The comprehensive 'Pilot's Guide' (aka user's manual) boasts that
the Spider Valve comes loaded with 36 user presets. It also has over
200 artist–based presets which are accessed through the navigator – a
quite staggering amount.
With a nicely transparent-sounding maple-necked standard Strat, the presets are as fun as ever to scroll through. What is immediately apparent is that the valves add a decent level of natural compression. The amp has a lot of power and it is very, very loud.
Dialling in your own sound is simplicity itself: no fiddly scrolling menus, just good old-fashioned knob twisting. The 12 amp models range from Clean to Insane and emulate and mix a wide variety of amps that pay tribute to everything from a Hiwatt Custom 100, '58 tweed Bassman and a Plexi to a Boogie Dual Rectifier. Warm amber and cool blue LEDs inform your chosen setting – excellent for instant recognition on a dimly-lit stage.
Once you've selected your basic vanilla amp model you then go through the EQ section – an intuitive triple knob plus a Master Channel Volume procedure. You can skip the effects for now and set the Master Volume and Presence (passive analog controls which are tied directly to the tube amp – not the modelling circuitry) and finally sweeten with reverb if desired. At this stage you can save your preset by simply holding down the 'A' channel button until the light flashes: easy. From here you can add and tweak the effects, dialling between chorus/flange, phaser and tremolo with various morphing stages between each. Finding the sweet spot can be rewarding: I'm sure I heard a Leslie/Uni-Vibe hidden just between flange/chorus and phaser.
Next, choose your delay from the three types available and select your delay time from the Tap Tempo button. This multi-function button hides a further three capabilities behind its smooth exterior. It doubles as an onboard tuner – a welcome addition. Secondly, it activates a distortion boost if depressed as you turn the Drive knob up past 12 o’clock. This adds a little extra boost to your signal chain before it hits the amp model. It’s a little like dialling in a little more dirt from a stompbox before plugging into a non-modelling amp’s front end – a real hidden gem. One more Easter egg: holding the Tap button as you turn the Reverb knob up past 12 engages a built-in noise gate.
One slight drawback is that the effects sound a little too 'wet', and without a Mix knob they seem to start a touch too far into the effect rate. It's fine at bedroom levels but on an amp this loud it could be a problem in a gig environment – so be prepared to re-set the effects while the drummer 'tunes up'. It's also worth noting that to maximise the Spider Valve as a gigging amp you will need to splash out an additional toe-curling £198 for the FBV shortboard for channel/preset switching on the fly. However, there’s the cheaper FBV Express (£68) for channel switching and Tap control, or the bare-bones FVB2 (£18.00) channel-scrolling foot pedal.