Literally my first thought when I signed up for this gig writing for Gear Gods was “okay, I guess I’m going to have to write about the Axe-FX more than I’d like.”
So here we are, another day, another Axe-FX post. What’s going on with the ubiquitous digital modeller? Born Of Osiris‘ Lee McKinney is selling his presets for $20. Take a guess as to how the fans reacted? If you were to posit that some would be upset that McKinney is charging for something that other people have released for free, and then others retorted that no one’s forcing you to buy it, congratulations. You’ve been to the internet before.
I’d like to largely sidestep that argument, because by and large arguing capitalist ethics with the web is about as enjoyable as puppyslaughter. Besides, pandora’s box has been opened. Either this is a success and every band will do it, or it fails and that’s that. Instead, let’s look at this from some hopefully more interesting angles.
1) Correct me if I’m wrong, Fractal users, but there’s no copy-protection on a preset, right? So if this becomes a thing, won’t going to torrent sites and getting artists’ tones for free be another thing that immediately follows that first thing? Will we see an Axe-FX III with wifi that authenticates your purchases? I’d love it to have 24-hour check-in that fails right before a gig, locking out your patches.
2) In even my limited time as your impresario here at Gear Gods I’ve covered quite a few Axe-FX rigs. Know what most of these metal bands are using as their presets? A Dual Rectifier or 5150 model with a fake Tube Screamer in front of it, into a fake Mesa/Boogie 412 cab. Yes, yes, I know that there are various mic placement settings (how many of them are a fake SM57 I wonder?) and you have EQ options, but that leads me to my next point…
3) I’m kind of afraid that as Axe-FX usage moves from large touring bands to the younger ones who are influenced by them, artist presets (either sold or given away) are going to lead to some terrible mixes. Different guitars, different playing styles, and different musical situations require different tones. I know you love that Meshuggah sound bro, but Meshuggah’s tone is tailored for Meshuggah songs. Your band isn’t Meshuggah…. uh, unless your band is Meshuggah, in which case ohmygodthisisawesomemeshuggaharereadingmywebsite!!!!
4) This is my biggest gripe: you should be seeking out your own goddamn tone. Your band’s sound is a big part of your identity. There’s plenty of good arguments for amp modellers, but metal is homogenized enough as it is when bands use the same gear and rip off the same riffs. But if everyone is using the same settings? Will Superior Drummer presets be passed around in the same way? I can’t wait until there is essentially one metal recording to rule them all. We’re already uncomfortably close to that horizon.
Sure, some of these points are hyperbolic, and bands will always need to separate themselves from the crowd. And some scenes, like the stoner and doom genres, have largely turned their backs on digital gear (and to be fair, things can sound similarly homogeneous if everyone’s using the same vintage Sunn and Ampeg heads). I guess I’m just hoping that more artists will look start ignoring the “modeller” part of “digital amps.” Digital can be an infinite canvas, so let’s see less still-life emulation and more creative expressionists.