A7X's Gates: I Believe Synthetic Effects Will Very Soon Be as Good as Analog. And I'm a Purist

"The guy that designed the 5150 - he explained how it's very possible for something synthetic to sound absolutely natural."

Ultimate Guitar
A7X's Gates: I Believe Synthetic Effects Will Very Soon Be as Good as Analog. And I'm a Purist

During a recent appearance on Sounding Off, Avenged Sevenfold guitarist Syn Gates discussed the current state of synthetic guitar effects, saying (transcribed by UG):

"So we were hanging with James Brown, the guy that designed the 5150 and my Hellwin.

"He admitted that it takes a lot of circuitry - he explained how it's very possible for something synthetic to sound absolutely natural, you couldn't hear the difference side-by-side.

"So I'm giving Fractal a chance to come out here and blow minds, program something. I'm thinking about doing a pact with them or something along the lines, but it has to sound good.

"I am so particular about amps and gear as well. I wouldn't say I'm a gear buff, but I do have a good ear when it comes to that types of sonic qualities. We're huge in production of our records, students of other people's producers...

"So I feel like I can hear a difference, but many people say, 'All you need is this next chip that's gonna be released by the government, and it does all this, and once it has that superpower then that's gonna be able to create all these things and it's never gonna over-compress or cut those waves off.'

"I always call it a little bit more plasticky sounding to me, rather than it's sharp and vibrant as some of the real stuff. So until my ears can't differentiate, I'm gonna stick with that stuff.

"Because I'm a purist, not with everything, but definitely as a guitar player. I mean, I can't fathom sacrificing tone! I just can't do it. But I'm hearing that it will be unnoticeable to the ear. You won't be able to differentiate in the very near future."

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Syn continued:

"I'm hoping. I'm a futurist, I don't wanna be stuck in the past or the present. I can't wait to see what the next day brings, and I already love where Fractal and Axe-Fx is to my ear already.

"And a lot of people say right now it's good. 'We'll be able to tone match and you won't be able to tell the difference. And we're gonna come in and we're gonna do it.' And I'm very open to it.

"I'd love to streamline and just have an Axe-Fx unit. The whole Hellwin thing... [shows the huge rig] That's the thing right there! [Laughs] So that's a hell of a lot of shit to bring out on tour. It's a hell of a lot of shit that can go wrong. And they do.

"So you have to have another compartment or rig for spare parts and all this kind of stuff. So yeah, would you wanna streamline and just have it solid and reliable, yeah. They also say, 'When we do this to people we'll profile and you can't tell the difference. But then we'll kind of cross sell you on something that's already in there.'

"But they tweak it with their magical hands. Because I guess out of the box... It's supposed to be very play ready, it's got the gloss. But when you really get in there and tweak on it, and I have, that's the problem possibly with not being able to attain that yet, it's because it's not very intuitive, at least not for the layman like me.

"It's really hard for me to go in there and go to the different profile pages, and then tweak this transistor, and this diode, what type of power you're using... I mean, you can tweak all that stuff, and it absolutely changes shit.

"So yeah, I'm excited to get them in here and try and learn more about it. Because I'd love to have a one stop shop right here, even in the studio.

Asked whether he utilizes Axe-Fx for live gigs, Syn replied:

"Yeah, I run it in the effects loop of the amp. Nothing in front yet. I haven't needed compression or anything like that in front of the amp. But all the modulations and stuff like that are in the effects loop.

"And then a Pro Tools rig to do all the switching. Pretty cool little setup. 95% of our songs, we have some tape or some orchestrations that we like to have live. And so that necessitates the click and a framework. So you can just punch in those numbers, and no more tap dancing, no more mistakes."

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33 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I'm in two minds of the whole thing. I don't know if I'm biased, but a big, loud valve amp has a real oompf that digital doesn't quite replace yet. As for switching, if you're playing to a click with some backing elements, why the hell not utilize it for switching your sounds, too?  Does that take away something, though? Not sure. I did see Periphery live and they had completely automated their live show, and it was an incredible show. Great energy the entire time. So maybe that is the way of the future? It doesn't seem to take anything away from a live performance.
    Digital isn't there yet, but it keeps getting closer.  I love tube amps, but when the day comes I'd rather buy something for $2000 digital that could be able to can play what $50,000 of analog tube amps, cabs, & stompboxes do. It's funny all the tube purists out there, and yet people like Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, and John Frusciante etc. got most of their distortion from synthetic transistors on a circuit-board inside a stompbox that are simulating a tube amp & not the real deal and I don't hear anyone complaining.  All that matters is if it sounds good.
    Wait, what? Cobain maybe. Hendrix and Fruciante definitely used tubes and overdrive, or fuzz or a slashed speaker cone in Hendrix's case.
    Yes they used tubes, but we all know Hendrix used the Fuzzface, & Frusciante in RHCP kept a Boss DS-1 and DS-1 on his pedal board, and used fuzz boxes like the Muff too:   My point is, when they're used I don't hear anyone complaining.
    Kemper through a good sized active speaker is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing I believe. I don't believe anyone could legitimately tell the difference in a blind test.
    I switched from a tube amp to my Axe FX and I have to say, it wonderful. The manual says this in the foreword : As technology marched on and IC's became ever denser, a new paradigm was thrust into the spotlight: digital. Digital effects, it was promised, would offer far superior performance: zero noise, nearly infinite delay times, pristine reverbs, etc. Soon the multi-effect was born. In a single rackmounted unit the guitarist could have the equivalent of a dozen different effect pedals.  Competition was fierce with each manufacturer trying to one-up the other by cramming more and more into their boxes. Ultimately, and unfortunately, this has led to digital's demise. As engineering gave way to marketing, many soon began to question the Emperor's new clothes. Pricing pressures and cost cutting forced engineers to use low-grade components and inferior algorithms, and the quality of the effects suffered. Grainy, cheesy, noisy. No doubt many have heard these terms when referring to digital effects. Soon, many guitarists rebelled against digital effects and analog pedals have now enjoyed a renaissance. Old analog pedals are prized and sought among vintage collectors. Musicians have ditched their rack processors in favor of a board full of individual effect pedals. But this is a pity. For digital does not have to carry the stigma that it does. Digital is, in fact, quite capable of delivering the benefits that were originally touted. And now, more than ever, can this be realized, as modern Digital Signal Processors (DSP's) are not only incredibly powerful but relatively inexpensive. The quality of digital audio is hard to refute.  Just witness CD and DVD players, MP3 devices and computer audio in general all of which use digital processing. Furthermore, digital offers the convenience of multiple simultaneous effects, programmability and superior control. With the Fractal Audio Systems Axe-Fx we have hopefully restored digital to its rightful place as the superior solution to musical effects processing. Every aspect of the Axe-Fx has been designed to deliver the ultimate in sonic quality. The converters are of the highest quality offering low-noise, high linearity and uncolored performance. The DSP has more raw compute power than many desktop computers allowing uncompromised processing algorithms. All processing is done at 32- bit precision yielding uncolored, transparent sound. Here's my favorite bit:  "The Axe-Fx does not use any analog processing or any tubes. If you look inside the Axe-Fx you will not see any glowing tubes or any of the revered op-amps that the analog pundits claim offer mystical sonic properties. What you will see are modern, high-quality components that offer specifications and performance far exceeding any of the aforementioned devices. The Axe-Fx does contain, however, very accurate digital replicas of actual vacuum tubes. We gathered up some classic tubes and measured their transfer functions and then stored these transfer functions in the Axe-Fx’s massive brain. Our replicas are so exact that we can reproduce the harmonic spectrum of a real tube amp with amazing accuracy. Most modelers don’t even come close. " They actually replicate a tube's functions digitally! I really like my AXE FX, the tones I can make on this beauty are almost infinite. Sorry about the wall of text but the manual really says it the best. 
    20 years ago when I began playing the guitar, gear wasn't even half what it is now. In another 10-20 years, I have no doubt things will advance quickly. In my opinion, the guitar needs it to keep advancing and surviving. Too many "purists" are driving away new ideas and younger blood by turning the guitar into a nostalgia trip. The artform and the medium itself need to keep advancing with the times. There are many guitarists today who are doing that wonderfully, but where there's one kid who's open minded about the future, there are 5 "purist snobs" criticizing what he's doing and his sound, trying to keep the instrument in the past, whether it's with outdated gear or with old style. People will say the guitar is dying/dead compared to today's musical landscape. When I read forum posts from a bunch of stuffy old purist snobs, I am inclined to agree, however the instrument will progress forward and evolve, as it's always done. 
    When you need this many people to defend opinions the flags raise themselves haha
    I'd say it's there already. Do a model of an amp with a Kemper, put the the two side by side, and do a blind test. You wouldn't be able to tell the difference, and that's in a quiet, controlled environment. Bring it on stage, chuck your FX chain in the mix, and start playing with a band, and you'd have better luck recognising what brand the cable you're using is.
    It'll happen eventually, obviously, there's no real reason why it wouldn't - it's all just waves, man. Come on boffins, sort it out.
    Hey,Brian.....They already are as good,sometimes better.Just check out a Kemper Profiler amp.
    High vs. Low volume has always been the key. Analog is analog. Digital is digital. The two will always respond differently. Digital has come a long way and will continue to evolve. Analog will mostly remain stagnant. 99.99999% will never know the difference between the two.
    Wont matter as long as he has his E string. 95% of his solos are just slide-dickin the E sting
    What is slide dicking and where can I learn it? This is what my solos have been missing.
    Are you kidding me? If anything I thought that on a lot of their earlier stuff he'd sweep too much just to try to prove a point, and if you actually listened to The Stage then you'd know he's only gotten better. So yeah, you're a moron.
    A7X quickly becoming the most overrated band of their time. Luckily FFDP beat them to the.. oh yeah lol
    My god, reading that was like if Donald Trump was a guitarist.....
    Nah. He did, eventually, manage to put across a clear point. I think he's just really enthusiastic about his tone and that's why he's a bit all over the place.
    I am a HUGE fan of older A7X (waking the fallen...), don't really care for their newer stuff, but have never really felt that they have had a 'good' tone.  Always seemed thin to me, but obviously it works for them and it is an objective opinion thing.   Either way, I have no actual experience with it, but Fractal makes the best sounding digital effects I've heard.  I use Bias FX by Positive Grid and its phenomenal, but so many huge artists with, IMO, better tone than A7X use the Axe FXII and sounds absolutely incredible.  My $0.02
    Agreed.  Not taking anything away from the band but their tone has never been one I'd write home to mama about.
    I like the sounds of digital ok, but HATE dealing with settings, it goes on forever, what sounds good one day sounds crap the next. Gives me a headache just pressing buttons or looking at a screen. I use the cleans for recording, but anything from crunch to higain I mic up my 6505, so much easier and satisfying. Love my amp, hate my HD500x 
    All I have to say is you see all these solid state amps and software programs trying to emulate a tube amp sound, but you never see the tube amp trying to sound like anything else