V-Amp VA-60 Lead Combo
Deanvard's first V-Amps earned quite a reputation for themselves among musicians looking for significantly above-average performance from transistorised combos selling at lower than average prices. Visually unusual (with many colour options available), they received excellent reviews from the musicians' Press and seemed to sell well, although rumour has it some retailers were resistant to their unusual 'bobble-look' coverings and the variety of colours they offered. Now, a complete revision of the V-Amp range has taken place - and we set out to find whether today's V-Amps were better, or worse, than previous models, using their 60 watt lead amp as our test sample.
The first thing to note about the new V-Amp models is that Deanvard (the Peterborough-based makers of V-Amps) have abandoned their original covering materials and huge colour range in favour of a more traditional black vinyl covering, fitted with top carrying straps and plastic corner protectors. The quality of cabinet construction, however, remains extremely sturdy - one of the first indications you get that a lower-price product doesn't have to sacrifice constructional quality.
Protecting the speakers are strong open-weave plasticised grilles, which are both acoustically transparent (in other words, they don't impede the sound coming out of the speakers, as do traditional cloth grilles) and offer outstanding protection to your speaker cones - they look quite likely to win the 'British roadies' hoof-proof challenge cup' for 1985! From a range of 30 watt through 60 watt guitar and bass models, we selected the 60 watt lead guitar version (the VA-60) to test, and hope to be trying one of the bass models in the very near future.
The VA-60 is a tough piece of equipment, and V-Amp's 2 year guarantee implies that the makers know they've come up with a product here which should prove very reliable in use.
Oversize rotary controls adorn the front panel for the major functions, making this a particularly easy amp to handle on stage, when you might well have sweaty hands and are likely to be in a hurry. Smaller pots govern the less often fiddled with facilities. This is the sort of feature which has always endeared V-Amps to us - a common-sense design philosophy which implies musician input right back at the design stage.
Two standard jack sockets provide either 'normal' or 'bright' sounds, followed by a small pre-amp gain control (with a 'pull for boost' function), after which come pots offering master volume, treble, 'quasi-parametric' Eq. (gain and frequency), following which there's a bass control with a 'pull for fat' option. Lastly comes a reverb depth control.
In addition, the front panel also (sensibly) contains the access points for various footswitch governed operations. The first of these handles sustain on/off, the second is for a line-out feed, the third for headphone output. There's also a fourth jack socket (just below the reverb depth control), which gives on/off for reverb.
In effect, the VA-60 is a twin-channel amp. You can either use the 'pull for boost' facility on the pre-amp gain control manually, or (much better) connect a footswitch to the Sustain socket and control it remotely. You only have one channel's worth of tones, though, so tonal changes on your lead sound have to come from the guitar itself (by switching pickups) or from the effect of using the overload. The tone controls work really effectively. The treble brings in a bite which is more the sort of thing you'd expect from a traditional Fender combo - especially if you're plugged into the 'bright' input. Add to this the extreme tonal effects possible with the parametric section, and the V-Amp becomes quite exceptional in the range of sounds you can achieve. The bass control also works well, and pulling it to the 'out' position beefs-up a guitar sound like nobody's business.
In fact, this system is almost too good - certainly for a quick trial in the average music shop - to give you any real idea what it's capable of. So effective is the wide-ranging tone section that you do need to take some time to get to grips with it. A quick 'burst on your banjo', with everything turned on full, will result in a mess of clashing, horribly distorted sounds. What you are much better doing is using your own guitar and taking time with the V-Amp. Start with the extra boosts and parametric stages set to neutral. From there, your best policy is to slowly work your way through the range of sounds this amp can produce. Rush at it and you could be disappointed - take your time and you'll find remarkable depths for a lower-cost product!
Testing it with a variety of guitars (ranging from a Gibson SG through a Tokai TST to a Westone Thunder I, to give it as wide a range as possible) the V-Amp displayed a faultless performance. Hiss and hum levels are well controlled, and the range of tones are way above the average for a mid-price combo. Equally, there's the loudness of this amp. Inside the VA-60 is a high-efficiency, metal domed Fane 12" speaker which takes the 60 watt rated output and converts it into a veritable tidal-wave of loudness.
The fundamental character of the VA-60 is bright and crystal clear. We mentioned Fender combos earlier as a comparison and - especially with our test Tokai plugged into the 'bright' channel - the sound was really 'zingy'; very well suited to Country playing and crisp, clear chord work. This isn't at all the sort of sound you expect from a typical lower-price British combo, and its ability to 'cut' makes it sound rather more like an American amp, in fact.
Of course, warmer sounds are on there too, and these can be obtained by using the parametric and the 'pull for fat' effect on the bass pot. Somehow, though, our test team found themselves sticking more to the clear, clean, but loud sounds.
Lead solos, too, have a lot of Fender-like qualities to them, especially with the right guitars, and using the 'bright' input. This would suggest that Country guitarists, Folk and Rock players who wanted a brighter, more typically American, sound might at last have found a lower-cost amp to do the job. Mind you, not all the VA-60's sounds are so clean and bright! If you run a humbucking pickupped guitar through the 'normal' channel and take your time with the tone stages, you can get a searing distortion, well suited to heavier Rock sounds. The only drawback here, we felt, was that (as with most metal domed speakers) there was a tendency for harshness if you overdid things. Careful use of the tone stages, and having the right guitar, can produce a fine heavy sound out of this amp - but care needs to be taken in how you set it.
Well made (we particularly applaud the 2 year warranty), highly versatile and yet with a definite character of its own, the VA-60 is no 'identikit' transistorised combo. It has its own voice, and will appeal to a great number of guitarists - especially those who want a cleaner, maybe 'harder' sound than most, with bags of volume. Our advice is to take your time getting to learn to set the advanced tone controls to suit you. This is both a capable and exciting amp, and learning how to use such devices takes a bit of time.
Our conclusion? Great value for money and a particularly welcome newcomer.
RRP £196 Inc. VAT
More info from Deanvard Ltd., (Contact Details).
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