Hands-On Review:Line 6 Spider Valve™ MkII 112 Combo


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Digital diversity, tube tone

By Michael Ross
Contributor, Guitar World and Guitar Player

 

Line 6 has been instrumental (no pun intended) in revolutionizing the way guitars are recorded. Ever since Amp Farm®, their modeled amplifier sounds have been appearing on more records than you might think, whether alone or in conjunction with real amps, while POD® has become synonymous with hardware amp modeling.

 

Though always a fan of Line 6 in the studio, I admit that I was surprised when their amplifier line started showing up on more and more stages. And not just in the bands that you might expect: metal where solid state is respected, or ambient, where the effects would be a plus; I personally spied country guitarist and producer Pete Anderson twanging, and Tower of Power guitarist Jeff Tamelier funking through Line 6 amps. I would have thought live performance would be the last bastion of tube holdouts, but apparently players recognized that the same tone that served them well in the studio could be had on tour.

Upping the ante

Even the hardest-core tube fans will have to stand up and take notice now. Line 6’s new Spider Valve™ series represents a partnership with Reinhold Bogner that has upped the tone ante by adding real tubes to the convenience and versatility of Line 6 digital technology. Bogner designed and built amplifiers in Germany before moving to Los Angeles in 1989 where he modified and built amps for players like Steve Stevens, Allan Holdsworth, Steve Vai, and Eddie Van Halen. Since starting his own amp line, Bogner has supplied gear to star guitarists from John Fogerty to Dave Navarro.

 

The Mark II version of the Spider Valve series adds some extra amp models and effects to a concept that was already making its mark. Let’s take a look at the Spider Valve MkII 112 combo.

Loud and proud

The MkII 112 combo claims 40 watts, provided by two 6L6 power tubes and preamped with twin 12AX7s. This is no tube flavoring added to an essentially digital amp, but rather classic preamp and power-amp sections running at boutique-approved 300 and 450 volts, respectively. This is a full-on tube amp, controlled and colored by digital modeling technology. A complete rundown of the MkII’s knobs and features would overrun the space we have here, so let me get right into the stuff that I found impressive.

 

For an amp that offers so many different sounds and so much parameter tweakability, the Spider Valve is surprisingly intuitive. With barely a cursory glance at the quick-start guide I was off and running. First though, I had to turn the sucker DOWN! For a 40-watt tube combo with one 12" Celestion® Vintage 30 speaker, I was amazed at how loud and present this amp is. Fortunately, the Master volume allowed me to rein it in a bit. A separate programmable Channel volume sets the level of individual presets relative to each other, and then you can control the overall level with the Master to match the venue. This kind of well-thought-out planning implies that there are gigging musicians behind the scenes, as does the global Presence knob that lets you tailor the amp’s brightness to the sound of the room—without having to reprogram all your patches. Line 6 has placed other essential parameter controls at your fingertips: Treble, Mid, Bass, Drive, Reverb, and effect amounts are all instantly knob-accessible.

 

Saving presets was simple: I just held down the channel button (A, B, C, D), picked a location, and pushed that button again. The sounds can be edited using a four-way button and Preset/Edit knob, and after a little experimentation this too was mastered. (If you read the online manual it is probably even easier.) The presets serve to demonstrate some of the sonic possibilities but you may want to edit them to create more meat-and-potatoes tones, as well as some farther-out stuff to spice up a set. (Up to 128 user presets can be saved.)

 

No matter where the front-panel knobs are set, presets are recalled to their exact specifications. (Player’s looking for a more traditional front-panel experience can hit the Manual button and each knob will sound just like it looks.)

 

Tone time

The 16 amp models in the MkII reference* a variety of classic manufacturers: Hiwatt®, Marshall®, Fender®, VOX®, Mesa/Boogie®, and Orange®; as well as some boutique brands (other than Bogner) like Diezel® and Divided by 13. I will leave the conversation about how close they get to the originals to people with more time; my concern is, "Can a brother get some tones?" The answer is yes. My personal favorites tend toward the cleaner side, and the Clean, Twang, and Class A models each supplied a warm, responsive sound with plenty of the "give" that is often lacking in modeling amps. Fans of dirt needn’t worry though, the High Gain, Metal, and Insane settings will supply all the filth you need. Blues fans be warned, you better be serious about "da blooz," as the Blues amp models reference more Howling Wolf than Stevie Ray.

 

As usual, the Line 6 effects sounded great. I dug the way the fuzz reacted like the real deal: totally changing character when I dropped the volume on my Strat® or lowered the Drive level.

Control freak

I highly recommend adding the optional FBV Shortboard™ MkII controller to instantly access your patches from the front of the stage, tap in tempos for the delays and modulation, and turn on or shut off effects from presets on the fly. Should you prefer, MIDI in and out allows you to control the patch changes from any MIDI source.

There is much more—a direct out for recording or front of house, an effects loop, and a looper—but hopefully this will begin to give you a picture of an incredibly versatile amp, one that pushes the envelope of what a modeling amp can be. I expect to see a lot more of these on stage in the years to come.

Features & Specs:

  • 16 amp models inspired by classic American, British and European amps
  • EQ section inspired by the EQ controls of original modeled amps
  • 20 effects including Smart Harmony, Pitch Glide, and Quick Loop
  • Up to 6 tweakable parameters per effect
  • Pre or post effects routing
  • Up to 4 effects at once
  • 128 user-programmable presets