Much like anything else, equipment has to keep evolving in order to stay relevant, and this means, to a certain extent at least, that it must keep an eye on current trends.
During the metal boom of the early eighties, the market was flooded with all kinds of rackmount gear for guitarists wanting to emulate their six-string heroes.
At the moment, there are a great many products that lean towards the "vintage" or "retro" side of things. Players are clamoring after vintage Marshalls, Voxes, Fenders, Oranges and so on, for the sound and look of the equipment used by today's bands. Pity, the Peavey Ultra Plus head would give any one of those amps a run for their money IMHO.
The Ultra Plus is one cool-looking head, thanks to the thick vinyl covering, the black net facing and the highly polished chrome control panel. Protected by black corner pieces, the head is equipped with rubber feet, as opposed to plastic, so voiding the need for plastic cradles at the corners of your cab.
By far the most noticeable aesthetic feature of the head is the blooming logo on the front panel when you plug it in; the logo also changes color depending on which channel you've selected. This is an incredibly convenient and practical method of instantly determining which channel you're in; green for clean, yellow for crunch and red for overdrive. Looks incredibly good!
The guitar amp head was designed for maximum tonal flexibility and power. This three channel amp has features and tone rivaling amps twice its price range.
The Ultra Plus, is an all-valve amp, weighing in at 50 lbs, possessing four 6L6GC tubes in the power stage, with four 12AX7's in the pre-amp, kicking out 120 watts RMS.
Another very useful feature is the variable output switch (half-power switch), which enables you to cut the power to 60 watts. As well as lowering the overall volume of the amp, it also means more power amp drive at more manageable levels; great for band rehearsals and small club gigs.
Master volume and reverb knobs are located next to the active three-band EQ that's shared by the crunch and ultra channel. The knobs are labeled a little differently than usual: “edge”, “body” and “bottom,” but their operation is familiar, controlling the high, mid and low-end frequencies respectively. Each channel has its own volume knob, with the dirtier channels having independent gain knobs and “gain boost switches” for extra drive.
The clean channel has a passive three-band EQ and a bright switch. Another tone-shaping device is sitting next to the output switch; namely a three-way resonance toggle switch. The options here are designated “tight”, “med” and “loose.” This function enables you to fine tune the bottom end response of the cab you are using by varying the damping influence of the amp...it basically custom-tailors bottom end to your speaker cab in whatever room environment you find yourself in.
The difference between the presets is subtle, but could potentially make the difference between an unsatisfying average sound and the one you've been longing for. What’s more, you're not tied to a single make or configuration of cab. Also, the amp features an impedance selector switch with your choice of 4, 8 or 16 ohm impedance. So if two 8 ohm speaker cabs are used, set the switch to 4 ohms. Very nice features!
In my experience, I've always preferred my amps to possess at least two basic switchable tones. But if I could have had an amp with three foot-switchable tones, well, obviously three tones would have been better than two.
Although I love the tone of an old Marshall plexi, versatility is what I consider to be the most important consideration, especially when playing a wide variety of musical styles.
The basic tonal function of each channel is well-defined, although I wasn't expecting the clean sound to be SO GOOD. The warmth and definition through a 4x12 cab (Peavey loaded with Sheffields) took me totally by surprise.
The crunch channel is more suited to smooth overdrives than anything else, and the old trick of rolling the guitar volume back a tad allows the head to sing as well as any amp twice its price range. The crunch channel is also great for palm muting tones.
The Ultra channel has the tendency to be a little hot, great for heavier fat tones. If you're not careful, setting the gain knob to 10 and flicking the gain boost switch will saturate your sound to the point of incoherence. Also, be careful of the “bottom” control, setting it too high will rattle your trousers and cause internal bleeding...well maybe not, but be careful anyway!
The active EQ takes some getting used to, as its efficiency is such that the slightest touch of a knob alters the sound. Some experimentation is required to find your preferred metal sound.
Value for money
When you consider the features and tone offered by the Peavey Ultra Plus, you would expect to pay twice as much as the listed $949. In fact, you can probably find it for less than $800, and that’s one hell of an amp for your money.
Versatility, value for money and a solid tonal base, what more could you ask for. If you thought the 5150 was the only Peavey head worth considering, think again; you get more options and an even better sound with the Ultra Plus...IMHO!
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