Tonal Nobility in a Little Black Box
When champion axe wielder Guthrie Govan put in the tall order for a full feature tube amp that could fit in the overhead compartment of a passenger plane, Victory Amps design guru Martin Kidd had his work cut out for him. The end result materialized in the form of a small-skeletonized metal box dubbed The Countess. This title is particularly fitting in that The Countess can speak with delicately beautiful clean diction, or command pure non-tiny terror with a thick voice. Though at first glance this amp appears to be yet another lunchbox EL-84 eater—for recordings and small gigs where clean headroom doesn’t matter—The Countess can behead said amps and serve them on a platter.
The Countess arrived at my doorstep in all her finery, donned in a form-fitting padded carry bag that sported both outside pockets and rubber feet. Doffing the zippable top hat and peeking inside revealed tri-sectional padded segments, two of which were filled with the pretty little head itself and an all-metal, LED emblazoned channel footswitch. Pure class. Lifting the 18-pound Countess from her outerwear and peering into her see-through top, revealed a pair of buxom custom-wound Demeter transformers and two big-bottled JJ 6L6 GCs to match. I was delighted to see separate clean and overdrive master volumes that can be switched either on the front panel, or with the included metal footswitch. Peering around the posterior showcased a series effects loop, one 16-ohm and two 8-ohm speaker outputs for full flexibility. I was also pleasantly surprised to see a tiny little switch that kicks the amp into single ended operation. This can relieve either tube of duty for even warring over periodical use. Ingenious. What’s more, there is a little switch under the removable top that can throw the bias range into EL-34 territory should one wish for a more upper midrange crunch and softer bottom end. Stupendous.
Victorious Venerable Voicings
Victory Amps also sent me the new compact 1x12 cabinet to pair up with the Countess and I was shocked upon unboxing. The V112 utilizes a clever combination of redwood pine for the top and sides and baltic birch ply for the back and baffles. These attributes, in conjunction with the slightly open back and baffle angle at 12 degrees, equate to a sound that belies the V112’s diminutive stature. The Vintage 30 is a superlative suitor for the Countess and their partnership begets a bountiful variety of victorious voicings.
Staring into the violet pilot light broach in anticipation, I flicked the standby into high power mode on the clean channel, with both the gain and the master just past midnight. Holy Hell! Talk about a cooking 6L6-driven clean tone with headroom to spare. Depending on where the midrange was set, I could dial in similar shades of Hiwatt heft or Fender Twin sheen with my P90-equipped, all-aluminum EGC Standard Series Two axe. Switching to single ended mode and cranking the gain full bore gave the tone a slightly compressed grit and sparkle swirl for a Vox-like complex purr.
Switching to a humbucker-equipped Duesenberg Fullerton TV tuned to D-Standard, I kicked into the overdrive gain channel and was rewarded with thick, articulate portions of harmonic high gain. The gain structure of the Countess reminds me of a Soldano Hotrod 50 with a welcome wallop of darker low-midrange content. Even at full filth, complex chords rise to the surface, which is why modern guitarists will love this beast. For a more loosey-goosey feel, single-ended mode on the low power setting provides a vintage vibe sag that Billy Gibbons grit bit-champers will love to crunch on. What can’t this thing do?
What we like: Top-shelf components, endless tonal flexibility, artisanal handmade UK construction and supreme portability make for a near perfect head in all scenarios. The Countess even has a voltage selector for use in Europe or the USA. The matching V112 sports flawless black bronco vinyl covering, thick woven grille cloth and an ergonomic metal top handle for easy transport. The Countess looks and sounds the business.
Concerns: The Countess may be misjudged as an expensive lunchbox head, but she is much more mighty and well-versed to keep such common company. No expense spared means you get what you pay for.