My interest in a Kemper Profiling Amp (or any digital profiler/modeler) began when I was practicing at home one night and started to trace down, for the 4th time that week, a bad cable in my signal chain. I had a large (30×15, PT pro size) pedalboard with about 18 pedals on it. Most of them were in the boutique realm, TC, Wampler, Neunaber, Strymon, etc. I am a total pedal junkie and I have tried loads of different pedals, but that setup had stayed with me for a few weeks, which for me was an eternity. Finally I thought “Man, if I go digital, this won’t even be an issue.” I knocked the idea around for a few days and came across a used unit on The Gear Page for about $1700 shipped. I figured if I liked it, I’d sell off my pedals and I would have a few bucks left over, and if I didn’t like it I could probably sell it and get my money back, maybe minus a few bucks. I decided to take the gamble and if worst came to worst, I’d have my curiousity satisfied.

Getting Started

In the few days leading up to it arriving, I talked to a friend of mine who had been using a Kemper for over a year. He told me some tricks, some pro’s and con’s, and told me what pedals I should hang on to if I should decide to keep the Kemper. I primarily play a mix of country, classic rock, and metal. So tonally, I needed something that would cover it all. I listened to tons of demos in varying styles, read every review, and thought I was fully prepared.

Once it arrived, I had a bit of trouble setting it up. I have to admit, when it comes to MIDI, I am basically useless. For whatever reason, I have never really sat down to really learn much about MIDI protocol. Quickly I was on the phone with my friend having him run me through the features. I updated the firmware, loaded some profiles that came with the unit, and I was on my way. Now, the Kemper is truly what it says it is. It’s a profiler. It takes the essence and tone from an amp and recreates it. With pedals, I was never too picky about reverbs, delays, modulation, etc. For my use, a delay is a delay. A reverb is a reverb. So that wasn’t where I was going to put the Kemper through the ringer. What I wanted to hear was drives.

What I wanted was a sparkly Vox chime, a Dumble-like transparent overdrive, a hot-rodded JCM800 drive and an all out metal distortion, like the 5150 I was beginning to miss so dearly. I sat with the unit and took about an hour to tweak each tone I wanted. Once I was there, I started layering in effects. Getting a subtle slapback delay for solos, a thicker delay with more feedback for clean tones, some compressed reverb tones for chicken pickin’, and a heavy modulated clean tone took no time. Something I always had against modelers and profilers was tweakability. I always said “if I want to turn up the feedback on my delay, I don’t want to go through 6 menus. I just want to bend down and do it.” Well first off, let me say that I adjusted the pots on my pedals exactly zero times per practice session. Second, the Kemper is fitted with knobs for mod, delay, and reverb parameters right on the face. So if you want to turn up your delay feedback, or reverb mix, or mod intensity, boom. The knob is there and engaged. This feature helped to sell me the Kemper to begin with. How many times have I used those knobs since I got it? Let’s not discuss that…

Settling In

Now, I have to admit, in the first few weeks I found myself overwhelmed with what the Kemper can do. There are so many features from cabinet sims, to system layout, to MIDI implementation. I need almost none of that. The Kemper does exactly what I need, and it does it well. The delays and reverbs do leave a little bit to be desired. There is no reverse delay or shimmer reverb. Sorry Ambient guys. I hear Kemper has that potentially in the next firmware update, so we will see. But for any drive tone you could want, the Kemper is fantastic. I am using a Rocktron MIDI Raider to control it, and it does so seamlessly. You can set any button to serve any purpose, from tap tempo to tuner engage, to patch changes and effects on/off. Probably even more, I would say I’ve explored about 45% of what this unit can do.

I run the Kemper through either a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, or a Dr Z Z Wreck. Tonally, I will base my descriptions on the Hot Rod Deluxe because it is much more of a “neutral” amp. The Dr Z has some witchcraft going on that makes even my playing sound good, so it’s not a fair comparison. I usually run the Kemper into the FX Return on the HRD, so as to not color it with the preamp. Other options are running it into a FRFR cab or powered monitor, or using a power amp and your favorite speaker cabinet. I chose the guitar amp route because then I have a functional guitar amp, as well as a powered speaker for it. The Kemper, overall, seems to have a bit of a warmer tone to it. I find myself putting my highs just a notch higher than I might on an amp, which isn’t a bad thing. The cool thing is that when an amp is profiled, it is profiled with lots of headroom on each control. For example, if you wanted to get a ton of gain out of, say, a Fender Twin profile, it’s there. You can really brighten up a rectifier sound, or get way more mids out of a Marshall. It adds a level of tweakability that you couldn’t get out of the real amp.

The Final Verdict

For comparison’s sake, it’s simply not as feature-laden as a Fractal unit. I personally think Kemper’s amps sound way better, but it could benefit from improvements to tweakability in time-based effects and signal chain. Rumor has it, though, that Kemper is working on that. The real strength is how well it nails real amp tone and how many great tones you can get with minimal effort. The construction is pretty solid, but I’m noticing paint scratching on the face. It hasn’t seen any abuse, which means it’s just from my cables and hands. Not a big deal, but seems like something they could improve.

Overall, the Kemper was an excellent investment. I say investment and not purchase because now I find myself practicing way more. Before, if I sat down for an hour to play, I would likely screw around with pedal placement for 15-20 mins, try and find a crackling cable, look up how to get trails out of my delay pedal, and then actually practice for maybe 20 minutes. Now, I turn on the Kemper and play. I practice more than I have in years and I haven’t looked back on a pedal setup yet. If I ever needed to, I would replace the Kemper in a second. It’s a killer unit and simplifies a lot of issues with more complex pedalboards.

Tone – 5/5

Build Quality – 4/5

Features – 4/5

This article was written by our community member Pat Castain. We love featuring guest articles from our readers so definitely get in touch with [email protected]wiredguitarist.com if you’re interested in contributing! If you liked this, check out more reviews!

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