While digital amp modeling has been on the scene for more than two decades—and analog modeling goes back to Tom Scholz’s Rockman (1982) and Tech 21’s SansAmp (1989)—some guitarists still perceive the operation of these powerful tools as signing up to fly the Space Shuttle without getting comprehensive training from NASA. This is a shame, because if you’re a restless type questing after unique sounds, digital processors are a very good way to go. So good, in fact, that more and more of GP’s interviews with professional guitarists reveal they are deploying digital devices such as the Kemper Profiler and Fractal Audio Axe-FX (along with digital combos from most major amp manufacturers) for their live and studio tones.
And yet, Line 6—which kicked off the whole digital-amp tone party with its AxSys 212 combo in back in 1996—gets it. Amps that are, in reality, digital workstations can be intimidating—even to those who, in another one of life’s arenas, couldn’t live without their smartphones, tablets, and on-demand television options. (Weird, huh?) So, in an attempt to once and for all time alleviate “workstation worry,” Line 6 evolved its Spider V line (V 30, V 60, V 120, and V 240) to be not only comprehensive, but kind. This is an inviting, inspiring, and encouraging tone machine.
I opted to test the 240-watt V 240HC head ($479 street), because it’s a massively cool and capable live-performance engine—especially when partnered with the Line 6 FBV3 foot controller ($249 street) and the Line 6 Relay G10T wireless transmitter ($99 street). For mono operation, I plugged the head into an Old Dog 4x12 X-Cab, and I used two Mesa/Boogie 1x12 cabinets for stereo application. Direct recording was accomplished from the 240HC’s XLR output to a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. Test guitars included a Gretsch Nashville (Filter’Tron pickups), a Framus Panthera Supreme II (humbuckers), a California Guitars T-style (single-coils), and a Gibson Les Paul Junior (P-90s).
The V 240HC front panel is super user-friendly with extremely obvious controls, so I tossed the manual and dove right in. Push the Amp button, and the amp parameters light up over the corresponding knobs for Drive, Bass, Mid, Treble, and Volume. Click for FX, and the lights over each knob display your colored-coded effects options: Comp (gold), FX1 (blue; factory set to modulation), FX2 (yellow; factory set to distortion), FX3 (green; factory set to delay), and Reverb (orange). Control freaks don’t have to use the factory colors. You can easily assign any effect to any FX1, FX2, or FX3 knob (Admittedly, I had to crack the manual for this op.). If you want to tweak anything, just push Edit. Want to do some looping? Press the Quick Loop button (shown by two circling arrows on the knob). There’s another button for Tap Tempo and Tuner, as well as a handy Home button if you get yourself lost in the menus. Oh, and if you want to rock out to the onboard drum tracks, simply push the Play/Pause button, and use the rotary/push knob to select your groove.
The back panel is clearly labeled with left/right/mono direct outputs (XLR) for recording or direct-to-sound-system use, left/right/mono line outputs (¼") for speaker cabinets, a switch for enabling or defeating cabinet modeling, a ground-lift switch, a dedicated input for a Line 6 FBV3 or a FBV Shortboard MKII foot controller, and USB inputs (switchable for iPhone/iPad or Mac/PC/Android) to update the amp’s software/firmware, edit tones, or playback/record audio.
A wonderful benefit is that the V 240HC head includes a full-range, 50-watt stereo speaker system with two 4" woofers and two tweeters, so you don’t have to lug speaker cabinets around when you want to practice at home. In addition, you can choose to quietly and conveniently perform all of your tone programming and tweaking in your living room, bedroom, or kitchen. Even hipper, when you “suit up” for a gig, all the tones you crafted at home will sound pretty much the same roaring in a club with the 240HC plugged into your preferred speaker cabinet. I even brought the “head sans cabinet” to a couple of arrangement rehearsals, and there was enough power to hear myself over the group’s drums, bass, and acoustic guitar. You could definitely play a low-volume coffee shop or restaurant gig with the head alone.
Another goodie is that the 240HC software can be constantly upgraded through its onboard USB jacks. Line 6 has proven to be a constantly evolving tech company, so whatever they have up their sleeves, 240HC users will always get the benefit of software and firmware upgrades, peer programs, guitar-star patches, and so on.
DOWN TO THE BRASS TACKS…
The optional, color-coded FBV 3 foot-pedal makes gigging a breeze.
The optional G-10 wireless transmitter automatically syncs with the V 240HC’s built-in receiver.
The V 240HC’s amp models include all the usual suspects (Marshall, Fender, Vox, Boogie, etc.), presets written by artists (Elliot Easton, Devin Townsend, Brendon Small, and others), and just about every effect you’d ever need. The optional G10 wireless transmitter automatically locks to the head’s internal receiver, and I experienced no dropouts or other glitches. There were no issues with the optional FBV 3 footpedal, either. Gigging with both devices and the 240HC is like having the planet-killing tonal power of one of those ’80s-era custom pedalboards and rack units, but without the costs, cable-routing hassles, and cartage (or roadie) fees.
Many of the presets are loaded for bear—meaning aggressively saturated and effected—but I found all the basic amp tones to be excellent sonic foundations once I turned the parameters off or down. Presets are, after all, developed to emulate an already established tone. Don’t take the bait. Twist some knobs and make that sound your own! All of the amp models are very dynamic (depending on the processing involved, of course) and track your guitar’s volume-knob moves and pick attacks accurately.
As a result, I found few (if any) conventional tones I couldn’t get to with the 240HC, and a ton of sounds that traditional signal routing wouldn’t give me. Seeking familiar and unique tones is adventurous, easy, and fun, and unless you go for full-on splatters without any attack, the sounds translate well to the live stage, and they can definitely break out of a band mix. (My advice: Save the splatters for your studio tracks.) Diehard analog heroes may not be won over, but open-minded tone freaks may lose themselves in all of the 240HC’s parameters, effects, routing options, and, yes, its armory of sounds.
Ultimately, most guitarists want a “laboratory”—whether from a digital amp/workstation or a tube amp and a boatload of effect pedals—that inspires them to explore new vistas of tone creation. The Spider V 240HC delivers on that promise, and it does it with a butt-simple user interface, deep editing options, onboard speakers, recording and live-performance outputs (with or without cabinet simulations), and other features that make playing with this amp educational, entertaining, and tonally righteous.
Kudos Powerful. Easy to use. Portable. Good value. Versatile tones. Updatable.
Concerns It ain’t analog. Deal with it.