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This article was originally published in issue #15
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When GI's USA team visited the LA Amp show for our report in Issue 14, one amp really stood out - the handwired V-Rock, produced by Trace Davis of America's renowned Voodoo Amps fame. Then we learned we had Billy Gibbons as our cover artist for this issue. And guess which amps ZZ Top's legendary guitarist has just added to his collection? Stuart Bull goes in search of the Gibbons sound, with a touch of the legendary Voodoo magic to help him.
Hmm, how do you write 600 to 900 words about an amp that has one channel and no effects loop? Do you write a Jeremy Clarksonesque piece about the amp rocking the chateaux of France or tantalising the sexy women of southern Spain... no. Why not? because it's a single channel guitar amp with no effects loop and only one type of person cares about an amplifier such as this. Who are these people you might ask? Well, actually they are people like me - people who would throw away every triode, diode, pentode and every other type of ode for an amplifier that when you switch on does a magical thing... it sounds very good indeed. The V-Rock fits into this category perfectly. It's actually quite difficult to make this amp sound bad. Whatever you do with the EQ or gain just makes it sound different.
Let's have a rundown of what this beast is made of. It's a 100 Watt single channel amp with four EL 34 power amp valves and three 12 AX 7 pre-amp valves. The wiring is is point to point so there is no pc board on this hand-wired baby. On a first look you can't help noticing the amplifier is very Marshall like in appearance, very reminiscent of the early '70s models. What makes it different from a standard '70s Marshall though is the gain stage. You have a knob to the far right which controls a three stage gain, in series. To the non-techhead, such as myself, this basically means you've got as much gain as you will ever need with this amplifier. Although I wouldn't call it a heavy metal amp, as the gain approaches seven or eight you are definitely in the Van Halen end of town overdrive wise, while if you back the gain down to two or three you have a bit more Free and Bad Company type of deal, though as I said earlier, wherever you place the settings the amp sounds good.
The construction of this amp is second to none. It's a quality build all the way, I took the back off had a good look round, gave the amp a good shaking and kicked it around a bit: not a rattle or hum to be found! I would be very happy to take this unit on the road secure in the knowledge it wouldn't let me down. All the parts are made and assembled in the U.S.A. so it's a genuine home-grown product. The transformer is custom made for the V-Rock courtesy of Mercury Magnetics and every aspect of this amplifier has been designed and put together with love and care by the guys at Voodoo amps. (Check out our Tech Spec box for more details of Voodoo's painstaking attention to detail - Ed)
When I first plugged into the amp, I used a PRS with Bare Knuckle VH11 humbucking pickups, which is a very sonically balanced guitar. Initially, I found the amplifier to be a bit bass heavy, so I backed the bass off to around 2, 2 1/2 to get the sound I like. I mentioned this to Trace Davis, the guru amp tweaker behind Voodoo, and he told me the extra bass was there for single coil pickups and cheaper guitars with little low end, 2x12 cabinets with casters and so forth. If this is a problem, the guys at Voodoo amps will gladly reduce the bass for you. Well, that's the sort of service level you get when you buy the very top end of boutique and it goes along with a host of options that are offered, and which are listed in the Tech Specs. Apart from this one thing I found the amplifier a pleasure to play through. I found no struggle in playing my fabulous array of "DEATH" licks and the bluesy stuff sounds great too!
You may be surprised there is no effects loop on this amp so allow me to explain. The model I'm reviewing here has been built for Billy Gibbons, who does not want the loop. The regular version of this amp has an effects loop and a couple of other features also, but the guys at Voodoo can pretty much customise any amp to any spec, so EQ tweaks or otherwise can easily be accomplished. When I spoke to Trace, I found him very friendly and accommodating, so there is no doubt in my mind the customers will be well looked after. The only point to note is that Voodoos website says there is a waiting this for these amps (hardly surprising!), so you may have to wait to get your hands on one. You will also need to import from the USA to other countries, but all international voltages etc. are offered, so it shouldn't be too difficult - though no doubt customs duties will come into play and you will need to work out what they could cost you, depending on where you live.
This is not an amp for all seasons with 16 channels of MIDI and on-board effects that sound crap. This is a great sounding straight-up Rock 'n Roll beast that would delight any classic Rock, Blues or Blues Rock player and with the gain wrapped around you can stick a foot in the heavy metal puddle, too, although the depth and warmth of this amp does make it lean toward more classic tones.
I would encourage you to check out the website voodooamps.com where there are more models with multiple channels effects loops and all the regular trimmings of the modern day amplifier, the V Rock however is a blast from the past with the heat of the moment and I certainly enjoyed playing through it. I don't think you will be using this model in your wedding band, unless someone from AC DC is getting hitched, but if you are a rocker tone purist this could be the one for you.