VOX “Valvetronix” VT20+

In 8th grade, I though the coolest amp in the world was a VOX AC/30 Top Boost reissue. In the 12th grade, I thought my chrome Vox V847 Wah-wah pedal was way cooler than the black Dunlop Crybaby that everyone had.  However, when a pro-guitarist recommended a Vox VT20+ modelling hybrid amp, I had doubts because the market is saturated with their products now, so I don’t associate the brand with my heroes like Beatles, Brian May or Miles Davis anymore.

Still, this amp has a Power Level control which reduces the output down from 30 watts to 1 so it won’t piss off my nay-bores like my Mesa/Boogies did, PLUS built-in-effects and other  little details like 1/8″ jacks for headphones and aux input make it ideal for home practice, too. It even has a built-in tuner which is great for me because my Roland TU-80 broke recently. Will all this for just over $100, this amp is an incredible value.

All these built-in features are not really necessary for me, but they do mean less time worrying about extra gear and connections when you just want to start playing right away just like a purely analog amp. Eventually, my curiosity eventually gave into the temptation to try all of the amp models and effects, and of course this can be a lot of fun. The advanced functions are not a particular intuitive because the functions of the various buttons next to them can be confusing. Next to the amp model selector, there is button to modify the voice, and a green/orange/red LED to indicate this. Most of the time the green is the lowest gain, orange is medium, and red is highest, but this is not always the case (see below.) The Preset button choices (Basic/Effect/Song) are even more misleading. You have to read the manual to know what you’re supposed to be hearing, but fortunately you can easily ignore it by holding the button to enter Manual mode, as I did initially. Then storing those settings is as easy as saving your favorite radio stations on your car stereo.

Another example of counter-intuitive function is the Tap-tempo button which also changes the parameter of the Modulation/Delay effect if you hold it down. Then the there’s the label for the Noise Gate on the single knob for the Pedal effect, but it’s not clear how to to use this. These functions can be ignored, too, but this amp has THREE volume controls: Volume, Master and Power Level. After reading the manual, I learned that Master affects the tube’s output and affect on the sound. Power Level doesn’t affect the level when headphones are plugged in, and settings for both aren’t saved in presets. You can save the Volume setting in presets which is good since the amp models do have a wide range of Gain.

Some of the amp models are truly outstanding. Their voices are convincing, and they react to changes to the guitar’s controls. The tone controls react like an amp would, too. For example, turning up the mids will push the amp into overdrive for some models the same as my Mesa Boogie F-50 did. The most important amp model is the Clean/Red setting, which is just a flat preamp. This is probably there to make the most of the (lame) Acoustic simulator effect let’s you hear what the amp’s other components, like the speakers and “Valve Reactor” sound like WITHOUT the digital models. It sounds pretty unimpressive, which just goes to prove how good the models are.

After playing it at home for a few weeks, I finally trialled it in the studio with a drummer. At 20 watts or higher, it’s just enough power for a rehearsal. However the amp does get noisy at those levels. I did not test for clean volume at those levels, though. The models don’t sound as balanced at higher volumes, but it never sounds bad. Fortunately, the amp reacts to my own pedals very naturally. My Barber Tonepress fatted it up the same way it does any amp, and the Ubberrat pushed the models into distortion beautifully.

As for the built-in effects, the manuals description of these and the effects are very descriptive without actually mentioning the models they pay homage, and have to get (or pay for) permission to use another company’s registered trademark. This almost makes the manual fun to read, except for the vague and condescending bits which look like they were poorly translated from Japanese. They all sound adequate and convincing, but lack character as you’d expect.

With “so many great models to choose from,” it is tempting to try to use them all to get your money’s worth, but my experience with other modelling amps has taught me that you even if you only find one or two that you really like, you are still getting your money’s worth because you’re already paying less than you would for one amp. This is what I learned from using the Korg Pandora and Tech21 Trademark 60. Plus the models for my favorite effects like auto-wah, overdrive, delay, and reverb are good enough. If you factor in this and the other practice support functions, I definitely got my money’s worth.

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