"This is sort of blasphemous and sacrilegious… I might have fibbed a little bit and said 'never' with the digital modelling s***": Jim Root reveals he's using the Neural DSP Quad Cortex live with Slipknot, and adding his old PRS guitars to the rig

American band Slipknot performs on the Pandaemonium stage during the heavy metal music Festival Copenhell, in Copenhagen, Denmark, on June 16, 2023.
(Image credit: HELLE ARENSBAK/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)

The idea that the tube amp Vs digital amp modeller debate is now somehwat redundant isn't because one has emerged as 'better'. It's because there's plenty of evidence pro players use both according to their needs. Pick your tools according to the job, as they say. And that idea has gained even more traction now the famously modelling immune Jim Root has come out as a Neural DSP Quad Cortex user with Slipknot during an interview with amp builder Dave Friedman and co-host Marc Huzansky for their Tone-Talk podcast.

"Just recently, and this is sort of blasphemous and sacrilegious, and I told myself and everybody out there that's listening in the guitar world that I talked to on my Instagram, I might have fibbed a little bit and said 'never' with the digital modelling shit," admitted Root. "But we have new racks for smaller venues and I do have a Quad Cortex, but I'm trying to do a workaround with that. And it's working and I used it at Pappy & Harriet's, and I used it for Sick New World.

It's great, I love it, it's working

These were Slipknot's April shows – and the first since 3 November – that saw them debut new drummer Eloy Casagrande. The first tiny gig in Pioneertown, California in front of just 515 fans is exactly the kind of smaller show Root was referring to. But the second was a full Las Vegas festival headline show, which suggests he's clearly happy with the results. And he is. 

"It's great, I love it, it's working," he confirms, but perhaps well aware he's talking to an amp builder who's not been shy in the past of airing unsurprising thoughts on what he considers to be the inferiority of digital amp modelling compared to tube-driven tech, Root has caveats. 

"It's still not a real amp, so maybe one of thee days I can get with Dave here, or maybe even Jason [Tong at Headfirst Amplification who built Root a custom jam room head and cab last year] and we can figure out like a one-rack unit. Something really compact so I can still run maybe a Matrix power amp, or even maybe an old Simul-Class 295 [Power Amp] to run it, or the Marshall – like what they used to run with Marshall JMPs. 

"I'd like to stay away from the digital world as much as I possibly can," notes Root. "But it's kind of getting to the point where it's pretty good and it's functional, and it's making things efficient. But I'm still hanging on to the… nothing's ever gonna be a tube. You're never really gonna get that sag, you;re never really gonna get that organic feedback coming back. It is what it is."

Root usually uses four Orange Rockerverb heads with isolation cabinets but notes the Quad Cortex could be used as a backup for these: "If any of those amps go down, the Cortex is there. I can still make noise and fit in with the band situation."

"It's tough to do when you're talking about tone, " the guitarist admits of his sonic challenges during Slipknot shows. "Fitting into a situation where there are eight other guys, it's almost like recording a record – you've got to find where things sit in a mix, and when that mix changes daily because of the venue that you're in, it's a hurdle. It's a hurdle for guys like my guitar tech and our front-of-house guy to figure out, how are we gonna make this stuff sound good… figure out what kind of frequencies are happening out in this world here."

Root reveals he's tried a Synergy preamp but not for a live show yet. "I actually haven;t had a lot of time to play with it," explains the guitarist. "But I have it here at my house now so behind this door behind me I've got all my guitars and extra amps and things – they're all back in there."

I would love to redo sort of an updated Strat that's got a lot of the features of what the Charvels bring to the table

Root confirmed he has a Synergy head and cab, along with every module they make for it. So there's plenty to dig into for his Slipknot compact rack. But on the guitar side of things Root is continuing to go down Charvel 'wormholes' – and has been buying the brand's old Model 5 instruments – one of which he's had set up for stage use. He says he's now open to bringing some of those features to an updated version of his Fender Strat signature guitar. Though he also knows it's not sometimes as straightforward as a 'best-of' approach to mixing features. 

"I would love to redo sort of an updated Strat that's got a lot of the features of what the Charvels bring to the table, and maybe what the Jacksons bring to the table. It's the age-old thing – well I like this and I like that, and I like that about this. What if we Frankenstein all this stuff together, and then when you finally do it, it's not great. [Maybe] I just need to be happy about what's good about that one."  

More surprising was Root's reveal that he's probably going to swap all his usual live guitars for Slipknot's forthcoming shows playing their debut album in full to celebrate its 25th anniversary. And bringing in guitars from that 1999 era from brands outside of Fender and Charvel.

"I'm trying to bring some of these old guitars out, especially since we're getting ready to do this 25th anniversary stuff and we're getting ready to play the first album in its entirety," he says. I have a couple of Jacksons and a couple of PRSs that I used way back to 2000, and I'm gonna bring those guitars with me and similar guitars that I had. Let's say up to [2004 third album] The Subliminal Verses cycle. 

"Since we're going retro like that and we're bringing out the boiler suits again – we have the old mask vibes going on – I kind of want to tip the hat to that era and bring more of the guitars that I was using at that time with me. And fortunately, or unfortunately, that was before I was endorsed by Fender. But now Fender is Jackson, so if there's Jacksons that I have onstage it still fits under that umbrella.

"With the PRSs [matte-finished Custom 24s with one volume knob and three-way selector] that's just kind of a nostalgic, cool thing. I think I still have a couple of those laying around somewhere."

The band Slipknot on stage at Brixton Academy, London, 2000.

Jim Root onstage with his Private Stock PRS Custom 24 with Slipknot at the London Brixton Academy in 2000 (Image credit: Mick Hutson/Redferns/Getty Images)

He describes his PRS 24 in matte red as sounding like a violin. "That one's got a really unique sound to it," says Root. His others are black: "Ironically it's a company known for its beautiful woods and Private Collection guitars, and I have fucking matte black guitars."

Check out the full interview above and Slipknot's tour dates at slipknot1.com

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.