Steve Morse on the “elusive quality” of tube amps digital modellers can’t capture

Steve Morse on the “elusive quality” of tube amps digital modellers can’t capture

One of the great debates in the guitar community in 2024 lies in digital amp simulations vs traditional tube-driven amplifiers. On one hand, some guitarists, including Nita Strauss, have switched to digital amp modellers for live shows due to their portability and ease of use. 
On the other, guitar legend Eric Johnson recently said he’d dabbled with amp modellers, but is yet to find one convincing enough for him to adopt, and IDLES guitarist Mark Bowen had stronger words, calling amp modelling “whack”.

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Now, in a new interview with Ultimate Guitar, former Deep Purple guitarist Steve Morse has added his voice to the latter side of the debate, saying that while he brings a Kemper on the road for practice in hotel rooms, he still swears by his ENGL tube amp for live shows.
“With any digital amp, I’m not able to get the interaction between reducing the level of the guitar in the input and having the tone change from distorted to slightly distorted to smoother and to clean, like I can with the ENGL,” he reasons. “That and maybe the clinical tiny little artefacts of digital distortion that I still can hear when I interact with it and do a lot of changes.”
He continues: “However, if you were to do a set part where you’re just chugging along, hardly anybody would be able to tell if you were playing through a digital amp or not. However, if I were to be soloing and playing a super-saturated sound and then switch pickups and bring down the volume to about three out of ten, you would hear that it’s not the same roundness, or full. It’s an elusive quality that hasn’t really been captured by modelling amps.”
Applying both a Kemper and his ENGL tube amp to different situations shows Morse has a somewhat measured approach. He mentions the unwieldy logistics of bringing his ENGL amp on the road.
“When I play gigs, it’s always me using my ENGL tube amp. And I do carry it myself sometimes, but on tour the road crew carries it. But mostly, they just lift it into a case, and it just wheels onto a truck in a case. On these dates, I’m going to be bringing the ENGL.”
Steve Morse is currently on tour in the US. For a full list of dates, head to his official website.
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