While low wattage tube amps are hot currently with all the big players (and a bunch of boutique builders) looking to capitalize on the trend, very few offer enough clean headroom for gigging (without total saturation) nor a 12 inch speaker to move maximum air at lower volumes. VHT answers the call for such a design with the Classic 6, a six watt single ended Class A tube amp featuring a 12AX7 preamp tube and 6V6 power amp tube. Cosmetically, the amp is super sharp with a more modern look than the name conjures with black tolex, black metal corners, a black speaker grill with white piping, and a large white VHT logo. VHT opted for finger joined 11-ply birch plywood construction rather than MDF ensuring a solid and lightweight (approx 32 pounds) build.
There is a certain beauty in the liberating design of the Classic 6’s sparse control panel including only power/standby switches, high/low inputs, volume, and tone controls. I auditioned the amp with a number of guitars including an SX SST57, Indie Total Natural, and Highland Royal and the amp definitely flattered the tonal characteristics of each individual guitar. The amp has a surprising amount of clean headroom given the low wattage rating keeping it very clean until the knob is around 12 o’clock. As the gain is increased from 12 o’clock the amp dirties up beautifully maxing out with a midrange rich classic crunch tone somewhat reminiscent of early AC/DC perfect for southern rock slide and aggressive gritty blues work. I should also mention that the throw of the volume pot is extremely smooth allowing precise low volume adjustment for bedroom applications unlike many lower wattage (as well as many higher wattage) tube amps which seem to go from no signal to loud by the time you hit one on the dial and maxed out by three. Even at the lowest volume settings the amp retains a nice full tone with excellent attack and clarity. Kudos.
I additionally fed the amp with a First Act V-Stack Classic, and Ibanez TS9, and a Boss GT-10 and the amp was complementary to each but paired particularly well with the V-Stack. With the volume around noon and the tone control cranked and the V-Stack set to a moderate boost I was able to elicit extremely smooth lead tones which morphed effortlessly into gloriously musical feedback. Sweet!
...the amp dirties up beautifully maxing out with a midrange rich classic crunch tone somewhat reminiscent of early AC/DC perfect for southern rock slide and aggressive gritty blues work.
While you would assume a single tone control would be self explanatory, the Classic 6’s single control warrants a bit of experimentation. From around 8 o’clock to 12 o’clock the tone control functions exactly as one would expect increasing brightness as it is rolled clockwise. However, from 12 o’clock forward the tone control has a response more akin to a combination boost/presence control adding additional gain as well has high end harmonics which creates an extremely lively sounding amp with a very dynamic response. Even with the tone control full up, the high end never becomes harsh or over bearing. Though at the very lowest settings, the amp does lose significant volume and the response becomes somewhat dark and constrained.
Satisfied with the performance at home, I decided to see if the six watt rating could hang in a lower volume performance situation with a church band I sit in with from time to time. This band prefers as quiet as possible stage volume allowing the house system to control the mix. However, this day the drummer was playing a traditional kit versus the electronic kit normally used. I set the Classic 6 around noon for both the volume and tone and used an OD from a GT-10 to get grittier tones when needed. I was surprised to find that the amp was able to hang effortlessly with the group unmiced (though the drummer was playing with hotrods with significant restraint). In fact, I had to back the volume down a bit to get a better balance with the house system. That being said, the amp doesn’t have enough clean headroom to expect anything near pristine with a hard hitting drummer and aggressive bass player. Dirtier, it could hang with some groups depending on the overall band volume but would still likely need some type of reinforcement especially in a large room. VHT has included a line out on the back of the amp to run into a power extension cab, but it isn’t speaker emulated so running it direct to board is out of the question.
The VHT Classic 6 is definitely a strong contender for those needing a low wattage tube amp with just a bit more clean headroom than the four and five watt offerings on the market. The six watt rating is loud enough for performance situations with a quiet to moderate drummer yet the amp's great response at bedroom volumes makes it a fairly versatile amp despite its minimalistic design.
Price: ~$390 - $450 USD
Pros: Slick modern cosmetics, good tones over a fairly wide volume range
Cons: Tone control not useful at the extreme low range of the spectrum