#TweedTone: Is The Kemper A Good Alternative To A Real Tweed Deluxe Amp?

I’m lucky enough to own a physical Tweed Deluxe amp. I also think that a Tweed Deluxe amp rig for home use has become so expensive in 2023, it’s difficult to justify. So I’ve started looking at alternatives, to see how they compare to the real thing.

This week, I’m dusting off my old Kemper to see what kind of 5e3 Tweed Deluxe tones I can get out of it.

Table of Contents

What Is The Kemper Profiler?

The Kemper Profiler is a revolutionary digital replacement for guitar amps. Well, it was revolutionary when it first launched over a decade ago. Today it has some fierce competition.

The Kemper isn’t a digital amp modeller in the way that (say) the Axe-FX 3 or Helix is. It’s a profiler. It creates digital captures of a signal chain, and then provides a way for you to play through those digital captures.

These digital captures aren’t a model. They’re more of a snapshot: a way to recreate how the captured signal chain sounded with those exact settings. While the Kemper does provide things like EQ controls to tweak a profile, it can’t recreate how those controls work on the captured amp. The more you tweak, the further away you get from how the original signal profile would have sounded and reacted.

What Do I Need To Use It?

First off, you need a Kemper hardware unit. They come in three shapes and sizes:

  • the classic Kemper Profiler (often referred to as the ‘toaster’ unit),
  • the Kemper Profiler rack unit (which is what I’ve got), or
  • the Kemper Stage floor unit

All three do exactly the same thing. When it comes to the audio / tone, there’s no difference at all between them.

Secondly, you need a Kemper profile of a 5e3 Tweed Deluxe amp. Because the Kemper isn’t an amp modeller, you pretty much need a different profile for each amp setting that you want to use.

Finally, you probably want to install Rig Manager onto your computer to control the Kemper from there. You absolutely can do everything you need to do without ever hooking your Kemper up to a computer. I just don’t remember how!

My Rig Today

My signal chain is:

  • Squier 50s Esquire with Seymour Duncan Antiquity bridge pickup (aka The Squirrel)
  • into the front input on my Kemper Profiler
  • out of the main outputs of the Kemper Profile
  • into inputs 3 & 4 on my Apollo x6 audio interface
  • into the EP-34 tape delay plugin
  • into the Precision Reflection Engine plugin (setup for spring reverb)

and into my DAW.

I’m basically keeping the rig the same as what I’ve used before, just going through the Kemper instead of anything else.

Preparing The Kemper

It has been a long since I last touched my Kemper. So, before doing anything else, I sat down and made sure that the Kemper was running the latest firmware, that I had the latest Rig Manager on my laptop, and that Rig Manager could talk to the Kemper successfully.

It’s an easy process. It just takes a few minutes, because the Kemper is a bit old and a bit slow by modern standards.

If I’ve got my dates right, the iPhone 4 was the current iPhone when the Kemper was first announced. Every Kemper ever made is compatible with that original Kemper unit, and might even still be using the same parts. Can you imagine using an iPhone 4 today?

With the Kemper prepped, we’re ready to find a 5e3 Tweed Deluxe profile to use.

Finding A Suitable Profile

I ran into a problem here. After a year and half of using Fractal Audio’s best-in-class desktop editor for the Axe-FX 3, I found Rig Manager really difficult to understand.

I had no trouble finding plenty of profiles of Tweed Deluxe amps via Rig Manager. Looked like there was a good hundred or so to select. But for the life of me, I couldn’t get Rig Manager to show how the controls were set on the Kemper itself.

So in the end, I ended up sticking with a 5e3 Deluxe B1 profile that I’d put onto my Kemper a year or two ago, and tweaking that entirely through the hardware’s knobs and buttons. Unfortunately, that means that I don’t have any screenshots to show you what I dialled in.

How Does It Sound?

Here’s the sound of my Telecaster through the Kemper:

Telecaster > Kemper > DAW

Let’s talk about this before you hear how it compares to my real Tweed Deluxe amp.

On its own, in isolation, I think it sounds perfectly fine. It’s crisp, it’s clear enough, and it does have that 5e3 vibe going on. I wish there was more low-mids going on, but the Kemper’s somewhat notorious for not representing those very well (if at all).

However, here’s the same Telecaster through my real Tweed Deluxe amp:

Telecaster > Tweed Deluxe Amp > Fryette PS-100 > Axe-FX 3 > DAW

Before we discuss it, go back and listen to the Kemper a second time.

Hrm. I don’t know about you, but now that I’ve primed my ears on the sound of the amp, it sounds like there’s a lot of frequencies completely missing from the Kemper recording. And not just those low-mids. It feels like there’s gaps everywhere, like the Kemper just isn’t reproducing all the frequencies in between the ones that it is putting out.

Even though my amp is much more saturated (plus, I’ve overcooked the low-end quite a bit!), I think my amp still has more note separation than the Kemper recording does.

I’m just not hearing any aspect where the Kemper is competitive.

Which Do You Prefer?

This is very easy for me. I prefer the real amp.

I just don’t think the Kemper sounds anywhere near good enough. Although it’s expensive and definitely a hassle, I think the real amp utterly smokes the Kemper both for sound quality and how it feels to play through.

The only thing going for the Kemper is digital convenience: every time I fire up the Kemper, I’m going to get the exact same sound as last time. If you’re recording or gigging regularly, that’s going to be important to you.

But honestly, if you need digital convenience, I’d pay the extra and grab an Axe-FX 3 instead. I managed to make that sound just like my real amp.

How Does The Price Compare?

At the time of writing, a brand new Kemper Profiler rack unit costs £1,269. The toaster version costs the same. The floor unit version (the Kemper Stage) costs £1,349.

On top of that, if you’re buying profiles you may spend up to £100 or so. It all depends on how many commercial profile packs you try before you find one that gives you the sound you want.

That’s around £2,000 less than a real Fender Tweed Deluxe amp + power attenuator for home use. You can save a bit more money if you’re willing to buy second-hand. There’s always Kempers for sale on eBay!

With the Kemper, you’re not just getting the sound of one particular Tweed Deluxe amp. Different profiles will have been made against different Tweed Deluxe amp examples. That immediately gives you more options than the real amp, and more options than a normal digital modelling device does.

And you’re not limited to just the Tweed Deluxe. At the time of writing, there are 19,891 different Kemper profiles available for free on Kemper’s Rig Exchange. There’s goodness knows how many commercial profile packs available to buy too.

Of all the digital amp-like products on the market today, the Kemper has been around the longest, and that means it has the biggest ecosystem around it.

Final Thoughts

There’s a reason you’ll find a Kemper Profile in just about every professional recording studio on the planet. Many people are very happy with how a Kemper sounds.

After hearing this demo, you might decide that you’re one of them. And that means that this blog post was worth doing. There’s no wrong answer here. Hearing and tone are both subjective things. If you like what you’ve heard, do think about getting one.

Personally, I can’t recommend the Kemper for rich tweedy tones. I think there’s far better options out there.

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