#HomeTone Thoughts Before Winter NAMM 2020

Winter NAMM is almost here. It’s one of the most high-profile guitars & gear trade shows in the world, and traditionally, many manufacturers use it to announce or launch their major new products of the year.

YouTube is going to be dominated by NAMM show floor coverage for the next few weeks. If you want to see everything that will be displayed at the show, subscribe to one of the YouTube channels I recently recommended.

From a #HomeTone perspective, what are the gaps in the market that I’m hoping to see filled by new products?

Guitars

The main gap in the guitar market, at least for #HomeTone players, are available #PlayAlternative guitars to the mighty Gibson Les Paul. By available, I mean guitars hanging on the wall of a shop somewhere, that you can go and try-before-you-buy.

If you’ve got the money, there are fantastic alternatives to the Les Paul from the likes of Knaggs, Collings, and Nik Huber to name but three. Eastman make a great Les Paul alternative, as do Maybach, but they’re around the same price as an actual Gibson. Want to spend less? Your choice is limited to just Vintage. (Epiphone are Gibson’s Far-East budget brand).

Then there’s PRS. The McCarty 594 is the guitar that the Les Paul should be. From the neck carve to the weight, from the intonation to the tuning stability, from the tone to the flexibility, it’s simply a better instrument. Unfortunately, it’s also a much more expensive instrument. Pricing for a ‘Core model’ (US factory-made) McCarty 594 starts at where Gibson Custom Shop Les Pauls were only a few years ago.

Fortunately, that’s about to change.

PRS have already announced that they’re (finally!) releasing more affordable versions of the McCarty 594. In fact, they’ve said that there are going to be three versions. Early indications are that they’ll be priced a little below the Les Paul Standard, and that they’ll reach the shops within a month.

I’m excited by this. The McCarty 594 is a superb instrument, and this brings us one step closer to seeing a much more affordable PRS SE version of the guitar, maybe in a year or two.

Amps

While Fender have the #HomeTone market well-covered if you want a Strat or a Tele, they don’t really have anything for you to plug them into. Their amp lineup hasn’t catered to #HomeTone players for years (if ever), and it’s something I’d love to see them address at Winter NAMM.

It’s a curious thing. It’s not just that you’d think that they’d want players to buy a Fender amp to go with their Fender guitar, you’d think that they’d also want to tap into the ‘pedal platform’ amp market too. In my experience, the vast majority of pedals are voiced for Fender’s classic ‘blackface’ amp sound.

So why is it a sound that #HomeTone players cannot buy from Fender?

It’s only last year – 2019 – that we could get that from anyone. Blackstar released the Studio 10 6L6, and it’s the only amp that I know of that delivers the ‘blackface’ sound at home volumes and the kind of price that #HomeTone players can afford. It’s a great amp, and if you want a pedal platform for home use, it’s the one I recommend.

Fender make some great amps, but they’re made for the stage, not for home use. C’mon, Fender: plug this gap in your lineup, before amps become obsolete. Oh, and please make some amp heads, instead of just bulky combos I don’t have space for 🙂

(We’re already well-sorted for flavours of Marshall and Vox. It’s just Fender’s heritage that’s not available in an affordable package for the next generation.)

Pedals And Effects

At the highest end, the Axe FX 3 is proving that digital modelling can replace the venerable valve amp … at a price. That £2,600 will buy you quite a lot of great valve amp tones too, and those valve amps will still be going strong long after the Axe FX 3 is.

Axe FX have proved it can be done. Will we see anyone step up and bring out a comparable product at a price and realism that really starts to threaten the valve amp market?

Neural DSP have just announced their new Quad Cortex modelling unit, with a launch price of $1799 US / €1599 EU. Their audio plugins have received rave reviews for how good they sound, and how good they are to play. If they can deliver that in a device, then it might just start to threaten the valve amp market.

The price is important because it’s priced directly against the Kemper. Practically every studio in the world has a Kemper. Plenty more have ended up in homes too. It’s a price that enthusiasts are willing to pay.

Although a major success, the Kemper is hampered by technology that’s 12 years old now (every new Kemper feature has to run on the very first unit they ever shipped), and by their struggles with software quality (firmware updates, and the much-delayed Editor). The Kemper has never been a true amp replacement, and the onboard effects have never been a reason to buy one. The company has struggled to move beyond the one innovation that brought them their success, and there’s no sign that they’re going to deliver a Kemper v2 that takes advantage of modern processing power.

They may be about to be forced to.

One of the advertised features of the Neural DSP Quad Cortex is “Neural Capture” – basically, their own equivalent of the Kemper’s profiling ability. The description (found in their FAQ) suggests that they’re going after the Kemper’s achilles’ heel: that a Kemper profile doesn’t sound like the original amp.

Back in 2007, when the Kemper was invented, processors weren’t powerful enough to capture and process all the incoming sound. Kemper’s innovation was to focus on the frequencies that would fool most people most of the time (known as the “reference profile” in his 2007 patent). The result was a genuine breakthrough, and it has become a mainstay of the recording industry.

Time has shown, though, that the wider guitar community are hungry for a true amp replacement: something that sounds just like the real thing, and something that reacts just like the real thing. If “Neural Capture” delivers profiles that come close, it’ll be the next big thing.

Studio Gear

I’m not sure what the next big thing will be in studio gear for #HomeTone users though.

The two challenges for recording at home are latency and sound quality. Well, along with our own skills as audio engineers and mixers, but I’m not sure that any piece of gear is going to solve those problems!

Latency is already solved – for a price. That price is an interface with Thunderbolt 3, and a hefty PC or laptop to handle the incoming audio. Analogue consoles don’t have latency either. Is there a market for affordable analogue consoles for home use? I’m not sure there is.

By sound quality, I mean the getting the sound you capture in your DAW to be the sound you hear from your amp. That’s largely been solved by using impulse responses instead of having to mic up a cab yourself. There’s no shortage of great impulse response libraries on the market.

Wouldn’t it be great, though, if there was a product out there to help you make your own impulse responses? That’s something I’d love to see. Something like a Two Notes Torpedo rack unit that can also create cab models.

2020 is already going to be the year of the impulse response. We just need a way for everyone to be able to make them.

What Do You Want To See For #HomeTone?

Those are the things I’d love to see. Some of them are already coming. Some of them, we’ll probably not see this year.

I’d love to hear what you want to see announced at NAMM. What are the gaps in your #HomeTone setup? What are the things you wished you had, but can’t think of a product that gives you that?

Let me know in the comments below.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.