The Fractal Audio Axe FX 2 XL… the end of amps?

That Infamous Fractal Axe FX2 XL box!

That Infamous Fractal Axe FX2 XL box!


When the man in the brown shorts arrived at my home on Wednesday – two days after I ordered the Fractal Axe FX 2 XL direct from the manufacturer – I was excited and somewhat expectant. There are lots of guitar players whom we all respect – with VERY good ears – who have embraced this particular box and moth balled their “real” amplifiers. This is one reason that I pulled the trigger on the Axe FX.

A second reason is that I have become increasingly frustrated with my “sound” in our band – a rock 3 piece that covers a lot of bases – everything from AC/DC to Stray Cats to ZZ Top to Stones to Elvis to the Hip… etc. I have close to a dozen amps, but finding the right volume, the right tone, the right saturation – especially with this wide range of musical material – well, I looked at my wall of amps and said: “this is not working!”.

I had heard so many positive things about the Axe FX 2 XL, not only in print from the pros, but from lots of great local players (thanks A.D.) – it’s naturalness, it’s response and feel – exactly like the tube amps and cabs and effects it emulates – and the pure and rarified quality of sound – that I decided to “bite the bullet” and get one.

Not being used to a digital box like this, the supposed “user friendliness” was lost on me. But after struggling for a few days, I was able to use the Axe FX in rehearsal today. I would have loved to have an amp and cab to play it through – you use a linear SS power amp and a flat response speaker cab – so that you don’t colour the models coming out of the Axe FX – but they are hard to get due to the demand. The Atomic CLR Powered Wedge Monitor is my proposed weapon of choice – if I can ever get one! So anyway, for our rehearsal, I went straight into the P.A.

I was going to just try the Axe FX for a couple of songs, but I ended up using it for the whole rehearsal!

Here are some observations:

  1. The type of guitar becomes even more important than with a conventional rig. I had thought that it might be less of a factor, but these “amps” sound MORE like the pure article and so the sound of, say, a Strat through a model of a perfect Plexi and a 4 X 12 just sounds “right”… very much like the “Jimi” thing. Maybe “not so much” with a Gretsch Hollowbody through the Plexi!
  2. Although I had my pedal board in front of the Axe FX adding, say, a Plexi pedal just sort of took away from the tone – whereas a clean boost seemed to add a nice grit and a little more volume to the sound – pushing the “amp” harder.
  3. Certain presets gave me more articulation and a better depth of tone with certain guitars, one that I haven’t often previously experienced with my real rig. For example, my Gretsch Phoenix hollowbody with Filtertrons had a certain complexity that was amazing… not less distortion or funky artifacts… just a certain ability to make the nuance of the selected amp/cab/effects very audible. I could hear ”more” in the sound. Thus, it just “felt” right and made me play better!
  4. I felt the same interaction that you feel when your rig is sounding just right and it acts as an inspiration, creating a feedback loop between the gear and the player – inspirational!
  5. As M.G., our bass player/singer said, “there is a sweet spot between the P.A. speakers where the stereo image sounds amazing!”
  6. Another observation… guitar players still like to play too loud!

I’m a total “newbie” in this new digital world, and I have no idea whether it’s the “end of amps” or not. I definitely have a lot of learning to do with respect to this new box, integrating it into my music, so there’s lots of work ahead. But it’s fun work. We’ve come a long way since those early Line 6 amps and Pods. The road ahead will be rich and fruitful, I’m sure.