The best 21st Century guitar gadgets to get that Glastonbury headliner sound
These are the best guitar amp modellers and multi-effects units you need to know about.
If you’ve been at a gig lately you may have seen the beginnings of a quiet revolution.
Hulking amps and Marshall stacks – once a regular concert sight - may have been conspicuous by their absence with the guitar player perhaps wearing in-ear monitors.
The venerable vacuum tube amp has been a mainstay of rock music for the best part of 70 years, beloved by guitarists for their unique warmth, responsiveness, harmonic distortion and general musicality.
They’re also backbreakingly heavy, temperamental, and need to be cranked to ear-splitting volumes to often sound their best. Their time on the world’s biggest stages may be about to come to an end, however, thanks to massive improvements in digital mimicry.
Where early examples in the 90s were derided for their brittle, inauthentic tones, cutting edge algorithms and hardware from a new wave of digital guitar processors appear to have changed the game, providing scarily accurate representations of classic amps and pedals right down to the subtlest of nuances.
Perfect for recording as well as live work, the latest compact floor units offer a huge selection of sought-after vintage and boutique amps and effects, while also bringing the added convenience of being able to go direct to sound desks and monitoring systems without the need of onstage speakers.
Things have gotten so good that vintage tube amp purists like Blur’s Graham Coxon, John Mayer and U2’s The Edge have all made the move to go digital when playing live.
But the fun isn’t restricted to just stadium-filling stars, with the latest processors affordable enough to allow bedroom and club circuit guitarists access to a world of previously unobtainable tones.
We’ve picked out some of the best guitar gadgets to help you perfect your sound. After much testing, we consider the 10 best guitar modellers and multi-effects units out there right now below. If you’ve managed to rock out on any of our best guitar gear selections, upvote the ones you like, and downvote the ones you don't think hit the spot.
Any if you think we've missed off any digital guitar devices that deserves to make the list, submit it to our team at the bottom.
Great guitar gadgets to get that Glastonbury headliner sound
1. Line 6 Helix Floor
Line 6 helped kickstart the digital guitar amp modelling revolution with their bean-shaped Pod device which was a staple of big-name and bedroom studios during the noughties.
All that experience has been ploughed its current Helix Floor pedalboard, which while far from the newest unit on the list, still leads the pack thanks to a continual flow of regular updates improvements and new amp and effect models that have been added since its release back in 2015.
There’s a huge array of super accurate, component and circuitry modelled Marshall’s, Fender’s and Vox’s, plus scores more amps, while the Helix boasts the most comprehensive list of effects of any unit listed here, from classic 80s chorus pedals to complex reverbs, delays and useable synth sounds.
Used by the likes of Mastodon, The Cure and Smashing Pumpkins, the durable tour-ready unit has fancy “scribble-strip” text displays above its footswitches letting you know which effects are in use, while its intuitive user interface is one of the easiest to navigate.
What most sets it apart from its rivals is the vast online community surrounding the Helix, with users sharing their favourite presets in their thousands and innumerable forums, social media groups and YouTube channels offering tips.
2. Line 6 HX StompBuy now from Andertons
The little brother of the Helix Floor, the HX Stomp is a scaled-down version of Line 6’s flagship guitar processor, with fewer inputs, less footswitches and a smaller screen.
Its smaller footprint compared to the behemoth Helix means it’s become a popular choice with guitarists looking to integrate digital modelling into an existing pedalboard, while its competitive pricing make it a good standalone choice for entry-level players.
Despite its diminutive size, it still manages to cram over 300 effects and every amp model that features on the Helix, however its reduced processing power means there are limitations on how complex you can make your signal chains.
3. IK Multimedia TONEX Pedal
The new kid on the block, the TONEX has created a massive stir online following its launch earlier this year by bringing the type of profiling tech used by the Quad Cortex and Kemper into a much more compact and significantly cheaper package.
Focused almost entirely on amp simulation with the only effects onboard being reverb, compression and a noise gate, the unit makes for a gig-friendly alternative to IK Multimedia’s TONEX software for PC’s and Macs, which features the same AI machine modelling.
There’s limited connectivity options, and the display is a little bit last century, but its captures of amps sound utterly authentic and at times more detailed than its more expensive profiling rivals.
4. Fractal Audio Axe-Fx III
The heavyweight contender, the Axe-FX is largely seen as the professional’s choice, with the rack-mounted unit the weapon of choice for stadium-strutting acts like Metallica, U2 and Muse star Matt Bellamy.
Offering near endless super realistic amp and effects options, superb “UltraRes” speaker cab simulations and 8x8 USB digital input and output for pro recording and flexible live rigs, the Axe-Fx III is almost certainly overkill for most guitarists, while its top-tier pricing and complicated user interface will likely put off your average six stringer.
But if you’ve hit the jackpot with a nice big advance from your record label, the Axe-FX is the luxury no-compromise, road worthy option.
5. Kemper Profiler Head
This lunchbox shaped unit stunned the guitar world back in 2011 with its ability to imitate any amp in the world thanks to its then ground-breaking profiling technology.
While it might be showing its age somewhat, the Kemper’s warmth and realism continues to convince revered guitarists like John Meyer, Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler and Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil to retire their trusty vintage valve amps.
It lacks the breadth of available effects and connectivity that newer units now have, while its user interface looks more than a little dated.
However, the Kemper’s trump cars is that it boasts thousands of beguilingly accurate, readily downloadable amps models that have been captured by its users over the past decade, while its familiar amp-like knob controls make it a good bet for those easing their way in from the analogue world.
6. Zoom MS-50G MultiStomp
The size of a regular single-sized stomp box pedal, the dinky MS-50G MultiStomp was somewhat overlooked when it was first release over a decade ago.
Despite its small football, the MS-50G MultiStomp is a fully-featured amp modeller and multi-effects pedal that has grown in popularity in recent years thanks to its Swiss Army Knife versatility.
While it’s single footswitch can make it fiddly for navigating presets, and its amp models aren’t as authentic as more premium devices listed here, its library of effects are on the whole superb.
A fantastic standalone device for entry-level players, for pro guitarists it provides a cheap digital expansion for regular pedalboards as well as a cost effective backup if your other gear goes down during a gig.
7. Boss GT-1000
Boss is best known for its iconic multicoloured stomp boxes, but the Japanese manufacturer has also been one of the key innovators when it comes all-in-one digital multi-effects devices, producing a succession of hugely popular floor units over the last three decades.
Their latest flagship floorboard is the GT-1000, which takes the modelling idea in a new direction with its AIRD (Augmented Impulse Response Dynamics) tech. Instead of focussing on existing “real world” amps, the GT-1000 allowing users to create their own from a selection of modelled preamp building blocks.
Somewhat more complicated to use and edit than other examples on this page, the GT-1000 nevertheless provides unmatched tone-shaping options for those that want it.
8. Fender Mustang Micro
Primarily a portable practice solution rather than something you gig with, the Mustang Micro is ideal for those living with partners that perhaps don’t fully appreciate your epic noodling solos.
The pocket-friendly gadget plugs directly into your guitar’s input jack. Stick some headphones into it and you have access to 12 superb amp simulations of classic Fender amps like the ’65 Twin, Deluxe and Bassbreaker, as well as 12 different effects combos.
Handily, you can also can stream audio from your phone via Bluetooth to jam along with your favourite tracks, while the Mustang Micro can also be plugged it into your computer via USB and be used to record guitar tracks in conjunction with DAW software like GarageBand.
9. Harley Benton DNAfx GiT Pro
House brand for behemoth German music gear retailer Thomann, Harley Benton has a decent rep for its super-affordable takes on more expensive, big-name-branded equipment.
The DNAfx GiT Pro is no exception, with the feature-packed compact floorboard cramming in 51 amp models, 64 different effects, a basic drum machine and the sort of impulse response speaker emulation that you’d expect on some of the more premium units on this list.
While the amp models and effects don’t quite match the detail of those of the top guitar processors, they come close enough at this price and certainly cut the mustard in a mix.
10. Neural DSP Quad Cortex
Initially announced to a flurry of online hype a couple of years back, the Quad Cortex represents current bleeding edge tech for guitar modelling.
It boasts a super powerful 2GHz Quad-Core DSP processor, while the compact floor unit also has a fancy tactile touchscreen display for making changes, and footswitches that double-up as rotary knobs for tweaking settings.
Used by Stormzy’s axeman Rabea Massaad and Polyphia virtuoso Tim Henson, The QC uses a different approach to guitar modelling than the Helix, instead using profiling technology which many guitar gear heads feel is even more accurate.
Similar to the system pioneered by Kemper (see below), the Quad Cortex uses test tones and machine learning to make indistinguishable digitised profiles of your favourite amps or stomp boxes.
There’s a less comprehensive selection of onboard effects compared to the Helix, and a number of key features promised at its launch such as editing software for PC or Mac still haven’t materialised. But if makers Neural DSP continue to offer updates as promised, the Quad Cortex is on course to become the guitar processor to beat.
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