The Edge, The Sphere, and the Switch to Digital Modeling

By now, you may have read the news that The Edge of U2 is now using digital amp emulators, notably those made by Universal Audio and Fractal Axe-FX.This recent revelation came about after someone spied his pedalboard during U2’s inaugural gigs in The Sphere in Las Vegas. The Edge has since confirmed this, saying that it was necessary to get a consistent, quality sound in a highly complex venue/setting. 

This is notable among us guitar nerds because The Edge is famous for his love of tube amps. If you haven’t seen it already, go watch the Premier Guitar Rig Rundown of The Edge’s live rig (featuring his technician, Dallas Schoo). It’s staggering the number of tube amps he tours with.

Image of the PG Rig Rundown YouTube cover

While you’re at it, go watch the live videos of U2 at The Sphere in Las Vegas. His guitar tones sound amazing, as usual.

I’m not going to frame this blog to be tube amp purists vs. modeling. I think that’s a tired discussion that at this point is irrelevant in the broad scheme of things. Both are great, and we all use both for different purposes.

What I am interested in is how amazing it is to live in a time where we can have these dependable, durable cab emulators and digital FX. These days I’m a part-time to full time musician. I have at least 3, usually 4 gigs a week, generally at a casino, going on two years now. I have progressed from bringing a ton of music gear, to only taking what can fit on my back or in a roll-behind suitcase. I bring no backline, and go direct-in to the house PA system with a cab emulator/effects pedal system. It’s small, lightweight, and the tone is consistent every gig without exception. Set-up and tear-down happens in 10 minutes. All of my contemporaries who play at the casino do the exact same thing.

I say all this to point out that part-time to full time gigging musicians are using less gear and turning to digital modeling out of absolute necessity. The Edge, interestingly enough, is doing the same thing, albeit in a far more scaled-up way. He has 100% control over what he wants his guitar rig to be, and he choses digital modeling, at least in the case of The Sphere gigs.

An image of the Sphere in Las Vegas lit up to look like Mars

Keep in mind too, in a lot of cases you don’t have control over whether you can bring your favorite tube amp to a gig. Many venues have no backline policies, so the house can retain 100% control over the volume. The house, however, doesn’t usually care about your guitar tone or how good you can/should sound. You may have a sound technician, but they’re limited on what they can do for your guitar sound (and you should go easy on them, anyway).

One thing that is crucial to remember is that the end consumer of your guitar tone most likely doesn't care about the nuance of your guitar sound. In fact, your guitar sound can be “terrible” to your ear and they won’t notice, or even think it sounds cool. In a lot of cases, they might be barely aware that the sound that they’re hearing is even from a guitar. 

The Edge on stage with a Gibson Explorer

I say all this to drive home the point that modeling is here to stay, and if you embrace it, that’s totally cool. Your love for tube amps will not vanish. Hell, just today I saw an ad for a new, small 12-watt Magnatone combo amp that, I guarantee you, I will one day find a way to procure. The idea is that you keep playing, and keep enjoying it. And if you play live, digital modeling will only help. Take it from The Edge.

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