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Kemper? Fractal? Helix?

Kemper? Fractal? Helix? Which one should I buy? Or should I just stick with an amp?

I’ve seen these questions posted time and time again. Some of the posts can be quite funny especially when someone asks a Fractal user group whether they should buy a Kemper or a Helix. Any guesses on the answers?

I’ve owned all three. I have two of them right now, the Fractal AX 8 and the Helix.

Here are a few of my thoughts as I went down the rabbit hole of playing with modellers.

When I retired, I downsized a lot of gear. Given all of the travel I had planned for retirement, especially with the limited space in our 40-foot diesel motorcoach, I knew that it would be impractical to cart a large rig with me. I needed something smaller that I could use on a stage and in our coach and monitor with in-ears.

I did quite a bit of research and I thought that the Kemper would meet my requirements. But that unit proved to be almost as bulky as an amp and pedal board. In fact, as I spent more time with the Kemper, I kept adding back into the signal chain more gear. A booster here, a couple of overdrives there, some expression pedals to control effects, a few delay pedals, a tuner, a Kemper remote, and several cases to cart all of that stuff around.

I was also frustrated with Kemper’s user interface and the workflow.

I spent untold hours auditioning profiles, building out effects and working around the rather poor software platform.

It became apparent that I wasn’t getting the portability I wanted nor was I enjoying the experience of getting the Kemper to sound its best.

I sold it.

I then moved on to the Fractal AX8. And it was far more portable than the Kemper. The software was substantially better. And it was easy to get great sounds right out of the box.

I had to carry a couple of expression pedals. And I found the workflow, especially the onboard user interface, to be surprisingly primitive. I had to follow a strict protocol on the switches because there are no digital scribble strips on the unit. The screen is very difficult to read and the lack of DSP, for me, was too restrictive. I was constantly running out of CPU with the Fractal and I had to manage the presets accordingly by actively managing down the resolution of some of the effects blocks or creating complicated XY switches.

Then came the Helix.

I like it.

A lot.

Great workflow. Very straightforward user interface design on the floor unit. The software is quite intuitive and the overall experience is markedly superior to either the Kemper or the Fractal.

For me, the Helix sounds best when paired with some good impulse responses. I have a number of IRs from providers like Ownhammer, Celestion, and Michael Britt. I purchased presets from Alex Strabala, Guitar For His Glory, and Worship Tutorials just to shorten my learning curve in terms of building out signal chains on the Helix.

One thing that I have learned from working with these modellers is that it is best to really simplify. The fact that you might have hundreds, or even thousands, of amp tones, is not a good thing. Find one or two amp tones that you like and build on those amp tones to dial in your sound.

There are simply way too many choices in these modellers and you can get lost in trying to find some secret ingredient to good tone. I know I did. So frustrating.

With the Helix, I quickly found a couple of go-to amps and IRs that I really loved and I have been very happy with how the unit sounds.

How does the Helix sound when compared to an amp or the Helix or the Fractal?

To quote Duke Ellington: if it sounds good, it is good.

The Helix sounds good, it has a great workflow and it is very portable. Whether another modeller or amp sounds “better” in a mix is a highly subjective call. All of them are now so close that it is best to select the one that inspires you to play.

Kemper Performance Packs

This is a review that I did on a set of Kemper Performance Packs produced by Guitar For His Glory in collaboration with Tone Junkie. For any guitar players out there using a Kemper rig, the big challenge is finding a great set of profiles and building performances from those profiles. A profile is a snapshot of the sound of a mic’d amp and may include some internal effects processing (e.g., compression, EQ, delay, reverb). A performance is a group of up to five profiles into a song. The profiles may vary between sections of a song, one profile for the intro, a different profile for the verse and so on.

In the Praise and Worship guitar community, many players are migrating to the Kemper platform for silent stage, tonal flexibility and consistency, monitoring and for FOH mixing. Finding a great set of performances built around many of the popular songs in current rotation at churches can be very challenging. Troy has done a great job building his packs and he asked me to do a review so here it is. The review is really pertinent to those guitarists serving in churches however the performance packs would also be very helpful to players using the Kemper for U2 and Coldplay tones.

(I ordered and paid for Packs 1 and 2 and the review is based on my own experience with these packs).

Kemper Performance Packs 1, 2 and 3 from Guitar for His Glory
Pros: Awesome sounding performances hand curated from various Tone Junkie profile packs with a total of 30 amazing plug and play songs all featuring shaped reverbs and delays.
Cons: If you have purchased profile packs from Tone Junkie you may be paying again for some of the profiles in these Kemper Performance packs. Depending on your guitar and signal chain, you may need to make some minor EQ changes.

About Guitar for His Glory
As a Praise and Worship guitarist, I spend countless hours tuning and crafting my tone as part of my preparation for the worship services at my church. I use the Internet to track down tutorials on how to cover worship songs and it did not take me long to come across Troy’s YouTube channel, Guitar For His Glory. His channel was launched in 2015 and offers comprehensive walkthroughs of worship songs as well as gear demos.

I am totally impressed with Troy’s character, servant heart and talent. It is obvious that he works exceptionally hard to serve well with his instrument and he puts a particular emphasis on crafting great sounding parts for guitar. More importantly, he shares his knowledge extensively to the Praise and Worship guitar community helping many players, like myself, to sound their very best.

Troy’s touch and tone are first rate. And he achieves this, in part, through his deep knowledge and understanding of the Kemper. So naturally, as soon as Troy offered his performance packs online, I immediately placed my order.

About the Kemper Performances from Guitar for His Glory
One of the first questions I had for Troy when I purchased my Kemper, roughly a year ago now, was what profiles should I use? I’m sure for many of us, when we purchased our Kempers, the vast quantity of profiles was overwhelming. It takes time to go through profiles and to find those sounds that just fit naturally into a particular song. And then shaping the effects also takes a lot of time.

The Kemper Performances from Guitar for His Glory feature a selection of profiles from Tone Junkie. Troy has hand selected the very best of these amazing profiles and they come as part of each Guitar for His Glory Kemper Performance Pack. Profiles like Bend Sun Chimer 3, MATCH 30\15 Veri, ACE Rolex HILL GOLD, TJ AC30 GOLD, Ace Sonic Pope BLUE and many others. These performance packs alone may save you countless hours reviewing profiles. But Troy also provides numerous reverb and delay patches for each of the performances. Over the past couple of days, I have learned more about how to exploit the reverb and delay engines in the Kemper solely through Troy’s work. And I was able to use his performances as a base to build performances for other songs not included in his performance packs.

Bottom Line
If you are looking for some killer profiles and performances for many of the most popular worship songs handcrafted by a tone master then go no further than the Kemper Performances from Guitar for His Glory. They are a terrific starting point to save time and to learn how to craft tones. Highly recommended.