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One-hundred percent made in the USA, KSR’s VESTA preamp brings forward incredible amp tones that only require a cab or IR to sound fantastic. I’ll address the sound more, and later on (also check out the included demo), but let’s look at what the VESTA offers first.

VESTA has three-channels: Clean, Crunch (Rhythm) and Lead. Once hooked up (basic in and out via the rear), there are three bypass modes – True Bypass, Buffered Bypass and Clean Bypass. If choosing Clean Bypass, then you get the clean preamp, which you switch to Rhythm or Lead by disengaging the Bypass footswitch (clicking on the Rhythm/Lead footswitch merely alternates which is active and ready AFTER releasing the Bypass). Both Clean Bypass and Buffered Bypass show an LED light, as do the Rhythm/Lead channels (no light for true bypass, which tells you it is active). Each has its own color, e.g., blue for rhythm and purple for lead, which provides a good visual aid when playing live.

The Clean channel sounds very Fender-like and good on its own if you want a clean channel; however, it also makes for a great pedal platform if you wanted to run other preamps or pedals accordingly. This channel is bare bones, with a Volume and a Frequency Notch Filter (EQ), but it sounds solid and respectable. The Rhythm and Lead channels share a similar set of controls, although each channel is different – and I really like this feature. Often, two-channel preamps are nothing more than the same circuit, whereas you alter each channel to sound ‘somewhat’ different (quite often it’s nothing more than how much gain, boost or how you tweak the EQ that makes the difference). Conversely, VESTA’s Rhythm channel is tighter and more aggressive, to cut through the mix, whereas the Lead channel has more compression, fullness and singing quality – which still sounds good for rhythm work, but certainly lends itself to melodic and single-note playing.

As indicated, each of those channels share the same controls, which I’ll address. There are the usual Volume (with a lot of headroom!) and Gain knobs. With Gain low, this rhythm is still pretty thick and meaty, although it can be tamed via a guitar’s volume knob. I find the sweet spot is between 10 and 1-o’clock, but even with the Gain cranked, and this is true of both channels, it still remains surprisingly defined and clear, unlike a lot of hi-gain pedals that sound over-saturated, muffed or muddy once the gain pushes past 1-o’clock. The EQ on both channels have an excellent, usable range. Even when pushing the EQ, the bass does not get muddy, the midrange does not honk, and the treble does not shrill.

And then we get into the sculpting aspects, again, common with both channels. The first is the BRIGHT switch, either on or off, perfect for zeroing in on dark or bright amps, cabs or IRs. Next, is the FEEL, which governs how much bottom end vs. tightness you want. There are three settings: 1) switch down = most thump with bass/low-end presence; 2) switch up = more low-end punch; and 3) switch center = tightest. Finally, the MODE switch offers these possibilities: 1) Up = Classic British crunch 3-gain stage tone from the 70s/80s; 2) Down = Vintage high-gain common in the 90s; and 3) Center = a thicker 90s tone with more gain.

Overall, there are a lot of tone variation among these two channels, whether you choose to use Rhythm for backing or lead, and the same with the Lead channel (in the event you prefer the sound qualities of that channel for rhythm). The nature of the preamp’s gain/distortion is relatively the same for both channels, but how they respond can be very different. Coupled with the EQ, there are a lot of possibilities, from sizzling scoops to big and massive sounding. In fact, I did not multi-track (the same notes) in my demo. I did include multiple tracks for guitar, but each track was a different recording. (I find it a bit devious when reviewers layer 2-3 tracks, and sometimes with a V-capo/octave blend, to suggest that is how a product sounds, and then when you get it, it sounds far thinner.)

Sound-wise, VESTA is very impressive, with a very amp-like response and quality when doing nothing more than going direct to a cab or IR. It has a thick growl with a ‘brown sound’ quality, yet a bit more beastly and modern. Although the VESTA sounds ‘modern,’ it has a familiar voicing and reminiscent of late 90s Metal pushing beyond it 80s counterpart. And yet, there are enough knobs and switches that the VESTA can be tamed for more traditional Rock.

Hookup is very basic, with an in/out via the rear, but also a remote access for separate foot control. It requires only 200mA, which means any basic power source will suffice. It can be used directly with a cab or IR (direct recording or PA), but it also can be used as a separate sound module for an amp’s clean channel. I think this is key, as many may like their Marshall, Randall or whatever amp they’re using, but may want a different flavor by driving the VESTA into an amp’s clean channel. This would provide another two distorted channels and without having to break the bank for a new amp. I don’t say this lightly, as many preamps are not quite as full-sounding as full-blown amps, but the VESTA holds its own, with a warm, growling response and detail. At $399 USD, the price is reasonable, competitive, and definitely in the ballpark for any serious player looking for quality sound options.