Most guitarists cover electric and acoustic, and many play bass too: so how about an amp that can handle all three? Review by Richard Purvis.
About half a century ago the average impoverished band only had one amp between them, and would mess up their quiffs in fights over input sockets. Today, thankfully, guitarists have guitar amps, bassists have bass amps, and even acoustic players sometimes have their own backline. So why on earth would Peavey want to wind these three disparate strands back together again in one all-purpose amplifier?
Well, it could be handy for anyone who plays a bit of all three instruments – which many do nowadays, especially when jamming and recording at home – and the development of digital modelling makes it more viable than it would have been just a few years ago. So why isn’t everyone doing it? The reason is simply this: speakers. The world is awash with fiendish black boxes that can impersonate Marshalls, Fenders, Voxes and much more besides, but you can’t really simulate a bass amp if all that thumping low end is being squeezed out through a puny guitar speaker. So the unbranded 12″ unit inside this affordable combo is being asked to do what some might consider an impossible job.
At least Peavey has plenty of experience making amplifiers of all three types. The VIP-2 is the 40-watter of the VIP range (the VIP-1 has 20W, the VIP-3 has 100W). It offers emulations of eight ‘normal’ amps plus two bass, two acoustic and a wide range of FX. Peavey’s own back catalogue is well represented amongst the amp sims, but they’ve had a stab at some other makers’ highlights too. It’s not unduly complicated – they didn’t include a manual with ours, and we didn’t really miss it – but the USB connectivity means you can get into more complex preset-editing if you wish.
This is a lightweight combo that doesn’t feel especially reassuring in terms of construction, and the particle-board back is ported right behind the speaker. As well as all the modelling stuff there’s a straightforward three-band EQ section on the front panel, plus ‘Pre’ and ‘Post’ gain controls and Master volume. The LEDs around each control make navigation fairly simple, although Peavey’s use of different colours and varying levels of brightness can be a tad distracting. There are also mini-jack sockets for aux in and headphones out.
There’s a lot to get through here; we’ll start with a six-string electric and see what sort of basic clean and dirty tones are on offer. The first thing to do is tell the amp what you’re playing by selecting one of the two ‘electric’ settings on the panel by the input – there are four presets available on each.
As with every single modelling product ever devised, the presets are over-processed, but it doesn’t take long to coax out something fairly natural-sounding out of the ‘Twn’ model with both ‘stomp’ and ‘effects’ set to bypass. Of course a compact 1×12″ will never get the clear, expansive tone of a real Fender Twin, but it’s not bad, and the higher-gain models sound decent too. The ‘British’ option is a bit scratchy but the ones based on Peavey’s own amps – especially the medium-gain Butcher, which is smoother than a dollop of coconut ice-cream – are better.
Hang on… there are controls for ‘stomp’ AND ‘effects’? Here things get more complicated. ‘Effects’ serves the purpose of a rack unit and includes extreme sound-manglers such as pitch-shifting, octaving and an envelope filter; ‘stomp’ leans towards more regular pedalboard territory. Between them you’ve got just about everything covered, from TS-type overdrive to a viciously square tremolo clearly inspired by the Boss Slicer. Reverb and delay are separate from all the other effects and are adjusted using the main control knobs while in Edit mode.
On the left half of the stompbox control we find a whole bunch of other strangeness. This is the instrument modelling section, where you can turn your six-string into a 12-string, a sitar, a synth… or even a bass. The synth stuff is fun but most of the rest is pretty unconvincing. We had latency issues with some settings, and the bass emulator – basically an octave down with some EQ filtering – had us reaching rapidly for the real thing.
With real bass in hand, you select ‘bass’ and you’re playing through one of the VIP-2’s two emulated bass amps – one Peavey, one un-cryptically labelled ‘Trace’. It sounds… well, it actually sounds really good. That humble speaker produces a clear, solid thump that wouldn’t shame a ‘real’ low-wattage bass combo in the same price range. The Trace model does a fine impression of that tight, plasticky midrange honk, while the Peavey offers something more liquid. The bass element of the VIP is no afterthought, then, but once you get anywhere near drummer-competing levels, the poor thing rattles and buzzes like a steam train trying to ride out the apocalypse.
The acoustic amp models – again one Peavey and one Trace – are alright. The low end is full enough, but they feel a little harsh in the mids. It’s all down to that speaker; they sound far better through the headphone output. There’s also a high-pitched processing whine – present in electric and bass modes too, but most noticeable against the thinner tone of an acoustic – that starts to get annoying with Master cranked.
You have to look deeper than the marks out of 20 for this one: some of the VIP-2’s guitar sounds are worth a fair bit less than 16, but for bass it could be more, and if we were allowed to give a higher mark than 20 for versatility, we’d do so in a pigeon-blink. So it comes down to priorities: if you’re a tonehound looking for somewhere to plug your ’52 Tele, keep walking; if you want the convenience of a decent-sounding practice/jamming amp for electric, acoustic and bass guitars all in one, then welcome home.