The Many Modes
Plugging in my go-to Gibson SG, I immediately made the mistake of underestimating the amp’s volume. Again, the loudness is a big shocker. Playing alone on this amp was a lot of fun. It’s really inspiring to have so many estimations of great amps at your fingertips, and you’ll literally lose hours just tooling around with different models and effects. Using the amplifier’s Manual mode, I was able to operate it with only the knobs, like any other amp in my arsenal. Such is the way to get familiar with the Spider and to design your own presets. A few particular favorite models were both of the new models under the Class A mode. The yellow and blue modes emulate a Vox AC30 and a Divided by 13 9/5 (both new additions to this series), respectively. I’ve never played through a Divided by 13 amp, but I really enjoyed the tone of this emulation. Using my neck pickup and the amp’s Gain at 12 o’clock, the amp produced a clear, throaty midrange with a very expressive and raspy (in a good way) high-end bite. The AC30 emulation, similarly voiced to the other Class A emulation, was a worthy rendition of the chiming British classic, with a little less low end.
The two Hi Gain mode models were also impressive. The ’68 plexi emulation had a full low end, cutting mids, and balanced highs. Like most of the other models, this model lost definition and dynamics when the Gain was taken past 2 o’clock. The Diezel Herbert emulation (also new in this series) was where I spent most of my time playing. With a similar voicing to the ’68 Plexi emulator, this emulation had extended low frequencies, well-defined mids which sliced even when slightly scooped, and a sparkling and pseudo-complex high end.
The other new emulations include a Gretsch 6156 and an Orange AD30. Additional past emulations include a Marshall JCM-900, Hiwatt Custom 100, ‘60s Fender Blackface Twin (and Deluxe) Reverb, ‘50s wide panel Fender Deluxe, ’68 Marshall Plexi, and Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier. Having just reviewed Mesa’s newly redesigned Multi-Watt Dual Rec, I can say that even diehard Recto fans may appreciate this small approximation of their coveted tone beast, for practicing, writing, and as a portable stage backup. I wouldn’t venture to recommend it as a replacement.
The clean tones via the Clean and Twang modes were not terribly impressive (they weren’t terrible either), however using a compressor I was able to quickly turn an average clean sound into one that bloomed with expressive dynamics. The Insane mode is very aptly named. There is no genre of extreme metal that cannot be reached by the wealth of gain in the Spider Valve MKII. You’ll need an appropriate 4x12 cabinet to tap the appropriate ultra-lows required for uber-metal. With such high gain, though, comes immediate feedback, even at low volumes. Thankfully, the Spider’s gate does an excellent job at cleaning up unwanted feedback. This noise gate is very well implemented. It does not snap on and off immediately, but carefully and organically pulls the volume away.
I could write a small book analyzing the various sounds made by the Spider Valve MKII’s 16 amp models and 20 effects. Eventually though, what it boils down to is that some people are going to appreciate what the amp does and some are not.
Having spent a wealth of time playing this amp by myself, I was impressed and excited to give it a run at band practice. This, however, is where the amp showed some weaknesses. It was very easy to dial in way too much gain—and difficult to dial in the right amount—and despite the enormous volume, I had a difficult time cutting clearly through the mix. Adding a custom Avatar 2x12 cabinet loaded with Celestion Vintage 30s did help a bit.
Line 6’s website repeatedly uses the phrase “inspired by” to reference the amplifiers it emulates. Those two words essentially sum up my experience with the Spider Valve MKII. The upside is that it is a very nice emulation, especially when used as a practice amp, but the downside is that it is clearly not reaching for uncharted tonal territory.
you want a great practice/backup amplifier that will suit nearly every genre.
you don’t need built in effects or you want an amp that will wow you in the studio.