Dynamic Duo - First Act Paul Westerburg and VA850

Monday, December 1, 2008| by Will Chen

Hi! Frets99 here, with another great bargain guitar. And this time I am adding a bargain amplifier to the mix as well. My definition of a bargain is that you get a quality instrument for a great price of which the First Act Paul Westerberg signature model PW580 is an excellent example. I first tried these in First Acts Studio in downtown Boston a few months ago. I remember thinking how well it was made and how good it felt. I ran it through a tube amp and just whistled to myself. I just wasn’t in the market for a new guitar that day but at the $180 original price I had no trouble recommending it as a decent budget guitar with some style and plenty of tonal pizzazz.

Well, recently, First Act took to blowing them out for $89. I could not resist. And I’m glad I didn’t. I went down to the First Act Studio and tried it out again. As I played it, I realized I would be taking it home that day. I was assisted by Eric over at First Act and he treated me like a customer looking to buy one of their custom shop guitars, not just a blowout item. He offered to let me try any of the models they had left through any amp I wanted. He also tuned the guitars I was waiting to try. I felt like a pampered prince! He was knowledgeable about guitars and amplifiers and didn’t tell me anything just to make the sale. Knowing I was only in to buy the blowout guitar, he was still happy to let me play a $5000 custom shop Henry Garza model. While I wasn’t enamored of the over the top looks, I was incredibly impressed with the playability and tonal quality of the pickups. This guitar played as well and sounded as incredible as any Custom Shop guitar I’ve ever played. A big shout out to Eric over at the First Act Studio.

The Paul Westerberg sig model is a beautiful guitar to look at. The high gloss black finish looks delicious. While I can’t say I’m a big fan of plaid pickguards, this just looked elegant over the smooth shiny black finish. The body and neck are both bound. When’s the last time you saw that on an $89 guitar? The pickguard is thick, the tuners work smoothly and perfectly, and the bridge looks substantial. The patented string through body design gives it a nice sustain. The very responsive tone knob is one of the biggest sellers after the pickup on this guitar. It has a wide range of functionality. Full treble gives you a tele like tone that chimes and jangles when strummed; cutting back to about half gives you an excellent full bodied lead tone; and cutting back about 3/4s gives it a nice resonant, almost jazzy tone. The pickup is very articulate and while it can be chimey and jangly, it retains a resonant bass tone with a very snappy response. Like a P90, it seems to drink in overdrive and distortion, clear, clean, and full bodied.

Here are the specs as seen on the First Act website:

  • Custom body shape
  • Single cutaway solid body with warm, brilliant sound
  • Punk rock plaid pickguard
  • Vintage-voiced Alnico magnet single coil pickup
  • Maple neck and rosewood fingerboard
  • Chrome die-cast tuning machines for easy and accurate tuning
  • Patented First Act String Retainer system for maximum sustain and tonal reproduction

While I had no intention of making any other purchases I noted that the V-Stack series of solid state amps they had been selling was also on blow out sale status. After I paid for my guitar, I asked if I could sit down with one of these. No problem. As I played through the 30 watt version, I realized that this guitar and amplifier were made for each other.

For those unfamiliar with V-stack technology, it is an analog emulation of common tube amplifier tones. Unlike the standard imitation of a sound, it actually sounds like it’s producing the tone. The settings are US (Fender), UK chime (Vox), UK lead (Marshall) and boutique (Soldano, Bogner, Diesel). I love Fender DRRI tones. The US setting is deep, resonant and full-bodied. As nice a Fender tone as I’ve heard emulated. Combined with the on board reverb and delay effect, you can produce a dreamscape of shimmery Fender like goodness. I am still learning the setup which is different than your average amp. It has four gain stages, loud, louder, loudest and extreme for distortions. There is a master volume and a variable gain level knob. You choose the gain stage, then tweak it with the variable gain level knob. The distortions and overdrives have sounded most pleasing to me through the UK and boutique models. There’s a fair amount of compression and I am hearing pretty convincing Marshall and Vox tones for sure. I threw an OD pedal in front of the US setting and I was getting sweet Texas blues raunch out of her. The reverb effect by itself is not as strong as a nice spring reverb but combined with a little delay can deliver a nice surf tone. Each effect has two knobs controlling different aspects of the effect tone like depth and rate for the delay. I think the delay is outstanding for warmth and flexibilty. Those who desire the more digital delay effects will,of course, need a pedal. The combo amp comes with a footswitch that can turn the effects on and off and boost the amp for solos. I tried a number of my guitars through this amplifier and I’m pleased to note that everything sounded rich and articulate from stratocaster to Les Paul.

Here are the specs as listed online at the First Act website:

  • All analog amplifier design with proprietary V-Stack technology for the ultimate in Tube Tone emulation
  • Four directly selectable channels featuring models of 4 of the world’s top tube amplifiers
  • 10db boost function can be engaged on any of the 4 channels
  • Three built in effects models: Reverb, Echo and Tremolo
  • Master EQ section
  • 30 Watts of power
  • 10" custom designed speaker
  • Custom designed open back cabinet for the ultimate in sonic reproduction

And here’s the corker. This was all selling for, wait for it… $79. Basically, I walked out of that store with a complete and decent setup for under $200! Kudos to First Act for making affordable equipment conscientiously and for making a high end product that might someday be a standard in the guitar industry.

Audio Demo

Filed Under: Reviews, First Act