November 2008

Peavey ReValver MKIII Amp-Modeling Software

The only thing better than having a tube amp for your guitar is having a tube amp for your guitar, plus someone who pays for it and carries it. I’ve gone broke (and have nearly broken my back) playing the tube-amp game over the years, trying to find the cabinet that hides the prize-winning tone inside. I’ll be damned if I didn’t hit the jackpot upon installing Peavey’s ReValver MKIII on my modest laptop computer (read: my old, embarrassing laptop that would have been replaced long ago if I hadn’t kept spending my money on tube amps).

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Peavey ReValver MKIII Amp Modeling Software

ReValver is an amp simulator originally created by Alien Connections; Peavey bought the product (and absorbed the company) last year and expanded and improved it. The software (for PC and Mac) runs either as a standalone application or as a plug-in compatible with most music production applications. It’s available as a download from peavey.com and on CD-ROM from Internet and brick-and-mortar retailers. While the full program lists for $299, an abridged “HP” version is available for just under $100. Not a bad deal considering that’s less than what you’ll pay for a quality, real-life tube amp.

Naturally, no software in the world will give you the exact sound, feel, aura and thrill that a vacuum tube-powered speaker creates. At least not yet. But amp-modeling software has come a long way since it began, and ReValver MKIII is, right now, exactly where I’d put my money for amps that aren’t really amps.

Like most amp modelers in the market, ReValver includes modules for hall-of-fame amps by Fender, Marshall, Mesa/Boogie and Vox, though you will find none of those companies’ trademarks. There are also a number of non-brand amp styles, like the HomeBrew SE-1 (a low-watt, boutique-ish thing) and the Matchbox, which, like its name implies, considerably brightens tone. Since this is a Peavey product, there are also half a dozen Peavey amp-head models and Peavey preamps bearing familiar names like Classic 30, ValveKing, 6505 and the Triple XXX.

Amps, preamps and power amps can be mixed and matched, tweaked and fitted to completely customizable modeled-speaker sets and cabinet sizes. You can further tailor the sound by stringing together effects and choosing from a selection of modeled microphones that can be “placed” in various positions. Those options already present a palette of infinite tonal possibilities, but here’s what sets ReValver apart: You can muck about inside the amps!

I’m a proud, soldering-iron-toting DIYer who builds and modifies guitar effects in between reruns of Star Trek, but I’ve always been scared to work on a tube amp because of the high voltages: I don’t want to die. ReValver has given me a taste of what it’d be like to get over my fears and conquer amp design. While you can’t get down to the nitty-gritty level of changing capacitor and resistor values, ReValver does allow you to switch out power transformers and rectifiers, change an amp’s tone stack and play switcheroo with 17 unique types of tubes, and the parameters of those tubes can be tweaked. All the customization might even be too much!

What’s surprising is that ReValver doesn’t buckle underneath its huge load of features. It performs wonderfully in serving up tone that imparts the qualities we associate with tube amps: saturation, sag, sensitivity, etc. While I reckon we are still years out from discovering software that can absolutely fool a well-trained ear, we need look no further than ReValver MKIII for the best of what’s around in amp modeling. The Fender-type simulations create clarity and warmth suitable for recording, and the crunch from any of ReValver’s Marshall clones will make hairs stand at attention just like the real thing. And the software doesn’t obscure a guitar’s individuality—the instrument’s true sound shines through, evidenced best by the lovely clean tones and light overdrives that the ReValver amps excel at modeling.

The amps, and their customizability, are ReValver’s main attraction. The effects array is usable, but could use further development to be on par with the quality of the amp simulations. (It’d be great if Peavey would invest the effort to create customizable effects software—take a peek under the hood of various stompboxes and let us switch out chips, caps and the like.) On the other hand, the speaker and microphone simulations are quite accurate.

Any guitarist could find a use for ReValver. It’s great just for practicing—you can get that big, loud tone without being turned up. The variety of tones will make it a wonderful addition to a studio of any size. And it might even have a place onstage if you can trust your computer and don’t mind strange looks from your bandmates. While I might not get rid of the bulky tube amps in my basement, ReValver may keep my amp-buying habit at bay for a long time to come. And that makes more cash available for that pesky guitar-buying habit—wink.

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