Hands-On Review:Line 6 Vetta combo with FBX custom foot controller and extension cabinet.
by Eric Kirkland
While boutique amp builders bank on the purist dollar with exquisite tube-driven creations, many of the big industry names are wisely focusing on the growing digital market. Having initially triggered the indignation of the hardcore guitar community, digital amplifiers are now so popular and respected that pros and session players alike are choosing them for their sound, features and versatility.
Naysayers will be happy to tell you that nothing will ever match the warmth, musicality and familiar response of a real, hand-wired tube amplifier. But amp makers fearless enough to push the limits of convention are challenging those notions. Among them, Line 6 has been at the forefront of this revolution, having led the way in 1996 with the introduction of the AxSys 212, the first digital modeling amp. With the Vetta, the company’s new flagship digital amp, Line 6 sets a new standard for this technology with the latest generation of sound processing, something the company calls Point-to-Point Interactive Modeling.
A solid and easy-to-handle package, the gorgeous 100-watt Vetta combo is covered in faux-leather vinyl and loaded with two 12-inch custom-designed Celestion speakers. The top-mounted control panel, with its clear illuminated buttons and digital backlit displays, is an exercise in graceful design and nearly flawless ergonomics. The rear panel contains MIDI connections, balanced and unbalanced outputs, an effects loop, and external speaker jacks with control over stereo or mono operation.
Using Proprietary DSP—Digital Signal Processing—and the previously mentioned Point-to-Point Interactive Modeling, the Vetta aims to emulate every part of the signal chain: from aging components and transformers to bone-crushing 4x12 cabinets. Its 45 amplifier models are based on a range of amps that include everything from vintage classics (Vox 1961 AC-15) to ultramodern powerhouses (Mesa/Boogie 2001 Triple Rectifier), as well as a few surprises (the battery-powered Fender Mini-Twin). If, by chance, you don’t find the exact tone you want, you can combine any two of the models to create your own fantasy rig. Completing the chain are 28 cabinet models and more than 50 classic and obscure effects, including Line 6 proprietary models like Spinal Puppet and Chemical X.
The optional FBX custom foot controller is akin to a Bob Bradshaw–style switching system and provides dedicated controls for selecting channels and effects, a large digital display, dedicated wah and volume pedals that double as expression and modulation controllers, a chromatic digital tuner and a tap tempo. And because the controller is powered by the Vetta, there’s no need for wall warts or other external power supplies. While I initially thought the switches didn’t or feel look like they would be durable over the long haul, Line 6 tells me that they were tested to 150,000 cycles with no degradation. That’s good enough for me.
Flexing your Cyber-bellum
Navigating the Vetta’s controls is an intuitive process. You start by choosing a preset model, selecting amp 1 or 2 and then adjusting the single set of drive, tone and volume knobs that are active for the selected amplifier. As you dial in settings, the display shows the corresponding amp’s knob rotating simultaneously—very cool! Punching the edit button puts you in the effects patch and lets you choose, via inline dials, which effect you want, where to route it in the signal chain and which cabinet to use.
Certainly, the Vetta’s most amazing design feature is its ability to combine amplifiers and dedicated effects chains. Anyone who’s tried this with ordinary equipment has experienced the agony of ground loops and tangled cords, never mind the expense. The Vetta lets you discover the complex textures obtainable by combining classic and modern amps, an intoxicating experience that is realized with the touch of a few buttons. In this mode, the integrity of the models is beautifully maintained through a dual mono amplifier design that sends each amp model to a separate speaker.
Need more control? There’s a global reverb, EQ and master volume for tonal omnipotence. Special mention should be made of the amp manual, which is well written and provides photographs and explanations of each amplifier, cabinet and effect model.
Among the Vetta’s myriad tones, the clean and crunch sounds were, when pushed, the most believable and alive, with the heavily distorted tones being remarkably complex and precise. Pickups and instrument resonance don’t seem to make much of a difference to the Vetta, but the amp does track with a high degree of accuracy from model to model.
Dynamics are actually very good with the Vetta and improved over Line 6’s previous offerings, as are the nuances of attack. I was rewarded with a big clear note, or just the right amount of artificial harmonic, when I dug in hard. Country plunk and silky jazz were very convincing, and you can bet that I mixed them for the best of both worlds. Likewise, you can really hear the EL-34s smoking on the Marshalls and on the ever-present super-sizzle of the Soldano SLO. In fact, the models lacked realism only in their presence and occasionally transistor-like note decay.
Of course, the ability to combine any of the amps broadens the tonal landscape exponentially, and is what sets the Vetta apart from other modeling amps. I’ve never played a Sixties Supro and a Triple Rectifier with an 808 and Echoplex out front, but now I can say that I know what it sounds like. Even if I wanted to try this concoction with the actual amplifiers, I could never get their levels to match, or work out the other inhibitive logistics. With the Vetta’s infinite EQ possibilities and perfectly integrated high-quality effects, anything is possible.
If you crave more volume, the matching 2x12 extension cabinet will bring you up to half-stack status and increase the thump factor. Conversely, when you need to keep things down to a whisper, the Vetta is one of the few tools available that can deliver a punishing distortion or crystalline clean tone at settings that won’t disturb even little Cindy Lou Who.
The Bottom Line
Although digital tone is clear, easy to manipulate and presents a number of advantages over traditional design, I have no predilection for digital guitar gear. However, I truly believe that this technology will eventually match and surpass our trusty tube amps to create fresh and extraordinary dream tones. Given some time and the right amount of processing power, there is no limit to what the software can do.
The Vetta’s project manager, Eric Kirkland (no relation), says that this amp “is well-suited to the player that knows what they want but wants an easier way to get there.” I would also add that it presents a terrific tutorial opportunity that should be required for every serious guitarist. The Vetta gives the user a reference point for most of the classic amplifiers and effects and a chance to acquire an intimate understanding of how they interact. Guitarists who liked the AX2 will love the new Vetta. As for those among you who are still new to digital guitar amplifiers, prepare to be amazed