When we reviewed Peavey’s game-changing VB-3 head in the September ’09 issue of Bass Player, we were pretty bowled over by that amp’s ability to deliver 300 watts in an all-tube unit weighing just 37 pounds. Achieving much of its weight loss by opting for a switchmode power supply (which requires a much smaller/lighter power supply transformer), Peavey cut the weight of the typical 300-watt tube head by half. While most tube bass heads employ a straightforward 2- or 3-band tone stack (think Ampeg, Fender) Peavey embraced a “more is more” mentality with the VB-3, stuffing it with a 3-band EQ with switchable midrange, nine bands of graphic EQ, and resonance and presence controls. It also loaded the VB-3 with an overdrive channel that was harmonically rich and dynamic. In short, it was a pretty big leap forward in the otherwise old-school world of tube amps.
We weren’t the only ones to take notice of the VB-3; Michael Anthony came to rely on his VB-3 rig for toothy tone and arena-filling oomph while touring the world with Chickenfoot in 2009. By working with Peavey to make some thoughtful tweaks to the amp—the ability to blend channels chief among them—and spicing it up with chili-pepper flair, Anthony has cooked up his own signature amp in the VB-MA.
Like the VB-3, the VB-MA looks like it would require the hire of some extra muscle to lug around. But with its reduced weight and industrial-strength top-mounted handles, the head is actually easy to transport. Coated in Peavey’s GatorHyde polyurethane, the VB-MA and matching MA-410 speaker cabinet have the gritty appearance of sandpaper, but the surface feels less scratchy than it looks, and is not at all unpleasant. From its rubber feet to its metal-reinforced corners and recessed control panel, the VB-MA is built to survive the rigors of the road with little worry of cosmetic damage. Given the ruggedness of all other components, I was underwhelmed by the VB-MA’s front-panel knobs and sliders, which felt downright dainty on such an otherwise sturdy brute. The head’s most prominent feature is its backlit red acrylic glass faceplate. At its brightest, the accent light makes a pretty bold statement; fortunately, a dimmer knob around back allows you to lower the lumens from scorching to simmer, should you want to dial things down. One final note on ergonomics: with 300 watts of power under the hood, the VB-MA is built to handle big venues and big cabinets. While the front-panel controls are easy to read at eye level (like atop an 8x10), the recessed front panel is obscured by the amp housing’s overhang when viewed from above (as on a MA-410 cabinet).
At its core, the VB-MA retains most of the guts that gave the VB-3 its glory; plugging in, it didn’t take long to dial up the juicy tones we dug in the VB-3. As with so many crucial pieces of gear, it’s often the little things that bring the most comfort and joy—a bright blue blinking mute indicator light, a single input jack with a –15dB pad switch, and an intuitive front-panel and a full-featured back panel all trigger a “right on” response. As we weren’t so smitten by the VB-3’s onboard compressor, the VB-MA’s swapping that bit of front-panel real estate with crucial blend and tone controls elicits a “right on, right ON!” Predictably, the blend control combines the VB-MA’s clean and dirty channels. Combined with the three bands of passive eq, the 9-band graphic eq, resonance and presence controls, and the almost-absurdly named tone control (which sweeps from dark, creamy smooth to aggressive, fizzy grit), it’s easy to get lost down a wormhole of delicious sounds with the VB-MA.
Aside from a flat-out noisy cooling fan, audible pops when adjusting the mid shift knob, and control knobs that cheapen an otherwise top-notch amp, there’s a whole lot to love about the VB-MA. Like that touch of Tabasco in the étouffée or that shake of Sriracha in the pho, the seasoned heat Michael Anthony brought to Peavey’s VB-MA takes it from tasty to rave-worthy.
Pros True tube tone with half the weight; two discrete, blend-able channels; powerful, flexible eq
Cons Loud fan; audible pop when switching; front-panel knobs and sliders feel flimsy
Pros An elegant match for a pretty awesome head
Cons A weighty wake-up call for those swept up in the Neo revolution
Power rating 300 watts @ 4Ω
Tube complement 12AX7 x 4; 12AT7 x 2; EL34 x 8
Power supply Switchmode
Front panel ¼" input, -15dB pad, channel switch, bright switch, channel blend switch, mute, volume, low, mid, mid shift switch (200/450/600/800Hz), high, overdrive, tone, od volume, blend, graphic eq switch, 9-band graphic eq (±15dB @ 40/63/100/ 160/250/400/800/1,600/3,200Hz), resonance, presence, master
Back panel Two Neutrik combo outputs (parallel), XLR line out (with level control), effects send and return, power amp input, preamp output, remote switch, faceplate lights brightness, tuner send, cabinet impedance switch (8Ω, 4Ω, 2Ω)
Weight 38 lbs
Made in U.S.A.
Speakers Four custom 10" ceramic magnet woofers
Tweeter One 1" horn with level control
Cabinet construction 12mm Baltic birch plywood
Power handling 1,600 watts peak
Jacks Two ¼" inputs, one Neutrik Speakon
Weight 81 lbs
Made in U.S.A.