The making of the Fryette Valvulator GP/DI – A conversation with Steven Fryette

Fryette Amplification of North Hollywood, California is a manufacturer of high-quality master built electric guitar amplifiers, speaker cabinets, power amplifiers, attenuator / re-amping products and direct recording guitar amplifiers. The company was originally founded as VHT Amplification in Studio City, California by Steven Fryette in January 1989. Fryette’s innovations include invention of the Depth/Resonance control and the first true three-channel vacuum tube amplifier, both of which are recognized industry standards today.  Fryette Amplification manufactures/services the original Steven Fryette designed VHT models, accessories and parts that were in continuous production prior to January 1, 2009.

The 2015 release of the Fryette Aether combo (which one reviewer described it as “exquisite and engulfing”) and the Fryette Power Station® marked a new chapter in Fryette Amplification history.

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We recently caught up with Steven Fryette to get the scoop on the Fryette Valvulator GP/DI.

Guitar Connoisseur: What is the Valvulator GPDI and how did it come to exist?

Steven Fryette: Simply stated, it’s a complete scaled down 1W tube guitar amplifier with supporting analog circuity for direct recording, re-amping, cabinet + mic simulation, silent practicing and low volume practicing/recording. It started as a conversation about developing a high quality, small functional recording tool and would make a good Kickstarter project. We thought it was a good overall framework and wanted to use Kickstarter to validate the concept. We took the most important features from our original Valvulator GP3 Tube Preamplifier, which also incorporated a 1W tube amplifier and cab sim. We then refined those features with particular focus on making the internal tube power amp able to drive an external speaker, extending the utility of the cab sim and adding a high quality headphone amplifier.

GC: Does the world really need a 1-watt guitar amp?

SF: That’s a great question. The 1W tube amp aspect is simply a way to scale down tube power amp behavior and achieve realistic dynamic feel for stringed instruments. So in this context, the 1W amp is the heart of the sound and feel which makes all of the utility eminently useable.  For direct recording, you can use the Amplifier Out (Direct 2) XLR for the pre-amp, equalization, power amp and cab + mic sections – and you can simultaneously use the tube direct out (Direct 1), which is a very high quality vacuum tube signal buffer for direct recording.  Also, it’s important to realize that you can use pretty much every rear panel output simultaneously. So it’s a really well thought-out high productivity tool for a lot of applications.

GC: How much gain does it have?

SF:The Valvulator GP/DI is designed to provide a broad range of tonality and tube saturation.  You can lay-down shimmering clean sounds, medium crunch, and modern high-gain, all with simple, interactive analog controls.  The DNA is based on some of our most popular models such as the Pittbull and Deliverance amps.

GC: Is it like a digital modeling amp?

SF: The Valvulator GP/DI is 100% analog, and entirely tube driven from input stage to speaker output. Not just a lot of solid state electronics with a token tube thrown in to fulfill a marketing bullet point. You use it just like you would a normal guitar amp. You can approach it as a kind of analog modeling tool where you sculpt the tone you’re looking for, or you can approach it on its own terms and be immediately inspired by the new voices and nuanced tonal shades it’s capable of. That flows all the way through to the cab sim, which is a defined speaker curve with some added adjustability that allows you to dial in the speaker voicing that suits your immediate needs. Some will argue that an analog sim is obsolete given the plethora of available IRs, which I admit, do an outstanding job. But they do lack depth and dynamic range and they just don’t have sufficient processing power to make them indispensable. With the Valvulator GP/DI cab sim, you can create a voice, augment the cab sim with a variety of really great room reflections and simultaneously mic a cab at very low volume to throw into the stew. That kind of utility is pretty remarkable and produces some really stunning results with a lot less of the time investment normally spent drilling down through layers of programming required in a modeling device. The Valvulator GP/DI is very intuitive and results driven.

GC: What components are in it?

SF: All of the things you would normally find in a tube amp; tubes, transformers, more tubes…

GC: Is it true that you hold one patent and have applied for another patent related to the Valvulator GPDI?

SF: Yes, there are a couple of innovations that are key to the operation of the Valvulator GP/DI. The first is the dynamics control, which is basically a subtle, but very effective sag control that varies the plate voltage of the tubes the same way a normal amp sags when you crank it. Some players associate it with variable compression, but the difference is that there are no components in the signal path. The result is a much more realistic feel. It can also be adjusted for your unique pick attack, which makes for very organic playing experience.

The second is the proprietary output stage design which, if you’ve noticed how quiet the operation of the Valvulator GP/DI is, makes it possible to cram all of that gain, power and utility into such a small, desktop friendly footprint.

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GC: What about dynamics and latency?

SF: The whole reason for the Valvulator GP/DI to exist is to free the player of weak dynamics and the distracting latency that makes all the difference between an inspired playing experience and having to push past the deficiencies of digital simulation.

GC: I see that it is $799 on your website.  Isn’t that a lot for a product without effects?

SF: If you really look at what’s available as an alternative, what you find is a lot of focus on digital effects capability and programming management, which is great for adding the window dressing and perhaps helping manage the live playing experience. By contrast, our philosophy is rooted in amplifier performance. As a player, the first order of business it to grab your guitar and throw down. When you take away all the window dressing, what are you left with is the excitement and inspiration of the playing experience is there?

GC: When will they be available to the general public?

SF: They are available now.  We’ve shipped all of the Kickstarter reward units and have already started shipping to new customers. The R112 Recording cab is also available, which is a great low volume recording and practice companion to the GP/DI. There’s also a very nice quality carry bag. If you want to gig or rehearse in a high volume situation, our Power Station is a great way to pump up the GP/DI into a formidable live performance guitar amplifier with built in signal management for live recording and killer FOH sound.

For more information go to: fryette.com

Have a look at our current issue of “American Guitars”

Featured Interviews with Joe Bonamassa, and Greg Howe as well as  Luthiers Gabriel Currie from EchoPark Guitars, John Monteleone, and a look at Benedetto Guitars after 48 years by CEO Howard Paul. The Photographers Vault by Derek Brad of his shoot of Joe Bonamassa at the State Theatre.

If you don’t have the app yet get on over to the App Store if you are an IOS and Download here.
Android users can grab it on google play.

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