Price paid: £ 60
Purchased from: Private sale
Features: The HH Electronic V-S Musician was first introduced in 1976 and I'm not sure how long it was in production for. HH Electronic were a successful audio gear manufacturer based in the UK, best known for their sWales, Aberystwyth, Aber SUd state PAs and mixing consoles, but for a little while in the mid and late '70s their solid state guitar and bass amps were very popular as they were far more reliable than any valve amps at the time.
The V-S Musician is the successor to the more popular IC100 model, and features 2 channels - one which is a "multi-purpose" clean channel (labelled "2") with a very flat, transparent output making it ideal for amplifying keyboards, electro-acoustic guitars and the like, featuring a single volume control, treble and bass EQ, a reverb Switch and 2 inputs. The other channel, marked "1", is the guitar channel, featuring a gain control, bass, middle, treble and presence EQ controls, and a 3-position voice Switch enabling you to choose between "light" (a bright, punchy setting with tight bass and sharp treble), "medium" (a very balanced voicing) and "heavy" (an immensely thick voicing, with obscene amounts of bass and lower midrange). Also features a reverb switch, and instead of 2 inputs, it has 1 input and a 7-pin socket marked "effects input" which I think is meant for some FX units built especially for this model, and a 7-pin footswitch jack. The amp also has master volume and master reverb controls (might I add, this amp has a very nice spring reverb), and the all important "Valve Sound" Switch which is what gives the amp its name. The "Valve Sound" on channel 1 activates a very rich distorted sound which does indeed sound somewhat valve-like on some settings, and it converts the voicing of channel 2 into more of a guitar-friendly voice with enhanced dynamic response and some rich harmonic overtones. So it's a very feature-loaded amplifier, which has potential to be very versatile. The amp has a few jacks at the back which I do not quite understand and there's not really anyone to ask about them - It has a "Mixer Output" which I know is a line output to allow you to direct-inject the amp through a PA but this does not eliminate the speaker output so would be ineffective as a headphone jack. It also features a "slave output", and "echo send"/"echo return" which I assume acts as an FX loop, but I would have to know for sure before I risk doing something I shouldn't with this old amplifier.
At 100 Watts, the amp has more power than I'll ever need, it's definitely giggable though I have not yet gigged with it. I have tested it at a rehearsal and the volume can be cranked to around 7 before you start to get power-amp distortion and by that time it's far louder than it needs to be anyway. The closed-back, 2x12 speaker cabinet allows the sound to project very well indeed, though it is cripplingly heavy - thankfully it has wheels. // 9
Sound: Since there's a lot to say about the sound i'm going to have to break things up into little sections involving voicings.
First off - The clean sounds:
I have hardly used channel 1 on a clean setting, simply because channel 2 is much more enjoyable for me. With the valve sound on it's still very transparent so you really hear the guitar and your playing clear as day. I have tried it with many guitars and it lets the natural tone Shine as long as the guitar has a natural tone that's capable of shining. My Gibson Les Paul Studio sounds particularly lush and jazzy through it, whereas my various teles and strats sound punchy and ultra-clear through it. As for my Danelectro 12-string, hearing is believing! Absolutely wonderful chimey sound, I've always enjoyed 12-strings into solid state amps more than tube amps, and this is far from being an exception - I have never heard that guitar sounding so absolutely stunning. The only negative thing I can say about the clean channel is that you'll need a compressor to get the note sustain to cut through a mix, especially with a strat - I found that all you could hear was the initial "spank" and then the note decay was lost very quickly. On the positive, this would be utterly superb for funky rhythm work - but for leads it's not ideal. Oh and another thing is you need to be really careful if you're boosting the clean channel as the input stage is very easily overloaded, particularly the treble harmonics have a tendency to sound grainy when you're slamming the input stage too hard.
Now for the distortion:
Overall, the distortion channel has a little too much bass but in most cases this can be dialed out. I usually turn the bass all the way off and then use the mid, treble and presence as though they are the bass, mid and treble controls of a regular 3 band EQ as these 3 controls seem to work with a frequency range closer to the typical 3 band EQs on most guitar amps whereas the bass control seems to work with frequencies lower than what you'd really want with guitar (though this does make it possible to get some decent deep bass tones if you plug in a bass). The distortion is very very responsive to changes in the EQ settings and they can shape the "character" of the distortion, particularly the midrange and presence, and while this is a good idea in theory, it can be problematic on some settings as too much presence tends to emphasise the fizzy overtones of the solid state gain, but on a lot of settings (particularly the heavy setting) this starts to occur before the presence is high enough to have any high end definition. So particularly with humbuckers, getting the EQ right whilst retaining the "valve-like" quality of the gain can be quite a time consuming and frustrating. But once you get it right, it can be absolutely brilliant.
With distortion the "Light" setting can be very razor edged and punky if you use a medium to high amount of gain, but on lower gain, it's got a wonderful ska/reggae type tone especially. However, this tone is good for chunky, percussive sounding chords but not ideal for leads (Acceptable on higher gain, though) as the higher notes can come out quite piercing and shrill, and it's not a very full sound. But with any guitar it's an excellent setting for chord work.
"Medium" Voicing is probably the most versatile setting, especially if you're using a single coil guitar like a telecaster. It's got a well balanced output and the gain is a bit smoother. I love this setting for it's "Dr. Feelgood" potential. It's great for leads with humbuckers, but the overall darker, deeper sound of humbuckers tends to make the bass and lower midrange a bit overpowering for chord work, and there isn't a lot of top end definition unless you want to crank up the presence, but that will inevitably make the distortion sound very crackly and buzzy. But it's still a usable tone, and with a bit more gain, you've got a thick classic rock tone nonetheless. But I much prefer it with single coils, it has a very nice dirty blues tone at lower gain which can sound quite convincingly valve-like.
The "heavy" setting is strange, to say the least. With any guitar it's very very overpoweringly bass-heavy, dark, lacking in high end clarity, no matter how you EQ it. For a while I thought it was totally useless until I tried running a treble booster into it whilst experimenting with my les paul. Suddenly, the tone was nicely balanced, and some savage top end clarity was added, producing a very raw, rasping distorted tone, the "valve-like" aspect of the gain was gone but that didn't matter - it's a fantastic tone. Then I plugged a tele in and that savage top end was extremely emphasised, giving a very metallic "clang" with some razor edged transistor grit over the top, but no shrillness. The only problem with the telecaster with my treble booster (Electro-Harmonix Screaming Bird) was the lack of bass, resulting in quite a thin tone. But still very usable.
The amp is quite noisy at higher volumes but that's to be expected from an old amp. It's not as noisy as you would expect a tube amp to be, and it's a lot quieter than my Laney VC30. The spring reverb is very rich and lush, and the amp has a medium amount of gain, and despite the many voicings they are all very "vintagey" (though I suspect they were "modern" voicings at the time it was built!) // 7
Reliability & Durability: HH have a good reputation for reliability. The amp still works perfectly after more than 30 years of use and abuse and there's little sign of there being any problems with it any time soon, so I think I can depend on it at a gig without a backup. As far as I'm aware the amp has had no history of any breakdowns or technical faults as HH amps are best known for this but really I have no idea. But the fact it's still working "good as new" today does say a lot for the reliability. // 10
Overall Impression: I play mostly post-punk and new wave styles, but a little bit of classic rock, rhythm and blues, jazz, and grunge. This amp works very well for all of these styles though it is not a "traditional" tone in any sense of the word. It's different, but not "wrong", if you get what I mean. I've been playing guitar for about 12 years but only been playing seriously for about 5 years. I have too many guitars and pedals to list, but this HH amp is the only solid state amp of any note that I have. As I may have said earlier, I have a Laney VC30 as my main tube amp.
If this amp were stolen, lost or broke down through old age, I'd probably get another one, or try to get my hands on another classic HH amp, most likely the IC100 as many of my favourite guitarists have used this model at some point - Bill Nelson, Wilko Johnson, Andy Partridge (of XTC, should you need to ask) and Marc Bolan, to name but a few.
I think what I love about this amp is the quirks of the "valve sound" and the way you can get a wide range of tones which work well for particular genres but at the same time sound very unusual and you wouldn't expect them to work for that genre. It has certainly helped me find my own "signature" tone, nobody else around the area that I live in has a tone anything like mine! The only thing I dislike is how easily the input stage overloads, meaning you can't use high output pickups effectively with it, and the fact there's no channel switching so I'll need to buy something like a Boss Line Selector to have footswitchable channels - minor inconveniences though.
Since this was a private sale and I was specifically in the market for a classic transistor amp, there weren't many other products to compare it to. The only other amp I compared it to was a Peavey Musician head, complete with some custom made speakers, on sale in a shop for 100. I think I actually liked the sound of the Peavey a tad better (particularly the distortion as there was less buzzy overtones), but it wasn't really in a usable condition, with a lot of problems with channels bleeding across into each other, and the controls were very crackly and intermittent.. And this perfectly functioning HH amp was cheaper and the distortion has a lot more of a quirky character, it's rough and ready, but it's got a lot of soul and mojo. // 8