Hands-On Review:Peavey Penta System
Five heavy-hitting amps in one
By Phil Montoya
In the 140W Penta head, four EL34s and four 12AX7s are brilliantly configured with Peavey's proprietary Pentatone circuitry to produce five radically different gain voicings. It's just like having five separate boutique amps in one box, selectable with the turn of a single knob. The Penta cab translates that bold pure-tube signal into substantial sound that's smooth or edgy with 1/2" poplar sides, a birch baffle, and four hefty Peavey Penta custom 75W speakers. Taken together as a system, the Penta is revolutionary in its extreme flexibility with all-analog, all-tube purity of tone.
But does it sound good?
In the past decade there have been countless attempts to make amps that sound "like" other, better amps. "You can have this sound or that sound," reads the ad, but I just want a good sound. A single amp that mimics tonal characteristics of several classics is a great idea, but if it doesn't have the essential sonic integrity that made the originals great in the first place, you've missed the boat.
With the Penta, Peavey definitely has not missed the boat. There are five very different circuits in the Penta head and each sounds and responds like its own animal. Most importantly, each sounds like a good amp . . . a really good amp.
All five gain voicings share the boutique-quality circuitry and construction that produce such solid, sweet tone. Custom USA transformers, ceramic tube sockets, ultra-high-quality components, and obvious attention to detail make this a truly high-end tube amp. The four matched, hand-selected EL34s produce the kind of dense, vibrant distortion that only cascading big bottles can produce.
Passive and active bass, mid, and treble knobs provide dynamic tone shaping that has a very audible impact on all five gain circuits. An active presence knob pours on the high-end sparkle by rolling off the high-frequency damping in the power stage. Master volume and gain controls let you dial in a broad range of distortions.
A low-gain instrument input handles active instruments with aplomb and a standby switch holds its head of steam while you take a break. A footswitch input toggles between the Pentone gain-circuit chicken-head selector knob on the front panel and the one on the back of the head. So you can toggle between any two settings with your foot. It's easy to flip between settings on the front knob if you want more options. An impedance select switch (18, 8, or 4 ohms), ground reverse switch, and rear-panel fuse keep the current in line. Don't look for an effects loop, this baby's designed to sound great without outside interference. But I had great results running though a reverb and wah up front.
The gain voicings on the Penta don't have names as such, they're represented by icons--a tree, a badge, a bull, a cactus, and a mudflap girl. The tree voicing responds like a good vintage Fender--particularly like a Showman I used to play through, with a lot of natural compression and snap, even through humbuckers. This is a great voicing for clean tones and slight crunch. It's also good for running distortion pedals through, lending sweet tube warmth to harsh pedals.
The badge voicing comes on like gangbusters, like an AC30 in disguise. Its classic in-your-face punch is an iron fist in a velvet glove, with slightly rounded edges and relentless drive. It's a good, solid rocker that'll shine on everything from "Bohemian Rhapsody" to "Vertigo."
The bull voicing lands squarely in Marshall territory with lots of higher-mid grit and tons of gain. Its sound is a little fuller than my '75 Master Volume head. It's extremely transparent, responding readily to picking dynamics and string bends.
The cactus voicing is similar to the bull with the midrange peak shifted from the higher mids to the lower mids, sort of like having a touch of fuzz effect. This is one Billy G. would be right at home with. It has a subtle notch in there somewhere that gives it a creatively edgy tone without ear-splitting highs. The cactus was definitely my favorite voicing, one that's both musically pleasing and refreshingly unique.
The mudflap girl voicing is obviously Peavey's homage to its own formidable XXX, with scooped mids, kickin' bass, and screaming highs--in the same tonal universe as a Boogie Rectifier with even more sass. Metal mongers and shredders will go nuts over this one.
The four custom 12" Peavey Penta 75s bear the inscription "specially voiced for vintage tone." It's no lie, they're the perfect match for the Penta head's blistering 140W of output.
In the last analysis, this is one seriously killer amp . . . make that five seriously killer amps. I'm sold.
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