The VHT brand has seen a significant
transformation over the past few years.
In 2008, Steve Fryette—founder and chief
designer of VHT Amplification—sold the
brand and continued building old VHT
designs under his new Fryette brand (his new
Boostassio and S.A.S. pedals are reviewed on
p.157). The moniker’s ownership change gave
AXL Muscial Instruments, VHT’s new parent
company, the opportunity to expand the line
with the Standard, Classic, and Lead series
combos and heads—amps that have exhibited
an emphasis on more classic American tones.
These days, VHT is focused on making
all-tube amps as accessibly priced as possible.
This was achieved by moving much of the
production process overseas to help lower
the cost to the player. The results, in terms
of tone and value, have been impressive.
New models have proven big hits among
players, especially the mod-friendly Special
6—which became VHT’s first foray into the
affordable amp realm a couple of years ago.
The new handwired, 6V6-powered Special
6 Ultra head reviewed here (which is also
available as a combo) is the latest evolution
of the Special 6 concept.
A Sturdy Foundation
VHT had DIY amp modders in mind when
it first came up with the Special 6, and that
mindset seems to have carried over to the
Special 6 Ultra. The design is based on a
eyelet board that’s handwired in China with
components that are easy to access, remove,
and swap out. The diminutive 6-watt package
is fueled by a single 6V6 power tube—
which can be converted to an EL84 using
VHT’s socket adapter—and two 12AX7
The Special 6 Ultra expands on the
original Special 6’s Volume, Boost, and
Tone controls with the addition of a tube-driven
effects loop, wattage attenuation, an
11-position Depth control, a 3-way Texture
switch, a Line Out jack, and an additional
gain stage. I would have liked the Clean and
Ultra channels to be footswitchable, but
they’re only accessible via their individual
inputs. I suspect this helped lower costs,
and one could also argue that it keeps the
circuit simpler and the signal of higher fidelity.
I appreciated that the variable Watts
control was accessible from the front panel
rather than the back. It ranges from 6 watts,
fully clockwise, to a mere half-watt at its
minimum setting, and the knob is continuously
variable so you can select any position
between the two for very satisfying flexibility.
Low-end response is governed primarily by
the amp’s 11-position Depth control, while
the 3-way Texture switch enables you to select
two levels of high-end harmonic roll off or
bypass the effect entirely. VHT modeled these
controls after vintage post-production studio
equalizers, such as the highly regarded Pultec
EQP-1A, and they help tailor the tone of the
amp to the guitar and cabinet being used.
Considering how inexpensive the Special 6
Ultra is, I wasn’t expecting the controls to have
such a sturdy feel throughout their range. The
only exception was the Volume knob, which
doubles as the amp’s Boost control when it’s
pulled out. It felt a little flimsy in both modes,
but that might be due to the pot’s design. The
boost can also be activated via a single-button
footswitch (the Volume knob must be pulled
out for this to work, however).
Love at First Feel
After connecting the Special 6 Ultra to a
matching open-back VHT 2x12 cabinet
loaded with the company’s ChromeBack
60-watt speakers, I tested it first with a
Stratocaster, and then a Tom Anderson-equipped
’78 Les Paul Custom. I plugged
the Strat into the Clean input, selected the
neck pickup, set the Volume, Tone, and
Depth controls to noon, maxed the Watts
knob, and lightly fingerpicked. The resulting
tone was strong and dynamic, with a little
grit when I dug in harder.
After playing with different Depth and Watts settings, I noticed the effect of the Depth
knob was much more noticeable at higher wattages—due, no doubt, to the increased headroom
that allowed the lower frequencies to shine through. In general, though, the amp had
a considerable amount of boom and bloom in the lower spectrum. With Depth cranked,
the Tone control proved its true worth: It was very effective at adding definition to the amp’s
muscular foundation, and it went from smooth, jazzy tones with subtle upper mids in the
most counterclockwise position to crisp, biting rhythm tones perfect for country playing at
the opposite end of its range.
The Texture switch had a rather understated effect on Clean-channel tones. Its high-end
roll off wasn’t all that noticeable until I activated the channel’s Boost mode, which added grit
to the tone. In the middle position, the Texture switch not only let the high end through
unrestrained, but added a considerable amount of volume and punch that was surprising to
hear from a 6-watt amp.