Price paid: $ 400
Sound — 9
Here's the most important section, but also the most subjective. Don't take my word for the sound if you are looking to get a new amp. Find one and try it out for yourself. I am completely OCD when it comes to sound. I have spent my whole life tuning my ears for sound. My sound is a unique blend of Vintage warmth and new crunch. My main inspiration for tone comes from Hendrix, who was the king of tone who wasn't afraid to try something so completely crazy it changed the face of music; Stevie Ray Vaughan, Who's tone is raw, yet refined, and completely unique and unmistakable to his style; David Gilmour, who in my opinion wins the award for the prettiest sound to ever come from a Strat (listen to Comfortably Numb studio AND Delicate Sound of Thunder (or just the whole concert); also On The Turning Away sutdio AND Pompie). Others include Eric Clapton, who's old-style blues sound made him a legend; and Pete Townsend, who's sound is flat and bland at the same time completely vibrant. If you haven't noticed all of these people played Strats. For me, the Strat is the quintessential guitar. By far the most versatile in terms of sound. There are so many things you can do to a strat to form your own sound in the most minute way. It's why my sound is as unique as it is. Because I built my guitar to be unique. It's an ash strat that I built from the ground up. Maple neck, 3 Seymour Duncan CCS-1's. This, in combonation with all of the other adjustments and settings that I'm not going in to, makes the sound very unique. So what does this have to do with the amp? This amp is almost a perfect match for the guitar. Being single coils, the noise is abundant. Also the fact that it's usually plugged into a dirty power source, makes it even noisier. But it's not too bad. Most of it can be compressed out. But I don't like to reduce noise too much because it comprimises tone. I learn to live with the noise to keep the natural tone of the guitar. I use very little compression, just to get rid of the noise caused by other power sources. The noise (to a certain extent) can actually go to help the tone. When I'm on the HiGain setting, if I play very softly, there's a little bit of bleed from the noise, but it's not horrible. For that I kick the compression up a bit. The stock tube is not my first choice. I changed to a groove tube 12ax7 after the first week. The change was small enough to be almost completely undetectable to the untrained ear, but big enough that I was able to help fix some of the problems I had with the original tube. The HiGain is the one I use the most. It's a very distorted sound. One thing to remeber is that it's not a full tube, so if you crank the gain up, it just gets heavier. I have the highs cranked all the way up, the mids almost gone and the lows about 1/4 up. Sounds extreme, but the amount of mids and lows in this model are just too much. The gain is set at about half. This sounded good to me, but then I started adjusting the wattage. Once I did that I found the perfect setting that knocked the wind out of me when I started playing. It was beautiful. The highs just scream, especially up the neck. The low single notes are perfectly crisp. Even at the neck pickup, my ears bleed from the highs. It is amazing. Rhythm and chords also sound good. Though not as good as the soloing. The problem is, is that there's still just a bit much distortion. It is a little muddy. But it's something I have come to terms with because no amp is perfect. If I could have more user presets available I'd have the same thing on a different channel, just tweeked a little so it's not so muddy and distorted. I can live with it, but sometimes I have a little episode when I play chords. But the sound does change slightly given the conditions (I.e. What's plugged in where on the circuit and what else is on in the room). At times it reminds me too much of a modern sound, which is the last thing I want because I hate most new music such as metal, and hard rock. But then at times it is proud and majestic. (I think the mood I'm in has an effect also) My style is classic and bluesy. In my opinion, you will never be a good guitarist if you do not truely appreciate and understand the blues. You don't have to like it, but you do have to understand the importance. I love the blues, and although it's not what I write, I love playing and listening to the blues of all generations. My style comes from all of the legendary bands of our time. I try to include a little of all legends into my music. Not just rock or blues legends, but jazz legends of all genres, and even classical. It's my goal to make music that is classic, jazzy and bluesy, but do it in such a way that it fits in with modern music. I could go into my thoughts on music writing and recording, but this is a amp review, not a philosophy class. The other models I use are the AC30 and the AC15. The 2 are very similar, but also vastly different. They are made to sound like the old style 30 watt and 15 watt Vox amps from way back when. The 30 sounds great as long as I'm using the neck pickup or the neck-mid. The other pickups just don't pick up enough tone for this model. They sound tinny and cheap even after making the EQ fat and muddy. But the neck and neck-mid sound fantastic. Especially when you play with the volume and tone on the guitar. It makes for a good mellow blues/jazz tone that is best achieved on a semi-hollow or hollow guitar. It sounds great on this solid body. I do like the AC15. Just for kicks I cranked the amp volume all the way up and the gain all the way up on this model to see if it would distort like a the original full tube AC15. And it did very well. The distortion wasn't very crisp, but it had that Vintage sound to it, the same type that was heard way back in the day when the original artists cranked their amps to get distortion. And with a little bit of extra low end, it turned into a fairly ferocious animal. It wasn't like the HiGain that was made to be loud and proud, but more like the kind of distortion heard in the E flat minor chord of Voodoo Child. The low end sounded like a full tube amp, but once I started soloing in the high notes it ceased to sound like a full tube. The distortion became rounded and lack-luster. Bad sustain, even with my guitar that will hold a note until the middle of next week. But with the volume cranked, I could see how it could be used for a Vintage solo. All in all, the sound of this amp, with a little fidgetting sounds fantastic. I could get into the effects, but then I'll have to explain my entire recording philosiphy, and I'm not going to do that because a.)I could write an entire book on the subject; b.)I'm not going to reveal all of my secrets, just like I didn't revel a whole great deal about my guitar. But if you want my opinion on the sound, it sounds great for me. I think for the average player who just wants to jam, this amp is a good amp to get. If you are as OCD as I am, you kinda need to know what your doing to make this amp sing.
Overall Impression — 9
I purchased this amp in 2006. I took a gamble on it because I have a very classic style. I wanted a tube amp that I could afford. But after reading into this I discovered that it's not a full tube. But I got it anyway thinking that, hey at least it still has a tube in it. I figured if I didn't like it I could sell it and get another one. Let me just start by saying WOW! This amp blew me away at first. I loved the sound I was getting out of it for years. But then I finally was able to afford a full tube amp and got another vox. (I love Vox). After playing it I could definatley hear a very distinct difference in sound, obviously. The tube amp, to get it to scream those eardrum-piercing highs that you hear from many of the classic players, it involved cranking it to the limit and shake the whole house down with volume, not that that's a bad thing. It's just that noise ordinace fines and neighbor complaints get old after a while. So I started playing with the sound of the Valvetronix and completely revamped my sound. I must say that after fidgetting with the tone of this and changing the tube, I have turned this thing into a completely new beast. It's all in the wattage adjustment on the back. I found a sweet spot on mine that really makes those highs crack open your ear drums and pour in the sweet sound of sexiness and awe. Once you get it dailed in, you have yourself one of the greatest sounding amps you will ever own, and you won't get any more noise ordinance fines either. The effects loop is kind of a joke. The verb is fine but annoying to set. But I just use pedals. Most of the others are very clearly digital effects that just make the tube sound sound ridiculous. For a hybrid amp, even for a full tube amp, I'd say this thing sounds amazing. It's one of my favorite amps, and it's the amp I use when going into the studio. There are times when I just want a good old tube amp and crank it up to 11, but for the most part I love this amp. My style was molded by the legends who played my favorite guitar: the Strat. Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Pete Townsend, David Gilmour, and Mark Knopffler to name a few. I built my own strat that is much like the originals, even made out of ash, wtih an all maple neck, and let me be the first to say, strats and Vox go together like peanut butter and jelly. Not to say that it doesn't go well with other guitars. It's just not my style. There are tons of other guitarists that I didn't mention that have influenced my playing. Just not my tone.
Reliability & Durability — 10
This amp is very durable! I have taken it up the side of very a tall and steep hill to a building on the top and dropped it. It rolled down a little and hit a huge rock. I picked it up, dusted it off and it was fine! The tube was even fine, which is a straight up miracle, because that's usually what goes, and I didn't have any spares on me at the time.
Features — 9
This amp rocks! If you get it dailed in just right. While good tube amps (in my opinion) sound amazing in any set up (i.e. EQ, gain level, volume, etc), the Valvetronix takes some adjusting. Sure full tubes sound better with different configurations, but I haven't found a good* tube amp yet that doesn't sound good the first time I've played it. The Valvetronix though takes some taming. When I got mine I spent the better part of an entire day just EQing it and tinkering with it until I found a sound that suit me well. It started off by going through the models. Some are good, and some sound fake. The ones I like, and designed my sond around was the Ac15, AC30, and the US HiGain. I occationally use the Tweed, and the Black, but not that often. But I will get into their sound in the next section. These models sound the best to me. But it still took me forever to get an EQ that I liked. Once I got it EQed, I found very little versatility/leeway for minute tone changes for whatever I'm playing. But that's fine, I just adjust the guitar settings to get the desired tone. As you will find in the next section, I am very picky with my sound. Once I got the tone down, I started with the effects. I am a big fan of Vintage effects. Jimi Hendrix is my hero when it comes to effects. I like effects, just as long as it's not too gaudy. This is not the amp to use if you are looking for good effects. The only one I ever use is the reverb. It's the easiest, and frankly hard to screw up. Even still it's obnoxious to set. For those of you who work on cars, it's like trying to rebuild/tune a 4 barrel Quadrajet. It sounds good on paper, but it's far too finicky. There are several adjustments to form the shape and size of the reverb (ie room size, room length) which is good. But there are 3 adjustments for it in 1 knob. To fine tune it, you have to hold down a button while you turn the knob, which is so unbelievably annoying. But once you get it set, it's pretty good. (Sound familiar Quadrapuke owners?) The other effects I just don't use. They are just silly. They all sound fake. It's almost as if Korg threw them in as product placement. (Since Korg as contracted to build parts of the amp). Since I always use pedals for most of my effects, because I'm usually messing with some of them in mid song, the built in effects just add weight. Thankfully there's a bypass so you aren't forced to use them. I will say though, that it is definatley powerful. 50 watts may not sound like a ton, but the shear volume you get out of it is quite impressive. The adjustable wattage on the tube is also a very nice feature. It's not just a decibel knob, it's one of the most important factors in my tone, so that's a definate plus. That is what makes the whole amp feel like a full tube amp. The difference in a few watts is very noticeable. So in summary, this amp has features I use everyday and are amazing, and some that I will never use beacause they're just dumb. If I could I'd get this same amp without the effects, and without some if the models.