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John Petrucci interview discussing the use of his Axe-Fx III


Power User
Im curious: with all the professionals of stature, all of us semi-pro and amateur home recorders, and all of the axe fx iii/fm3 owners; what does the competition really offer at this point?

Kemper is an amazing product, but its now very outdated and still priced high; and Helix, I mean it has its market, but I mean, with Cygnus, I think were looking at a decade of Axe 3 domination

I read in one article that went so far as to say if you own an Axe Fx 3, you literally will never need or want for another amplifier again, and I think they are right

Different workflows. I have owned a fair number of the modeling units over the years. Axe-Fx Standard and 2 for close to 10 years altogether, tried the Yamaha THR100HD briefly, currently own a Helix Floor and FM3 with a Quad Cortex coming soon.

All of these are really good sounding units. How they sound and feel is IMO not much of a differentiator. If you can't get satisfying tones out of any of them the problem is you, not the gear.

The Yamaha was super easy to use but had a pile of quirks. It has basically only 4 amp models but I could use those to cover nearly every tone I ever wanted and it was as easy to operate as a regular amp. Obviously limited on the fx side, no USB recording and some other stupid design decisions. I really want them to make a "mark 2" version because it's so close to being a truly great digital amp.

I like the Helix best as an fx unit because its models operate like stompboxes. There's not a dizzying array of parameters, you don't need to combine multiple blocks to build the full pedal like you would for example if using the Horizon Precision Drive or King of Tone models on the FM3. It's also very fast to operate from the front panel. The stock cab sims are a bit crap, the IR selection system is awful but the user interface in general is far more pleasant than the FM3. Very fast to operate, assign footswitches etc. I use it mostly hooked up in 4CM to my tube amps. Switching, routing, fx all done by the Helix. Not because there's anything wrong with the amp modeling, I just like it better for this use.

I preordered the Quad Cortex last year because the Helix is is just too large to put on a desk and the HX Stomp is too limited in both DSP and control. I wanted the QC as a desktop and travel unit and also so I can make captures of my tube amps to take with me. I will return it if I don't like how it sounds, if the touchscreen isn't as responsive as I would like or if the feature set is not as full featured as I would need. Realistically I expect it needs 1-2 years more software development to be great.

While I was waiting for the QC to be released, I found a used FM3 in my country and decided to give it a try knowing I can sell it for what I paid for. FM3-Edit is by far the best computer editor on any modeler but I have a lot of complaints about the hardware UI on the FM3. I have posted a a list in the wishlist forum already. Clunky is the only way I can describe it, but it's still a big improvement over the awful hw UI on the Axe-Fx 2. The footswitching on the FM3 is not great (even with all its programmability) but at least it's a more compact unit, even if it's a bit on the heavy side. It has its limitations on DSP, possible block combinations etc but most are not a problem for my uses. I have had a lot of fun playing with all the advanced features the Fractal system offers. It's second to none in tweakability and features.

I don't care about having hundreds of amp models or thousands of IRs when my needs can be satisfied with something like my Bogner that does a Fender clean and various shades of Marshall overdrive. I question if I need all the stuff in the modelers in the first place and if I should just stick to real amps and a couple of pedals. Then I remember the mess of cables, power supply, having to setup switching for all that...just more convenient to use my Helix instead.

Unless Cliff pulls some "eureka!" moment for the Axe-Fx IV (whenever that might be released), to me the big improvements the Fractal system needs are all in usability and convenience on the hardware UI itself. There's a lot of low hanging fruit they could improve on the current generation as it is. They already sound and feel stellar to play and have very few gaps in terms of features.

The modelers do keep me from buying a whole pile of amps when I get bored though!


In addition to IEM's, Petrucci uses a pair of monitor wedges that he rests his foot on regularly during shows, and that transmits a certain amount of feel.
Correct, so he’s 99/100% hearing his amps mic’ed up and amplified via PA.
Anyone remembering the walls of (empty) Marshall Heads and Cabs on several stages in the past ?

don’t get me wrong, i’m not bashing tubes, i’m only tired of this rethorical thing “there’s nothing like tubes”.
Yes, there is, it’s called modeling and it lets you play with satisfaction while keeping your house, your wife, your bank account (relatively) safe 😀
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Jason Scott

Fractal Fanatic
Correct, so he’s 99/100% hearing his amps mic’ed up and amplified via PA.
Anyone remembering the walls of (empty) Marshall Heads and Cabs on several stages in the past ?

don’t get me wrong, i’m not bashing tubes, i’m only tired of this rethorical thing “there’s nothing like tubes”.
Yes, there is, it’s called modeling and it lets you play with satisfaction while keeping your house, your wife, your bank account (relatively) safe 😀
I wouldn't doubt that JP has a lot of experience testing the amp models in the Axe-Fx vs. his tube amps on stage during rehearsals. If he's using his amps, it's conceivable it's because he's endorsing them, though it's also conceivable that he simply prefers them for whatever reason.


Are we still supposed to believe that John doesn’t use the amp modeling in his Axe-FX III’s? Why go through the trouble of modeling his personal amp and cabinet if he isn’t?

Cliff said he modeled his signature amp, but had to give back Petruccis personal amp before he could model it.

I'm sure JP toyed with the amp model, but could also see him being picky enough to prefer the real thing, especially recording and playing live.


Power User
This is all so silly. Why is it so hard to believe he prefers his real amps? They are a totally different thing and serve a different purpose than an AxeFX model. They also feel quite different to play, and sound different in a room or on a stage. This is not to say one is better than the other, but that they are different and thus likely to lead to a preference in a given situation.

Pettruci clearly has his preference, which is totally understandable and makes sense.

It isn't silly to think that a guitarist with a one in a billion opportunity is doing what he can to preserve his one in a billion opportunity.

That opportunity? Getting paid. It's incredibly rare for a guitarist to achieve the level of success The Trooch has. He has endorsement deals at every stop along his signal chain, starting with guitar picks lol I can't think of many guitarists that have that going for them. Maybe Vai and Satch? Bulb is probably there too.

Take into consideration that none of these guys play "radio friendly rock" and it's not a stretch or silly to think that he's going to do and say what he has to protect his and his family's interests.

And I do agree with you that they feel different to play. They are close no doubt, but not identical.


Fractal Fanatic
If I had a guitar tech to load and set up/ tear down my rig, I would only use real amps. Unfortunately, I’ve been the roadie for the last 40 years so...
You don’t need just a guitar tech, you’d need an amp tech too. Night after night, tubes getting hammered around… Almost seems like there’s a better alternative in 2021.


For the record, I’m not a “tubes or nothing” guy, despite my forum name. (Just a reference to the overdrive switch on my beloved first amp, the Gorilla, which to a 12 year old me sounded incredible.)

I could have just as easily said “there’s nothing like playing an Axe-FX,” really.

The point is the two experiences (real amps/ modelling) are different enough that one can have a preference for a certain use, especially a player as accomplished and discerning as Petrucci.

Kamil Kisiel

Power User
Better question is why wouldn't he use his real signature amp? It's not like he can't afford to have it set up, serviced as needed, etc. The convenience isn't really a factor for him since he's just playing guitar and doesn't have to deal with the technical aspect of his rig at every show, that's handled by his crew. Also they could have the modelled version as a standby available at the push of a button in case the real one were to fail for some reason.

Jason Scott

Fractal Fanatic
There are patches on his AxeFxIII that simulate his entire rig and he hears no difference.
He didn't say he couldn't hear a difference at 13:30. He said it's his rig emulated, but that for his purposes using it live, the tone is the Boogie and the Fractal is doing all the effects.


Power User
There's also more that goes into business decisions than just money. I have to use and source vendors for every possible thing that can happen to large commercial buildings, from their construction til their demolition and everything that happens to them in between; my trust and relationship with the vendor comes first and foremost, then we talk money after.

Petrucci's talked about his relationships with Sterling Ball and Randall Smith before, how they've become like family after so many years, I wouldn't stop doing business with them either, regardless of what came my way. Why would he minimize his chances of playing new, prototype Boogies? That's worth it alone, never mind the signature amp and the past 21 years of a relationship.
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