FIRST ACT

First Act claims its V-Stack pedals are not simply distortion pedals but complete amplifier simulators in pedal form. This review will focus on two of
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The V-Stack Classic and Tweedy pedals attempt to conjure the sound of an overdriven Marshall stack and Fender Tweed Deluxe, respectively.

First Act claims its V-Stack pedals are not simply distortion pedals but complete amplifier simulators in pedal form. This review will focus on two of the company's three amp-simulation pedals, the V-Stack Classic and the V-Stack Tweedy (both $199). First Act also offers a V-Stack BHM pedal designed to emulate Brian May's signature tone.

V-Stack pedals boast a custom analog microchip, which controls a high-precision preamp and output stage, coupled with a tone-control network. Both pedals reviewed here have the same form factor and sport the same layout of four tone-control knobs across the top and one toggle switch at the bottom of the pedal. The Bass and Cut knobs adjust the lower and upper cutoff frequency of the amplifier simulation, respectively. The Drive control adjusts the amount of output-stage overdrive. (Preamp overdrive is controlled by the guitar's volume knob.) The Master knob sets the final output level. All knobs are numbered from 0 to 10, with neutral settings at 5.

Both pedals offer an input jack on the right side and an output jack on the left side. Those pedals with the Power Jack option will have a jack for a standard 9V adapter below the input jack. A battery compartment can be accessed from the bottom of the pedal for use with a 9V battery. The pedal offers “true bypass” audio switching, meaning that in bypass the input signal is directly connected to the output without passing through any processing circuitry.

Stack-in-the-Box

The V-Stack Classic pedal is designed to capture the sound of a vintage Marshall valve-amplifier stack, combined with a classic Dallas Rangemaster — style treble booster. To test out the V-Stack's facility as an amplifier simulator, I plugged my Gretsch Duo Jet directly into the V-Stack Classic, and then plugged the pedal directly into my audio interface. When I set all the V-Stack Classic's dials at 5, I must admit I was surprised by how Marshall-like the tone sounded. Though a bit overcompressed, the sound definitely reminded me of a high-gain Marshall amp. Adjusting the dials slightly in either direction allowed me to effectively tailor the sound to my guitar. It didn't sound like any specific Marshall amp I've owned, but the tone definitely had a character similar to the well-known Marshall sound.

I found that the V-Stack Classic could sound very artificial using Cut settings outside the range of 3 to 7 on the dial. The high end would get very harsh with the Cut between 0 and 3, and over-compressed with it set between 7 and 10. Setting the Drive or Master control above 7 made the output rather noisy. I didn't feel the pedal could accurately emulate a clean Marshall, even with my guitar's volume extremely low. But I was pleasantly surprised by how touch sensitive and dynamic the pedal was (see Web Clip 1). It was far more dynamic than many other simulators I've used.

With the Drive set between 0 and 2, the V-Stack Classic is supposed to emulate a classic Rangemaster-style treble booster, with the Bass knob controlling the amount of boost. I found that with the Drive at 0, the pedal was too low in level to be usable, even with the Bass set high. Set at 2, the pedal didn't have the characteristics of a Rangemaster but instead had those of a more traditional overdrive pedal.

Tweedy Bird

The V-Stack Tweedy aims to simulate the sonic quality of a supercharged Fender Tweed Deluxe, a classic tube amp with an instantly recognizable clean twang and a deep, woody distortion that helped define rock 'n' roll. When set clean, the Tweedy also claims to offer a clean gain boost. The pedal itself features the identical footprint and controls of the V-Stack Classic, with only the silk-screening changed.

The Tweedy does a great job of capturing the classic overdrive of the Tweed Deluxe amp, although it offers quite a bit more gain if desired (see Web Clip 2). I found it very responsive to touch dynamics and to the volume knob of the guitar, like the Classic. Also like the Classic, adjusting the Cut too far outside the middle range had the same adverse effects on the tone.

The Tweedy's gain-booster function worked more like a traditional distortion pedal than like a clean boost, always adding grit and overdrive. And while the Tweedy did a very good job of capturing the Tweed Deluxe's signature distortion, it was less successful at emulating its clean tone.

The V-Stack Classic and Tweedy pedals do a great job of reproducing the signature sounds of a distorted Marshall stack and Tweed Deluxe, respectively. They don't fare quite as well with cleaner tones or as a clean-sound or treble booster, but those looking to add vintage overdrive sound to their palette might enjoy these pedals.

Value (1 through 5): 3
First Act
www.v-stack.com