A lot of the time the pantheon of modern guitar amplification feels like a classroom full of kids on red cordial. There’s a lot of jumping around, vying for attention with flashy colours and loud noises, but very few willing to sit quietly and get to work. I get the distinct impression that the Special 12/20RT is an attempt at the latter, a clean slate designed to let come what may.
The unassuming black box is loaded with a pretty unique list of features. Switchable from 12 to 20 watts, VHT themselves purport that these have all been chosen to offer “maximum tweak-ability.” As such, all of their builds are wired on circuit board, as opposed to point-to-point soldered, just incase you’re the kind of mad scientist itching to throw a few soviet wax-and-paper caps in there for good measure.
Loaded with three preamp 12AX7s and two 6V6 power tubes, you have the option of switching the latter out for EL84’s if you desire a little more grunt. It’s this kind of post factory focus that really sets it apart from a lot of it’s class mates.
Across the faceplate is where it gets interesting, if a little confusing. The volume pot pulls out for a bit of boost that relies on the three-way texture toggle to add a pinch of grit around the edges. The tube-based spring reverb is a long, deep wash made all the more rich by again tapping the pot, rolling off some more of the high-end shimmer in the tails. I personally had the most fun going back and forth between the tremolo, which is again tied closely to the tubes, and the wattage dial. Starve the power tubes a little and let the peaks and valleys creep in and you have at your disposal some subtle, bluesy colours to get lost in for a while.
Overall I thought the tonality of this unit was, to say the least pretty flat, until I chanced upon the line in the handbook that alludes to the fact that this is an amp designed to tackle pedals. With that in mind I threw a Bogner LaGrange in line, powered conveniently by the amp’s own 9V DC out mounted on the back, and like the recess bell had just struck the classroom sprang to life! There were all the highs and personality I couldn’t find with the tone pot alone! It was at this point that it became abundantly clear that the amp in front of me is the blankest of blank canvases. The luck therein is that you can potentially build a far more unique sonic structure than if you were limited by the specifics of a far more idiosyncratic rock box.
Long story short, there are more than enough options in here to send you spinning around the tonal merry-go-round. But don’t let any of them distract you. The VHT Special 12/20 RT is nothing if not an all rounder, headroom in spades and ready to pitch back anything you can throw at it. It’s that kid in class that kept to themselves, stayed out of mischief but ended up being The Fonz!
For more details on VHT products, head to innovativemusic.com.au.