Joe Satriani Reveals One Thing Digital Amps Can’t Do: ’They Can’t Possibly Capture It’

Joe Satriani weighed in on what seems like a never-ending debate of digital amps vs. tube amps, naming one sonic aspect that still makes tubes a somewhat better choice.

As time goes by, the modelers and profilers get better and better, with some of the biggest names out there using them either live or in the studio. However, no matter how fast they advance, it seems that the debate only gets more complicated every year.

Appearing on Alex Skolnick’s Moods & Modes podcast, along with his original G3 buddies Steve Vai and Eric Johnson, Satriani addressed the issue and explained one thing that digital amps still can’t do.

“The big difference is that when you play the G or the B string into almost any amp, and you go higher, things happen,” Joe explained (transcript via Ultimate Guitar). “There’s a transient response — it’s just totally out of control, beautiful, analog. Everything you put into it is coming out in real-time.”

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Of course, Joe is absolutely not against using digital stuff and he recognizes its qualities and advantages. But in his experience, this is where they’re just not the same. He continued:

“All the modeling things — again, fantastic leap into the future, and convenience for musicians —but, if you just put any one of those right next to your Champ, or your JVM, and you switch back and forth, you’ll go, ‘Oh, my God, there’s no comparison.'”

“They can’t possibly capture it to make the performer sitting like in this room going back and forth feel like it’s anywhere near the same.”

But things aren’t that simple. After all, Joe did use a SansAmp plugin on his entire 2022 record “The Elephants of Mars.” And, as he explains, using digital stuff in the studio won’t really make much of a difference. Joe added:

“However, if it’s on a recording, it doesn’t matter, because the recording already has limited dynamic range.”

And there are also blind tests which most, if not all, guitar players fail over and over again. Even someone of Satriani’s caliber may not notice the difference.

“I watched a lot of shows by the different performers to see if I could tell that there was modeling going on or not,” he continued. “And I realized that I could not at all.”

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“Once it’s mixed in with the instruments and the sounds complement each other — suddenly, I’m just a fan enjoying the music and liking the guitar playing! It’s really about the performer, isn’t it?”

“Like, if you step on a wah pedal, is that your favorite wah? Is that making you inspired? Because the audience is going to pick up on your inspiration and how you play. They couldn’t tell the difference between different eras of Vox wahs; they just want you to do something really cool.”

“So, I think that’s also a really big part of it is — when you plug into these modelers, are you being inspired enough to turn on the audience?”

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Circling back to his album “The Elephants of Mars,” back in 2022, Satriani openly talked about using SansAmp plugins on the entire record. In an interview from that same year, he pointed out how he’s been recording a direct signal for a long time and then goes down the re-amping path.

“Ever since ’98, ’99, I’ve always recorded DI alongside my live amps,” Joe revealed. “And we did that because John Cuniberti invented the re-amp device that allowed us to take a DI guitar signal off the tape machine.”

“This really helped us with changing the guitar sound after we got drums and bass in there, and we changed our minds about what a certain guitar sound should be.”

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But apart from amps, Satch ended up trying out all sorts of digital stuff. As he explained:

“I tried different plug-ins and modeling things. In the end, I listen to them all, and I say, ‘Which one sounds best?’ ‘Which one is bringing the most amount of Joe to the audience?’

“That’s what I wanted on this album, I just wanted to get people as close to the sound of my fingers on the strings as possible, whether I was playing something tender or really outrageous.”

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“And when we finished making the record, Eric [Caudieux, album’s producer and engineer] and I were stunned that we had all chosen the SansAmp track over and over again. That was the one that always sounded best. And we thought, ‘Well, that can’t be.'”

“Our first reaction was, ‘That’s not right. We must have made a mistake somehow.’ But when we went over it, and we put it against the Marshall and all the other things that we had going, the rest of them sounded more like I had been somehow generalized to sound like what everybody else is using.”

Photo: kitmasterbloke (Joe Satriani performs a set with his own band at Southend Cliffs Pavillion, G3 tour)

Author

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.