March 1, 2004

While visiting the Peavey booth at the 2003 Summer NAMM show, I found Peavey senior engineer James Brown squatting in front of several small amps, playing some hot country licks. The sound was so big, and the distortion so sweet, that at first, I assumed he was playing through a 1x12 combo. On second glance, I realized he was plugged into a tiny practice amp sitting next to the combo. When he saw me, he said, “Oh no, just my luck—a Guitar Player guy shows up while I’m testing a secret new amp.”

Intrigued, I pressed him for details, and reluctantly, Brown disclosed the amp was a prototype for a model that wouldn’t go into production for many months. Noting my keen interest, he promised to keep me posted, and when the “secret” Peavey Backstage amp arrived last November, I was eager to see if it would measure up to my memories.

New & Improved!
The Backstage is the latest addition to a series of solid-state practice amps that Peavey introduced in the late ’70s.

Previous versions of the Backstage were renowned for their ruggedness and dependability—lots of them are still running strong after decades of use—but thrilling distortion tones were not part of the package.

That changes right now. The Backstage utilizes the latest update of Peavey’s patented TransTube solid-state circuitry as a preamp stage, making the amp’s overdrive tones startlingly tube like. The mojo here is that TransTube replicates the response of a 12AX7 tube by shifting the bias of the individual amplification stages in relation to the strength of the input signal. According to Peavey, mimicking the “push back” response of tube circuitry to performance dynamics is the key to emulating tube distortion and chime.

Tube-y or Not Tube-y?
I put the Backstage through its paces using a mid-’70s Fender Stratocaster and a ’97 PRS McCarty, and I was able to get nice dirty and clean sounds from both instruments. The High and Low tone knobs cover a generous range, though cranking the Low control tends to highlight the limited low-frequency extension of the Backstage’s 6 1/2" speaker.

The cleanest clean sounds were produced by keeping the amp’s Volume knob at around the halfway mark, as going much beyond that added a less-than-pleasant frizziness to the sound. Kicking in the fuzz factor requires hitting a front-panel Overdrive switch (no footswitch option is available) and adjusting the Overdrive knob in tandem with the Volume control to dial in everything from gentle breakup to classic rock grind to balls-out distortion.

In all cases, the tube emulation is amazing, and distorted tones even clean up in a remarkably organic manner when you decrease your guitar’s volume. One of my favorite sounds was achieved by plugging in my McCarty, selecting its neck pickup, rolling back the guitar tone, and cranking the Backstage’s Overdrive—think Jimmy Page’s maxed-out Supro on the first Led Zeppelin album.

Little Big Amp
The production version of the Backstage lives up to the promise of the prototype I saw at NAMM. This is easily one of the best-sounding mini amps I’ve ever heard. It delivers a great assortment of tube-like tones and offers excellent dynamic response—all in a pint-sized package, and for a very modest price.    

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