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Line 6 Spider Valve MKII 1x12 Combo Amp Review

Line 6 continues to hone their digitally-designed, tube-powered amp models while attempting to pack even more effects into the latest incarnation of the Spider Valve line.

Download Example 1
Preset 05D - 1 octave down, Insane mode, blue channel, fuzz, neck pickup
Download Example 2
Preset 9B - Lower gain, Insane mode, blue channel, distortion, neck pickup
Download Example 3
Preset 11B - Class A mode, blue channel with multi-effects, neck pickup
Download Example 4
Left Channel: Preset 16A, 1 octave down, Hi-Gain mode, yellow channel, bridge pickup. Right Channel: Preset 14D, Insane mode, blue channel, neck pickup.
All clips recorded with a Gibson SG and a Shure SM57.
It’s not difficult to remember Line 6’s breakthrough product. When the company released the POD just over 10 years ago it was an instant success. No one can forget seeing legions of guitar players plugging into what appeared to be a big red video game controller. Around that time, there was a growing demand in the market to deliver high quality tube amp sound in small packages. The industry reacted with two main paths—the hand-wired boutique combo amp (think Matchless, Budda, etc.) and modeling via digital signal processing. At that time, the clear leader of the modeling paradigm was Line 6. Since then, the company has expanded on all fronts and now offers guitars, basses, recording interfaces, software, stompboxes, wireless units, cabinets, foot controllers, and amplifiers (guitar and bass combos and heads).

About two years ago, Line 6 released ten products under the Spider III series. The 15-watt combo sold 92,000 units in 2008, making it the best-selling guitar amplifier in America. The other products in this line achieved similarly outstanding sales. In 2007, Line 6 surprised the industry when they teamed with legendary tube amp guru Reinhold Bogner. Combining Line 6’s hugely successful digital modeling concept with Bogner’s top-notch all-tube circuitry, the company released the first Spider Valve series. Guitarists responded and again in 2008 the Spider Valve HD100 head was the biggest selling tube-head of the year in the US.

Expanding on the success of the partnership, Bogner and Line 6 have updated the Spider Valve line with the latest MKII series. This series contains a 100-watt head, a 40-watt 2x12 combo, and a 40-watt 1x12” combo, all of which are Class AB tube-powered with 12AX7s in the preamp and 6L6s in the power section. The black vinyl covering, black grille, and standard Line 6 logo look serious, and are a nice departure from some of the company’s more flashy designs of the past. Because of the digital nature of their amp’s control structure, Line 6 has been able to more easily offer a rich amount of features, effects, and sonic versatility to their users. For this review, I took the Celestion Vintage 30-loaded 1x12” combo for a test drive.

Controls – Front Panel
From left to right, the Spider Valve MKII combo has a guitar input followed by the mode select knob. The continuous rotary knob selects between eight modes, each with two variations (16 models, essentially). A blue or yellow light next to each mode indicates which variation of that mode is active. The modes are Clean, Twang, Class A, Blues, Crunch, Hi Gain, Metal, and Insane. I would have preferred a notched multi-position knob rather than a continuous rotary knob for this selection, as at times I found myself over-shooting the desired setting. Also, there were two times when the amp’s vibrations caused this control, resting on a knife-edge between two modes, to switch to the adjacent mode without being touched.

Next is the Drive knob, and this amp has plenty of it, followed by Bass, Mid, and Treble knobs. The EQ response differs for each mode, and therefore can be alternately subtle and profound. To bring up the highs, I preferred to use the Presence knob. This passive analog control adds brightness in the power section that gives the amp more bite. Channel Volume allows you to set the volume of each of the amp’s four virtual channels independently.

The next three knobs allow parameter control over the DSP’s extensive effects roster. The list of 20 effects includes compression, fuzz (Big Muff emulator), auto wah, auto swell, pitch glide, harmonize, chorus, flange, phase, vibe, opto trem, bias trem, digital delay, analog tape echo with modulation, multi-head sweep echo, reverse, spring reverb, plate reverb, gate, and boost. A maximum of four of these effects can be used simultaneously (boost and gate do not count towards this maximum). Next, the Reverb knob controls the level of emulated reverb.

Without the two-line LCD, compass buttons, and slotted rotary knob, which combine to allow access to preset editing, manipulation of the wealth of effects would be cumbersome at best. Thankfully, these tools make navigation of menus very simple. In fact, if you’ve ever used a digital effects rack from the 1990s then the interface will likely be familiar territory as Line 6 has chosen to use a similarly basic interface for effects and preset editing in the Spider Valve MKII.

Following the preset controls are the Presence knob (as mentioned earlier) and the Master volume. This would be a good time to point out how dangerously loud this 40-watt amp can be. It is obscenely loud. Even when playing this 1x12 combo alongside a thunderously loud drummer, it wasn’t necessary to take the Master volume beyond 11 o’clock in order to be heard. The row of controls knobs ends with a Standby and Power switch.

Above that row of control knobs are seven lighted buttons. The first, Manual, overrides any internal preset so that the amp’s sound is determined by the front panel’s knob positions. The next four buttons are used to switch between each preset’s four virtual channels. The next button, Tap, allows you to set the repetitive speed of certain delay and modulation effects. Holding this button mutes the amp and activates the tuner, visible via the LCD screen.

Controls – Back Panel and Footswitch
The first controls on the back are Power Amp In and Preamp Out. Preamp Out grabs the signal after the Line 6 modeling pre but before the Bogner-designed tube pre. The Power Amp In feeds incoming signal to the 6L6s. The manual suggests using this out/in combination as a series effects loop if you choose to use outboard effects. Next is an XLR output for a cabinet simulated Direct Out signal. A handy feature alongside the Direct Out is a ground lift switch, so you don’t need to lug around a DI box if you choose to use the simulated output. Next is the footswitch jack, which uses a CAT5 cable, MIDI Input, Out/Thru, and additional speaker.

Dubbed the FBV MKII, the Spider Valve MKII’s matching footswitch features 13 lighted momentary-style switches, an expression pedal, a small LCD screen, and USB connectivity. The pedalboard is slim and rests low to the ground. Its metal chassis is rugged, as are the switches. The CAT5 connectivity gives you a locking connector on either end as well as a common non-proprietary connection format. When disconnected from the amp, the pedalboard can be connected via USB to a computer and used as a generic MIDI controller. There are switches on the pedalboard for Tap/Tuner, channel switching, assignable effects activation, and menu navigation. The tuning graphic is also viewable on the pedalboard’s LCD.

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.

The Verdict
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.
Buy if...
you want a great practice/backup amplifier that will suit nearly every genre.
Skip if...
you don’t need built in effects or you want an amp that will wow you in the studio.

Street $749.99 - Line 6 -