Make-Up Reviews: Empress SuperDelay, Fender Twin Reverb, & First Act VW

Time for a few reviews of some gear that I only got to play through for a short time, and hence did not get to video. So, be forewarned that these reviews, because not accompanied with a video so that you can make up your own mind and either verify or deny what I am hearing, may have a fair amount of bias built-in. There will be pictures however, so that will at least give you a little taste of what they sound like. 😉

Empress Vintage Modified SuperDelay

I got this one to do a shootout with the Timeline and keep the best one. What happened was that, even though the Timeline won for me, the Empress was such a worthy pedal that I didn’t want to film a full shootout until I really knew the ins and outs of that pedal. Which I didn’t have time for before I needed to sell it. So basically, I totally sucked at a shootout of this. Eventually when I have more time I’ll buy another one and do a proper shootout.

What is it?

The Vintage Modified SuperDelay (or VMSD if you’re cool) is a multi-setting delay from Empress. The ‘Vintage Modified’ in the title just means it’s the second version of the SuperDelay that is supposed to do the vintage tape echo thing better than the first version. The main thing though is that it’s black and gold instead white and yellow, and looks way cooler.

The Good

  • It has 8 user-writable presets available that can be accessed with your foot without an external pedal. This is what attracted me to the pedal in the first place, as the Timeline…though having 128 presets…must have an external midi pedal to access them with your foot.
  • The delayed signal was really, really weighty. Sounded just as good as the Timeline and the T-Rex Replica. I was extremely impressed. It sounded real.
  • There is a reverse delay setting that goes an octave up and gives you great shimmer tones.
  • It’s way smaller than it looks in pictures. They did a great job with that.
  • Lots of different types of delay; lots of time ratios and external expression pedal options.

The Bad

  • The decay of the delayed signal. It wasn’t very natural, and even on the dirtier and more ‘analog-sounding’ modes, I couldn’t get it to smear into oblivion. Harsh is the wrong word because it’s a great-sounding delay, but I guess I was left wishing I had more control over the nature of the repeats to make them washier…especially for subtle delay/reverb sounds.

The Eh

  • This pedal does convert your dry signal to digital and then back to analog using AD/DA converters. However, it’s one of the better ones I have heard. There is a difference in tone when you turn the delayed signal off so you only hear the dry signal, and then true bypass the pedal on and off. With the pedal on and your dry signal running through the converters, there is a slight bit of compression and lack of realness. It is very slight though; and the pedal has a knob to add volume to your dry signal which you can use to boost your level and help counteract the converters. So, if you want this delay always on, it actually has a very good sounding clean boost which also negates (in audible sound, not in technical terms) the coloring of the AD/DA converters. However, then you have to have this thing always on…or have a preset with no delay mixed in that’s always on. And then you’re down to 7 presets.
  • They did a great job packing a lot of options into a small and simple pedal. However, at times it might be too simple…meaning, in order to have fewer knobs, the knobs do different things depending on a switch that put you into 3 different modes. So, on the fly at a gig, I can see myself getting very confused. lol But…at the same time…some people might really like that because it keeps them from having a pedal as big as the Timeline on their boards.

The Verdict

Overall, a great-sounding delay, right up there with the best I have tried. However, did not replace the Timeline. If it had the ability for more smeared decays and did not convert the dry signal and/or allowed you to use the preamp separate of the rest of the pedal, I would probably be totally on board and spend the time to get to know it and just memorize the knobs’ functions in each mode. But for now, I have to see it as an awesome pedal that just doesn’t happen to be for me.

Fender Twin Reverb (current issue, stock)

I played this one at a recent deal where a bunch of churches played…hence, we used a backline. I was not involved in the planning of the event; which is why the backline was Fender and not Matchless. We also only played one song; which is why I did not begin an altercation with the powers that be over using my own amp. (Well, I probably wouldn’t have done that anyway…it pains me to say it, but people are more important than tone. Some people. 😉 Kidding, kidding, only kidding!)

What is it?

It’s an amp that used to be awesome and then Fender became an early incarnation of Wal-Mart and started mass-producing them for cheaper. This was not an awesome one.

The Good

  • As fun as it was to write the previous paragraph, even current issue Twin Reverb’s are good amps. They are pretty much a staple in nearly half of all touring bands’ rigs. I have no documentation to support that (as usual), but it sounds about right. If you go to a show, you’ve got a 50% chance pretty much of seeing the guitarist playing through a current issue Twin. And there is a reason…they sound good and are work-horses.
  • It did sound good. A decent warm tube sound.
  • The best thing about this amp was that it acted as a canvas for what you put into it. It’s just a big warm sound that allows you to paint on top of it. Such is the beauty of high-wattage 6L6-style amps.
  • And of course, tons of clean headroom. Like, tons.

The Bad

  • So loud that you really can’t get it to the verge of breakup without being in a stadium; and as a result, drives tend to sound a bit thinner and boxier than I’d like.
  • Little bit of brittleness on top and gorilla-ness down below. New tubes might have taken care of the brittle, and some Weber or upper end Jensen speakers might have taken care of the gorilla. However, this was straight from Guitar Center.

The Eh

  • Not incredibly defined or weighty tone. Nice and big and warm, but nothing to blow you away. (Well…at least me personally with my style and hack hands. Others with better hands may have different experiences.)
  • I know it would ruin the ‘vibe’, but a master volume would really make these so much more versatile. Make it defeatable even if you really want to leave the classic tone and vibe alone.

The Verdict

Very decent amp for a warm canvas on which to play the rest of your stuff. However, I can think of a good many amps I’d rather play…some of them cheaper. On the other hand, I can think of a good many amps I’d choose the Twin over, and some of them are more expensive. I guess that’s just another way of saying I thought it to be a very decent and even good middle of the road amp.

First Act VW

Well, this one was going to be a post in itself. I was at Guitar Center for strings, and as usual, decided to peruse the used section. And here is this First Act electric guitar, with a smash in the side, for $150. It was seriously going to be the ultimate Guitar Center-bashing post. Because First Act is the Wal-Mart brand (I’m not just being slang…they really do carry them at Wal-Mart); and you get the guitar, amp, strap, etc., for like, $100. So the fact that they were selling just the guitar, with a good-sized smash in the body, for more than the package new, almost made me cry. Luckily, as is something I have learned from being very wrong in the past while naturally assuming I was very right and ending up sticking my foot into my gullet, I decided to ask Google (which is rapidly becoming the equivalent of ‘Father’ in Equilibrium and THX-1138) before I confronted a salesperson. And lo and behold, First Act has guitars that are in the multi-thousands of dollars! I have no idea how they sound or if anyone plays them who is not getting paid to do so by First Act, but I had absolutely no idea. I thought they were a toy company. But I guess they actually try to build real guitars?! Craziness.

What is it?

It’s a guitar.

The Good

  • Okay, the crazy part. It sounded…uh…kinda good. The setup was one of the worst I have ever felt; the neck was incredibly bowed and the strings felt like they were like an inch off the fretboard. But it sounded…alright. Bordering on even maybe, good.
  • The pickups were passive, with a switch to engage the battery and make them active. Weird, but kind of cool, and both settings sounded good.
  • I was playing it through a Fender Tweed Deluxe reissue. Seriously not a bad sounding guitar. Which was insanely odd. Oh, and I liked the amp a little more than the Twin.

The Bad

  • Terrible build quality. Because it was smashed, you could see the wood under the white paint and it was all really thin layers of ply.
  • Tuners looked like they would snap with tension.
  • Neck was a few different pieces of wood.
  • As I mentioned, the setup was atrocious. That can be fixed, though.

The Eh

  • With that terrible of wood, somehow it still managed to not sound awful. Maybe First Act has hit on some super stellar pickups or something. I have no idea. Or maybe that Tweed Deluxe reissue is a really good amp. Nah, can’t be…it’s a Fender. 😉 Kidding, kidding, again. :)
  • It would make some people’s lives to be rockin’ a First Act in the face of all the other guitarists. Others would rather die.

The Verdict

I dunno! Maybe as a backup guitar? Not a great instrument by any means, but just didn’t sound nearly as bad as I thought it would. Oh, and I ended up being more wrong than Guitar Center. Kinda stings. Although I did check up on it and there are other Guitar Center’s selling the same model without the big dent for less than $150. I have no idea how that company is run. But sure is good when you need strings in a hurry. And they never had Ernie Ball’s; but now that I have switched to DR’s, they always have them. The world makes way for DR’s. 😉


52 thoughts on “Make-Up Reviews: Empress SuperDelay, Fender Twin Reverb, & First Act VW

  1. I remember thinking the same thing about First Act guitars when I saw some guy using one at a youth conference. I thought “is that guy seriously playing a guitar he bought at walmart??” so I had to look it up, and then found that they actually do have quality guitars. The more you know…

  2. Those guitars were sold with some of the VW models and specific models like my GTI have a aux port whereby you can plug the guitar in and jam in your car. Fast cars and electric guitars. Talk about marketing genius.

  3. Isaac–ya, same here! I had no idea…do the expensive ones actually sound like expensive guitars? The cheap one I played really wasn’t too bad…

    Brian–lol Ya, seriously! I totally remember that now…with Slash, right? hehe Totally made me want to buy a car. Kinda. I think Edge rocking some delayed ambience out of a Prius is more up my alley, as sad as that makes me sound. lol

    • They had one where John Mayer was just destroying it. That kind of changed my thoughts on FirstAct, but then I remembered that Mayer would sound like Mayer on a guitar made from cardboard tubes, Kleenex boxes and rubber bands.

      It does seem like a bad business model to not have any middle ground between $100 crap and $3,000 gems, but I guess it’s working for them.

  4. I’ve wanted to try a VMSD for a while now but have other things to buy first. Can it get 100% wet? I’ve thought about using a blender from T1M for pedals that do AD/DA and run them 100% wet, using the blender to mix in my dry signal.

  5. love the “The Eh” section of your write-up! :)

    i was trying to get a deal for vmsd to be shipped here in canada but couldn’t get somebody to agree. a fellow guitarist @ church is using the standard SD and I find it a tad bright for my taste … but it could be just his rig.

    and no Ernie Balls? That’s just bizarre 😆

  6. Heading up to do worship at a retreat, and not sure about the internet situation. So if I’m absent for the next couple days, I didn’t die. Just the internet did.

    Andrew–absolutely! And sorry…but Prius and my metro-ness just seem to fit. haha

    Sam–I believe it can. The only problem with using a blender is that then you lose the ability to preset mix settings. Because you always have it 100% on the pedal, and you can’t save any settings on the blender.

    Rhoy–haha Thanks! And ya, it didn’t seem too bright for me…it was just the decay. And man…DR’s just kinda took over. hehe :)

  7. I really like the “The Twin” Amps – they have Mastervol and a few channels but no tremolo. In my second band we have one of them there that I can use and it sounds good at normal Bandpractise volume – of course normal Worshipband practise/gig vol is way lower ;D

    What I love about twin amps is the percussiveness and dynamics no small amp has.

  8. I played a VMSD a couple of months ago at Deluxe guitars in Melbourne and really liked it. What I didn’t like was the $900 pricetag attached to it here in Australia.
    I remember when I first started playing guitar and figuring out that the twin had “that” sound. You know, that fender sound, but I was stil a beginner and afraid to turn amps up loud and so I never got a twin because the sheer volume intimidated me ( and I couldn’t afford one in high school anyway). Our local guitar shop didn’t have an isolation booth so they would plug a guitar in for you and stand there as you played. You weren’t allowed to use a pick in case you scratched the guitars!! Totally intimidating. Then the guitar shop guy would play it and do some version of the “may I help you riff” (only one point for the obvious reference) and you would realize that you suck at guitar. Hopefully young players don’t go through this any more.

  9. Got a little internet up here! :)

    Ben–good point about Mayer. And I think it sounds like a terrible business model too…especially with a name like ‘First Act.’ But you’re right…if it’s working for ’em…

    Justin–oh cool, ya I think First Act’s site mentioned that. And that would be awesome if the guitarist was able to override the singer like that. As it should be. 😉 hehehe

    other Ben–cool, I’ll check those out. Master definitely would’ve helped on the backline!

    Mark Colvin–haha Best customer service ever! 😉 And $900 in Australia? That’s just wrong.

  10. Darn, I didn’t think of that. I guess, I’m too use to using delay pedals without any presets. Maybe I should have a whole heap of delay pedals on my board and use each one of them as a different preset. Yes, I think that will work.

  11. My buddy’s anniversary twin amp is awesome. 100 watts is just stupid loud, but it has a 25 watt switch.

    I know it’s not quite a twin reverb, but that thing is seriously beefy. It does stuff that those voxy amps just can’t do — and like you said, Carl, it’s a real nice canvas. Delays and distortion pedals sound extremely rich and warm through it.

    Fender has some really underrated amps.

  12. So I just purchased a dd20! I’m a little bit excited… So a little more on top of the current comments, would a voxish amp and a fender amp be a great combo to run in stereo then?

    • I think vox + fender is a great idea as they comliment each other well.

      I run an Orange AD30 (70%orange + 30%angry ac30) and a Deluxe Reverb in stereo and it sounds great. Really massive 3D cleans and mighty distortion sounds that help me fill sonic space in my trio.

  13. Sam–best idea ever! 😀

    David–I agree, some underrated stuff. And a 25 watt switch is a cool feature!

    Ben G–congrats! I might be, too…haha

    Ben–nice! Stereo is so rad. Soundguys are cool with it?

    • Yeah we usually have great, professional soundguys, but this is for my main (regular gigging) band. At church I keep things simple – my smallest amp with a few delay and drive pedals. Feel no need to carry that extra amp for 5 coffeehousevol songs.

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