Paul Rivera's prestige as an amp designer has its origins in his work on the much-loved 1982 Fender Super Champ, an amp which influenced all of Rivera's later work, including this new Venus 6.
Another ‘feeder' design for the Venus was the steel-clad Rivera TBR of the mid-1980's, with flexible preamp voicing accessed by pull-switches on almost every control.
The two-channel TBR preamp is used, with minor adaptations, in most Riveras, and the Venus is no exception.
But the Venus is different to most Riveras: it uses 6V6 valves in class A (the Super Champ used 6V6's, but that was a class AB amp, and so were all the Riveras that followed).
The 6V6 is important in a market that now demands lower-powered, tonally rich amps. Like the EL84, it's at its best in class A circuits, which bring out warmth and punch to balance its mid-and-high tonal tendencies.
It's less easily overdriven, but EL84's can sound harsh and the weaker ones can blow out. We've seen 30-year-old 6V6's working fine, and their use in the Venus 6 underlines their rep for reliability.
Venus 6's other features include a Vintage/Modern power switch (similar in operation to the Triode/Pentode selector of other Rivera models), and a bias-trim facility, an unusual find in a class A amp.
There's a comprehensive Effects Loop facility - valve buffered, with full control over Send and Return levels. A 16" reverb tray with valve recovery (but no footswitch facility) has a single Depth control along with a global Presence control and a feedback attenuator marked Focus.
This also has a pull switch marked Warm that selects between full-frequency or bass-only activity - but more of that later.
As to construction, Rivera's done nothing to compromise its reputation for solidly built and reliable amplifiers. Class A amps produce as much heat as sound, and not all from the valves.
The bias resistors contribute a significant amount, and in the Venus 6 they're fitted beneath the chassis on a heatsink that would suit a solid-state bass amp, and the big front-panel vent openings help even more.
Everything else is quality standard practice, with a shallow spot-welded chassis of 1.5mm steel enclosing a big double-sided motherboard and a couple of babies for the output valves and speaker jacks.
The cab is all 18mm birch ply, with a front-to-back dividing panel that braces the structure and acts as an acoustic separator if the cab is used as a stereo reproducer, for which a second jack is fitted on the recess plate.
Materials used include tough fibre-woven speaker cloth and heavy-duty leather carrying handles. Care will be needed around the cream covering as it has a softer surface texture than many, and it could be vulnerable to scrapes.
Switching on, there's a noticeable vibration noise from the big mains transformer: many Riveras display this, and it has no effect on what comes out through the speakers. In run mode the background noise is low with all controls zeroed, and not obtrusive with the Channel 2 Master at max.
Rivera describes the less middly and tonally more flexible Channel 2 as the rhythm'n'blues channel. All controls at mid-point produce a full, round sound with our Strat, but you'll need to max the Master for gigs.
Tone controls are of the ‘no-sound-at-zero' type, but operate smoothly with little phase-shift. The tonal emphasis is towards the mids and lows, which are fat and solid at floor-shaking levels, so that a higher-than-normal Treble setting is needed to cut through.
For the treble-hungry, there's the Bright pull on the Treble control, and this adds enough top to rectify the balance (U-contour mavericks can also use the Notch pull on the Middle control).
Pushing the Volume here gets a pleasing steely crunch with powerful lows reminiscent of Buddy Guy's Strat sound. Ninja Boost (pull on the Master) adds another 20dB of gain, taking single-coils into metal territory.
Channel 1 has a more Brit rock sound. There's an open, mid-emphasised crunch with high Volume settings; our SG gave touch-friendly, overtone-rich sustain with the Boost pulled and Master set around 3/10, and a glassy clarity you won't find in EL34-loaded Riveras.
The reverb is smooth and works best around 6/10, but doesn't approach the cavernous depths of the best in the field. The twin G1230H's are comfy at the Venus' limits, putting out impressive 120dB-plus levels that'll be at home in your local 1000-seater, and unfussed by the big bass sound.
So far, besides more low-end punch, there's not much to bear out the vaunted advantages of class A. Does its supposed tonal superiority actually outweigh the added cost per watt, since you could get two Chubster 40's for the price of a Venus 6 with cab?
For those who need a precise response, like jazz players and full-time compers/2nd guitarists, it's fine - but to go into wilder territory, you need the Focus control.
This frees up the amp's somewhat buttoned-up midrange, expanding its tonality and loosening the dynamics, letting the Venus compete with the best-known names in this sector.
True, it adds a bit of noise, but suppression of the feedback loop in class A's, the most desirable of which don't have one, has so many tonal advantages that it's a small price to pay.