I’ve been watching VHT amplification closely the last 18 months because they did something I thought every amp manufacturer would have implemented overseas by now if not years ago. However before I dive in head first I’d like to mention a few geeky electronic acts of randomness that have transpired sine the early 70’s for the non guitar geek ( I can’t think of any nicer way to say it?) to help them understand the microchip and it’s relationship to Guitar Amplifiers. Microchips became cheep enough in the early 70’s for them to offer a solution to the high cost of having an electronics technician soldering together point to point wires on the chassis of an amplifier. Every Transistor, diode, transformer, volume knob (pot) and resistor was connected by a piece of wire soldered by hand and by union labor in the US. I’m not sure what overseas companies did. Here’s a Marshal amp chassis manufactured in 1968 with point to point hand wiring:
Hendrix played this amp along with the 50 watt Marshal Plexi amplifiers and they sound just as amazing today as they did then and worth a pretty penny too I might add. As the Digital age of microchips became affordable in the 1970’s all those transistors in this Marshal could be put on a few micro chips. The next picture is the chassis of a recent Line 6 series solid state amplifier, no tubes. look at the knob pots (the aluminum stem the volume and tone knob sit’s a top of and turn) in both pictures for size reference.
Not much too it really, it’s smaller then a PC but not as small as an android or iPhone. There was a problem with the whole way they worked physically so this is where it gets messy. The Digital guitar amplifiers sounded good! Ty Tabor the Guitarist for King’s X the fathers of Grunge is considered a Hard Rock Tone God used a solid state Digital Lab Series Amplifier on King’s X’s first five albums.
However because they were solid state and not analog it caused issue with two physics problems if you will. One, it doesn’t matter how hard you pick a string on a digital amp it wont change the tone or the “volume.” In music you have loud and soft theoretically in music theory referred to as Dynamics. The example I would use to the non guitar geek would be Stevie Ray Vaughn’s version of Jimmy Hendrix’s Little Wing. At 3:57 (3 minutes and 57 seconds on the YouTube video below) the guitar goes from ƒƒƒ being fortissimo possible or in English the “loudest possible” to mƒ, standing for mezzo-forte, meaning “moderately loud” in English. SRV accomplishes this by picking very light with his right hand, however if you do this on a digital amp it’s going to sound the same volume. Digital has two gears, move and stop where as the old engineering techniques of the late 40’s still makes for the best guitar amplifier that will accomplish this beautifully.
The other thing that a Tube amp will accomplish is just turning down and up the volume knob on the electric git fiddle will go from Blaring Angus young to a clean pristine David Gilmore “us and them” guitar tone. That volume knob gives you 30 different colors to paint you canvas with just by twisting it a small amount. When you’re playing it becomes a very integral part of Dynamics which on a guitar can and most cases equates to a lot of emotion in your playing and improvisation. Digital Amps cant physically accomplish this, they sound the same until the volume is decreased half way then it’s off. Like I said previously, it has two speeds on and off. Go watch Carlos Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, Eddy Van Halen, Joe Bonamassa, Jimmy Page, David Gilmore, James Hatfield, all the Players that compete in the Guitar Center “King of The blues” contest every year (this list is endless) on YouTube. They all constantly mess with the Volume knob. Changing Colors to splatter the canvas with, really go take a look.
So now we come back to my original thought which was “I thought every amp manufacturer would be doing (x) by now if not years ago” and that’s hand wire guitar amplifiers point to point abroad where they have the skilled labor to do it without paying someone $65 an hour in the US to solder amps together. I know that doesn’t sit well with a lot of people but that’s capitalism without ethics, we live in that very moment in history right now. There are plenty of what’s labeled “Botique Guitar Amplifiers” that are Class A point to point hand wired just like in the 50’s and 60’s, made in the USA but start at prices of about $2500 dollars US Currency. Enter VHT the very popular Amp company from the 60’s who built and geared up a factory in China with some pretty highly trained electronics people who are making hand wired tube amps.
The first was in late 2010 the Special 6, it’s 6 watts of class A power and is so simple it has a tone and volume knob, that’s it. Since then VHT has come out with the Special 6 Ultra and the Special 12/20. All of them can be purchased as a combo or a head with external cabinets and none are in Guitar Center because they’re so popular on the internet there’s not enough to put one in every guitar center. Needless to say I’ve been reading the Buzz and had the fortune to play one at NAMM for about 7 minutes but you can’t hear a thing at NAMM. Sunday I with spending some play time on the 6 Ultra and I’m like now a cat that wants catnip. I’m going to pee on the carpet if I don’t get my way :p These little $229 to $400 amps that are hand wired are amazing, just brilliant. They’re so sensitive and 6 watts point to point is like a dam 22 watt Fender Deluxe. This amp was loud! I tested it through a Marshal 65 4 x 12 cabinet, a 2 x 12 Mesa Boogie and an Egnater 1 x 12 Vintage 30 loaded Rebel Cabinet. All I had besides that in the signal chain was a Maxon Compressor. I used My Jeff Beck Strat and a 60’s era Les Paul with the p90’s. Brilliant, just brilliant!I could play a small club with this amp effortlessly and not mic it unless I was playing Metal.
Fortunately the friend who purchased this VHT also Bought 3 sets of Tubes, the ones that come with the amp are just terrible. Since the amp only self Bias’s it simple to replace all the tubes and hear the different tones it would color the amp with. I’m sold…. WANT! Yes indeed, I’m buying one. No more lugging around an Egnater Tour master to small gigs.