Price paid: A$ 249
Purchased from: Allans/Billy Hyde
Sound — 8
Now this is where the Tonelab ST gets interesting. I have given it a 8 for sound BUT! This is only because I have given it a little DIY. If I was judging from a Tonelab ST straight out of the box it would probably get a 5/6 for sound. The preset sounds in ST are pretty average, I haven't used any and don't think I ever will. The change in initial volume between them is a real pain too. I don't want to start the war again, as to whether or not the preamp tube in Vox Valvetronix technology actually does anything, but I have noticed a huge difference changing my tube. The tube that comes in the ST is a Ruby 12AX7. To be honest it's a fairly cheap tube, not exactly what I'd use in a high quality product by any means. The tube in my unit was very dull and made nearly every setting sound dark and murky. I decided it would be worth changing the tube to see what effect it would have after noticing the number of people doubting the importance of the tube preamp. So I popped in an Electro-Harmonix 12AX7 and the sound changing considerably. Unfortunately you can't use a high gain tube with this unit (such as an EXH), it makes the signal far too hot. I had great difficulty recording effectively (it was peaking something awful) and my blues settings were breaking up far too early. Disheartened but not beaten I decided to put in a Sovtek 5751. The 5751 was a favourite of Stevie Ray Vaughan and has 70% of the gain a 12AX7 has. Now my ST is an amazing Machine with an unbelievable tone. It's considerably quieter which makes recording so much easier but I can still crank the volume knob at gigs without problem. My sound is clearer and smoother; hasn't got the background noise of the Ruby Tube nor the super HOT signal of the EHX Tube. It can handle blues and rock no problem now and dialling in a tone is as simple as can be. What a great sound!
Overall Impression — 8
Whilst this is a fantastic piece of equipment, I think people MUST understand that you have to invest time in this unit. I know some people expect to pull it out of the box and for it to make them sound wonderful but that is pretty unrealistic. If you aren't going to spend hours sitting down with this thing and really getting to the nuts and bolts of it, then please do not consider buying this. It really is a case of you get what you give. The sizable number of preset sounds are average at best in my opinion and I have had more fun making my own patches. To be honest, the first fews days of owning this I hated it. It was muddy, dull and had way too much background noise from the preamp. After 2 weeks of tinkering and many late nights playing with the sounds I can honestly say this is the best investment I have made. I now use it for recording, live shows and general house use and I will never look back. I mainly play blues (a mixture, SRV come B.B King) but also dabble in various rock genres. Due to the large amount of sounds in the Tonelab ST it's only too easy to get the sound I'm after, as well as some handy effects. I have been playing for 8 years now and own a decent amount of gear. I have had a DigiTech RP150 a few years ago but that was just awful. I've never had good luck with DigiTech to be honest. I guess like most guitarists I would LOVE to own a large pedalboard, stuffed with expensive goodies that would make even your cat sound like a guitar god. But like most guitarists I just don't have the money. I just wanted something cheap and compact, that I could use for recording, at live shows and would give me a decent tone. A lot to ask for but I think the Tonelab ST really delivers. If stolen I probably would definately get another one, it's just such a handy unit. I would definately recommend this for a beginner (as well as a pro but beginners especially). The cacophony of amps/cabs/effects will give you a solid understanding in finding your tone and style. It may even show you the brands you'll grow to love in the future (eg, the 'Cali Clean' amp is basically fender. If you like this setting the most you'll know to lean to them in the future). If you decide to change tubes this will also give beginners an oppourtunity to explore the fun yet sometimes hectic world of tubes but not overwhelm them. It's only a single preamp tube so go out and have fun experimenting with the different brands. You'll have a great time and learn a lot! Overall I think it would be fair to give the an 8 (really 8.5). Like I said, if you are willing to spend time with this you can get almost any sound you want, which is great for the price. The reason it is not getting a 10 is the extra money I had to spend fiddling around with tubes and the pretty average built-in presets. Also I think to get a 10 most people would like it to be expanded a bit like the Tonelab EX, but for me it defeats the purpose of being compact!
Reliability & Durability — 9
I use this unit for recording and gigs and it hasn't failed me yet. The body is made of pretty sturdy metal and I doubt it would break easy (it has had a few knocks already and still works fine). The worst that could happen is you damage the preamp 12AX7 inside but thats not irreplaceable. I know that some people complain that switching between sounds during a live show is hard but I have found it dead easy, I think some people just whinge far too much. I have about 6 patches in a set and a single push of a footswitch puts me onto the next patch, it's not brain surgery. I don't think you'll ever need a back-up pedal unless you need something like a loop pedal in your set-up. I find it really handy that the Tonelab ST can plug directly into the house PA of a venue, it means all I carry to a gig is my guitar, 2 cables and the Tonelab, not an amp and a bunch of other gizmos.
Ease of Use — 8
A fairly easy to use device. Solid Metal body, chicken head style knobs, small expression pedal, Ruby 12AX7 preamp tube and 2 foot switches. It has a number of dials; - An amp selector knob, 11 positions, with more gain the further clockwise you turn it. Starts at clean, goes to a Fender bluesy sound, on to a classic Vox sound, onto Marshall high gain and finally to metal. Each of the 11 amps has 3 different 'options' to allow an even wider variety of sounds. - A cabinet switch which allows you to put one of 11 cabinets to your sound, from tweeds to 2x12's to quads etc. - The usual Volume, Middle, Treble, Bass and Gain. When using cabinets you can adjust them using these knobs too. - A 'Pedal' section knob which allows you to add an effect such as Vox wah, Tube OD, Fuzz etc, with an 'Edit' knob too. - Similar thing with a 'Mod/Delay' section knob, controlling delay, chorus, flanger etc. Again with 'Edit' knob and also a tempo button. - Seperate reverb knob with spring, hall and room reverbs. - Built-in Tuner via the footswitches. On the back is a USB port for direct recording and to link up to the Tonelab software on your PC/Mac. The output jack allows you to go into your amp or directly into a cabinet or DI box to play with a house PA. Editing patches is a breeze and is made even simpler if you download the Tonelab software from the Vox website. This also gives you the oppourtunity to share your tones with others, something I know some people appreciate. The manual provided is helpful and very thorough.