Modelling amplifiers are becoming an increasingly common option at the less expensive end of the guitar amplification market. Previously if you wanted to emulate more expensive amps you would have to buy some kind of effects unit and foot pedal that you would connect to your amplifier.
Now companies such as Line6 with its Spider amps and Peavey with the Vypyr series are offering all in one solutions that aim to provide guitarists on a budget with a selection of tones they could only previously dream of.
The Peavey Vypyr 75 combo modelling guitar amplifier is an interesting beast. Though it does not feature vacuum tubes it is not a wholly digital device, distortion sounds are created in an analog fashion via Peavey’s transtube solid state technology. The practical upshot being that the distortion and overdrive on offer sounds much more warm and natural than many rival digital-only offerings.
The Vypyr aims to emulate a variety of classic amplifiers with each being offered with two channels. Peavey amps such as the XXX, 6505+ and JSX are featured, metalhead amps such as the Diezel, Krankenstein and Mesa Dual Rectifier appear too. For fans of older classics there are emulations of the Vox AC30, Marshall Plexi and Fender Twin.
Controlling the amp is simple. The control pots have been laid out in the order they appear in the signal chain. First we have the stompbox pot – here you can choose a variety of effects and stomp boxes such as tube screamer, analog chorus and the like. A quick push of this knob changes the amp’s pre-gain and low-eq pots into effects parameter controls for the stompbox, a quick push returns to normal.
The second pot controls the amp emulation. Each amp features a red and green model, which can be changed by pressing the pot in. Many of the amps simulation are actually three channel devices, but hear on the Vypyr we get only two of those channels – it’s enough though. And while we don’t get access to presence and resonance controls for those real amps that have it – the three band EQ works exactly like the real amp. Holding in the amp control for a couple of seconds puts the Vypyr in guitar tuner mode.
The following pot is for post-amp effects, here there are effects such as auto-wah, slap back delay, envelope filter etc. Again pushing the pot in changes the pre-gain and low-eq into effect parameter post for this effect section.
We then have the pre-gain pot, the low medium and high EQ pots, amp -post-gain, the master volume and power sponger pots. Along the way we have an input/output sectiot that features a 3.5mm in for your mp3 player, a 3.5mm headphone/recording socket and a USB out for recording. I haven’t really had great success recording via the USB out – Peavey hasn’t written its own ASIO driver for the output which means you’re at the mercy of whatever your PC can manage. I’ve had much more success using the 3.5mm analog out plugged into my Line6 Studio UX1’s line-in inputs.
All the above controls are very easy to use. After an hour or so you’ll be completely at ease with how to change the sounds on offer and will begin to understand the huge variety of tones you can shape with this amp. The only slight downside to the controls is the white text on gray which makes it rather hard to read the control panel. However each pot is surrounded by rather attractive LED lights which make it very easy to see control positions in low light – as long as you can remember what those positions actually mean.
Beneath the main controls are small buttons to control tap tempo, four preset buttons and a button to switch between three banks of these four presets. These controls allow you to store twelve presets. The optional Sanpera II pedal board (which I will review separately) extends the presets to 400 storage positions and adds a 30 second looper.
In terms of the sounds on offer the Vypyr really does impress. While there’s always going to be a slight edge to the real tube amps, a real Peavey 6505+ isn’t going to deliver a fully-cranked ultra-channel roar at bedroom levels. The Vypyr can – sounding amazingly close to the real thing. Thanks to the use of analog overdrive there’s a real natural creaminess to the distortions on offer which sound much more lifelike than the harsher digital distortions you will experience on rival equipment. I previously owned a Line 6 Spider III 75 and although a good amp, the high-gain distortions were lacking some way compared to the Vypyr.
I suspect that the majority of prospective Vypyr owners are going to be metalheads – Peavey clearly thinks so with half the amps models being full-on metal monsters. But the cleaner vintage side of the models haven’t been neglected. Some really beautiful clean tones can be coaxed out of the Vox, Marshall and Fender models. With 75 watts on offer there’s also plenty of headroom to keep those tones clean at high pub-gig volumes.
Some features don’t work so well – the looper isn’t great to be honest, the reason being that whatever you record it plays back with the amp set on full post-gain, very load indeed. While it’s possible to record a loop at a low volume using an addition pedal, it’s still very difficult to get a useful volume level with the looper.
Secondly the amp features a fixed noise gate which keeps the amp from being very noisy, but also seems a little overzealous. One often finds it cuts in a little too early and what you expect to be long singing high-gain notes can end abruptly with an unattractive fizzle. Your mileage with this may vary though – I’ve not found it too obtrusive on the amp models I favour.
There are regular software updates for the amp – firmware updates being carried out rather oddly over the rear midi socket than the more obvious USB port at the front of the combo. Hopefully Peavey will add the ability to set the noise gate manually – something that users can do with the Line6 Spider series.
Those criticisms aside the Vypyr really is a great package. The quality of the amp modelling is superb and for home use and small gigs it can’t be faulted. It’s hard to find a combo that’s a more complete package. For beginner guitarists I’d recommend the 30W model – which will give you almost everything you could ask for in a cheap amp, far more than I could have dreamed of when I began playing 20 years ago. And for those who need some of the tube tone there are tube Vypyr models available too – the tubes colouring the sound in the power stage.
The Vypyr is the ideal amp for the beginner – though perhaps you should go for the 30 watt version. There’s no point diving in to some expensive valve amp when you first start out. You need time to find out what kind of sounds work for you and what you like. A modelling amp like the Vypyr will allow you to try out a full range of sounds – the whole spectrum of electric guitar tones. And when you’re ready to move on to something more specialised or more powerful you’ll have a better idea what to look for.
Update: I’ve now posted a review of the Sanpera II foot controller for the Vypyr series of amplifiers.