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September 2014
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Simple Amps Big Iron 6VA "Black Widow" Amp Review


When I received the Simple Amp for review I could hardly ignore its dimensions; it’s a pretty impressive looking package, to be sure. The cabinet weighs about 60 lbs, and the head about 30. The model I received was the Big Iron 6VA, in a head and 2x12 cabinet configuration, sporting the striking Black Widow look.

The 6VA name refers to the output tube configuration, which is two 6V6GT tubes (Tung Sol). Other models using 6L6 and EL34 are available as well; standard preamp tubes are Mullard 12AX7s. The amp also features two 5AR4 rectifier tubes, and the manufacturer states that an optional 12AU7 will give a more pristine clean tone if desired.

So Simple
The head is a thing of both beauty and simplicity. Only two knobs—Volume and Tone—are presented on the front panel. The rear panel features two output jacks, an impedance selector, AC voltage selector, and the AC input module. One cool feature here is that it carries one spare fuse inside the fuse holder for easy access, in case of an emergency. Construction is impeccable, with hand-wired turret boards, and Mercury Magnetics power transformer, output transformer and choke. The 6V6 model scopes out at about 30 Watts.

The speaker cabinet is equipped with two Celestion Alnico Gold G12 50-watt speakers, set up vertically and wired for 8 Ohms. It features an open-back design and has aluminum speaker baffle and bracing. Although I didn’t have an opportunity to hear the cabinet with a wooden baffle, I’d have to say my impression was that the aluminum baffles and bracing made it a bit brighter, and certainly tighter on the low end, than most open-back cabinets I’ve played. This example was mono wired, but a stereo option is also available. The cabinet was solidly constructed of 11-ply and 13-ply Baltic birch, and sounded very tight when pushed.

Another cool thing is that the manufacturer includes both a speaker cable and an instrument cable by Solid Cables, which transfer some of the cleanest tone and response around. They want to make sure that this amp is run under optimum conditions, and it shows their dedication to getting the perfect tone out of the amp.

So What About the Sound?
The creator of this amp, Joel Jones, tells me that his idea for this design comes from the desire to turn the amp up to ten and control the whole clean/dirty sound from your guitar’s volume. Doing it this way allows for the all-important power tube saturation. It’s easy to overdrive a bunch of 12AX7 stages for distortion or overdrive, but when the power section comes into play, the whole dynamic changes. The amp can be very warm and clean at lower settings of the Volume control, especially using the bottom input, which has less gain, but touch sensitivity is also affected. The lower input might be better for some players who derive their tones from pedals, as the higher headroom would let their reverb and delay effects work better. Happily for many players, this amp has more available gain on ten than most amps of this type. The low end is smooth and tight. Some single-volume/single-tone amps sound pretty bloated when cranked in this fashion, but not this one.

The Simple Amp 6VA is also very pedal friendly. I used a Tube Screamer pedal and an old Marshall Guv’nor pedal and got amazing distortion and overdrive sounds with both a Strat and a Les Paul. The Fender Stratocaster used was a typical American Vintage 57 reissue with a maple neck and Duncan pickups. The Les Paul was a 1969 Black Custom retrofitted with original 1959 PAF pickups.

The type of tones I was able to achieve varied according to the various pedals I used. The TS808 gave me a very good rendition of SRV and Robin Trower when used with the Strat. Through this pedal with the Les Paul, the classic British rock tones—Bad Company and Zeppelin—were readily available. When I switched to the higher gain Marshall Guv’nor pedal and the Strat, I found that David Gilmour tones and even a bit of Yngwie on the neck pickup were no problem. With the Les Paul and the Guv’nor I found Gary Moore and Neil Schon type of sounds (I should mention here the volume was set at about 9, and the tone about 7).

I have to say that for heavier rock tones, you will need to use a pedal. The Strat-blues SRV thing is really no problem with this amp paired with any type of Tube Screamer. I was surprised at the volume the amp produces. This is probably the result of the two 12” speakers stacked vertically, as well as the cabinet design. The guitars cleaned up to pristine clean when their volumes were reduced, making it a very usable unit for those comfortable with controlling it this way. The Simple amp has a wonderful warm tone and texture to its sound, which is fairly hard to come by these days. I noticed exceptional touch sensitivity to the amp, and it responded well to different types of picking techniques.

The tone control on the amp was very wide ranging, going from very dark to some pretty screaming highs. On the high end the amp seems to have more gain, but even with the amp cranked and the Tone knob turned all the way treble side, the top end was not harsh. It was very easy to dial this control in to just the right amount of brightness. The dual rectifier tubes in this amp should not be confused with the similar specs of other brands. In this application they are there to provide just the right amount of sag to the power supply. I think this is probably the reason for the exceptional touch sensitivity of the amp.

The Final Mojo
I found the Simple Amps model 6VA to be an excellent amp for players who are comfortable with controlling their tones from their guitar. It may not be the best choice for players who are used to the staggering gain and sustain of Boogies and Bogners and the like. This amp is not in my opinion, a competitor to those types of amps. It does, however, produce tones that would be difficult to get from the modern high-gain amp. Old school players will love it. It is well built, and even though it is larger than most amps of its type, it is worth the effort to transport.
Buy if...
you're looking for a great, simple amp with clean/dirty sounds you can control from your guitar's volume.
Skip if...
you're looking for a lightweight amp, or prefer the massive overdrive of a modern high-gain amp.
Rating...
4.0 

Street $2650 (head) $1150 (cabinet, as tested) - Simple Amps - simpleamps.com