Studio Diary #41: Revoicing The Axe-FX 3 Pedal Platform Patch – Amp & Cab Requirements

‘Studio Diary’ is an occasional series where I talk about building a home recording setup for hobbyists and enthusiasts like us. I share my personal experiences, and the thinking behind some of the decisions that I’ve made along the way.

Fractal Audio have recently overhauled their amp modelling in the Axe-FX 3 / FM-9 / FM-3. And my recent dive into the Orange Getaway Driver has shown me that I need to revoice my signal chain. I’m taking this as an opportunity to re-evaluate everything about the pedal preset I’ve built for the Axe-FX 3.

The heart of the preset is the amp & cab combination, so let’s get straight into that, and work out what I actually want.

Series Tracker

This is the second post in this series:

Introduction

Here’s a quick explainer of what I’m doing and why.

I’ve been using the Axe-FX 3 as my main pedal platform since the end of June 2022 (or about 22 months at the time of writing). I bought the Axe-FX 3 for something else, but quickly switched over from real amp & real cabs because it’s makes recording guitars at home far far easier.

I built my own Axe-FX 3 preset to use with my pedals. I wanted to get as close as possible to how my real amp (Marshall DSL20HR) and real cabs (two 1×12 Victory Cabs, fitted with 16 ohm Celestion A-Type and 16 ohm Celestion Blue speakers) sound.

And it’s grown organically from there until now. Sometimes I’ve tweaked the patch as my knowledge of the Axe-FX 3 improved; sometimes I’ve tweaked it to take advantage of new features. Mostly, though, it’s evolved to cope with a wider selection of guitars and drive pedals.

This all came to a head in April 2024, when I bought myself an Orange Getaway Driver drive pedal. (Great drive pedal, btw.) That pedal showed me that my pedal platform patch is just way too dark. It needs revoicing.

This has come at exactly the right moment too. Fractal Audio have just finished a major overhaul of their amp modelling (Firmware v24 and v25).

So it’s time to sit down and build a new pedal platform patch. And it’s also time to break with the past …

It’s Time To Evolve

My old patch started out chasing the sound from my Marshall DSL20HR and two 1×12 cabs.

I’ve gone through a number of amps over the years in the search for a great pedal platform amp for home use. I settled on the Marshall DSL20HR over the Blackstar Studio 10 6L6 because the Marshall’s clean channel (effectively) has six EQ controls to the Blackstar’s one control. It’s just so much more flexible. I can dial the Marshall in for any pedal that I throw at it, and get great results every time.

For speaker cabs, I’ve bought a bunch of second-hand Victory 1×12 cabs over the years. The size is very home-friendly, and they sound great in the room. I normally use two of them together with different speakers.

My speakers of choice for pedals are the 16 ohm Celestion A-Type and the 16 ohm Celestion Blue. I think they go so well together, and give me a tone that is a little bit different to what you might hear elsewhere.

Problem is, none of these are in the Axe-FX 3.

I’ve no idea if Fractal Audio will ever add a Marshall DSL20HR model to the unit. It’s not exactly considered a classic Marshall amp. I doubt there’s any real demand for it.

When it comes to 1×12 cabs, Fractal Audio seems to stick with modelling the cabs for amp combos. At least, that’s what it looks like from here. And – for now – shooting my own IRs for the cabs isn’t an option.

I think it’s time to stop trying to make the Axe-FX 3 do something it can’t actually do, and see what happens if I go all-in on what it’s actually really good at.

What Amps Work Best With Pedals?

In my experience, drive pedals fall into one (or more) of the following categories.

Fender Blackface Amp Tones For Boutique Pedals

Boutique drive pedals – especially designed in the USA – normally work best with clean amps that are voiced like a Fender amp. The best amps for this are those that deliver “Fender blackface” tones; i.e. amps like the Princeton Reverb and Deluxe Reverb.

And that makes a lot of sense. These are the kinds of amps that are very common over there. Plus, they’re arguably the best sounding clean amps ever made.

Cranked Marshall Amp Tones For Drives And Boosts

However, many older pedal circuits are designed to act as boosts into Marshall-style amp circuits.

In the days before IRs, decent PA systems and the like, you needed a loud amp to gig- and Marshall was the king of loud amp manufacturers. Back then, many drive pedals were created to go into classic Marshall 4×12 stacks.

They’re used for all sorts of things.

Some are used to get more saturation from the amp, and/or to get that cranked amp saturation when you can’t run the amp on full. Some are used to tighten up the low-end when the amp is cooking, or to force the top-end to go into compression. And some are used to switch from a rhythm to a lead tone without having to touch the amp’s settings during a gig.

Often, running these pedals into a completely clean amp only results in disappointment.

Some Boosts Want Vox Amp Tones

Every now and then, I’ll come across a pedal that was originally designed to go into a Vox AC-30. Or one of my friends who plays an AC-30 will tell me about how good a particular pedal sounds into his amp.

This isn’t my world at all, so I don’t know much about it.

Are AC-30s and the like that popular these days? I know the Morgan AC-20 in particular is an amp that gets a lot of mentions when it comes to digital modellers. Universal Audio’s Ruby amp modelling pedal seems to be more popular than their two Fender-voiced pedals (judging by prices on the second-hand market).

I also have no idea how many pedals work well with the AC-30 and the like. I can’t recall the last time I saw a YouTuber demo a pedal into the AC-30 or equivalent.

Opposites For Amp-In-A-Box Pedals?

There was a period about a decade ago when amp-in-a-box (AIAB for short) pedals were all the range. These are pedals that are designed to make your current amp sound like a (often completely) different amp.

I’ve always been unsure about which amp to use with AIAB pedals. For example, is there any point in running a Marshall-in-a-box (MIAB) pedal into a real Marshall amp?

At the same time, the amp & cab combination strongly dictate the frequency range that gets reproduced. Can you really use a pedal to make a mid-focused Marshall sound like a laid-back Deluxe Reverb when the Marshall cuts off key frequencies?

Tweed-Tone Pedals Are Their Own Thing

Regular readers will know that I’m very into pedals that chase the sound of early Fender amps, especially the Tweed Deluxe, as well as amps from that era made by other manufacturers. I call these tweed-tone pedals, and they’re my jam.

Last year, I wrote a lot of blog posts about tweed amps. This year, I’m going to be expanding that series to cover tweed-tone pedals. As part of the prep for that, I’ve been doing some experiments …

… and basically concluded that some tweed-tone pedals pair best with the Fender blackface sound, while others pair best with a rig that’s more vintage-voiced.

Summarising The Amp List

Out of all that, I basically need:

  • a 50’s / vintage-voiced clean amp & cab for my tweed-tone pedals
  • a 60’s Fender blackface-voiced clean amp & cab for boutique drive pedals, some tweed-tone pedals, and amp-in-a-box pedals
  • a (somewhat?) cranked Marshall voiced amp & cab for other drives and boosts

Those are my three must-have amp & cab types for my pedal platform preset. They’ll cover everything that I’m normally interested in.

On top of that, I could also throw in:

  • an AC-30-voiced amp & cab for some drive and boost pedals

That’s a could-have. And I’ve no idea whether or not the amp should be clean-ish or cranked. Maybe it would be best to have both options available, if only to help me learn this particular world?

Things I don’t want are:

  • 70’s voiced amp & cab combos
  • modern heavy high-gain amp & cab combos

Neither of those fit the music that I enjoy writing and playing, so I just have no need for them at all.

Final Thoughts

I’m looking at three different amp & cab tones, or five if I throw in the AC-30 tones too.

Either way, that’s too many to fit into a single Axe-FX 3 preset. The most I can fit into a single Axe-FX 3 preset is two amp & cabs at a time.

(Later in this series, I’ll go into detail about why. The short version is that I need three different variations of each amp & cab – i.e. three different 60s / blackface variations – to cope with different guitars.)

So I can’t have a single pedal platform patch. I’m going to have at least two, and probably more. That’s going to complicate things a bit. Can’t be helped!

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