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Review for: Ampeg VL-503
Purchase price of N/
Rating: 4.0
Comments:This is simply an update to my prior review of the VL-503. I have found that purchasing a couple of stompboxes has really brought this amp to life. Currently I am running my guitar into a Fulltone Fulldrive 2 and a Danelectro Fab Tone, and then into the VL-503. This setup offers a wide array of useable tones.
I run the Fulldrive 2 into the clean channel of the amp. I use the non-comp/cut mode (see Fulldrive 2 reviews) for mild bluesy overdrive. With this setup, I can get three great tones: a clean tone, a slight overdrive tone (which also works well as a country-esque tone with the bridge pickup) and a mild blues overdrive tone, all at my feet. I don't generally run the Fulldrive 2 into either of the distorted channels as those tones seem to be less appealing than the tones acheivable by running the Fulldrive 2 through the clean channel. I run the Fab Tone through both the clean channel and through the main lead channel (channel 3). Through the clean channel, the Fab Tone is just crushing. The gain is massive even on the lowest settings, and the mid-rangey honk of the Fab Tone seems to complement that of the amp such that "Big bad moon"-era Satriani tones are easy to achieve. So too are related tones -- Queen ("We will rock you"), Boston ("Long Time"), and David Lee Roth-era VH, to name a few. Scooped-mid thrash tones are a little bit harder to come by but can be done with some tweaking. The main lead channel of the VL-503, with the gain set low, tames the Fab Tone siginificantly. This produces more of the "classic rock", Marshall stack sound. The tonal shaping features of the lead channel really come in handy here as it is possible to shape the sound in myriad different ways, from a scooped-mids sound to a raging mid-range honkiness. The only disadvantage to this setup is that some serious tap-dancing is involved in trying to switch from classic rock crunch to pure clean sound (e.g., "Limelight" by Rush). In all honesty, a milder distortion pedal would be the only way to realistically achieve that, at least in any real-time setting. For time-based effects, I have a rackmount delay/chorus/flange that I run through the effects loop of this amp when necessary. The effects loop does add some hiss to the sound, but it is not noticeable when you are playing, and you acclimate to it after a few minutes so that you don't really notice that it's there. I'll probably switch to a pedal when I can afford it, but this works for now, especially considering that I usually play dry. In closing, I think these pedals have significantly imporved the distortion tones of this amp. This setup sounds much better and more organic than running my rackmount preamp unit (Zoom 9050) into this amp, and sounds infinitely superior to either the pedals or the rackmount unit into my solid state Peavey. I can get most of the sought after tones (at least the ones that I sought after) from this arrangement. The only thing that I am currently missing is a good SRV lead sound, which is something that seems to fall between the gain ranges of the two pedals I have. The Fulldrive 2 can get close, but this entails a massive volume boost as well, something I don't really want. Overall an excellent sounding amp with beacoup tonal features at a great price. However, be prepared to invest in a few stompboxes if you don't already have some and are looking for something other than just clean sounds. P.S. I replaced the 6550s that came with this amp with EL-34s. This produced a slightly better sound to my ears -- reduced midrange and smoother distortion at lower levels. Still, the amp's distorted sounds by themselves were not that inspiring, hence the pedals. The EL-34s also reduced the output of the amp a little, but it is still PLENTY loud.
Reviewer: Jeremy Robinson
sleach@pol.net
Post Date:12/21/1998


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