Fryette Sig:X

July 8, 2008
Tested by Matt Blackett



The Sig:X came into being by Fryette’s desire to bring something new to the table. “FRYETTE amplifiers are for players who demand articulation, dynamic range, and versatility—with a definitive sonic signature,” says Fryette. “The Sig:X represents an effort to reach out to a broad cross section of players looking for their own personal sound. We set out to offer an intuitive control set, a more forgiving personality, lots of attention paid to individual taste, instant gratification in the clean department, and unprecedented flexibility on the gain side. That was a nice challenge.”

The front panel is also a little challenging at first glance, with its 20 knobs and 15 mini-toggles. There are simply a metric ton of gain, voicing, power, and EQ options on this thing, which is either good news or bad news depending on how technophobic you are. What is undeniably good news, however, is how easy it is to get a great tone out of any one of these channels. No joke—unless you do something really extreme, this amp sounds awesome no matter what guitar you plug into it. I tried a Fender Strat, Gibson Les Paul, Vox Virage, PRS Johnny Hiland, and a Carvin CS6 and the Sig:X brought out the best in all of them.

Before going through the individual channels, a word about the sample settings in the Sig:X manual. Far from the overblown, super-hyped caricatures in many manuals, the ones here are totally musical and useful. With a PRS Johnny Hiland model I tried out the first sample setting I came across, which was meant to be merely a tutorial on understanding voicing and gain in the Sig:X. What came out of the speakers was an absolutely magical tone that was clean and dirty at the same time. It was totally alive with harmonics and had sustain for days. It was tough to tear myself away to explore the other sounds, but I eventually did.

The first stop was the clean channel. The name is slightly misleading because you can get amazing clean tones out of all three channels, but the clean channel is the only one without a gain control. It also sports four mini-toggles, the first of which is a pre-gain channel voicing switch that lets you choose between Bloom, Brite, and Spank. I set all the EQ knobs at 12 o’clock, hit a chord on Bloom, and was greeted with a huge, powerful clean tone. The manual says this channel’s voice “ . . . opens up beautifully after initial string attack. This blooming effect enhances sustain even at low volume settings.” No kidding! The sustain was downright astounding for a clean sound, and singing, violin-like feedback crept in as I inched the volume up. Switching to Brite adds some top and Spank provides some low mids. These are subtle, musical tonal changes—a real treat compared to the exaggerated boosts or bright switches on many high-gain amps. This channel will give you stunning jazz cleans, awesome funk tones, and a gut-punching, Pete Townshend-style wallop—especially when you engage the switchable boost. And, make no mistake, even on the 40-watt setting, this channel is loud as hell. The final mini-toggle is labeled Fat/Open and it changes the overall midrange response. I preferred it on the Open setting, especially with humbuckers.

Clicking over to the Rhythm channel on the Sig:X gives you even more sonic options with its Gain I and switchable Gain II knobs. I turned the Gain II function off (with the footswitch’s Boost button) and set the Gain I low and the Master high. This produced a beautiful, dimensional clean sound that just loved my Strat (think “Castles Made of Sand”). As I turned up the Gain I knob, the tone got bigger and hairier but never lost its amazing clarity. This amp is really good at getting those semi-dirty (or semi-clean) sounds. Fryette explains: “For players who wish to really go exploring, the compartmentalization of ‘clean, crunch, and burn’ is an extremely confining little box. Those in-between or transitional stages are where players live and where the Sig:X shines most brightly.” Add to that the More/Less Gain switch, which kicks a tube gain stage in or out, and you have a ton of versatility before you even get into the Gain II settings.

Kicking in the Gain II Boost adds a whole new level of delicious grind that was still unfailingly dynamic. In fact, I spent most of my time with the Boost on and used the guitar’s volume knob to vary the drive level. You could easily do an entire gig on this channel alone. Like the Clean channel, Rhythm also has a 3-position voicing switch (Vintage, Live, and Burn). I tended to stick with Vintage and Live, although players that want a thicker, edgier tone will dig Burn. And, your options don’t end there. The Power Shift switch lets you choose between 40 watts (with a tube rectifier) and 100 watts (with a solid-state rectifier). To my ears, the difference was mostly tactile, with the 100-watt setting feeling faster and punchier. But wait, there’s more. The Scoop/Wood switch adds one more level of tone shaping, this time dealing with the channel’s overall midrange character, with Wood being fuller and Scoop sounding more (you got it) scooped.

So that’s already a whole lot of things you can tweak around with and we haven’t even gotten to the Lead channel. I won’t go through it step by step, but suffice to say that it’s every bit as versatile as the Rhythm channel and can get killer clean sounds as well. With Gain I cranked, Boost off, and the More/Less switch on Less, there is still plenty of overdrive and all kinds of sustain. I had no trouble getting endless feedback at pretty reasonable levels with these settings, no matter what guitar I played and no matter what pickup was selected. Switching to More made getting feedback even easier and kicking in the Boost to activate Gain II was almost like having six EBows. I could make any note sing at any time, but the tone was still dynamic enough for me to tame it with the guitar’s volume control. Nice! The sweet spot for me was with Boost and More on and both Gains at about 12 o’clock. That gave me a throaty, muscular Gary Moore-meets-David-Gilmour-style single-note voice. This channel had no problem producing a seething, crushing metal tone when I goosed the Bass and Treble controls and chose the Scoop setting.

So what’s not to like? Not much, but I did find a couple of things that didn’t rule about the Sig:X. There was a pronounced pop when I switched from clean to dirty. This is due to a relay timing issue that Fryette says has already been corrected in production. Also, the Clean channel emits a hiss at low volumes that I found disconcerting. The hiss doesn’t get louder as you turn up, so it wouldn’t be an issue at gigging volumes. “Some clean channel hiss is normal, although it should be barely audible,” says Fryette. “If the hiss is at a noticeable level independent of the Volume control setting, simply replacing one of the two post-gain preamp tubes will clear it up.”

Fryette are well aware that the Sig:X’s huge feature set might scare the hell out of old-school players. “Our mission is to get inside the heads of all kinds of players,” he says “and hook into the thing that makes playing fun and inspiring, resulting in creativity, while avoiding the option anxiety often associated with feature-intense amplifiers.” Having spent some time with the Sig:X, I say he’s succeeded. As much as I dig the flexibility of this beast, most of its functions are the set-it-and-forget-it type for me. I found it easy to voice each channel to my tastes and then just play, without a thought as to how this knob was set or where that switch was flipped. The hilarious thing is, I could see players buying this amp and only using one channel. We’re in an era of great sounding multi-channel amps—and I’ve been very taken with a few that have come through the GP offices over the past couple of months. But, plugged into the Sig:X, I would take the Pepsi challenge with any one of them. Some pieces of gear just have more riffs and songs in them than others, and this amp is one of them.

Specs

Fryette, (818) 846-4000; vhtamp.com

Price
Head $2,649 retail/$1,999 street; 4x12 cabinet $1,395 retail/$1,099 street

Channels
Three

Controls
Lead and Rhythm channels: independent Gain I, Gain II, Master, Treble, Middle, Bass; shared Presence and Depth. Clean channel: Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass, Presence, and Depth.

Power
Switchable per channel, 100 or 40 watts

Tubes
Two Sovtek KT88 output tubes, one Tung Sol 12AX7 preamp tube, five Shuguang 12AX7 preamp tubes, one Electro-Harmonix 5U4G rectifier.

Extras
3-position Channel Voicing switch (per channel), switchable Boost (per channel), More/Less switch for extra gain stage (Rhythm and Lead channels), 100W/40W Power Shift switch (per channel), Scoop/Wood switch (Lead and Rhythm channels), Fat/Open switch (Clean channel), switchable series/parallel effects loops with Level/Mix control, 5-button footswitch.

Speaker Cabinet
Fryette Deliverance 4x12 with Fryette-designed Eminence-made P50E speakers.

Weight
53 lbs (head)

Kudos
Great tones. Great feel. Very flexible. Rock-solid construction.

Concerns
Deep feature set could be intimidating to some.

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