Posts Tagged ‘VHT Special 6’

Dug this one up today…

A few years ago, while I was on vacation just on the outskirts of the Portland metropolitan area, and on my way to the Oregon Coast, I happened to stop at a little music store to see what gems they might have (remember, I picked up a gorgeous 1981 ES 335 in a music store in a little town in Northern California). Well, making that stop was fateful because I found the VHT Special 6, a point-to-point, hand-wired, 6 Watt powerhouse that knocked my socks off!

Once I got home, I recorded this song with the amp, using my Les Paul ’58 Historic Reissue. It’s called “Beauty and the Burst,” and it’s a rocker.

The song itself is nothing technically masterful, but when I heard it again after all these years, I had to smile and ask myself, “Where the hell did you pull that one out of?” Enjoy!

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I was in a rush yesterday to get to my weekly church gig, so I grabbed Katie May, my VHT Special 6 combo, and my small gig pedal board that had my Timmy on it, loaded up my car, and jetted off to pre-service rehearsal. The set that I picked out for yesterday had a couple of rocking pieces and I figured that when I needed dirt, I could get it from my Timmy.

Rehearsal was going great until we got to one of the songs where I needed some dirt. When I switched on the Timmy, it was about the ugliest overdrive sound that I’ve ever heard! I tried to mess around with the EQ on the amp and the pedal and Katie May, but to no avail. Then I remembered that the Special 6 doesn’t do well with overdrive pedals. It works best with a booster and making its own overdrive; and it didn’t help that Katie May already has a naturally bright and thin voicing, and the Timmy doesn’t do anything to tame that. Unfortunately, to get the Special 6 to break up, the volume would’ve been too high for church because the Special 6 has so much clean headroom, and I didn’t have my attenuator.

So I ended up just playing clean and adapted my playing to the clean tone, which actually didn’t sound too bad. But man o man, did I learn a couple of lessons:

  1. Be prepared; that is, make sure you know that the gear combination you’ve chosen is going to work BEFORE you go to the gig. Shit! I know this and normally do it, but got too pressed for time. In the future, since I now know that that combination doesn’t work, I won’t use it.
  2. As much as you might like to play a certain guitar, don’t try to force the issue by just wanting to play that one. I’m pretty attached to Katie May, but what I should’ve done was grab Amber or Ox (my Les Pauls). I know that either of them work great with that combination, and the Timmy seems to like them a lot.

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Since I’ve gotten it, I’ve been absolutely digging the VHT Special 6. It’s such a versatile little amp, with bright cleans and capable of creating some gorgeous, sustaining overdrive. And while I do certainly appreciate its clean tone, this amp totally shines when it’s cranked to hilt.

To demonstrate, here’s a clip I recorded this evening with the VHT Special 6:

Now here’s the thing about recording with a low-wattage amp. I’ve found that almost invariably, it’s difficult to get a big sound out of the stock speaker, no matter where I place the microphone. People recommend recording from an angle lined up along the outside of the speaker cone. I’ve never had much success with that, considering I’m not using any high-end mics. So my solution is to use larger speakers to get that bigger sound.

For this clip, I used two different 1 X 12 speaker cabinets: The rhythm track was recorded using a Fane Medusa 150 speaker to get a bigger bottom end. The lead was recorded with a Jensen Jet Falcon – that’s my favorite speaker at the moment. And of course, because even 6 Watts cranked is very loud, I ran the amp through my Aracom PRX150-Pro and recorded each track at about loud conversation level. It’s just loud enough to move the speaker cone a bit, but not so loud that I’d wake up the neighbors. 🙂

For both parts, I used my Les Paul R8. For the rhythm, I recorded in the middle selector switch biased towards the bridge, and for the lead, I recorded with the bridge pickup only. To make the guitar tone sound even bigger, I added just a tiny bit of compression to each track and added a touch of small room reverb to add some dimension. I didn’t EQ the guitar parts at all. That’s the natural sound of the amp through the speakers I used. The compression keeps the sound focused. At least to my ears, the guitar parts sound like they’re coming from a much bigger amp.

As far as the amp setting were concerned, I was plugged into the hi input with the amp set to high-power mode. Tone and volume were at 3pm, and I engaged the Boost. Even at these cranked settings, the amp will clean up very nicely! That’s how responsive this amp is!

Admittedly, if I were to rewind and go back to when I bought the amp, I’d probably go with the head. The stock speaker is great for practicing, but for gigging and recording, it just sounds much better with at least a 1 X 12. But hey! A handwired amp for $199? Geez! I can live with its shortcomings as what it brings to the table tonally is fabulous!

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VHT Special 6 Combo
Summary: This is a hand-wired, solidly built tone machine that packs great features for an unbelievable price. The value proposition alone is enough to turn heads, but add superb tone to the equation and you have a winner!

Cons: None.

Features (as tested):

  • 6 Watts
  • One 6V6 Output Tube
  • One 12AX7 Preamp Tube
  • Volume and Tone Controls
  • Footswitchable Boost Mode
  • High/Low Power Switch (Pentode/Triode)
  • 10” VHT High-Sensitivity Speaker
  • 4, 8, and 16 Ohm Speaker Jacks
  • Mod-Friendly Eyelet-Type Board
  • Hand-wired In China

Price: $199 Street / $179 Street for Head

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ Clean or dirty, this amp delivers the goods! The tone sweep is absolutely excellent giving you gorgeous, warm jazz cleans, to classic rock bite! Add the Hi/Lo power switch, and Push-Pull volume knob boost (also includes a footswitch), and you’ve got an amp that can live in a variety of musical genres.

About a week ago, I extolled virtues of the Marshall Class 5, and raved about how great it sounds. It’s a fantastic little amp, and I haven’t changed my opinion of it. But along came the VHT Special 6 and the game has completely changed. VHT raised the bar with Chinese-manufactured, low-cost, low-wattage amps by offering a hand-wired, super-well-built amp with fantastic features that can easily change the amp’s character for under $200 for a 1 X 10 combo.

I think the arrangements many gear manufacturers have made with overseas assemblers is great. Egnater is another example of a manufacturer doing it with great success. Design the gear here in the US, then partner with an overseas manufacturer to take advantage of their cheaper parts and labor, ensure that they meet a high standard of quality, then give the savings back to the customer. The top-of-the-line stuff can be saved for domestic production, but the stuff you want to get out to the masses can certainly be made elsewhere, and in much higher volumes and production rates. It’s a good model that many manufacturers have been following for years. I realize that I’m going to piss off some of the ultra-patriotic that will only buy stuff made in the USA; I myself prefer to buy US-made stuff, but it’s tough to argue with getting great tone for a great price, and that is EXACTLY what the VHT Special 6 and lots of other gear assembled overseas provide.

But enough toeing the political line. Let’s get into discussing the Special 6, shall we?

Fit and Finish and Features

The first thing I noticed when I first looked at the amp is how solid it looked. Picking it up revealed an amp that is no lightweight. I don’t know the exact weight, but the Special 6 is not lacking in heft. The cabinet is made of birch ply, and from what I could tell, fairly large transformers were used with the amp and those are heavy. Note that I’ve actually heard some conflicting information about the cabinet wood. Some say MDF, others say Baltic birch ply. Actually, it just doesn’t matter. The cabinet’s solid, and it works well as a resonance chamber for the speaker.

As far as cosmetics are concerned, the amp is covered in tolex with white piping around the front grille. The rear panel sports a partially open back that, like the Marshall Class 5, has a thin metal screen covering the opening. That’s a nice touch.

The control panel is super simple. You’ve got two chickenhead knobs for tone and volume, on/off switch, a three-way Hi/Lo Power / Standby switch (I dig that), and two input jacks for Lo and Hi input. The volume knob is a push-pull knob that when out, adds boost (sorry, not sure about the amount of boost). You can surmise just by these features that you can do a lot of tone shaping with this little beast. 🙂 The back panel has jacks for 4, 8, and 16 ohm speaker outs, plus a jack for switching between normal and boost.

Sound and Dynamics

Even with a 10″ speaker, the amp is capable of producing a variety of tones, from lush, Fender cleans, to ringing, AC15-like overdrive to gorgeous, smooth Plexi overdrive. I’m not kidding about this! Depending upon the pickup you’re using and where you set the tone knob, and other amp settings such as hi/lo input, pentode/triode mode, you can cover a wide range of tones! This is what is so SICK about this amp! It’s so damn versatile!

I played around with it in my studio this afternoon, getting ready to record some clips (which I’ll have in an upcoming article), and just for kicks, I unplugged the stock speaker and ran the amp out to my 2 X 12. Granted, there is a HUGE difference between a 2 X 12 and a little 10″ speaker, but in my experience, many low wattage amps still sound a little on the thin side even when going into a bigger cab; not so with the Special 6. It sounded big and ballsy; much more “big-amp-ish” than it’s diminutive power. That really came as a surprise, much like my surprise when I plugged the Reason Bambino into a big cab. It’s clear that just like the Reason guys, VHT didn’t want to just build a low-wattage amp. They wanted to build a great amp, period.

I also gigged with the amp in my weekly church gig yesterday afternoon, and it worked absolutely stellar! I kept the amp in high power mode, plugged into the high power input, set the tone and volume at 3pm each, then pulled the boost knob to activate the normal/boost footswitch. I didn’t use any effects at all as I just wanted the raw amp tones. I even tuned with my Peterson StroboClip so my signal from my guitar to the amp was completely direct. Note that even with a 10″ speaker, I still had to use an attenuator, and my trusty Aracom PRX150-Pro worked stellar with the amp.

During the gig, I mostly used the volume knob on my guitar to vary gain, whether in normal or boost mode. The amp responded so well to volume knob and pick attack. Even if I didn’t reduce the volume, and picked very lightly, I could clean up the sound. So sweet!

The only time I made any adjustments to the amp was when we did a song that I needed absolutely clean tones. I simply reduced the volume to around 11 am, then bypassed the attenuator. And the cleans were simply fantastic!

Made to Mod

Despite the fact that VHT says this amp is highly modifiable, I doubt that most people will do no more than swap tubes. I’ve seen some forum posts where people have made a couple of changes, but I’d say the majority of folks just won’t see a need to do that. But curious, for shits and giggles, I swapped out the stock 6V6 with a couple of different 50’s-era 6V6’s (GE and RCA). They each sounded beautiful as I expected, but quite frankly, they were just too smooth. The Chinese tube seems to be “hotter” and produces lots of harmonics; something my NOS tubes didn’t do. In my opinion, the Special 6 is meant to be a mini-rock machine. It won’t do really heavy stuff, but for 70’s and 80’s classic rock, it sits right in the sweet spot.

Overall Impression

I am thoroughly impressed with the VHT Special 6. Hand-wired, immensely versatile, plus fantastic tone for under $200? That’s tough to beat! And unlike other small, low-wattage amps that have only a volume and tone knob, the combination of inputs, low/hi power modes and boost make this an amp that can be used in a variety of ways. Big thumbs up, and 5 Tone Bones!

I’ll have clips in an upcoming article. Stay tuned!

Update: January 2, 2013

It has been awhile since I wrote the original article, and amazingly enough, I’m still using the Special 6. I did finally swap out tubes to 50’s era NOS for both pre-amp and power tubes, and I also swapped out the stock speaker and put in a Jensen Jet Electric Lightning. I use this amp frequently at my church gig where I don’t need a lot of volume since mic the amp and use the PA, and it is perfectly suited for that venue.

Even after all this time, I do have to say that I’m still thoroughly impressed with the tone of this little amp. When it’s cranked, and especially with the Electric Lightning speaker, the amp sounds SO much bigger than what its diminutive 6 watts would suggest. A lot of that has to do with how the speaker projects, but when cranked, that amp absolutely sings with tones of sustain and really sweet overtones. I love playing this amp with a Les Paul. The clean tones are gorgeous as well, and when I don’t hook it up to an attenuator, I just use pedals to get my distortion. From that perspective, the amp takes to pedals real well.

Finally, even with a simple, single EQ knob, the EQ works fantastically well with the amp. It’s kind of bright out of the box, so I normally just set the tone control to about 10 am. On some amps I’ve played, that muddies the tone a bit; but not with the Special 6. It simply makes the lower range stand out a bit more.

I’ve even been using the amp in the studio, over my DV Mark Little 4o and Aracom VRX’s (except where I need a heavier sound). It’s perfect for the studio.

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