The Spider Valve MKII

I really like tinkering. I also like computers. I’m no cork-sniffing guitarist that is only happy when playing through 1950s technology full of glorified lightbulbs. Yes I do have an all-tube amp, but I’ve also owned several modelling amps and I regularly using software such as Guitar Rig and PodFarm.

So when looking for a more heavy-rock orientated amp to complement my Bugera V22 I was happy to look in the direction of the new modelling amps such as the Marshall JMD:1, Peavey Tube Vypyr and Line 6 Spider Valve MKII. I dropped the Vypyr from the list due to lack of decent recording outputs and no effects loop – a shame as I loved the digital version I used to have.

In the end reviews won me over – and although I was searching for the Marshall sound – I believed the Spider Valve MKII would give me some better Plexi-like tones than Marshall’s own modelling amp. Yesterday I took delivery of a Line6 Spider Valve MKII 112 combo. And what an enormous beast it is. Getting it up the stairs made me realise that the 212 version would have damn near killed me.

Initial impressions were very favourable. Plenty of good tones on offer – the Divided by 13 model for example sounded like a really great tube amp, pure and simple. The effects were great quality too. My favourite feature initially was the ability to alter amp patches in real time on the PC then zap them back to the amp, very cool indeed.

However as I continued to explore the amp over the next hour or two I grew less satisfied. Yes I know it’s a 40 Watt tube amp, but do all the patches have to be saved at such ridiculous volumes? Line6 knows much of its market is for home use amps – but this is one of the company’s products that hates those who may use it for a home practice amp. Set the channel volume low on the patches and you get a nasty thump when changing channels.

The poor master volume control didn’t help. Even high power amps can be tamed with a decent master volume pot that’s smooth all the way down to zero. The Spider Valve MKII isn’t blessed with one of these. Towards zero it’s crackly and not very accurate and makes bedroom volumes nigh-on impossible.

Meanwhile I was surprised the delay effects missed a feature that’s common to other Line6 gear I’ve used – the ability to set delays based on note lengths rather than just milliseconds.

Finally after an hour or so I become more aware, and more displeased, by a midrange boxiness that seemed part of the sound of every single model. I’ve heard some guitarists complain of the same thing from the Bogner Alchemist, and I wonder if there’s the same problem with Line6’s Bognor-designed tube power amp.

In the end, while there was much to admire about the Spider Valve MKII it feels like it’s lacking in some areas that make it of any practical use anywhere other than the stage. Given the market for such amps that seems a real problem for Line6 that it needs to solve.

As it stands I’m sending this amp back and getting a refund.