Apparently, the folks at Carvin turned a miniaturization ray on Steve Vai’s signature Legacy amplifiers, and came up with a more portable option for those who love the amps—but may hesitate a bit at lugging them around—or who aspire to Vai’s mystical and alluring guitar tone, or both. Call it a win-win-win.
The VLD1 is still a bit chunky for anything but large pedalboards, but, as a guitar preamp, it works wonders for home recording (via its onboard speaker emulation), coloring the sound of an amp (smack the front end, or add effects and insert it into the effects loop), running direct into a house sound system, and as a dedicated sound source when using an outside power amp, effects processor, and speaker cabinet. Admittedly, I can’t play or sound like Mr. Vai anymore than I could launch myself over the Empire State Building, Hulk style, with just the power of my legs. But it doesn’t require a Vai obsession to harness his signature VLD1 to guide your own guitar explorations.
I tested the VLD1 with an Ernie Ball St. Vincent signature guitar, making a “Carvin, Ernie Ball Music Man & Taylor Go PUNK!” video soundtrack (you can check it out at the GuitarPlayerEditors YouTube channel) with the Legacy plugged into a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 and direct to Apple GarageBand. I recorded the sounds flat with no processing. I also routed the VLD1 into the front end of a Vox AC30, and direct into a Bose L1 sound system, wielding a new Danelectro 66 guitar.
The VLD1’s Drive channel puts you in a world of liquid, saturated sustain. Single notes almost sound “mixed and mastered” in a good way, with natural compression, clear but “politely” savage saturation (no excessive grit or high-end sear), and potent harmonic content (notes really wail). Rhythm parts are articulate, vibey, and full of midrange punch. You can turn down your guitar’s Volume to rein in the roar a tad, but this baby is more Tool than AC/DC. The channel’s Tone controls are very musical, and the Gain function pounds the tubes for a thick and juicy boost—although it doesn’t kick your guitar front and center with a massive decibel increase. Everything about this channel sounds organic and tube-like (duh—two 12AX7s are in the preamp stage), even when using cabinet emulation.
The Clean channel delivers all it promises—tons of headroom with a stout shimmer that’s ready and willing to clearly express your modulation effects, delays, and noise boxes. There’s also a nice “pop” to pick attacks that really lets notes speak. However, this channel—which sounds much like plugging into a very good direct box—might be too pristine for players who like a spot of Marshall-, Vox-, or Orange-styled funk to their clean tones. That said, the 3-band EQ (with a Presence switch) adds to the tonal versatility, serving up jazzy bass timbres, bell-like mids, airy highs, and more.
The VLD1 Legacy Drive bestows everyday players with all the tonal wisdom of the magnificent Steve Vai, while simultaneously providing the controls to do more than slavishly emulate a guitar hero. But even if you seek to “un-Vai” this machine’s design, Vai will still be with you—like a guardian angel—because I can’t imagine a solo played through the VLD1 to sound anything but epic. Thanks, Steve!
VLD1 LEGACY DRIVE
PRICE $499 direct
PREAMP TUBES Two 12AX7
CHANNELS Drive, Clean
CONTROLS Volume, Drive, Bass, Mid, Treble, Presence, Gain (Drive Channel); Volume, Bass, Middle, Treble, Presence switch (Clean Channel)
SPEAKER EMULATION Yes
FOOTSWITCHES On/Bypass, Gain, Drive/Clean
JACKS Input, Output, Headphones/Cab Voice, Footswitch, Bypass
WEIGHT 3.4 lbs
KUDOS Great overdrive tones. Versatile. Tough, road-ready construction. Portable.