The Big Review: Victory Sheriff 25 – the ultimate Marshall-style lunchbox head?
In an age where the digital modellers and plugins are thriving and arguably dominating the domain of the amplified guitar signal, it’s heartening to see the continued expansion and success of proper real amp manufacturers like Blackstar and Victory. Indeed, the family of Victory amps continues to expand and excite, and here we have the newest addition to the Sheriff range: the Sheriff 25, celebrating classic British valve driven sounds.
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Aside from the various Sheriff overdrive and preamp pedals, the other amp head residing in this family is the Sheriff 100 which features an EL34 valve power section and 100 watts of power, housed in a traditional cabinet. The Sheriff 25 however, comes in Victory’s popularised lunchbox format, which is an aesthetically compromised format in our old-fashioned opinion, but an infinitely practical solution for the travelling musician.
The Sheriff 25 also differs in its power section and features the uncommonly used EL86s. “The EL86 was a valve that we considered might give some added value to the customer, as they’re NOS, very good quality and Victory were able to secure a large stock of them” says Victory’s chief designer Martin Kidd. “To my ears, they’re a little less focused in the mid-range, when pushed, giving the impression of more low end and high end; akin, you might say, to the difference between an EL34 and a KT77/6CA7. Designs using octal power valves can often be rebiased to accept a range of power pentodes and beam tetrodes; however, it’s not often that an EL84-based design can accept anything other than the type of output valve fitted”
But as is often the case with Victory – as it was back in Kidd’s days with Cornford – it is doubtful that the EL86 power section tells the whole story of the tone. That being the case, should you wish to swap them to the more commonly used – and commonly available – EL84s, you can – the manual states that a re-biasing will be necessary first, however.
The front panel is a compact and straightforward affair – mid, treble, bass, with a global control for presence. Two master volumes are provided so that one can be set a little higher for when you need a volume boost during live performances. At the rear we have an additional two buttons, labelled ‘Presence focus’ and ‘bass focus’ plus a series effects loops
Plugging our Suhr Classic loaded with Bare Knuckle ’63 Veneer single coils into the Vintage gain channel we witness the meeting of two sonic soulmates. With the gain just at halfway, we are in Hendrix chordal heaven, with a slightly compressed chime that works wonderfully for pentatonic chord embellishments. Such is the richness of the harmonic-laden tone, we realise we have forgotten to engage the reverb on our Strymon Flint, and now the rich cavernous decay further enhances the tonal experience. Sumptuous.
Turning the gain up a little, we are in blues heaven yet and while the signal isn’t too saturated, we still experience plenty of sustain losing none of the dynamics. It’s a tone that positively encourages you to dig in and drive the signal a little more. Plugging in a Les Paul with the gain at half past three, we’re just heading into blues-rock tonal territory, conjuring up an overdriven rhythm tone not too dissimilar to a certain Mr. Kossoff.
Time to switch over to the naughtier hot rod channel now. Sticking with our PAF-loaded Les Paul it comes as little surprise that it’s a tonally a close relative to the vintage channel, though with a tighter bottom end and of course lashings of additional gain. With the gain set before the midway mark, we’re easily able to achieve AC/DC classic blues-rock tones with rich treble and warm bass. There’s such a huge amount of bass on offer for such a small amp and turning the gain up a wee bit more we eventually arrive in Paradise – City that is, with a Slash-like gritty overdrive that makes open chords sound even more expansive.
Can it cope with more modern down-tuned styles we wonder? For this test we plug in our Charvel seven-string with medium-high output DiMarzios. Immediately we have all the girth we experienced with the Les Paul but now the previously welcomed bass response is now too muddy and almost impossible to tame using the conventional tonestack. However, that’s where a reach-around to the bass focus switch is called for. Immediately the bass frequencies are more focused (surprise, surprise) and all that low-end flub has been eradicated, leaving us with very usable metal frequencies. We’re now churning out the heaviest of riffs with a low-end clarity usually found on more metal-friendly amps such as Diezel and Engl. Okay, you won’t be djenting any time soon, but this is a pretty impressive metal tone nonetheless – especially if you’re a fan of 80s metal.
For lead sounds we turn up the gain to two o’clock and engage the presence-boost at the rear and immediately achieve a fiery, biting lead tone very reminiscent of Paul Gilbert’s. And boy does it rock! For further tightening up of bass, we also engage a TS808 with a low level of overdrive and that allows us to conjure up some very authentic gain-laden solo sounds of those late 80s widdlers.
In the age of the digital modeller we are in danger of forgetting what actually inspired their creation. A digital modeller is still judged on how realistic to an amp it sounds, ergo an amp will always be the benchmark. The Sheriff 25 is a timely reminder of why amps are stubbornly refusing to lay down and die in the onslaught of the digital age. It’s an amp that is firmly rooted in the past but with a modern tonal sculpting that irons out the deficiencies (if that is indeed how they are viewed) of the vintage era. Stylistically, there isn’t much that this amp isn’t capable of: the vintage channel has all the goodness of a JTM45 and the hot rod the sheer rock power of a JCM800.
While we often find ourselves using plug-ins and digital modelling software with great ease, every once in a while an amp arrives that reminds us of the pure unadulterated joy of plugging into a physical unit and experiencing the sonic beauty of a tube amplifier. The Sheriff 25 has brought us much happiness. Long live the real amplifier!
PRICE £1199 (Gig bag included and footswitch)
DESCRIPTION Two-channel/mode all-valve head made in the UK
POWER RATING 25W
CONTROL PANEL Guitar input, Vintage gain, channel switch, treble, mid, bass, master 1, master 2, presence, standby/on switch
REAR PANEL Footswitchable modes ‘Vintage’ & ‘Hot Rod’ channels, Series effects loop, Bass focus, Presence switch, External bias test points and adjustment, 16ohm speaker outlet, parallel 8ohm speaker outlets
VALVES 3 x ECC83, 2 x EL86
DIMENSIONS 345 x 180 x 180mm
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