Modeling meets profiling in Kemper’s latest Liquid Profiling OS, and lures a busy session and studio player into a brave new world of sonic control.
Making the switch to a Kemper Profiler was a very personal decision for me, and so many factors went into it. In my earlier professional life, I considered myself a devout lover of tube amps and had invested in an extensive and well-built pedalboard featuring the effects I loved and trusted. I would bring a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe on trailer/bus tours, or fly with my pedalboard as checked luggage and backline different amps. For local shows, I’d lug my gear around and consider the venture a mixture of playing music and going to the gym.
Then, in 2017, I’d rented a room up two flights of stairs, and I’d just finished several international tours with various artists. I was nursing a chronic overuse injury in my left arm, and was becoming frustrated with the inconsistencies I experienced at different venues, caused by humidity, temperature, room size, audience, gear lost by an airline, etc. I’d fortunately hit a point of financial stability where splurging on a solution seemed practical. Friends and players I respect were talking about switching to Kemper’s fully digital approach. I’m grateful that I did the same thing. Although I still have my pedalboard and tube amps, I use my Kemper Profiler Stage on every gig that I can.
Until Kemper’s recent free OS 10.0 update—which includes the company’s new breakthrough, Liquid Profiling—I’d been a fairly simple user. I’d primarily downloaded my favorite rigs from friends whose ears I trust (fellow Nashville guitarists Mike Britt and Chris Reynolds) and tweaked them to my own specs and gig needs. But intrigued by the idea of a new OS that blended modeling with profiling, which would essentially provide all the sonic controls and bandwidth of the amps profiled inside the Kemper, I recently dived into profiling.
“All the important factors—gain, treble, mids, bass, etc.—are fully controllable as you gig or record.”
To my surprise, it was fairly easy. First, I learned the system’s original method for profiling. Basically, you find a favorite tone on the amp you’re profiling, plug a guitar into the Kemper’s front input jack, mike up the amp, and run that mic line to the Kemper’s return jack. Then you complete the loop by running a cable from the amp’s input jack to the Kemper’s 1/4" send jack. (For Kemper Stage users, like me, this will require a male XLR to TRS adaptor.) The Kemper’s LCD screen gives you step-by-step instructions. You follow them, refine, and play—A/B listening with headphones, until the Kemper nails the exact sound you want. When you initialize the profiling process on the Kemper, it sends test tones through the amp, retrieves the sonic properties of the amp’s setting, and saves a snapshot of the amp’s properties that you can call up when you’re rocking.
Once I had that down, I learned that the process had to change a little bit in OS 10.0 to take advantage of Liquid Profiling. Instead of capturing an amp’s sweet spot, you capture the amp with all the settings at noon—actually about 5.5 on the amp I used, which has typical dial markings of 1 to 10 . Then, from Kemper’s extensive menu of tone stacks, you choose the most desirable one to pair with the profile. That allows for the amp’s entire sonic profile to be digitally recreated within the Kemper, rather than just one sweet spot. After that, it’s a matter of using the Kemper’s dials just as you would that original amp’s. This means all the important factors—gain, treble, mids, bass, etc.—are fully controllable as you gig or record.
My newly acquired profiling skills are already paying off, since I can now bring the versatility and flexibility of my Hot Rod Deluxe with me anywhere, and my Kemper lets me engage with gain and EQ settings in an organic way—an improvement over the old operating system’s limitation of engaging in only one set-in-stone tone stack. There are a few other new developments with this update, too, including USB recording and a user app for Android phones.
My Kemper Stage sounded great before, but unless you’re a player who tends to set-and-forget after profiling, it didn’t quite nail the feel of a real amp. Now, with Liquid Profiling bridging the worlds of modeling and profiling, the nail’s been hit squarely on the head.
Witness drone metal overlords Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson pack and rattle a cave with two guitars, 14 amps, 16 cabinets, and 19 pedals to test the Earth’s crust.
We’ve featured loud rigs. We’ve stood strong in front of Matt Pike’s octet of Oranges , been washed over with waves of volume from Angus Young’s nine Marshalls for AC/DC’s “small gig setup” in an arena, trembled from J Mascis’ three plexi full stacks , and even withstood Bonamassa’s barrage of seven amps at the Ryman, but nothing prepared us or compared to the Godzilla-rising-from-the-Pacific roar that is Sunn O))) ’s auditory artillery. And it’s more than the sheer sight of 14 amps and 16 cabs or the dishing of deafening decibels; it’s the interplay of these characters and their conductors.
“The third member of the band is the amplifiers!” laughed Greg Anderson in a 2014 interview with PG . “We use vintage Sunn Model Ts from the early ’70s. They’re a crucial part of the show. I’ve got more amps than I have guitars.”
Stephen O’Malley takes a more metaphysical outlook to the connection between him and the thundering Model Ts. “My philosophy is that I’m just part of this bigger circuit of the instrumentation,” he says. “You have, of course, the amplifier valves, the speaker, effects pedals acting like different and various voltage filters, the air in the room, and the feedback generated from all this equipment, so who’s in the band is immaterial.”
We learned more about O’Malley’s perspective when, following a 90-minute drive southeast from Nashville to Pelham, Tennessee, and a short descent into The Caverns , the Sunn O))) guitar tag team welcomed PG ’s Chris Kies onstage for an amplifying chat. O’Malley details his signature Travis Bean Designs SOMA 1000A, while Anderson explains how a broken guitar led him to his beloved Les Paul goldtop. Both pay homage and reverence to the eight Sunn Model Ts that form the band’s foundational tonal force, and explain why the LM308-chip Rat influenced their Life Pedal collaboration with EarthQuaker Devices.
Brought to you by D’Addario XPND Pedalboard .
This is Stephen O’Malley’s signature Travis Bean Designs SOMA 1000A that he co-designed alongside Electrical Guitar Company’s Kevin Burkett and late luthier Travis Bean’s wife, Rita Bean. Burkett revitalized the brand in the early 2010s with the guidance of Rita and Travis’ longtime business partner Marc McElwee.
First off, just like the original TB models, these feature a single piece of 7075-T651 aluminum alloy that runs the length of the guitar’s backside that makes up the headstock, neck, and the rear half of the body. Its scale length is 25.5", the neck radius is 12", and it has a brass nut set for the band’s use of A tuning. The handwound high-gain TB humbuckers are built to Stephen’s specs. The build includes CTS pots, Sprague caps, and Switchcraft hardware. The silverburst finish covers a koa body.
Stephen’s thoughts on the collaboration: “Being honored with a signature model is great, but the bigger achievement or accomplishment is having an interaction with Kevin and the Bean family, who produced an instrument we’re all proud of.”
Here’s the standard eye-catching T headstock and brass nut featured on all old and new Travis Bean instruments.
This transparent devil is an Electrical Guitar Company Ghost that has a 1-piece aluminum neck that covers backup duties for O’Malley. Fun fact: this has the same pickups in it as Steve Albini’s high-output single-coils in his Travis Bean Designs TB500 signature. They are RWRP (reverse-wound, reverse-polarity) to reduce the 60-cycle hum.
Greg’s Lucky Goldtop
While touring with Boris in 2008 or ’09, Greg’s main 1989 Gibson Les Paul goldtop endured a neck fracture. On their next day off, he wandered into the nearest Guitar Center and walked out with the above 2005 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe. It originally had mini humbuckers, but Anderson felt they were “thin-sounding.” So, he swapped them out for a set of DiMarzio P90 Super Distortions, that are actually humbuckers housed in P-90 enclosures for replacements that don’t require routing. He loves the violent output and grind provided by the P90 Super Distortions.
“The amps are certainly the main characters of the band,” concedes O’Malley. The main protagonists for Sunn O)))’s sonic saga are the eight Sunn Model T heads they set onstage. (Six are on and plugged into, while each member has a dedicated backup.) Stephen mentions in the Rundown that he prefers lower-wattage speakers, but when requesting backlines or renting gear from SIR, they can’t be too picky with the vast amount of cabinets they need. O’Malley runs his Model Ts and ’80s Ampeg MTI SVT through either 4x12s from Sound City or Fryette. The silver-panel Ampeg SVT-VRs flanking both ends of the semi-circle, are being slaved by each member’s MTI SVT, and that signal is hitting their matching Ampeg Heritage SVT-810AV cabinets outfitted with 10" Eminence drivers.
Stephen O’Malley’s Pedalboard
“My concept in playing this music for tone involves many, many, many different gain stages that are all intonated differently depending on the pitch of the sound. There are slight shades of color saturation or grain as if it’s a paint—the shorter bandwidth color gradation or the density of the paint.” All these subtle sweeps of saturation, sustain, and feedback are enlivened and exaggerated with Stephen’s pedal palette. His current collection of slaughtering stomps include the band’s most recent collaboration with EarthQuaker Devices ( Life Pedal V3 ), an Ace Tone FM-3 Fuzz Master, a Pete Cornish G-2, and an EarthQuaker Devices Black Ash . For subtler shadings, he has a J. Rockett Audio Designs Archer .
The EQD Swiss Things creates effects loops to engage the FM-3, G-2, or the Black Ash. In addition, he runs a Roland RE-201 Space Echo through the Swiss Things, too. O’Malley uses the Aguilar Octamizer as a “fun punctuation that comes on once in a while. It abstracts the guitar into minimalist electronics [ laughs ].” The custom Bright Onion Pedals switcher keeps the amps in sync with phase controls and ground lifts. A Peterson StroboStomp HD keeps his Travis Bean in check. Off to the side of the board is a Keeley-modded Rat that initiated the band’s core sound, plus a Lehle Mono Volume. (Stephen is a Lehle endorsee.) This circuit includes the heralded LM308 chip and was the basis for their partnership with EQD and the Life Pedal series.
Space and Time
Elevated off the stage floor and secured by a stand are O’Malley’s Roland RE-201 Space Echo and Oto Machines BAM Space Generator Reverb.
Greg Anderson’s Pedalboard
“To be honest with you, I try to keep it pretty simple now because I love pedals and have fallen down a lot of rabbit holes with them, but I found myself troubleshooting and having more issues than my sound warranted. When I started with this band, it was just a Rat and tuner pedal, so I try to just bring what I need,” says Anderson. He found a potent pairing with the EQD Life Pedal V2 acting as a boost and running into a vintage Electro-Harmonix Sovtek Civil War Big Muff that creates a “powerful, chewy, ooze” tone. Like O’Malley, he also has a custom Bright Onion Pedals box and an Aguilar Octamizer set to unleash a “ridiculous, beating, fighting, chaotic, sub-bass sound.” An Ernie Ball VP Junior handles dynamics, a Boss TU-2 Chromatic Tuner keeps his goldtop in shape, and an MXR Mini Iso-Brick powers his pedals.
Chasing '60s Fullerton zing and muscular drive, this re-vamped compact combo excels in both realms.
Returning to the lineup after a brief reprieve, the PRS Sonzera is a moderately powered 20 watt 1x12 combo amplifier. The Sonzera offers mid-1960’s American-style tone with two independently controlled, footswitchable channels designed for maximum versatility. The Sonzera’s gain channel can be set as a boosted clean channel or with heavy distortion, and the spring reverb and built-in effects loop allow players to easily expand their tonal palette. This is a distinct amp in the PRS line up, which also boasts the Archon, HDRX, DG Custom, and MT-15 amplifiers.
“I am very happy to re-release the new Sonzera 20 combo with improved construction techniques, refined voicing, and fresh cosmetics. Their design inspiration draws from the purity and tonal beauty of vintage American reverb amps of the 60s. The two-channel design is currently unique to the PRS lineup in that the Gain channel is simply the Clean channel with additional gain stages and its own tone stack inserted for discreet lead voicing control,” said PRS Amp Designer, Doug Sewell. “The 12 to 35-watt classic American reverb amps were very inspirational to me as a beginning amp designer in Texas. I consider the Sonzera amps an homage to those early days, and it was especially satisfying and nostalgic to be a part of their development and production.” ( Specs courtesy of PRS .)