models as well, I could care less about the name and copy of various amps just want what sounds good. Several of my fav tube amp models are on the GSP1101 that are not copies of any amps just optimized killer glass tube amp tones. They kill any Fender type thing to be sure. I get the hame brand thing, but really like my Tech21 PSA 1.1 I used for years was really an optimized preamp not really made to copy anything but could manifest amazing tone structures no particular amp couid do.  I miss that puppy a lot. 

I guess what I am saying is, are we doomed to the past by the mere aspect of "modeling" which indicates we have to copy something or do we? I appreciate L6's efforts to create their own amp models and I wish they would expand on that even more. 

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Got to finally try a helix last night through an acquaintance.  He was running it through a crown poweramp into a 4x12.  I will be clear when I say that the distorted tones were nowhere near as good, huge and present sounding as my Ironheart or any other high gain amp i've ever owned, which has been many.  Not even close.  He was getting a very thin, small and blanketed tone.  We tried the 5150, uberschall and rectifier clones.  I even tweaked the eq's.  How much of that was due to him not having it dialed in right, i can't say.  He is a metal head and seemed to know what he was doing quite well. 

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He is a metal head and seemed to know what he was doing quite well.

Well if it sounded like crap, then probably not so much...was he using full models or pre-amp only? Which cab and mic models, mic placement, etc? Could be any one of a thousand things...

 

Fiddling with ANY modeler for an hour or two is not likely to be sufficient time to know if it's gonna work for you...there's a big learning curve with these things. And starting out with what someone else has decided "sounds good", is probably the worst way to get acquainted with a unit. Buy one from someplace with a liberal return policy, and lock yourself in a room with it for a week or two. If you come out and it still sounds like crap to you, then modeling isn't your cup of tea...and that's OK, too. It ain't for everybody.

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