One of the small, unexpected delights of attending Vai Academy was getting a chance to pay a Kemper Profiling Amp. I had heard about them since they were first announced at NAMM a few years ago. While digital modeling of tube amps has improved a lot, it's still always felt like a bit of a compromise. Still, I've always been hopeful that at some point somebody would finally capture the magic.
One of the great delights of my week in Vail was jamming with other campers. One night our "jam room organizer" brought a bunch of backing tracks to jam over. We divided campers up into two groups, each with their own amp. Groups would trade off soloing (8, 16 or 24 bars) and whenone guitarist finished, they'd unplug and hand the cable to the next guy in the group. I was lucky enough to sit in the group that got to use the Kemper.
I wasn't the first in my group to play it so I had a chance to hear it before I experienced it as a player. If I had just walked into the room and not seen what amps were being used, I wouldn't have been able to tell. The tone was great. But since the Kemper doesn't have an identifiable signature tone the sound I heard could have been anything. No, the real test of a modeling amp is matching a great sound to the right feel.
Part of the magic of tube amps is their non-linear response and it's what makes them so beloved and unique. "Non-linear" means that a given input won't always map to a predictable output in a consistent fashion. In real-world terms it means that creating a digital model of how a tube amp sounds and behaves is an incredibly difficult thing to do. It's a bit like getting a computer to have a realistic conversation with a human being. There are so many nuances to human speech that it's nearly impossible to encode them all in software. Just try using Google Translate on even the simplest text to see what I mean.
So it would seem that digitally capturing all of the nuance of tube amps would be an impossible task. But finally something has come along that does the best job of capturing all of the idiosyncratic non-linearity of tube amps with mind-boggling accuracy. Believe me, I was as skeptical as anyone, but once I got my hands on one it was easy to see how this was going to completely change how I record and play live.
Since I got my new Kemper head, I haven't stopped playing it or thinking about playing it. Every day I think of some new challenge and the Kemper always rises to meet it. The level of attention to the design of every detail in this amp reveals the mad genius behind it.
At it's core the Kemper is an amazing amplifier and guitar cabinet profiler. What makes this different from a modeling amplifier is that instead of relying on baked-in algorithms to reproduce the tones of a Fender Bassman or Marshall Plexi, the Kemper can derive an algorithm (or more likely a suite of them) by observing how a given amp behaves in the real world.
This means that anyone with a mic, decent ears and some free time can essentially "bottle" any great amp in the world and make it available to other Kemper users. The fact that the Kemper can capture as well as replay profiles means that there is an enormous library of free and commercially-available profiles. Not all of them are great, but many of them (especially the commercial ones) are simply stunning.
In addition to the amp and cabinet modeling, the Kemper has a very impressive array of built-in effects with a tremendous amount of flexibility in signal-chain construction. Aside from a small handful of patches specific to my Eventide PitchFactor, I've been able to complete recreate my entire pedalboard setup exclusively with the Kemper. The Kemper Remote (the companion footswitch) is about a quarter of the size of my current pedalboard.
Oh, and for those effects that still live on the Eventide? Well, the Kemper's incredible signal-routing flexibility means I can simply put the PitchFactor in a hardware effects loop and bring it in and out of the signal-chain as needed. I can even broadcast MIDI messages on patch changes to control external hardware.
What all of this means is that I can gig and record with a setup that is more reliable, more flexible and fraction of the size and weight of my current amp/cabinet/pedalboard setup. Step aside George Jetson, the future ain't about jet-packs.
I could go on and on about the virtues of the Kemper, but in the end you simply have to play and hear one to believe it. I can't help you with the tactile feel of playing one, but I can certainly give you an idea of how it sounds: