The Burbank amp gurus’ latest is one of the most expressive and versatile 6V6 combos available today.
In the late ’70s and early ’80s, Fender was in a tight spot. The period of CBS ownership from ’65 to ’85 is notorious for having adversely affected the house that Leo built. Some of that stigma is unfair, but there’s no denying that in the budding digital age the juggernaut was increasingly viewed as a sleeping, outdated giant. In the amplifier realm, no company made that point more painfully than Mesa/Boogie, whose hot-rodded designs with cascading gain, dual-function knobs, and graphic equalizers were winning over fans in every genre.
In an effort to modernize and compete, Fender revamped its blackface amps with handwired models that aimed to offer revered Fender clean tones and modern, higher-gain sounds. The man behind the best of these designs was Paul Rivera Sr., and today amps such as the Super Champ and Concert are still prized by amp aficionados in the know.
Since the mid ’80s, Rivera Sr. has been running his own boutique amp company. His line has always been diverse—from the Sedona 55’s dual-channel design for electric and acoustic-electric guitars, to the punishing, MIDI-controlled KR7 head for Slipknot guitarist Mick Thomson. But for the last few years, Rivera has put particular emphasis on its Venus series, which aims to put a lot of versatility into an oft-overlooked niche: classic-voiced 6V6-powered heads and combos. The latest, the Venus Deux 1x12 combo, serves up 25 watts of delicious tone in a single-channel design with footswitchable reverb and just enough fancy features (including a series effects loop) to make it a fascinating option for those who’d like blackface Princeton- and Deluxe Reverb-like tones—only with a lot more versatility.
The Deux is hand-soldered at Rivera’s shop in Burbank, California. Its chassis, transformers, and cabinet are all made in the U.S., and the custom Rivera speaker is voiced to sound like a cross between a Celestion Vintage 30 and the more modern Celestion G12T-75. Internally, the Deux features printed circuit-board construction with 16-gauge copper-plated wiring, and the preamp and power tubes are mounted on separate boards.
When you first lay eyes on the Deux’s comfy handle and relatively modest dimensions and control panel, you might be tempted to think it’s a lightweight. But it’s not, in any sense of the word. For starters, at 48.5 pounds, it’s heftier than you’d expect. Secondly, its feature set is incredibly flexible while still affording the type of simplicity that fans of classic 6V6 tones typically crave. With treble, middle, bass, and presence knobs, the Deux offers much more precise tone shaping than vintage designs’ usual bass-and-treble controls, and that’s before you even factor in its three push-pull functions—but we’ll talk about those in a minute.
The Deux also features a very handy focus knob. Rivera has offered this speaker-dampening feature since the debut of the TBR amp series in 1985, but that’s no reason to not tip our hats to it here. At low settings, you get the looser, more broken-in vibe of a vintage Deluxe or Princeton, but as you turn it up you get a tighter, more robust sound. It’s not a super over-the-top effect—you won’t go from, say, the spacious sound of an old Deluxe Reverb’s wider open-back cab to a chest-thumping closed-back sound—but the nuances between the knob’s extremes arevery effective. When you crank it for more resonance, you can hear how the cab’s deeper dimensions help project more punch and oomph.
Okay, back to the dual-function knobs: Pull the treble knob, and the bright function adds a shimmering quality at low volumes. Meanwhile, the focus knob’s “fat” function enhances even harmonics in the power amp for a smoother sound with less bite. But the real showstopper is the middle knob’s notch function. When we hear talk of notched mids, we tend to think of scooped metal sounds, but that’s not what happens with the Venus Deux. Engage the notch function, and the amp goes from a Marshall- or Bassman-like 500 Hz scoop to a blackface-like 250 Hz dip. It’s an astounding effect that absolutely transforms the amp. More on that later.
V for Velvet
One of the points Rivera is touting the most with the Deux is that its clean headroom—“the maximum possible in a 25-watt class AB amp,” according to Paul Rivera Jr.—makes it an ideal platform for pedals. But what really floored me when I first plugged in was the surprising rush I got with nothing but a cable between my Telecaster and the Venus. It’s been a while since I completely bypassed my board of six or so pedals, and the experience was a much-needed reminder of the joys of straight-up guitar.
Whether I engaged my Tele’s bridge pickup or its Jazzmaster neck pickup (both by Curtis Novak), or plugged in a Ruokangas Mojo King, or a Danelectro 59-M-NOS, the tones were chimey and complex, but in more shades than you can get from most 6V6 amps. And with a Gibson Custom Shop Joe Bonamassa Les Paul with Burstbucker pickups, the amp can churn out positively primeval rock and blues tones with bristling harmonics and near-infinite sustain.
However, the headroom issue has to be considered in the overall context of low-wattage 6V6 amps: They’ve never been associated with headroom in the same sense as, say, a 6L6 circuit like a Twin Reverb or a modern channel-switching design. That’s because their primary allure is texture. Whereas a low-power EL84 amp tends to go from hard and glassy at low volumes to more jagged and biting as you increase gain, 6V6 amps usually go from soft and velvety to plush and spongy.
Contrasted with a nice EL84 amp that lets you paint a room in progressively stark contrasts of color and light as you push the volume, the Deux’s 6V6 power section goes from elegant damask wallpaper in dulcet tones to rich tapestries of red, purple, and blue. In other words, the Deux is sweet and snappy, with a fine-grained texture up to the volume knob’s midpoint, and from there it gets increasing corpulent in a way that wailing blues hounds will love.
With the Venus’ volume at 5 or 6, treble at 5 1/2, middle at 4 1/2, bass at 6, presence in the upper 1/3 of its range, and none of the push-pull features engaged (i.e., with the blackface sound), I was able to get spanky Tele tones and Strat-like cleans from the Ruokangas, and if I wanted more bark I could hit the front end with my Pigtronix Fat Drive for varying shades of dirt. That’s where the Venus’ heralded headroom comes into play in the most versatile sense: Slam the Deux’s input with a pedal and you can get howling, classic-rock ghost notes from fat neck pickups, or roll back your guitar’s volume for spanky in-between funk tones or toothy bridge-pickup skankiness, all with lush responsiveness and clarity when you roll off your guitar’s volume. I kept reverb between 5 and 7—I’m kind of a reverb junkie—but I was a little bummed that extreme surf-worthy settings somewhat annoyingly emphasized tinny treble frequencies.
When I engaged the middle knob’s notch function, the Venus went from plush and inviting to delightfully brash and flippant when you need it to be—it completely changes how you’ll want to EQ things. With volume at 7 1/2, treble at 4 1/2, middle at 5, bass at 7 1/2, and focus and presence at minimum, the Deux defied both its size and power section with tones that were both much larger feeling and much more badass—in a blazing tweed-amp sense—than what you’d expect from a 6V6 amp. With humbuckers in the mix and presence and focus cranked, the Venus can blaze so hard you’ll have other guitarists rubbing their eyes in disbelief.The Verdict
Let’s face it, there’s a dearth of 6V6 amps on the market, let alone impeccably voiced, wonderfully moldable ones with gorgeous reverb. If you’re looking for a hefty yet highly portable amp that brings something new and unexpected to this semi-lonely corner of the tube galaxy, Rivera’s new Venus Deux is definitely worth a listen—especially considering the extremely reasonable price tag.
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Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters are designed to offer a fat midrange and a smooth top end.
Billy Corgan was looking for something for heavier Smashing Pumpkins songs, so Joe Naylor designed the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One pickup. Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters have a fat midrange and a smooth top end. This pickup combines the drive and sustain of a humbucker with the percussive attack and string clarity of a P90. Get beefy P90 tone plus amp-pummeling output with the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One.
Patented Railhammer Pickups take passive guitar pickups to a new level with rails under the wound strings lead to tighter lows, and poles under the plain strings offer fatter heights. With increased clarity, the passive pickup’s tone is never sterile.
Railhammer Billy Corgan Signature Z-One Pickup Demo
For more information, please visit railhammer.com.
Designed for utmost comfort and performance, the Vertigo Ultra Bass is Mono’s answer to those who seek the ultimate gigging experience.
Complete with a range of game-changing design features, such as the patent-pending attachable FREERIDE Wheel System, premium water-resistant and reflective materials, shockproof shell structure and improved ergonomic features, the Vertigo Ultra Bass takes gear protection to the next level.
The Vertigo Ultra Bass features:
- Patent-pending FREERIDE Wheel System that allows for wheels to be attached on the case in no time, giving you the option to travel with it seamlessly
- Upgraded materials, including a water-resistant 1680D Ballistic Nylon outer shell, plush inner lining and new reflective trim for maximum backstage and night visibility
- Enhanced protection with a shockproof shell structure and heavy-duty water-resistant YKK zippers for protection from the elements
- Improved ergonomics and functionality including added back support and load-lifting detachable shoulder straps with side release buckles
- Flexible storage options with added space for touring essentials
The Generation Collection of acoustic guitars features the exclusive Gibson Player Port designed to offer a unique and immersive sonic experience.
The G-Bird, the newest addition to the Generation Collection--represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird colliding with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port to add a new dimension to the G-Bird sound. The Gibson Player Port allows players to hear more of themselves as the audience hears it. With a tone that is crisp and resonant, all of the Gibson Generation Collection acoustics are designed to be comfortable to hold and play for long periods of time. All Generation Collection guitars feature the Gibson Player Port, slim, lightweight bodies, a flatter fingerboard radius, Walnut back and sides, Sitka spruce tops, and a stunning Natural finish. Additionally, the new G-Bird, and the G-200 and G-Writer are equipped with LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup systems which amplify deep bass and crystal-clear highs.
The G-Bird represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port adding a new dimension to the G-Bird’s sound. The G-Bird features a stunning solid Sitka spruce top and solid walnut back and sides for the ultimate in crisp, resonant tone. This square-shoulder dreadnought delivers all the rich low end and well-balanced mids and highs the original Hummingbird is famous for. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with chrome Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning. The utile neck, with its easy-playing Advanced Response neck profile, is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Modeled after Gibson’s pioneering small-body parlor acoustic guitars from the 1930’s, the G-00 is a top choice for blues and fingerstyle guitar performances. Despite its more compact size, the G-00 achieves a full, balanced sound. The G-00 fills any room with rich tones-which players can hear like never before, with the exclusive Gibson Player Port. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-00 is handcrafted in Bozeman, Montana, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustic guitars. The G-00 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-00 parlor-sized body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-00 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
The G-45, a round-shouldered jumbo, adds the Gibson Player Port to its famous “Workhorse” J-45 style body, which is Gibson’s best-selling acoustic guitar of all time. On the G-45, players can now hear more clearly than ever how this beloved guitar responds to every style and technique of playing. Powerful one moment and soft the next, the G-45 delivers all sounds with incredible dynamic range in an elegant, medium body size. The G-45 is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-45 features a slightly thinner round shoulder body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-45 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Gibson’s impressive range of square-shouldered guitars have become an expressive standard for rock, pop, folk, and country artists. The G-Writer is known for its wide range of sounds, from gutsy and loud, to soft and sweet; they are superb for all styles and shine, whether strumming chords or fingering intricate solos. The G-Writer comes ready for the stage or studio with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system and the ear-opening Gibson Player Port. The G-Writer is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-Writer features a slightly thinner cutaway body, is more comfortable to play and provides effortless access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Writer is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
Gibson built its first “Super Jumbo” SJ-200 as a custom order for country and western singer and film star Ray Whitley, who desired a big, loud, and deep flat-top over which to croon. The SJ-200 quickly became a staple of cowboy singers and horseback troubadours, and then country music, 60’s folk stars, and onto every acoustic guitar genre that has followed. Ray would be proud to hear the booming sound from the Gibson Player Port on the new G-200, which comes ready for the stage or studio with a LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-200 is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. The G-200 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-200 cutaway jumbo body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and provides excellent access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-200 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
G-Bird | Generation Collection
For more information, please visit gibson.com.