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Backstage with Peavey


Article from Sound International, May 1979

Roger Adams likes small combos. So, before we move into the realms of 20 Big Ones next month, here he corners the Peavey Backstage 30 for special attention.

Small amplifiers have been increasing in popularity and decreasing in size over recent years. In the studios, many top guitarists make use of the tiniest combos imaginable to create their sounds, largely because a small amp can be driven hard without bringing the ceiling down, and can be easily isolated, even in a small studio, from instruments involving more critical and complex miking such as drums and piano, thus avoiding spillage (hi Steve!). Of course there is a problem concerning lack of depth available from these midget units, but judicious use of the equalisation on the mixing board can usually work wonders, and your Pignose, or whatever, can do a passable impression of a stack when heard in context with the final mix. If you need convincing, listen closely to the solo work of Jeff Beck or Larry Carlton.

When practising and tuning up in the dressing room, too, the small portable combo has become invaluable to many musicians. Unless you have a particularly sadistic streak, and enjoy watching your roadie staggering up winding staircases with a four by twelve on his shoulder and a hundred-watt valve head tucked underneath his arm, only to find there's no power point in the dressing room, you will probably already be using a little amp for tuning up. Anything louder will put you in the bad books of your drummer, who will be unable to hear the faint patter of wood against rubber as he paradiddles the hell out of his practice-frisbee-thingamee.

Let us move from the dressing room to the main pastime of the working musician, the live performance. Here, of course, the usual type of practice amp is at an inherent disadvantage. Even the pokiest little Pignose is at a loss when it comes to making its presence felt onstage, especially if the rhythm section is of the traditional rock GBH variety. However, larger amplification in the backline creates an even greater problem when it comes to balancing the onstage sound. The overall volume of the band is forced up by the normal red-blooded lead guitarist, who wishes to drive his amp hard in order to create exciting effects with harmonic distortion, to the point where two things happen. Firstly, and more obviously, the vocal mics have to be run at the threshold of feedback to satisfy the vocalist, and hours are sometimes spent fighting a losing battle with obscure monitor positioning as a result. Secondly, there is the more subtle but equally insidious hazard of the disappearing drummer. Drums are sometimes fed through the foldback system on large stages, but unless your PA is of tax-loss proportions, and extremely well set up, and your monitor system has costly fullrange side-fills which can handle bass drum accurately without adverse effect on the efficiency of the rest of the sound, it would be better for the guitarist to play at a lower volume, alleviate the problem, and lose the balls from his sound. Exit guitarist from soundcheck, thoroughly peeved.

Which brings me, phonetically at least, to the Peavey Backstage 30.

Appearance and Construction

Walking into a showroom displaying Peavey amplification, you will be presented with a bewildering range of combos, varying from the quite large to the very small. The Backstage 30 is the very smallest. It is finished, and constructed, very much in accordance with the larger and more expensive Peavey items. The covering is of extremely tough plasticised fabric which has displayed, in my experience of several months use of the amp (without even the protection of a waterproof cover), a very high resistance to scuffing. This is as well, when one considers that the timber used in building the cabinet, although a sturdy ¾in thick and structurally sound by virtue of the amp's small size, is nevertheless chipboard, and prone to damage on the edges. The corners of the cabinet are thankfully protected by the same heavy-duty chrome corner-protectors found on larger Peavey items, held in place by beefy cross-headed screws. The front of the cabinet consists of a smartly-embossed control panel, sporting high-quality brushed aluminium knobs. Tough woven plastic edged with two in aluminium strips protect the sloping speaker baffle. The Peavey logo, which I have finally grown to like after considerable indecision, finishes the appearance well.

The rear of the unit is partially open to reveal the 10in loudspeaker and the mains transformer, mounted upside down on the underside of the amplifier chassis, and sharing the speaker compartment to save space. There seems to be nothing against this idea as transformers are no more fragile than loudspeakers. In the long term, however, both units would fare better if the manufacturers had supplied a waterproof cover with their product. The lower half of the speaker compartment is covered by a panel of thinner timber, creating a pocket where one can pack away the retained mains lead, and possibly other leads if required. This panel has shown an unfortunate tendency to vibrate at high volumes as it is only supported by two screws at each end. A fifth screw, at the centre of the bottom edge, would probably solve this problem without making the removal of this panel for access to the speaker too time-consuming. Incidentally, on this somewhat flimsy panel is fixed the plastic card which shows the full American address of Peavey, and the serial number of the amplifier. It is, I feel, rather unfortunate to have the serial number on a separate piece of plastic, and I would have preferred to see it engraved on the chassis, but there are pros and cons for any choice of siting, and I suspect that the plate would not come away without leaving signs of a struggle.

More important, in my opinion, is the fact that the voltage of the amp is indicated by a small sticker reading '240VAC, 50Hz', which covers the American voltage figure of 110 volts. This sticker has already started to peel off, and if it gets lost, it will mean that a fairly vital piece of information is inaccurately given. On an amplifier which has no voltage selector, this could lead to misunderstandings and serious problems. Also to be found on the rear of the amp chassis are the mains switch, which seems fairly substantial, and a token safety warning which invites you to refrain from chucking buckets of water over the unit and fiddling around inside it if you don't know what you're up to. Pretty standard stuff, but it's nice to see that Peavey care as much for the owner of their smallest amp as they do about their bigger customers.

Next to the shock-horror stuff, we find one of the amp's useful features, the Pre-Amp Output which enables the Backstage 30 to be used as a pre-amp on a larger-powered set-up if you happen to like its sound but want it louder (are you kidding?), with the possibility of extra overdrive stages to juggle. Alternatively, you can link the Pre-Amp Output to a PA, or recording, desk for direct injection purposes. Interesting results could be obtained by combining the direct injected sound, which would give stronger bass, with a microphone on the raunchy little 10in speaker, which imposes its own physical limitations on the frequency range available. Finally, on the back panel, we have the usual American 'bigger and better' wattage. This is quoted as 30 watts, which would be nice if it were true, but this is an American rating and does not refer to the continuous RMS output which is a not inconsiderable 18 watts. The American figure, of course, explains the amplifier's name — 'Backstage Eighteen' doesn't have quite the same ring does it? Wattage aside, the thing is infernally loud and frightened me to death the first time I pushed up the volume. Other than to impress sceptics, I've never yet used it flat-out.

Controls and Performance

The Backstage 30 has two inputs, Number One having a higher sensitivity than Number Two (the latter is better if you require a nice, quiet, well-behaved sound). The first input enables fuller use to be made of the overdrive facility available when the initial Gain control is at high settings, the overall output of the amp being governed by the Master Gain control on the right of the control panel. Between these gain controls there are three tone controls, reading from left to right, Low, Mid and High. The low control is limited in effectiveness, naturally enough, by the small speaker, but the Mid control is particularly strong and at high settings adds a pleasant smoothness to the sustain achieved from overdriving the input. At high Master Gain levels, with the Mid control on maximum, sustained feedback notes are easily achieved all over the guitar. When a clean sound is required, it is best to cut down the Mid control considerably, slightly backing off the High Control if a warmer tone is required. Alternatively, stinging treble à la Fender is available for all you country pickers by leaving the High control up and just reducing the Mid. Of course, the relative efficiency of the tone controls will vary if you are using the Backstage 30 as a pre-amp; it all depends ultimately on the speakers reproducing the sound, in other words if you are driving into a large PA, of course there will be more bass available, likewise if the speaker system uses high-frequency tweeters or horns, there will be a boost available on the top end. The 10in speaker supplied, however, gives an excellent rock guitar sound. Despite its size, it gives a convincing bottom E during power chords and handles the amazing volume with apparent ease. I have in fact used the Backstage 30 as an un-miked backline amp while sitting in with a local pop band on a couple of occasions, playing the whole spectrum of pop music, from funk to World War I singalongs, and the amp had power to spare, balancing well with other larger backline gear. In rehearsals with my own band, I have been asked to turn down by the other members, despite having to compete with a Fender Bassman 100, a 12-drum kit and about 300 watts of keyboards.


The main criticism I can find with this amplifier is the total absence of protective fuses. The unit is not intended as a toy, and the apparent lack of protective circuitry worries me. I sincerely hope this is not indicative of any American 'built-in obsolescence' pattern, and that the amp is not preset to self-destruct on the date the guarantee finishes! Judging by the quality of other aspects of the Backstage 30, this would appear to be highly unlikely, and Peavey probably have their own thoughts on the non-inclusion of such protective precautions. They have, after all, designed a few amps in their time, and this particular one shows no other evidence of cutting corners in its construction.

Another problem is that it is difficult to get inside the amplifier. Admittedly, there are only four bolts to undo, holding the chassis to the cabinet from the top, but that's where the fun begins. The amount of physical effort required to shift the chassis seemed way out of line with the size of the unit, and something seemed to be catching around the front panel after about half an inch of movement. Being something of a hulk when it comes to dealing with perverse inanimate objects, and bearing in mind that this was MY amp, and I didn't fancy a cracked front panel, or a cracked anything else for that matter, I didn't labour the point, and contented myself with a peek through the half-inch gap into the innards. What I saw was a small, well laid out amplifier, divided into three compartments, neatly wired and soldered, and probably a joy to work on if you could just get in there! However, unless I was missing something obvious (I've successfully taken out amplifiers made by Vox, Fender, Hiwatt, Dynacord and Roland to name but a few) I would say that the Peavey chassis was difficult to remove, and added substance to their 'no user serviceable parts inside' warning. Maybe you have to dial a combination on the control pots!


The Peavey Backstage 30 has the sort of name that rolls easily off the tongue, and could well establish itself in a field far beyond that which its manufacturers originally intended. It's priced at about £100, although I have seen them advertised by retailers, brand new, for over 20 pounds cheaper. It is therefore in the same low price range as the Fender Champ and the Pignose, but it easily outperforms both. Its lack of physical size is enhanced by the full-size controls, handle, corner-pieces, logo, etc and the result can only be described as 'cute'. It is an interesting fact that many companies, including Roland, Maine and MM have introduced similarly 'cute' baby amplifiers recently. Only the MM beats the Backstage 30 for price, however, and it will be interesting to see if this British firm can beat it for quality. On past evidence, this would seem unlikely.

It has always been the ideal of the working musician to be able to stroll into the session, gig or whatever, with guitar in one hand and amp in the other, and still sound convincing. With the little Backstage 30 this ideal has come a big step nearer.

Height: 16in. Width: 17in. Max. Depth: ¼in. Weight: 11lbs. Output: 18 watts (this seems conservative).

Tested with Guild S60 with DiMarzio Super Distortion Humbucker, and Guild S400 AD prototype fitted with DiMarzio Dual Sound, PAF and Super Distortion Humbuckers.

rrp: £92.25/$125.50.

Roger Adams is guitarist with Krakatoa.

Previous Article in this issue

Just A Second Part From FZ

Next article in this issue

BC Rich Eagle

Publisher: Sound International - Link House Publications

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Sound International - May 1979

Donated by: Richard Elen

Gear in this article:

Amplifier (Combo) > Peavey > Backstage 30

Gear Tags:

Guitar Amp

Review by Roger Adams

Previous article in this issue:

> Just A Second Part From FZ

Next article in this issue:

> BC Rich Eagle

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