Analogue, Digital What's the difference?
There is a lot of speculation and FUD surrounding the differences between analogue and digital equipment, and analogue and digital sounds. For starters, let's define them. Analogue sound is continuous, it occurs in the real world. Digital sound, on the other hand, is limited and is a representation of the analogue sound. Whilst many have their own views on the differences between the two, this theory is growing increasingly outdated as technology grows and the representation becomes truer. Consider digital cameras as mega-pixels increase, so does the quality of the image the same is true for sound.
Digital sounds were, at one point, like bullet points of information. They were rough and ready interpretations of an analogue sound. 8-bit became 16-bit which became 24-bit and now these approximations are closer to their real world analogue equivalent than ever. Sampling rates and advances in microphone technology mean that digital recording can compete on the same level as analogue recording.
Digital recording nowadays can also make tracks sound more analogue than analogue itself. Plug-ins and settings and equalisation can all give that warm, fat analogue sound to your recordings with more benefits - it's cheaper, offers greater flexibility and is arguably quicker than analogue. Digital Audio Workstations have become more prominent since computers have developed the capabilities to handle audio.
I'm a guitarist, does it affect me?
For recording you shouldn't think twice about it digital recording, and anyone who offers it as a service these days, will be up to the standard you expect. As a performer you should be a little bit more wary.
One major difference between analogue and digital when performing is what happens when you push either too far in terms of volume. Get into the red and with analogue you get overdrive a nice, rounded edge to the sound that changes the tone of the sound in a pleasing way. Get into the red with digital and you get distortion a pointed, abrasive, squaring of the sound that changes the tone of the sound in a bad way.
Generally you will get a better sound with tube amplifiers than with solid state ones, although there are many modelling amps and hybrids that break this rule it's one that holds true. Effects, on the other hand, rely completely on the level of technology within them.
Effects aren't the basis of your tone, and therefore don't have huge volumes pushed through them. They do however, change and alter your tone so it's best to buy the best you can afford. With pedals and effects there are generally two types to be aware of bypass and true-bypass. Bypass is when the pedal is switched off but still in your signal path, and the sound is affected by passing through the circuitry this is called harmonic distortion. True-bypass is when the pedal is switched off but still in your signal path, and the sound is not affected in any way.
So there you have it, a quick review of the differences between analogue and digital technologies. They both have strengths and they both have weaknesses, but either of them can be used to get a great guitar tone, or a great sounding record.