If you’re building a digital guitar rig or thinking about building a digital modeling guitar rig, you’ll want to know A: what you need and B: the difference between digital vs analog so you know exactly what you’re looking for and C: why you don’t have ALWAYS have to choose between the two.
We’ve covered tube vs solid state amps so worth reading that too! But today I’m showing you how to set up a digital guitar rig (and how easy it is) what style of cabinet you’ll need, the pros and cons of digital and analog and how you can get the best of both worlds with some incredible Laney amplification options!
A digital guitar, otherwise known as a modeling guitar rig or virtual guitar rig is where you use digital recreations of the sound of amps or pedals via a modeler, or multi-FX unit. Something like a Kemper, HELIX, Two Notes capsule or Garageband etc. Essentially, it involves plugging your guitar directly into a PA system or recording interface, bypassing the need for an amplifier. The sound is then shaped and amplified by digital technology, which mimics the characteristics of “real” guitar amps. This could be via your modeling unit or plug-ins, IR or Cab sims you use on your PC or Mac or a phycial box like the Two Notes Torpedo capsule.
In most live cases, you either plug your guitar into the modeler and run a cable from it straight to the mixing desk, and use the monitor speakers to hear yourself (no amp on stage) or you run your modeler to the desk and into an FRFR guitar cabinet so you can hear it onstage. If you’re recording, you run your amp directly into an interface. Digital guitar rigs remove the need for physical amplifiers and cabinets on stage and in the studio. It’s also one way to go ampless on guitar or ampless on bass.
Building a digital guitar rig has become a popular trend among musicians of all genres as well as musicians who PLAY all genres. Why? Put simply, digital guitar rigs are relied upon for their versatility, reliability, and cost-effectiveness, as you have almost every sound you could ever want in a modelling pedalboard or amp/interface with IR and Cab Sim technology that mimics the sound of the cab and how your guitar cabinet interacts with your amp, whether its closed back vs open back cabinets a 2×12 or vintage 4×12 cabinet from the 70s.
If you go a step further and use a digital guitar rig with an FRFR cabinet in a live situation you get the same sound out of your cabinet onstage and the same sound at every gig, regardless of what the PA sounds like because you’re not micing anything up – you’re just using the cab for onstage monitoring and the PA engineer is still taking a direct feed. Best of all, you don’t have to worry about running your UK guitar pedals in the USA and vice versa as it’s all digital and you don’t have any power considerations to worry about. Digital and modeling rigs, just like the rise of small wattage amps are becoming the “norm” for travelling musicians now.
Digital guitar rigs are more popular now for two reasons – reliability and streamlined setup. The increasing popularity of low-wattage amps, noise restrictions at venues, and the sheer weight of tube amps mean that turning up to a gig and travelling internationally with just a pedalboard (ampless guitar rig) is becoming more and more enticing. With the rise of FRFR cabinets like the Laney LFR providing a wider range of cabinet sounds, and those using hybrid versions of digital-meets-tube amp with the Laney-LA studio, it’s now totally possible to create realistic emulations of traditional amps and have access to not only multiple amp sounds, but multiple cabinet sounds too at any venue or at home. Digital rigs are an attractive option for today’s gigging musicians who don’t want to argue with sound engineers and want a WIDE variety of sounds at their fingertips for multiple genres.
But how do you build one? Do you go fully digital or do you go for a hybrid digital modeling rig?
In this guide, I’ll explore the ins and outs of building a digital guitar rig, with a particular focus on using the Laney LFR speakers as well as the Laney LA-Studio – both some of the best choices for musicians aiming for pro-level quality in any scenario. I’ll also show you two different options – a fully digital guitar rig and a hybrid guitar rig.
There are many benefits to using a digital guitar rig, but here’s 5 reasons why musicians are making the switch (pun intended!):
Digital guitar rigs are WAY smaller and lighter than what you would call a traditional guitar rig. With an ampless guitar or ampless bass setup, you only need to bring your instrument and pedalboard to a gig – no need to lug around a bulky amp or cabinet.
If you go hybrid and you want a digital modeler such as a Kemper/Helix etc. BUT the sound and onstage presence of a live cabinet, you can use the modeler in conjunction with an FRFR guitar cabinet. Just make sure you get something that’s designed specifically for digital modelers. Something that pushes the air around you, like the Laney LFR. This way you’re still cutting down on weight as cabinets weigh WAY less than a traditional solid state or tube amp but you’re getting the interaction of a real cabinet.
With a digital guitar rig, you can achieve a consistent tone at every gig as you’re not only sending a direct signal to the PA system, but you’re NOT micing up a cab. Since the sound you’re playing, whether it’s an amp or pedal modeler is digitally processed, it’s not affected by the venue’s acoustics or the quality of the venue’s PA system and their microphones. You also don’t need to worry about how loud your amp should be as it’s all coming through the PA speakers instead of ontsage.
If you’re using a hybrid guitar setup with the likes of the Laney LA-Studio Supergroup amplifier head you can choose between a range of different sound presets on the LA-Studio to get the best sound for the venue, so you can make your amp sound like you’re playing Wembley even if it’s a 500 capacity venue, running the sound of your guitar amp directly to the PA system. You never need to mic cabs again or worry about the quality of backline or microphones at a venue.
If you’re running a digital guitar rig with an LFR cabinet, you can still send the signal from your modeler guitar rig to the desk, and use the Laney LFR cabinets for onstage monitoring and feedback PLUS you can switch between different cabinet sounds. It’s way more flexible!
With a digital guitar rig, and hybrid modeler rig using the likes of the Laney LA-Studio, you have a single box which is packed with a room full of world-class cabinets and amplifier settings. There are no batteries, cables or vintage tubes that are going to fail on you! Just modern reliability!
Digital modeling rigs give you so much flexibility as you have a world of different amplifier tones at your disposal. The Laney LA-Studio is a one-box solution, with plenty of different tones and cabinets with modelled speakers that change your tone – because we all know speakers have a huge effect on your guitar amp tone. You actually get 6 different presets within, with access to tonnes more thanks to the Laney Two Notes DynIR library suite – easily one of the best cabsim packages out there!
With a digital guitar rig, you can quickly switch between different amp models and settings, allowing you to adapt to various musical situations. With the addition of a FRFR cabinet, like the Laney LFR you can also go one step further and have a completely flat sound that ensures the quality of your modeling sounds are preserved, or reduce CPU usage on your digital pedalboard by deactivating the cabinet modelers and use the onboard cabinet setting on the Laney LFR to access the 1×12 and 4×12 sound settings. If you want to know what’s best in terms of 1×12 vs 2×12 vs 4×12 guitar cabinets read here.
Digital guitar units come with deep-editing parameters, allowing you to customise your sound to an almost ridiculous level of detail. For example, the Laney LA-STUDIO, in partnership with Two Notes, offers an array of different microphones through DynIR technology, allowing musicians to experience a variety of recording and live environments that they can tap into and send to the PA system or use for recording. This means you can enjoy the sound of your amp as if it’s being played in a controlled studio or even mimic the reverb of a massive arena without an additional pedal.
A big benefit of using a digital rig is that the stage volume can be drastically reduced as there’s no physical amp to crank up on stage – you either use the on-stage monitors or if you’re running in-ears, have a silent stage. By feeding a direct line from your amp modeler or digital multi-fx pedalboard, it makes it easier for sound engineers to get a balanced mix for the audience and helps avoid feedback issues onstage.
If you do prefer on-stage monitoring and the feel of a guitar cabinet pushing some air, this is where the Laney LFR-212 comes into play. Designed to deliver the perfect response, it’s a the best FRFR cabinet for players who use a digital multi-effects processor, modellers, or profiling amps. When paired with a digital rig, the LFR-212 ensures that what you hear is consistent with the tone you’ve designed on your digital rig.
If you decide to go with a digital guitar rig you’ll have less gear to set up and pack away. This can be especially beneficial during festival changeovers or gigs where quick setup and breakdown times are crucial.
If you have a home studio or you want to play multiple different amps or cabinets without having to buy them, a digital guitar rig is perfect. The Laney LA-Studio in conjunction with the Two Notes Laney DynIR Virtual Cabinet Library gives you 10 guitar cabinets and 5 bass cabinets along with 12 microphones with multiple placement opportunities so you can essentially have an entire studio at home!
The main difference between a digital guitar rig and analogue rig is that digital rigs use DSP “Digital Signal Processing” and IR technology to analyse and replicate audio signals whereas analogue guitar rigs using solid state or tube amps get their sound from physical components like tubes or transistors. A digital guitar rig uses digital signal processing to emulate various amplifiers and effects and the analog amp just gives you the sound that it’s designed to make. Neither is “better” it just comes down to how many sounds you want!
So what are the pros and cons of digital vs analog guitar rigs?
Either setup is a good idea, I actually have both myself, but both have their pros and cons. I’ll detail the differences and pros and cons between digital vs analog guitar rigs here:
When looking at the pros of digital guitar rigs over analog guitar rigs, you have more tonal possibilities as the rig or modeler will have a range of different amps, cabinets and pedals built in. You have less stuff to carry as you can often go ampless, just using a pedalboard or FRFR cab, you’ll get a consistent sound at any volume as you don’t necessarily need to drive tubes anymore to breakup, they’re low maintenance and they are really good at emulating vintage gear, especially if you choose the Laney LA-Studio for your vintage Laney cabinets and microphones.
Analog guitar rigs have that real feel as the cabinet they come with pushes the air around you, and you can drive tubes to get that organic, natural tone and harmonic distortion that are pleasing to the ear. Analog rigs allow you to physically interact with an amp onstage for immediate response deepening that relationship and interaction between musician and amp. Sure they may need maintenance every now and then, but guitar amps on stage, especially tube amps, give you that unparalleled sound quality and the tangible connection we look for as guitarists. Of course – we love tube and solid-state amps here – part of the reason why people think Laney amps are so good and we’re so loved!
To replicate this feel of an analog amp but with added digital features, we created the Laney LA-Studio – it gives you the real feel tube harmonics and interaction of a tube amp, but the control and consistent sound of a digital guitar rig – it’s the best hybrid guitar rig that bridges the gap between analog and digital. Again, the Laney LFR cabinets were also designed to push that air around for you, providing a real guitar amp feel rather than just a replication of a lifeless PA speaker. This is part of the reason Guthrie Govan chooses Laney amplification for his digital rig!
|Pros||Analog Guitar Rigs||Digital Modeling Guitar Rigs|
|Sound Quality||Authentic and organic sound||Vast tonal possibilities|
|Responsiveness||Dynamic response to playing||Compact and portable|
|User Interface||Simple user interface||Consistent sound at any volume|
|Durability||Solid-state amps are durable||Low maintenance|
|Flexibility||Can be integrated into hybrid setups||Can emulate rare/vintage gear|
Each style of amp has its slight downsides to consider too.
Digital guitar rigs aren’t for everyone as although they DO give you a tonne of sound options, they might lack the authentic “feel” and warmth of a real amp, onstage, if you’re just using the monitor speakers or a single pedalboard. There’s also a slight learning curve, as the vast array of features and settings can be overwhelming for some users, leading to option paralysis. Some guitar enthusiasts believe that digital rigs can’t fully capture the authenticity of real amps, but fortunately, to combat this, we teamed up with TwoNotes when creating our Laney LA-Studio to make sure you get that real feel dynamic and sound and exact sound of a Laney amplifier and cabinet as we recorded them ourselves in multiple studios around the world!
The main downside to analog guitar rigs, especially those with tube amps is that they can be heavy and bulky, making them tougher to transport. Often, the best tones where the amp breaks into pleasing harmonic distortion is only achieved at louder volumes, which might not be suitable for all environments UNLESS you have a master volume (fortunately most of our amps do!). One “downside” although this is subjective is that analog guitar rigs only provide one sound – the sound of the amp you bought. However, if you don’t want a multitude of different amps in one, then you’re fine. If you do like the interaction between amp where you can physically change dials on stage but you want multiple amps, then the Laney LA-Studio is a great option that provides that interaction and tube drive, but with additional digital rig capabilities with multiple presets.
|Cons||Analog Guitar Rigs||Digital Modeling Guitar Rigs|
|Maintenance||Tube amps require maintenance||Might lack the “feel” of a real amp|
|Portability||Can be heavy and bulky||Can be overwhelming with too many options|
|Volume for Best Tones||Best tones often at louder volumes||Some purists believe they lack authenticity|
|Tonal Options||Limited tonal options||Requires power source (not always ideal for busking)|
|Cost and Learning Curve||Can be expensive||Slight learning curve for advanced features|
Now that we’ve covered the key benefits of each, let’s delve into the process of building a digital guitar rig. We’ve covered this in detail in our guide to ampless guitar rigs but there are three main methods you can choose from when building a digital guitar rig:
Let’s say you already have a digital modeller with built-in cab sims that you’re happy with, and you don’t want a cabinet on stage. In this instance, all you need to do is take a direct line out of the amp modeler and rely on the monitor speakers to get your sound. Job done.
If you’re recording direct to a DAW then your modeler should be able to do this and connect directly to your interface.
This is the easiest option, especially if you already have a multi-effects unit. The multi-effects unit serves as your preamp, while the cabinet simulator reproduces the sound of a physical speaker cabinet and pumps it out through the PA without the need to mic anything up.
Guitar>>MultiFX Unit/Modeler>>FRFR Speaker Cab>>PA System
Let’s say you DO want to hear the real sound of a cabinet behind you, but you still want the ability to enjoy the sounds of the cab sims in your digital rig. In this case, you need your modeler unit and a good FRFR speaker like the Laney LFR speakers. One thing to note here is that if you use a “regular” FRFR speaker then it’s just a flat response. This might be what you want, but the Laney LFR speakers not only let you choose flat response so you can use your own cab sims, but they also provide the ability to select two different cabinet settings. We’ve added two Laney speaker emulations on the LFR cabs for you, a 1×12 and a 4×12 which allows you to tailor the response. This means you can use the LFR cabinets with a regular modeller with the cabinet mods you already have selected OR turn cabinet settings off on your modeller to save processing power if you find your digital multi-FX unit starting to lag. Best of all it actually SOUNDS like a guitar cabinet – not a PA speaker.
Guitar>>Multi-FX unit/Modeler>>Laney LA-Studio Amp>>PA System
Ok, let’s say you want to use your multi-FX unit, but you want the real tube drive and interaction of an analog tube amp BUT you also want the digital cab sims… We’ve got you covered. The Laney LA-Studio is a real tube amp with a TwoNotes Torpedo module built in. It’s a real tube amp with all the benefits and ease of a digital amp.
With this setting, you can run your multi FX into the amplifier head and then take a direct DI out to the desk, so your sound engineer doesn’t have to mic anything up. You get the interaction between multi-fx and amp, the interaction between amp and you, but no cabinet taking up space and the sound engineer can just take the exact sound YOU want, not what they want, then this is the setup for you. You can read more about it why we built the Laney LA-Studio and who it’s for, here.
The Laney LA-Studio fuses tube amp construction with the Two Notes Torpedo technology, bridging the gap between digital and analog guitar rigs.
The Laney LFR digital modeler speakers are the best cabinets for digital guitar rigs and the best FRFR guitar speaker cabs because we designed them to be FOR guitar – not just a recreation of a PA speaker. These FRFR speakers deliver a full range, flat response, ensuring that your tone is accurately reproduced without any colouration, but you also have the ability to switch to a 1×12 or 2×12 sound. This makes them the best guitar cabinets for modeling systems, as they allow your tone to shine through exactly as you designed it.
You also have features like the Clip LED which warns you if the amp is going to clip, DI Out, Ground Lift, high frequency trim and a level control.
But BEST of all THEY LIGHT UP! And they’re used by Guthrie Govan and Devin Townsend!
Digital guitar rigs are portable, and can get you a consistent sound at every gig whether you’re just using a modeler, a modeler and FRFR cabinet or a modeler with LA-Studio amp with Cab sims. Of course, there will always be a place for analog amps, but if you’re serious about building a digital guitar rig, just make sure you choose the best cabinets like the Laney LFR speaker cabs so you can enjoy all the benefits of a traditional amp setup without the “drawbacks”. Want to learn more about why guitar cabinets are so important, read here.