Future-Proofing / Obsolescence - Classic Tube vs. Modeling Amps

Discussion in 'Amp Central Station' started by rob5755, Feb 14, 2020.

  1. rob5755

    rob5755 Tele-Holic

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    This is NOT a which-has-better-sound, tone...etc. cork-sniffer post.

    We are seeing a lot of really cool modeling amps like the Yamaha THR Wireless Series, Boss Katana Air 2 and now the new Positive Grid Spark. These are amazing for the year 2020, but how will they hold up in terms of technology obsolescence in ten or twenty years. A 51 year old properly serviced Fender or Marshall tube amp from 1969 is still very usable, but will that be the case for today's modeling amps down the road?

    I only ask because we already see other technology released 7-12 years ago, like the ubiquitous iPhones and Android phones becoming 'bricks' because Apple and Samsung will no longer provide software support (because they say the 'hardware can't handle it), and these phones cost a LOT of money. I know a properly serviced Fender Princeton or MESA Boogie will function in 2030, but what about modeling amps with ever-growing software complexity & sophistication in software in 2030 or 2035 that today's hardware can't or won't support down the road?
     
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  2. 3-Chord-Genius

    3-Chord-Genius Poster Extraordinaire

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    I've had this discussion with a guy I know who wants to sell all his pedals and get a Helix. I told him the digital gear sounds great, but it's a computer and we've seen what happens to computers - newer computers regularly throw the older ones in to obsolescence. Then they lose their resale value. If he gets a Helix, he should keep his other stuff too.
     
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  3. Lawdawg

    Lawdawg Tele-Holic

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    I've posted about this numerous times, but the short answer is no -- a digital amp is not going to hold up in 15-20 years. That alone doesn't mean you should avoid digital amps -- it's just part of the deal you need to be aware.

    The newer digital amp models sound pretty darn good, and you get a ton of bang for the buck at a relatively low price. The tradeoff is that whether it's hardware or software, the digital stuff you buy now will all be superseded in 7-12 years. The digital amp version of getting new tubes or re-capped will be to get a new amp.

    I've also posted this before, but if you want to see what the future holds for digital vs. analog guitar amps look no further than the past 30 years in the synth market (I started with synths so know this well). When the old analog synths got too expensive on the used market in the 90s, manufacturers starting making digital "virtual analog" or "VA" synths. 20 years on, and VA synths have largely gone the way of the dodo, replaced by software synths and a new generation of less expensive analog synths. I see no reason for this pattern to be repeated with guitar amps and in 10-15 years I wouldn't be surprised if many hardware digital modeling amps are replaced by software being run into FOH directly of through a simple SS amp on stage. Of course, you'll still have lots of tube amps on the market for those who prefer that just as there are now more analog hardware synths than ever.
     
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  4. Whatizitman

    Whatizitman Friend of Leo's

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    This thread will eventually devolve into a modern vs old fight. It just will.

    This is my take on it. It is not an "older is better" rant. Just an observation.

    My thoughts are that anything made with modern PCB and/or chips and software will be landfill. There will be no niche "retro" market for repairing and maintaining any production amp in the future, particularly for cheap ones. Electric guitar is no longer pop music king. Newer amp designs do now allow for easy repair or maintenance, and the cheaper the cost the less likely an amp will be repaired. What old amps have survived will maintain their value for a while (less so the bigger they are), until my generation (X) and older dies off. Modeling amps will become obsolete. There is only so many software updates a maker will support. That, and the modeling market is all about bells and whistles - all of which lose their luster very quickly, and become just another piece of gear to sit in the corner or be sold/traded off for cash for the next new buy. Sure, this is my opinion. I'm also willing to be I'm more right than wrong on this.
     
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  5. Whatizitman

    Whatizitman Friend of Leo's

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    THIS. We can now end this thread. :D
     
  6. JL_LI

    JL_LI Friend of Leo's

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    This strikes me as the choice between planned obsolescence or something that’s obsolete already. But this doesn’t bother me much. I’ll be 70 next month. I’m closing in on obsolescence myself and I’m not sure I’ll care ten years from now.
     
  7. tubelectron

    tubelectron Tele-Holic

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    This is a pertinent, realistic question, indeed @rob5755 .

    By the way, where are gone all those 90s costy, must-have Digitech GSP IMEA and Co racks today ? :confused:

    IMHO those modelling systems are made for a regular (and fast) technology turnover, rather than a lasting scheme like a conventional tube or even solid-state gear.

    But who knows ? Maybe there will be some digital modelling becoming collectibles one day, like old tube amps have become now... o_O

    -tbln
     
  8. The Angle

    The Angle Tele-Holic

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    It's sort of a false equivalency.

    The technology that drives tube amps is beyond mature. Designers can still make tweaks, but no one is radically improving the tech.

    Digital modeling is in its infancy. Ten years in the future, digital amps will be noticeably better because digital tech will advance during that decade. In the meantime, tube circuits will stand still, as they have for 30+ years.

    Eventually digital modeling will also become a mature technology. Then you can talk meaningfully about which is more durable.
     
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  9. Gardo

    Gardo Tele-Meister

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    I have one modeling amp that is okay for what I use it for.
    Every time I buy a new pedal for my real amp I wonder if I should get a good modeling amp with everything built in.
    The problem is I can’t bring myself to lay out the cash for a throw away amp
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2020
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  10. bgmacaw

    bgmacaw Friend of Leo's

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    My observations...

    Innovations are slower with special purpose digital equipment than general purpose stuff. Going from the Pod to today's modeling units the biggest innovations are improved connectivity (USB, Bluetooth, etc) and impulse responses (profiling if you include Kemper). These have slowly built up over the past 20 years, not in big leaps. There's usually no need to upgrade every few years unless you just have to have the latest and greatest. Just catch the next big wave when it comes.

    Software is often a bigger issue than hardware. Is the software that you need to interface with the older modeling unit going to still work when the next version of Windows, MacOs, Android or iOS comes out? The unit may still work fine but you may need a 10 year old computer and OS to be able to program it. Will the company drop support for the unit and no longer make the software available for download? Will they go to a subscription model where you have to pay a monthly fee for the software?

    Modeling units, like many modern electronic devices, are more susceptible to damage from power surges. These units tend to be really sensitive to power and can be easily damaged (aka bricked). While maybe you can live with losing a $100-$200 unit, what about a $500 one? $1000? $2500? Pretty much, if it gets broken, you have to replace it, not repair it.

    I do like modeling though. It gives me access to tones that I couldn't afford otherwise. I'll keep buying it although I'll avoid sinking more than a few hundred dollars into a single unit. I'll also prefer to stick with only amp and cabinet models and try to avoid multi-effects.
     
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  11. FenderLover

    FenderLover Poster Extraordinaire

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    I have 6 amps from the 40's and 50's. I'll have them, serviced and working, until I die in another 30 years.
    Will anyone be talking about a 2020 Tonemaster in 2090? How about 2030?
     
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  12. Mexitele Blues

    Mexitele Blues Tele-Holic

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    The law of diminishing returns will see to it that larger and larger jumps in technology will provide smaller and smaller improvements in tone. I think we will see a day soon where modeling will sound about as good as it ever will, and at that point, the quality and longevity of the amp itself will become the selling point.
     
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  13. BobbyZ

    BobbyZ Doctor of Teleocity

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    Vacuum tubes have been obsolete easily since the 1960s or so. It's amazing they built tube amps at all after 1970. It's really amazing CBS Fender built hand wired amps into the 1980s.
    Guitar players like tubes so they built them while every other electronic thing went with new technology, transistors, then digital.
    Now we're to a point where digital technology is really cheap to build machines do the work on the printed boards. Today's best chip will be obsolete tomorrow.
    At first glance a new didgital amp looks like something that should last for many years. But don't count on it. The weakness is the pot shafts sticking out with the pot only soldered to the board and often the jacks are the same way. When those solder joints crack or get broken off, the dumpster is where it'll likely end up. Repairs, even when possible, will probably cost more than a new one.

    Just know that, like you're new washer and dryer, if you get ten good years out of it, you're doing good.

    Oh and the same goes for most new cheaper tube amps. Don't think for one second that the big name amps haven't update their assembly lines to use the latest manufacturing techniques. On those you can toss out a broken circuit board you can't replace and rewire it old school. Or chuck it in the trash and buy a new one.

    Is older better? Not really. But older is easier to fix and keep running.
     
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  14. Whatizitman

    Whatizitman Friend of Leo's

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    Not if software is involved. Modeling is the selling point. As we've seen with any software based commodity, time limited update schedule and lifespan is a feature, not a bug (see what I did there?). Even if there were a modeling amp designed for easy repair and maintenance, the tech would still be the limiting factor. Chips/memory do not last forever. Will the code base be open source and freely distributed and maintainable for years (decades) to come? Or will only DSP and hardware hackers be the ones keeping them alive, purely for hobby or nostalgic sake? Regardless, the majority will eventually be landfill. It's not just the design. It's the times.

    It's almost as if we're comparing apples and oranges. Both amplify guitar. But both are very different in their design, build, use context, and manufacturing era. No electronic device built today has a life span over a few years (at best). Why should it be any different with amps? I don't think sound and tone (perfectly 'modeled' or good on its own) will matter in that regard.
     
  15. trxx

    trxx Tele-Holic

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    When a digital amp goes down after the manufacturer stops supporting it, it becomes a brick. An classic tube amp will be indefinitely repairable. And in my experience, digital amps don't hold up soundwise in a band situation. They tend to sound thin at loud volumes and get buried by good sounding tube amps, drums, and bass.
     
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  16. Steerforth

    Steerforth Tele-Afflicted

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    Anything that you can’t make and repair yourself is disposable and subject to obsolescence.

    And even things that you can make and repair yourself might become obsolete if for some reason you can no longer get the materials and parts that you need to make or repair them.

    So we’re all pretty much in a situation where we can enjoy a lot of fun technology, but the only stuff that we can really rely on for the future is hunter-gatherer level technology.

    Hopefully we’ll never have to face such a worst case scenario. The guitars in such a world would likely leave much to be desired. And I’d be miserable listening to sinew vs spruce root strings arguments.
     
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  17. teletail

    teletail Tele-Meister

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    Did you save your first computer, and if so, are you still using it? Same answer here.
     
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  18. 1300 E Valencia

    1300 E Valencia Friend of Leo's

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    Since tech is either obsolete or still on the drawing board, what exactly does "unknown life expectancy" mean?

    If it breaks while still under warranty, it gets replaced. No one is going to take it apart and “fix” it with a soldering iron.

    Life expectancy then equals length of warranty. If the warranty exceeds two years, Moore's Law says it's obsolete anyway.

    And yet, we still love vacuum tubes. From 1875.
    And paper books. From 1440.
     
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  19. LoveHz

    LoveHz Tele-Holic

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    A few weeks ago I was mightily impressed listening to a store demonstration of Fender's new Tonemaster Twin Reverb. It really did sound very good -- and weighed very little. Another prospective customer asked: "What happens in a few years when it conks out. Who is going to know how to fix it?"

    And that set me wondering for how long will Fender supply parts for those intrepid souls who think they'll know how to fix it.
     
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  20. bsman

    bsman Tele-Afflicted

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    Tube amps are great, and some of the modeling stuff is great, too. I don't really care how the technology will hold up for 20 years, because we're guitarists - we are always going to be in search of the next big thing, and we love to spend money on new gear, anyway.

    Now, if I could just figure out a way to hook my crystal radio up to my Helix... :D
     
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