Peavey Heritage VTX
I got a letter the other day — sounds like a good idea for a song, doesn't it? Remind me to make a note of that. "We're sending you a 130 watt Peavey amplifier to review," this letter said, and whereas I would normally cringe at the idea of using such a powerful device in my little studio, I wasn't worried about this one, and for once I didn't have my preconceptions shattered. I already knew about Peavey's 'Classic' (not to be confused with Ruddle's Classic) and the Heritage is equally small and neat; I carried it upstairs single handed, the floor didn't need to be reinforced, and it wasn't a rampaging uncontrollable beast — the sort that blows the windows out even with the volume on zero.
Having said that, the Heritage is loud enough for anything; any gig that it can't handle by itself will almost certainly have a PA to help it out. The amp measures 26½" by 20¼" by 11" deep and weighs about 65 lbs. Before we get too far from the subject of carrying the thing upstairs, although the single handle on the top is adequate for one person doing a short haul, an additional handle at each end would make it possible for two people to combine their efforts for longer journeys (these people could even be of the much maligned 'roadie' breed if necessary). The amp is sturdily built, with metal corner caps, and the control panel is recessed to afford protection from most combinations of low brain and high brawn.
The workings of the Heritage are explained in the instruction leaflet with the help of a reasonably lucid signal-flow diagram. There is a choice of two input jacks, one half as sensitive as the other (10mV as opposed to 5mV) and these combine to feed two input channels, each with its own volume and tone controls. Both channels may be used together, or selected by a plug-in footswitch. This signal then feeds a Phaser, a spring reverb, and finally the power amplifier stage; this sports valves, in contrast to the rest of the circuitry which uses semiconductors.
The speakers are two of Peavey's Scorpion 12" units in an open-backed enclosure. These have 2" voice coils and are rated at 150W each; if you somehow manage to blow them up, they're designed to be easily fixed. "Unique field replaceable basket assembly makes the reconing process a thing of the past," it says here. "Unique" isn't strictly a truthful claim though, because Vitavox have manufactured 'field-repairable' cone speakers for many years.
Two speaker jacks are provided so that an extension cabinet can be used, either with or without the internal speakers. Also on the back panel is a line output socket, which feeds an attenuated version of the power amp's output to a recording console or PA mixer; this signal is also specially equalised to approximate the frequency response of the speakers. Unfortunately, it can't simulate the complex interaction between a moving speaker coil and the output impedance of a valve amplifier (Richard Elen's and George Chiantz's 'Richocet effect'), which is one of the essential ingredients of the valve sound. It's not just distortion that does it, and this may be one reason for Peavey's choice of a valved output stage even though they've developed a perfectly adequate solid state valve overload simulator for this amp.
Sockets are provided for the connection of effects units etc. between the pre-amp and power amp sections; a position which gives lower noise if your effects can take the higher signal level. My Carlsbro echo certainly worked well here. Finally there's a ground lift switch, a hangover from the disgraceful and lethal American bonded-earth system; mercifully this switch doesn't do anything on the 240 volt export, model, which is provided with a captive three core mains cable of a decent gauge.
There are quite a few knobs round the front of the Heritage, but they're not as daunting as they first appear if approached logically. It's intended that the amp's two channels will normally be set to give a distorted 'lead' sound on one channel, with a 'clean' sound on the other, and the first seven knobs (staring on the left) belong to the lead channel. There are two gain controls, and these work in conjunction with the 'saturation' control to affect the distortion characteristics of this channel.
I have to report that Peavey's valve simulation circuit, although a strange thing to find on a partially valved amplifier, works very well indeed. Once I'd set the controls to my taste, it really sang and long notes held on beautifully right to the bitter end; the circuitry is sensitive enough to enable any guitar to achieve the required effect. There is also a 'bright' switch operated by pulling out the input gain knob, but this interferes with the smoothness of the distortion and I left it pushed in.
The low, mid and high tone controls are passive, the sort you find on the older-type valve amplifiers. By modern circuit standards, these controls are terrible — they interact with each other and don't do what you might expect, but many guitarists are used to this and find they can get what they want more easily from this style of EQ. They are certainly gentle and all settings are useful, unlike the presence control which is active and can cause earstrain if turned up too much. The most useful feature of this section is brought in by pulling the 'high' EQ knob; this actuates an effect which is called 'thick' for some reason. In fact it's an upper midrange boost which goes especially well with a maximum saturation distortion sound.
Moving on to the 'normal' (clean) channel; this does not have the saturation control, just input and output gain. Distortion can still be obtained, but not with the smoothness and controllability of the lead channel; this section works much better in the clean mode. In fact, there is some breakthrough from the lead channel if it's set for maximum distortion; this isn't normally troublesome, but you might want to turn the lead channel down if you're making a recording using the clean channel. There is also a 'pull bright' facility on the input knob, as on the lead channel.
The tone controls here are active, and have much more cut and boost available; 15dBs worth each way in fact. Low and high EQ are as normal, but an interesting feature is the 'parametric' (strictly 'sweep') midrange control. This is on two concentric knobs, which are rather small and tricky to get a grip on in consequence; the inner one gives cut and boost, the outershifts (or sweeps) the centre frequency from 150Hz to 1.5kHz. A good idea, but I would have preferred the shift to go down to 80Hz to cover the whole frequency range of a guitar, like the JHS amp reviewed in February.
Next comes the phaser, with depth and speed controls (called depth and range on the amplifier). By pulling out the range knob, you can stop the sweep and position it manually with the same knob; this gives a whole range of new sounds and is, as far as I know, unique. As it happens, I wasn't all that keen on the phaser, it made too much of a 'churning' sound unless it was turned down to a very subtle level; maybe I'm just fed up with phasing, which seems to be getting as much overuse as wah-wah did in the late sixties.
Let's put a stop to all this nitpicking and pass on to the reverb, which is very good; in fact I left it switched on about halfway all the time. The spring unit sits in a bag fixed inside the bottom of the cabinet, and I think my sample must have been disturbed in some way (the carrier delivered the amp upside down, despite 'this way up' signs on the box) because the reverb tended to build up into a background whine rather like a quiet form of feedback. The noise went away after I'd moved the spring line about a bit.
The final controls are the on/off switch, which turns on the pre-amp and the valve heaters, and a three position standby switch which gives the options of 'off', and full or quarter power from the power amplifier. Red and green LEDs tell you which state the amp is in.
A wedge shaped unit carries four footswitches, and connects to the back of the amplifier via slightly over 3 metres of cable and an easily squashed DIN plug. How do I know it's easily squashed? Simple, I trod on it. Sorry, Peavey. Two of the footswitches (which are OK to tread on) switch the phaser and reverb in and out, and the other two determine which input channel is used. The 'selector' offers either lead or normal, whilst 'combiner' gives you both at once, and LEDs tell you which channel(s) are working. An interesting mode of operation is possible with the combiner if you set up the two channels carefully. Because the saturation effect tends to compress the sound, the lead channel will be the loudest one if you play quietly; but if you play hard, the normal channel will come through and change the sound radically.
Apart from the quality of construction and the excellence of the saturation effect, the major quality of the Peavey Heritage is its controllability. This is nothing to do with there being lots of knobs to twiddle; quite the opposite. Once you have found the control settings that suit you, the amplifier can be left alone; the foot switches, the guitar controls and your own technique will take care of most of the variations you'll require.
I left the amp set up in my studio, and I found myself switching it on at odd moments just so I could hear my guitars working so well. I used a Gibson L6S with DiMarzio pickups, a home built solid fitted with Gibson humbuckers and a Fender electric XII, and they all sounded good; there was an extra something, hard to describe, that made what went into the guitar come out of the speakers. Nothing to do with high fidelity, but a more direct connection between the idea and the sound, perhaps.
Be that as it may, the Heritage carries a suggested retail price of £432.50 — it may be less if you shop around — and you get an amplifier that will serve you long and well, on stage and in the studio. I shall be sorry to see it go. I may barricade myself in with it — or would someone lend me 400 quid?
Review by Peter Maydew
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