I bought my first tube amp last year, after playing guitar for about 25 years. Before then I’d been completely reliant on solid-state amps and digital models. It was a revelation. And then a few weeks ago I had an almost equally revelatory experience when I first plugged in one of Universal Audio’s UAFX amp modelers.
UA is well known for its high-quality plugins that recreate vintage hardware. But last year it decided to get into the guitar pedal game with a trio of classic effects. And now it’s expanding that lineup with three amp modelers in pedalboard-friendly formats. The company isn’t the first to try this. It’s not even the first to do it well. But it’s clear after just a short time with them that the UA modelers stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Let’s start with the basics. The UAFX Amp Modelers come in three flavors: Dream '65 Reverb, Ruby '63 Top Boost and Woodrow '55 Instrument Amplifier. These are emulations of a Fender Deluxe Reverb, Vox AC30 and Fender Tweed Deluxe, respectively. I’m not gonna spend much time focusing on how close they come to recreating the originals down to the tiniest details. There are some shootout videos on YouTube that directly compare them, and I highly suggest you watch those if that’s your biggest concern. But, let’s just say they managed to trip up ears that are far more astute than my own.
What’s more important, as far as I’m concerned, is that they sound good, are easy to use, pack a host of advanced features and deliver an incredible value despite the seemingly lofty $400 price. I’ll dig more into the tones later, but they sound amazing. Full stop. They’re easily the best sounding amp sim pedals I’ve ever heard.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that I’ve done side-by-side comparisons of every high-end amp sim out there. Specifically, I have never used a Kemper Profiler or a Headrush. But those are much more complex products with built-in effects, tens of amp sims and prices that can climb well north of $1,500 in the case of a Kemper.
Each UA pedal is focused with laser-like precision on capturing the essence of a specific amp. Which, frankly, should be fine since most guitarists aren’t showing up to gigs with a truck full of amps to switch between mid set. That’s not to say there isn’t variety or versatility here, though. Each pedal has multiple speaker cabinet options (three out of the box, plus three bonus cabs when you register) and can emulate classic mods or different revisions of the amp. They also have options and controls that are unique to each model. For instance the Ruby ‘63 has a high cut knob, while the Woodrow allows you to dial in room tone to recreate the natural ambience of a recording studio.
This slight difference in features and controls is one of the reasons UA has cited for making three separate pedals, rather than cramming all three amps into a single unit. While it’s true that the hardware and the software platform are more-or-less the same across the lineup, the difference in control schemes could needlessly complicate things. Right now the six knobs and three switches have at most two functions and are mode-dependent. So if you have the Dream ‘65 in “amp” mode you get treble and boost controls, but flip the middle switch to “alt” and those become speed and depth for the vibrato (which is really tremolo, but don’t worry about that). If you tried to cram all three amps in a single pedal, some knobs would have to control four or five different parameters. That’s simply too complicated if you ask me. The UAFX Amp Modelers strike an excellent balance between depth of control and ease of use.