The latest combo from the man behind VHT packs a ton of modern switchability into a toneful, all-valve package that’s built for the loud stuff. The Memphis 30 Combo is the work of Steven Fryette, the designer of the VHT Pittbull. And we should expect something special by way of selectable features from the creator of the first three-way channel-switcher in 1989. There is innovation here – you can have 18W or 30W for each channel. However, the Memphis doesn’t put its switching options first, preferring to emphasise its superior basic tonality and player response.
The aim is to provide modern flexibility with a choice of vintage or modern tone by mixing advanced switching logic with classic valve circuitry, notably a class A cathode-bias EL84 output stage. This is a different approach from many US makers, who put most of their eggs in the preamp basket and choose a more economic class AB output. The price of the Memphis 30 is pretty reasonable for an amp with switch-selectable flexibility and a tonehound-orientated output configuration.
Each of the two channels has selectable tone contours courtesy of a three-way mini-toggle. The Drive channel switch has Fat/Crisp/Smooth selections, while the Clean channel switch is marked Spank/Brite/Bloom. Each channel has a Boost switch plus an interesting Power Shift that allows either normal or reduced (18W) power.
Memphis 30 Controls
The Drive channel has Gain and Volume controls with the Boost switch offering an extended range of high-gain saturation, while the Clean channel is conventional, with a single Volume. Each channel has a three-way passive tone stack. A single Reverb control covers both channels, with its level compensated according to which channel is selected. On the rear panel, effects can be series or parallel looped at -20 dB or 0 dB, with a Mix pot and a defeat switch that copies onto the footswitch; we’ve yet to see a more completely featured effects facility.
The speaker is connected to a single output jack, with a parallel pair available for extensions. There’s also a Line Out jack – these people are thorough!
The cabinet is birch ply for strength and relatively low weight; the steel chassis is suspended from four solid-looking bolts, its ends welded for strength to support the big class A transformers. With the output valves encased in a businesslike vented box to comply with user-access rules.
Internally, two big PCBs carry most of the circuitry, with a couple of sub-assemblies for the control array and loop arrangements. An illuminated vented box displays the preamp valves for the benefit of the curious. Although some might put this in the same category as illuminating the underside of a custom car.
Switch the Memphis 30 Combo on and there’s a flare of blue lights. Background noise is reasonable, more live-friendly than studio/bedroom. And plugging in to the Clean channel with a Strat confirms the high basic gain level. With Bloom selected on the tone contour toggle and tones at 12 o’clock, you get a very bright, lively response. The manual recommends using your guitar’s controls to temper the sound. But recording needs the clarity that only comes with full-tilt guitar settings, and you’d be working between 1 and 2/10 to avoid setting off alarms.
Live, this becomes an asset – the Memphis 30 Combo really cuts through at 4/10. With the increased bass effect of higher volumes balancing its glass-shattering tendencies at lower settings. The tone stack works smoothly and has plenty of range without altering the amp’s personality, or showing any unusual interaction. The valve-driven reverb can help temper the glassiness, bringing Shadows/Knopfler melody work within the Memphis’ range.
Memphis 30 Settings
The manual says the Boost switch adds 6dB of gain; it sounds like more. It allows you to overdrive the amp on the Clean channel, with great interaction and controllable feedback. The three-tone selector makes more sense here, and at gig levels it adds a real range of extra adaptability to a Strat or SG.
Let’s bring in the Power Shift. At 18W the amp is still very loud and clean, and you have to be cranking to hear the difference. Other power-scalers offer reduction to about 10 per cent of normal output. The most useful amount for recording work, but this isn’t the Memphis’ primary aim: the Power Shift is more about big gig/small gig adaptability.
The Drive channel offers a more flexible range of control for low-level dirt. And its extra midrange might offer a route for those who find the Clean channel’s wish to compete in the Dual Rectifier/Matchless arena a little emphatic.
With Gain at half, the Volume action is calmer – there’s plenty of sustain, and single notes develop expressive second-harmonic overtones. With this mid contour you may have to cook up metal tonality some other way. But for soulful bluesy wailing it’s among the best. Apply Boost for super sustain and left-hand-only widdling if that’s the mood, or add reverb for big-hall ambience.
This is a great gigging amp in the Dual Rectifier/Bad Cat/Matchless tradition. It has some refinements that can adapt it for club work, but it’s really at home when the going gets loud. Fryette has come up with the means to get big-stack punch. And clarity with the playing feel of a good class A output stage. You will feel strongly supported by the Memphis 30 Combo, no matter how tough it gets out there.