It seems counter to reality but I find myself feeling like a luddite lately. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it is defined as:
a person opposed to new technology or ways of working.
Now, it should be noted that if I were a true luddite, I wouldn’t be using a Kemper. But I feel like the key to that definition is “ways of working.” We all have to find the things that “work” for us. I try really hard not to “judge” sounds or tones, but rather figure out what works for me. Everyone, I feel, should do the same. The bottom line is that the Kemper absolutely WORKS for me. It has improved over the years with firmware revisions and added features and that is the main reason that I’ve used it as my main live rig for 10 years already! That’s way longer than any other single rig I ever went through on my tone search. My gear videos would change every couple of years with an entirely different setup of amps, pedals, etc. Now, I’m still tone-chasing and tweaking but I’m finding everything I need within the Kemper universe and if it’s not there, I can just profile whatever tone I need. It works.
The part where I become a luddite, I suppose, is when I hear people (you know who you are) complaining about this or that relative to the Kemper. I know everyone is entitled to their own opinions and I’m really not even trying to sway anyone else’s, but this is my web site so what the hell, I’m voicing mine. When I hear people bitching about the Kemper being “outdated” or having a “crappy UI” or bagging it for “not having a touch screen” I pretty much get triggered. Do real amps have touch screens? Do I need a real amp to be an audio interface? Do I need a real amp to have wifi? These are all “no” answers in case you’re keeping score at home.
So, despite using a computer for an amp, I don’t need it to be an iPhone. I need it to be an amp (and speaker, and mics, and fx, you get the picture). Sure, for the next generation of players who never played a real amp, these may be things that are a no-go for them. But I am old and I remember what tube amps smell like when they warm up. I know the sounds they make. I’ve played a real Plexi and not just a model. So I feel like I’m old school at heart. It’s just that the Kemper is such a close approximation to the amps’ tones (once mic’d up) that I feel the convenience, flexibility, and features of the Kemper actually make it a better option for “work.”
There will be much made of new features coming down the pike from Kemper. I will welcome trying them and seeing what “works” for me. But honestly, I am not sure how many of the new features will really apply to me and how I like to work. I can go into greater detail as I learn more about the Liquid Profiling feature, but my gut reaction is that I have always thought that Christoph Kemper actually SOLVED a lot of real world problems when making the Kemper. Here are just some of the real world problems I feel that the Kemper solved:
–Tone is not volume dependent. In the real world of tube amps, if you wanted a certain tone and that tone could only be gotten at a loud volume, your tone would suffer if you played in an environment where you had to “turn down.” With the Kemper, your tone is direct and you have control over the master level without it changing the “tone.”
–Gain isn’t tied to volume. I’ve said this a million times, but every other modeling device made has the real world bug of gain and volume being tied together. If you reduce gain, the volume level drops and you have to chase down a master volume knob and turn it the opposite way of your gain adjustments. It’s tedious and it’s hard to keep a consistent unity gain level because you can lose your frame of reference. With Kemper, I can change gain without any major change in volume or need to change other parameters.
–Amp volumes don’t matter. In the real world if I wanted to use two different amps, one for clean and one for gain, then the clean amp would have to be really high wattage to keep up with the overdriven amp so their volumes would work together. It’s similar to the last problem but with Kemper, I can use a Princeton tone for clean and a 100w Marshall for dirty and they will have the same relative volume. I don’t have to worry about clean amps not being clean because I had to turn them up louder to keep up with the gain amp or vice versa.
–Cables/Pedals suck tone. I see huge pedalboards and I think “oh man, who knows how much of the actual signal is getting through all that.” Not only is cable capacitance a real thing but trying to keep signal buffered and without treble loss is a huge deal and there is a whole gig economy based on building pedalboards that try to combat the problem. Most players can’t even afford a $2000 pedalboard build to make sure their guitar signal isn’t getting anemic along the way. With the Kemper, my entire high impedance cable length consists of a 6″ patch cable between wireless and Kemper input. No signal degradation. And is there a worse feeling than hitting your strings and hearing nothing and having to troubleshoot one bad cable out of 30?
–ALL the amps vs. one or two. In the past with real guitar rigs, I would find my favorite amp(s) and that would be my base tone. I couldn’t really make a Vox sound like a Fender or a Marshall. I can’t make a Marshall sound like a blackface Fender. Now I don’t have to choose. If I want a Vox tone for one song or even part of a song, I can do that and then go to a Marshall tone for the next song, etc. But the true beauty of the Kemper is that it isn’t just a model of a generic (or someone else’s) Marshall. It is the sound of MY Marshall with MY mics and MY speaker with the knobs where I wanted them. And when I go to a Vox, it’s a Vox set up the way I wanted to and profiled with MY speaker and mics etc. So the starting point for tweaking is already really close to perfect but it still allows me to use different amps without the crazy eq shifts associated with modeled cabs and amps.
–No need for a pedalboard. As Kemper has added features and effects, the quality has become superior in many ways to actual pedals. Now, there are always some unique effects that can’t be replicated internally by the Kemper but for most of my necessary tones, I can usually cover anything I can imagine in my head in a short period of time. And features like Morph and Ducking make it even more powerful and user-friendly than using a pedalboard, even one with individual pedal loops.
–LED lights for the win. This is something I didn’t even think about before I got the Kemper. And for all of its “outdated UI” I find that one of my favorite features of the Kemper are the LED lights around the gain and eq knobs (at least on the toaster where I do most of my work). In the Kemper ecosystem, there is a relative gain. This tells me at a glance, by looking at the led lights around the gain knob, roughly HOW much overdrive there is in the tone. I am even able to tweak parameters without actually hearing the tone because I am so familiar with how the knobs respond. And I can tell in a second if the eq has been boosted or cut relative to the original profile just by looking at the LED lights. This may seem like a small thing but in practice it is super usable and really works for me. One of the possible downsides of using Liquid Profiling is that these relative led positions kinda go out the window as they aim to mimic where the knobs would be on the real amp, and not some universal relative position. Time will tell how much I end up using LP because as I said previously, I’m a part-time luddite.
All this is to say, when you find something that works for you, stick with it. And maybe don’t try to make the Kemper into an iPhone. I do see a huge upside into having USB audio interface capability so I am open to upgrades and change. There is more than one way to skin a cat (no animals were harmed in the writing of this blog), and you can find whatever works for you. But comparing one persons’ workflow with another is kinda irrelevant after a point. Stop worrying about touch screens and play guitar!
Thanks for writing this Michael. It really helped me right now. Just wanted you to know the above is appreciated. Thanks.
Very good points. Kind of like saying ‘keep it simple,’ even though you can get into a rabbit hole with the Kemper and forget to practice/play and have fun. But tone-chasing is part of the game, so there is a balance. I like to find the base tones with performances such as your Fried BE-50, 3rd Power, and Basic EL-84. Then use an old-school pedalboard (with a buffer!) since I can see everything and change those on-the-fly. Several times I created a new performance and it sounded great, but I go back to yours and think to myself: I could have just stuck with Britt’s and my recording would have been great.
I fall into the same thing. Just because I have hundreds of different amp profiles at my disposal, I feel like I need to use more than I really need sometimes. And I’m sure there are hundreds of rigs that would work great but I don’t even try them for one reason or the other. I’m always getting in the weeds and then backing up and simplifying.
Such a great read Michael, thank you. And very valid points made by a person who is more than qualified to know. As an old school, tube amp guy, I agree with the statements you have made here. Regarding the negative comments made by people about Kemper, I’m of the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ school. Their UI works fine for me. I had not heard of this Liquid Profiling until I read your blog just now. I’m assuming that it is the next major development in the Kemper world? Anyway, as I have mentioned to you before, I use your profiles exclusively on my Profiler Stage, and they sound amazing. Still need an M Britt Proflies T shirt though!! Lol! Cheers from Australia!
Well said, Michael. I’ve come back out of the rabbit hole and find myself using 3 or 4 of your profiles for most of my gigging sounds. In addition to sounds “feeling” like an amp, I love the usefulness of the layout of the Kemper Stage for performances. I still find it fun to tweak tones and experiment with new tech, but the Kemper is still my main piece of gear (with the HXStomp XL as my back up). One other positive aspect of the Kemper is that people like me, who grew up playing Fenders and Marshalls can discover new amp sounds from other brands. I’m never going to own an ACTUAL Dumble, but I can play a profile of one. I actually tend to play the AC30 sounds now more than anything. Keep up your excellent work, and thank you for all the great profiles that you’ve created!