The Proof is in the Playing
The online examples are designed to test the basic tone and dynamic response of modeling products versus traditional guitar amps. We will use Guitar Rig 3, AmpliTube 2 and ReValver software for our demonstration. This will give you some useful input that will help you decide if modeling is the way to go for you. The same Strat was used for every example, an aqua blue Strat Plus from the early ‘90s, with Lace Sensor pickups and nickel strings. It has a maple neck, a Wilkinson nut, and I’ve used it for thousands of hours of gigs and sessions. All examples were recorded with Pro Tools, with no EQ or effects of any kind.

1965 Fender Deluxe Reverb
This is a very popular amp for clean sounds in particular, a classic amp from the ‘60s. One would expect a warm and sparkly clean sound from this amp, and it delivered. We dialed in a Deluxe-type of sound on NI Guitar Rig 3, and were able to get a fairly close match. One goal was to see if it took endless tweaking, or if we could get in the ballpark right away. The Twang Reverb amp model was fairly similar, and I just adjusted EQ, reverb and volume to taste. (Fender Amp courtesy of Tony Rufo.)
Listen to the comparison.

Marshall 100-Watt Half-Stack
We dialed in a huge rock tone on the Marshall, and played a heavy riff in drop-D tuning. We got a big, chunky sound. Both Guitar Rig 3 and AmpliTube 2 programs feature Marshall Hi-Gain models. Once again, it was easy to come close. Of interest, the basic Marshall emulation on the AmpliTube 2 software had less gain, but sometimes that helps make the sound less muddy and more defined. You can always add a distortion pedal model to get more saturation and sustain. (Marshall TSL courtesy of Dan Ackerman.)
Listen to the comparison.

Fender Deluxe with Classic Jazz Tone
Next up was a clean jazzy tone through the Deluxe, and were able to get a very similar sound out of Guitar Rig 3. It was the same Fender type of model, but with treble rolled way back and gain around 3. The modeled sound was actually a bit fuller and less distorted. The Deluxe Reverb amp itself was a little harder to keep clean at a useable volume.
Listen to the comparison.

Fender Deluxe Dimed
Next we cranked the Deluxe and tried to simulate that sound with Peavey ReValver software, and again got very close. It was possible with ReValver to get more gain than the actual amp, which might be very convenient in some situations.
Listen to the comparison.

Clean and Dirty Deluxe
With the Deluxe still cranked, we set the guitar volume at half. I played a rhythm riff and then turned the guitar all the way up for some single-note riffs. We got a similar sound with the model in AmpliTube 2. We also noticed that there was more gain available on the real amp than the model. The difference between the half volume and full volume on the amp model was quite a bit less. I preferred the real amp in this regard.
Listen to the comparison.

Mesa Boogie Mark II B
Here’s one more example where the model fell a little short. After dialing in a very “sustainey” sound, I was able to coax some feedback as I stood in front of the amp. We found a similar sound in Guitar Rig 3 but could not get the feedback to happen, even with the studio monitors cranked. Nothing beats the sound of an amp cranked in a live room. It’s fun and inspiring when you can interact physically with the amp, which is nearly impossible with modeling software.
Listen to the comparison.

The Final Verdict
I would say that the results were fairly impressive. The amps sounded great, as expected, and the modeling products came very close—perhaps not as punchy or complex as the real thing, especially in a room with it cranked. These sounds are all very useable and sound great recorded, too. It’s also important to remember that these models actually sound better than old amps that are not in good condition. They also don’t break down in the middle of a gig like vintage gear often can.

One additional strategy you might try when recording is to split your guitar signal by sending it to your amp of choice and also through a direct box clean to a separate track. Later, when mixing, you can combine your amp tone with the direct signal through various amp models. You could even copy your clean guitar signal to several tracks and apply a different sound to each for a massive “virtual” multi amp guitar tone!

If you need a wide variety of convincing sounds live and in the studio, ease of use, low stage volume, and portability, modeling amps and software may have a lot to offer you. If, however, you only use one or two sounds, can bring any amp you want to a gig and can turn it up as needed to get your sound, you might not find much value in the technology. Modeling provides a broad palette of sounds that sound very close to the original amps they seek to emulate. They are practical and convenient, and cost much less than buying a truckload of vintage amps and speaker cabs. They may indeed be as close as many get to owning the real thing, making them great tools for the working pro and those just starting out.