U.K. Amplifier maker Victory recently launched the V4 series of preamp pedals, which are based on the company’s Compact Series amplifiers: the Countess (developed with Guthrie Govan), the Sheriff and the Kracken. The V4 pedals have identical controls and features, but they differ in gain and voicing, as is the case with the aforementioned amps.
Victory designed these all-tube pedals to be used in place of, as opposed to in front of, an amplifier’s preamp, although they can be used ahead of an amp just like a standard OD pedal. The controls include a shared set of bass, middle and treble knobs, and independent volume and master controls for the Clean and Overdrive channels.
The Countess on deck here weighs in at more than three and a half pounds and has a footprint measuring 9 by 5.5 by 2.5 inches. Its heavy-gauge steel enclosure is equipped with a roll bar, but it’s too low to give any real protection to the pointer-style knobs. The foot switches are click on/off types, and the package as a whole is reflective of a high-quality build.
The Countess and its kin use some interesting tubes: new-old-stock Mullards that were made in England back when Mullard was one of the world’s premium makers of vacuum tubes, or “valves.” The complement here consists of one EC900 triode, which is used in the first stage and has a short glass envelope to minimize vibration-induced microphonics. The other three bottles are seven-pin CV4014 pentodes, which look similar to a nine-pin 12AX7 but are operationally different and not interchangeable. They are running at high voltage and draw a fair amount of current, so a DC adapter rated for at least 800mA is required. The 12-volt adapter included with this pedal has a 2,000mA rating, so there’s no shortage of headroom.
The Countess differs from most pedals by having jacks on the front panel that provide two ways of interfacing with an amplifier: Standalone mode and Amp Through mode. For example, by plugging a guitar into the Countess’s input jack and connecting the through output to the amp’s input, the loop in and loop out jacks can then be connected to the amp’s send and return jacks. This makes it possible to either play straight into the amp’s front end as normal (pedal bypassed) or use the Countess as a preamp to drive the amp’s power section. It’s like having two completely separate preamps — one inside the amp and the other outboard — and this configuration also allows you to run, say, distortion and fuzz pedals straight into the amp while keeping delay and/or reverb effects in the loop. Connect those pedals after the through out and they’ll be available whether the Countess is on or off.
To use the Countess like a regular stomp box, simply connect the “effect out” jack to the amp’s input. In this mode, the pedal’s loop in/out jacks are not active, so you can only run effects in front of or after the pedal (i.e., there is no sidechain loop).
Tested with a Tele and a Les Paul into a Magnatone Super Fifteen combo (which has an effect loop) or a Fender Deluxe Reverb, the Countess sounded great in either Standalone or Amp Through mode, although being able to isolate the preamp sections by using Amp Through mode definitely offered more sounds — effectively turning the Magnatone into a three-channel amp — while it avoided the stacking of EQs as when running directly into the Deluxe in Standalone mode.
I liked how the Countess did not add any appreciable noise, and its clean and overdrive sides both offer a lot of range, making it easy to go from very crisp, clear tones to stout overdriven sounds with good sustain and touch responsiveness. We didn’t have the luxury of checking out the Sheriff and Kracken pedals, or their amplifier counterparts for that matter, but it’s easy to see where Victory is coming from with the concept of pairing different preamps and amplifiers, such as — ahem — a Countess with a Sheriff, to achieve a greater tonal spectrum. Of course, you can pair the Countess with virtually any tube amp, and all the better if it’s equipped with an effect loop.
Because the Countess is essentially the front end of a guitar amp, there are, of course, other ways of using it (or the other V4 models) in your setup. The remote-switching capability gives you the option of stashing the pedal back by your amp and toggling it with a separate footswitch (available from Victory) or via the control jacks on a pedalboard switcher. No matter how you deploy it, the V4 Countess is a unique preamp pedal that is worth checking out if you’re seeking to expand the sonic palette of your rig.
V4 The Countess Valve Overdrive
PRICE $449 street
CONTROLS Volume 1, volume 2, master 1, master 2, bass, middle, treble, three-position bright switch
FOOTSWITCHES Channels 1–2, bypass
I/O ¼" input jack, through out, loop in, loop out, effect out, remote jack (remote switch available at extra charge)
TUBES Mullard EC900 triode (x1), Mullard CV4014 pentode (x3)
EXTRAS 12-volt 2A adapter included
WEIGHT 3.68 lbs
KUDOS Excellent tube-generated tones. Quality build. Can be used like a standard OD pedal or integrated with an amp’s input and effect loop
CONCERNS Can’t use the send/return loop jacks in standalone mode.