VICTORY AMPS RK50 RICHIE KOTZEN SIGNATURE AMP HEAD
Described by the company as, “straight-up rock with reverb and tremolo,” Alex Wilson looks under the hood to see if there’s more going on with this venerable shredder’s signature head.
Full review and independent analysis of the Victory Amps RK50 Richie Kotzen Signature Amp Head by Australian Guitar Magazine.
PRICE: $1,959 AUD
The defining feature of the RK50 is its ability to traverse the great distance between chimy clean tones and ferocious distortion, without ever sacrificing dynamics, definition or sonic quality. Victory’s lead designer, Martin Kidd, has revealed that his amps, like some others, are built according to a design that simultaneously adjusts both tube stages. In practice, this means tweaking to the Gain knob will saturate (or clarify) the signal in both circuits at once, giving a wider sonic range that can be traversed with a single control.
At the clean end of the spectrum (gain at nine o’clock-ish and under), the amp has a balanced sonic character that tends a little towards the darker side of the tone. The top-end there is pronounced, but it's more silk and air than jangle. There’s also a pronounced midrange that adds depth and body to the sound. And it’s not just harmonic richness – the amp seems to pop and spank most in the low-mids when set clean, lending a satisfying heft to dynamic playing.
Pushing upwards to around 12 reveals a crunchy rhythm tone that sounds fat on barre chords and rings majestically with open position strums. Adding even more gain just thickens the saturation in a way that is suitable for soloing or even brutal riffage. But the RK50 retains upper-mid bark and bite at all gain stages, avoiding both nasty fizz and woofy lows even as it gets pushed hard.
Rounding out the Master knob, which helps compensate for changes in the gain level, is a single tone control. This seems to essentially function as a high shelf, allowing the player to dial in the level of brightness that they need at any given time. It could be really useful as a way to compensate for the different frequency response of different guitars, or as a studio tool to differentiate between rhythm and leads both recorded with the RK50.
While very useful and cleverly designed, the singular tone knob could be an issue for some as it offers less sonic control than many single-channel amps. Granted, you can tweak distortion, volume and brightness, but nonetheless some players will need to work hard to put their own stamp on the RK50’s core sound. They're fortunate, then, that the core sound of the RK50 is fantastic and wel‑realised, eminently suitable for rock and metal of the era when riffs rang loud from arena stages. The RK50 could also be a good amp for genres as disparate as blues and death metal, but that really depends on how much the player is sold on the core sound. Our bets are on it converting most – it’s a rich tone that’s easy to fall in love with.
Like so many boutique and high‑end amplifiers, Victory Amps’ RK50 professes simplicity, but the devil is in the details. This is a single–channel tube amp, with an incredibly simple control layout of Master, Gain and Tone. There are three 12AX7s in the preamp and two 6L6s in the power stage. Both 6L6s can be bias switched to EL34s, if one prefers. There’s a switchable output, cranking out 50 watts on high power and nine watts on low. A speaker dampening switch will help you get some increased low end if your speaker cabinet requires it.
In addition to a series effects loop, there’s also built-in tremolo and reverb effects which are controllable from the front panel or footswitchable. They sound really great, and although the reverb is digital, I found its blend of hall and plate sound really pleasing and usable. You can also stomp another switch for a gain boost, which is very useful given the amp’s lone channel. It adds extra gain and a bit of a volume lift while staying faithful to the amp sound. Other nice bonuses include a great padded carry bag and test points for bias adjustment.
It’s a striking amp to look at, and its unique and attention-grabbing appearance will no doubt be a choice feature for many.
BEST IN THE HANDS OF
Rock and metal players, looking for a fantastic sounding single‑channel amp that’s different from the usual big name suspects. The amount of footswitch control indicates that Victory sees this amp getting a good workout on the stage.
WHY IT’S ON THE TOP SHELF
It sounds fantastic, is compact and lightweight, and exudes care and craftmanship. Richie Kotzen has certainly made a name for himself with Poison, Mr. Big and Winery Dogs, but he’s a left-of-centre guitar hero. Accordingly, his signature line can’t be priced for the masses. Without a doubt, this is a high‑quality boutique amplifier.
WHY YOU’RE PROBABLY GOING TO WANT IT
For the amazing range the RK50 can cover between clean and distorted tones, packaged alongside top‑line reverb and tremolo sounds.
WHAT YOU SHOULD CONSIDER FIRST
Used in a live setting, a player who is comfortable at using their volume and tone knobs to control the amp remotely will benefit the most from the RK50. The amp seems marketed at people who play rock – a genre where switching from clean to dirty and back is necessary.
Even with the added boost footswitch, this isn’t always easy on a single channel amp, so the player will need to compensate at their end. In the studio, it performs and records extremely well, although it lacks some of the useful DI and load control features that characterise some other modern studio amps.
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