Line 6 Spider Valve 212

March 26, 2008

Aesthetically, the Spider Valve still looks like a Line 6 amp, but with some tasty refinements. For example, the thick leather handle is a nice touch, as is the silver piping that adorns the basketweave grillecloth. Both add an air of old-school tube amp snazz. The Spider Valve’s plywood cabinet sports some of the most impressive appointments I’ve seen in an amp in this price range. The black Tolex is expertly applied with nary a sign of slop, and the cab’s interior is clean as a whistle. The Spider Valve also comes with removable casters—a very welcome feature. 
Circuit-wise, the Spider Valve sports two Chinese-made 12AX7 preamp tubes, but the amplifier’s front-end is a digital/tube hybrid. Your guitar signal first hits an analog-to-digital converter, a DSP, and then a digital-to-analog converter. So it’s not a tube front-end per se—rather, the two 12AX7’s prepare your guitar’s signal for the dual 5881 output stage, and according to Line 6, add harmonic complexity.

The front panel’s Amp Model selector clicks you through the Spider Valve’s 12 amp models (Clean, Twang, Blues, Crunch, Metal, and Insane), with two model variations per setting. A blue or amber LED tells you which of the two variations you’ve selected. The Spider Valve provides 36 memory slots to store your own presets, and there are also 300 factory presets: 150 sculpted tones from pro players such as Lyle Workman, Bernard Butler, Tim Pierce, and John 5, and another 150 “song presets” which aim to ape the tones of classic tunes by everyone from AC/DC to ZZ Top. Although these presets are somewhat interesting, playing them feels like wearing someone else’s shoes. The nut of an amp like the Spider Valve is getting your tone programmed. And to that end, storing amp/effect presets on the Spider Valve is way easy. But if you’re doing any gigging, you’ll need one of Line 6’s floorboards to switch channels and control effects with your feet. The FBV2 ($29 street) will scroll you through presets one at a time, while the more capable FBV Express ($99 street) and the super-pimpin’ FBV Shortboard ($270 street)offer instant channel recall, tap tempo, and an expression pedal—something to keep in mind when factoring the Spider Valve’s price tag.

Keeping the Spider Valve’s manual safely tucked away in the back of the cabinet, I plugged in and got down to it. Upon firing up the Spider Valve, one thing was abundantly clear—this is the most muscular sounding Line 6 combo I’ve ever heard—the tube power section thumps. Running a Strat on the rear pickup—which exposes many a modeling amp’s Achilles heel—through the blue Clean model (which is loosely based on a late ’60s/early ’70s Hiwatt Custom 100) the Spider Valve spun a web of musical sparkle and detailed harmonic clarity without any inherent harshness or nasty digital artifacts. And whereas many solid-state/modeling amps get rough and ragged when you turn them up, the Spider Valve relishes being cranked, as it blossoms and sounds better with subtle compression that you hear and feel. And therein lies the Spider Valve’s raison d’etre—like a classic tube amp, it sounds better when you crank it up to a healthy volume. Conversely, when running at whisper bedroom levels, the Spider Valve is less remarkable and very average sounding. So turn it up, sucka!

The Crunch amp models (which are an amalgam of various plexi-era Marshalls) also benefit mightily from a power tube massaging. With a Tele or a Les Paul, low and medium grind tones were dynamic and musical, and like the clean tones, they benefited from a good goosing of the Master Volume in order to take advantage of the Spider’s valves. And sure, it may say “Crunch,” but there’s enough gain on tap to solo for days. Backing your guitar’s volume off readily serves up cleaner textures, and I conjured nearly everything I needed from this channel alone. The mids were rich, and the high-end response could be dialed in for extra bite with my humbucker guitars or backed off for more sultry tones with my Tele.

The Spider Valve’s overdrive sounds are fierce and formidable, with more gain on tap than anyone should ever need. No wonder there’s an onboard noise gate! However, by simply using common sense when it comes to dialing up the distortion, I found the amp was quiet enough to not require any help from the noise gate. Running through the Metal amp models, I found enough distortion with the Drive control at about two o’ clock. When I tried to pile on any more gain, the tones became unfocused and frazzy—especially with single-coils. But make no mistake, everything from searing fusion to scooped metal mayhem are available here. The EQ works wonders, as I could dial up a throaty midrange growl or a sucked-mids death tone no problem. And whether it’s spanky clean or knuckle-draggin’ mean, the Spider Valve delivers oodles of low end. The bass response stays taught and focused, even at extreme volumes, but high Bass settings can cause the lows to overwhelm and muddy the tones to the point of sounding somewhat detached from the notes. It’s an easy fix, but it just goes to show that more isn’t always better. The Spider Valve’s power section also stays very clean when you crank it. Only when I had it nearly full up did it begin to impart some power amp grind and a little more squash and compression—a phenomenon that only a tube power section can give you.

Two front panel knobs access the Spider Valve’s onboard effects, which may not have enough tweakability to satisfy obsessive parameter nerds, but I found the preset amount of gooey slather more than satisfactory. The Modulation knob morphs from very mild yet good sounding chorus to swishy flange very quickly. This may bum chorus fans out, but flange freaks will rejoice. The Spider Valve’s phaser sounds remarkable in its lowest setting with its subliminal, chewy filtering, though it eventually gives way to crazier sweeps and less-remarkable faux Leslie simulations. The Tremolo, however, provides wonderful range, from slow and tasty to fast and choppy. I would have loved to have the amp’s Tap Tempo function at my disposal for this effect. Sadly, that is not the case. Still, it’s an excellent sounding, musical trem.

Lower settings of the Spider Valve’s Digital Delay give you a touch of slapback, with a 14-repeat feedback fest at the outer extreme. All of the points between are musical and usable. Ditto for the Tape Echo and Sweep Echo presets—two of Line 6’s most popular delay models, and for damn good reason. The reverb, however, is good in low doses but I found it barely serviceable at higher settings, as it sounded very digital, boomy, and unfocused. It’s not a deal breaker, but it is definitely not up to the level of the other effects.

For a guitarist who wants all of the flexibility of modeling, but has played enough tube amps to know what a hardy tube power section does to a guitar sound, the Spider Valve is the only game in town. Add to that the onboard effects, super-solid construction, and abundant volume for gigs, and the Spider Valve comes up a winner.

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