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Review

Peavey XXX II Head

Issue #45

Peavey makes a bid for the ultimate Heavy Metal head with its massive, three channel XXX II head. Who did we give it to? Why, Sam Bell, of course!

Valve amps in Metal remain as popular as ever, perhaps more so than ever, despite the growth of digital amp modelling, and it's pretty telling that in the digital world they are constantly trying to emulate some of Peavey's amps, so you can take it as read that the guys from Meridian have a pretty clear idea what sounds they are trying to produce.

Somewhere near the peak of Heavy Metal amps then must be Peavey's monstrous three channel XXX II head, which promises more gain than you can shake a stick at! Let’s look at the specs and then we'll talk about the sound.

The XXX II is powered by four EL34 power amp tubes and four 12AX7 pre-amp tubes – a classic combination. Those of you familiar with Metal amps and tones will be familiar with the tight low end response the EL34s provide, in tandem with the powerful gain saturation of the 12AX7, especially all with four of each on board!

Not everyone loves EL34s of course, so the good news is that the XXX's power amp is switchable for easy biasing if you wish to switch to 6L6 tubes. The amp has 120 Watts into a switchable 16, 8 or 4 ohm output and also has a line out with level control. There is footswitch that comes with the amp (always good to see one included! - Ed) and has active effects loop send and return controls, the FX loop itself has its own level controls for the send and return features so you can set things exactly how you want them. The amp features three channels, Clean, Rhythm and Lead, each of these channels has a volume, treble, middle and bass control with the addition of a Fat switch and gain control for the Rhythm and Lead channels. The amp also features a built in noise gate that works for the gain channels and is incredibly useful, I will go into why later but I am sure Metal guitarists reading this now will know why! The amp also has a master volume and Peavey's patented resonance and presence controls to attenuate the high end and low end response of your overall guitar tone through the speaker cabinet.

The amp's construction is typical of Peavey's high-end gear in that it's built like a tank! Despite that it’s not overly heavy to carry. The appearance of the control panel is simple and clear, there is no ‘additional’ stuff to make it look particularly fancy apart from the silver grill. I personally like this, it’s a real touring/gigging/recording amp for Metal, with no compromises.

So how does it sound? Well here at Guitar Interactive's studio we plug our amps into a 4x12 with vintage 30 speakers and we mic it up with an SM57. This is a very popular combination of microphone and speaker cabinet for extreme Metal styles, so what you hear in the demo should hopefully best represent this amp at a medium volume.

First of all I would like to talk briefly about the clean channel. Some of you may be familiar with Peavey's other metal machine, the famous 6505 which doesn’t feature a clean channel at all, as it's dedicated to the dirt! However the XXX II is a bit more versatile and has a very useable clean channel which can sparkle if you want it to. The rhythm channel has bags of gain even set at 11 o’clock, as I had it set for our demo. This provided tons of sustain for pinch harmonics and palm muted chugs!

The low end response is fantastic on this channel and also on the lead channel, which is very much the same as the rhythm channel only with a little more middle range for cut and a whole bucket load more of gain from those four 12AX7 pre amp tubes. Normally when playing down-tuned Metal on 7 and 8-string guitar I may use a Tubescreamer style pedal with the level dimmed and the drive on zero in front of the amp to tighten the low end. However, with the XXX II I feel I wouldn’t necessarily need that front end compression unless I was looking to do something very very specific with the tone.

I love the fact that this amp has a built in noise gate, it’s not super tight but it’s enough to stop some buzz coming through when the amp is cranked at high volumes, which means if you do wish to use a noise gate in order to tighten up the stop start riffs you play, you may not need to have the threshold and decay set to extreme parameters and you may even be able to keep a bit more dynamic in there.

When I got this amp out the box for review I knew what to expect and the XXX II doesn't disappoint. This is a Metal musician's amp, maybe suitable for Hard Rock as well. I can’t imagine it being great for softer Rock settings although I know most amps can be tweaked enough to get whatever you want out of them, but this amp's strong point is its focus on a sound that is going to be versatile in a Metal setting. It’s got bags of extreme Metal gain, low end tightness and soaring mid-range options that allow you to craft a whole host of grinding Metal tones. The three channels and noise gate really make this versatile for live use and it's built like a tank. I have no doubt it could survive the constant gruelling routine of being put in and out of a tour van on tour. All around metal machine!

As a final note, after writing this review we learned that Peavey has discontinued this model in the USA, though it is still widely available in other countries, including the UK. That doesn't change our view of it as an amp in the least – and if a US or Canadian reader finds one and grabs it, he or she won't be disappointed.

Issue 45
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Issue #48

Tosin Abasi

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