Back in the days when all amps sported tubes, even the cheapest practice amp had the potential to be a great studio tone machine. These days, practice amps tend to be digital or solidstate, while most small tube amps are boutique items that cost more than a debauched weekend in Vegas (and the ensuing cover-up). Epiphone seeks to change this sad state of affairs with its affordable Valve Series. The series consists of three small tube studio/practice amps, each of which sports a single channel and digital effects. The Valve Standard DSP I tested is the beast of the bunch, packing 15 watts of Class A/B power into a 1x12 combo configuration. The circuit has three 12AX7s in the preamp and is powered by a pair of EL84s. The solidly built cabinet is covered in gig-worthy vinyl, and unlike a typical combo, it has a closed back (save for the tube’s vents), which focuses the sound and adds a touch more kick to the lower midrange. If you need more coverage, an extension speaker jack allows you to add another cabinet.
The panel has interactive gain, treble, middle and bass controls and a master volume knob. The Epi’s gain curve is moderate—more akin to a Fender Deluxe than to, say, a Caliber Boogie—but the Valve Standard offers a refreshingly uncolored representation of the guitar’s core tone. This isn’t the type of circuit that will make your ax sound like something it’s not.
Even with the master volume pushed, the amp doesn’t get painfully loud, so you have the option of dialing in preamp grit or pushing the power section for a richer and subtler overdrive. The amp responded nicely to my playing dynamics. My favorite setting was with the gain and master near their limits, with the guitar’s volume backed off to about 7 or 8. The result was a clean tone, but overdrive could be easily achieved by simply turning up the guitar’s volume.
The onboard digital reverb sounds “vintage correct,” with a nice springy quality. However, since the digital delay, chorus and flanger effects can’t be edited, you can use them only if their parameters suit your specific needs. It’s nice to be able to switch them on and off via the front panel or the optional footswitch, but an effect loop would have made a nice addition.
The Bottom Line
Good things come in small packages; better things come in small, inexpensive packages. Even without the digital effects, the Valve Standard DSP is a fine studio or practice amp.