Since I first saw the V-Stack, I was intrigued by its concept. I’ve always loved the amp in a box concept and the V-Stack Classic is a compact, 100% analog stomp box, treble boosted valve amp simulator. V-Stack technology was originally designed by Steven Webster but was recently purchased and now distributed by First Act. The pedal is a fairly compact and pedal board friendly size with four controls (Bass, Cut, Drive, and Master), and silent switching. Inputs/outputs follow the standard side mounted design and a DC power jack is also located on the side of the pedal below the input jack.
I auditioned the Canadian made V-Stack Classic into a Fender Cyber Champ, Tech 21 Trademark 60 (both into the front end and effects return), and direct to PC through an EMU-1616M. Per First Act’s marketing literature, the V-Stack is circuit based on a “proprietary analog microchip featuring a classic germanium treble booster, followed by a valve amp simulator with vintage design replication of British blues-rock tone”. Honestly, this is a perfect description of the pedal. The V-Stack definitely spits out vintage tinged tones with nice round bass response, smooth midrange, and tons of sustain.
There is a good deal of gain on tap, allowing everything from a very subtle breakup to singing sustain. At max settings, the unit oozes a cranked AC30TB or treble boosted Plexi vibe and is still incredibly responsive to volume knob changes...
The cut knob that controls the pedal’s treble boost has an incredibly wide sweep. As the name of the knob implies, the higher the value, the more attenuation occurs with the brightest settings with the control fully counter-clockwise (similar to the VOX cut knob which was likely the inspiration). Sweet spots of the cut control lie between four and seven, where the pedal can be voiced for a more VOX-y or Marshall-esque high-end, based on individual preference. Much lower than three and the high-end can be a touch harsh. The wide sweeping bass control is capable of a robust low-end boost, but I preferred it set nearly flat at 12 o’clock.
There is a good deal of gain on tap, allowing everything from a very subtle breakup to singing sustain. At max settings, the unit oozes a cranked AC30TB or treble boosted Plexi vibe and is still incredibly responsive to volume knob changes, cleaning up incredibly well. You could definitely leave the pedal on all the time and use the guitar’s volume to control gain, going from maximum grit to glassy cleans with simple twist. With the gain lowered, the pedal is fabulously dynamic and extremely amp like in response. However, lower the gain to around two and the clipping circuit is rather abruptly bypassed. Though in this setting, the pedal functions purely as a treble booster. Sweet! Finally, the master volume controls output volume but has enough gain on tap to overdrive the front end of almost any amp.
As you might have noticed, the V-Stack Classic lacks a midrange control. While you can somewhat control the relative midrange response by boosting or cutting both the bass and cut controls, the pedal has a slightly midrange heavy voicing. Fortunately, the midrange is nice and crunchy without being over bearing and I never really missed the lack of control; though those who like to scoop their mids will definitely feel a bit constrained.
The pedal is also marketed to be used as a direct recording device. While it’s usable, much of the pedal’s charm seems to be lost in this application and the response felt a bit compressed with the highs a bit too pristine; sounding a touch detached. I much more enjoyed hitting the front end of an amp with it.
The First Act V-Stack Classic doesn’t try to offer a million different tones at the twist of a knob. However, it sounds darn good, with a clear and distinct identity which should appeal to those seeking out treble boosted VOX and Marshall tones with a decidedly vintage flavor. Additionally, First Act recently cut the price of the pedal to $99 (previously $200+) which is quite a deal for a pedal of this caliber.
Price: $99 USD
Pros: Sweet vintage tones