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A clever psychologist could devise a personality test based on the tastes of Fender amp fans: Do you prefer the loose, potentially anarchic character of ’50s-stye tweeds? Or the tight, focused intensity of a ’60s-style blackface? Do you dig the forced simplicity of a tweed’s minimal controls? Or do you demand the precision of a 3- or 4-band tone stack? Are you, in short, a Type T personality, or a Type B?
These days I’m probably more of a Type T, though I say that with less confidence after spending a day with the Andrews Spectraverb 40, a boutique combo that embodies almost everything awesome about Fender’s great blackface amps.
Take the Black Available in various tube and speaker configurations, Andrews’ Spectraverb line covers most of the blackface bases. Our review model features a single 12-inch, 75-watt Warehouse G12C/S speaker, 40 watts of power from two 6L6 tubes, and stunning spring reverb. The guts are hand-wired on turret board, and the cabinet is solid pine. The interior carpentry isn’t the most refined I’ve seen—there’s some minor splintering around the screw holes. Yet the amp feels reassuringly roadworthy. (Especially if you have a roadie, since it weighs in at a hefty 53.5 pounds). The price ($1,895 as reviewed) is more than fair for a boutique build of this quality, though it doesn’t include such Andrews options as an effect loop, footswitchable reverb, and a half-power pentode/triode switch.
The front panel follows the blackface playbook: volume, treble/middle/bass, a bright switch, and reverb level. There are high- and low-level inputs, but no master volume or tremolo. One Andrews innovation is a reverb limiter control that can reign in the tsunami of splash you get when assaulting the reverb tank at high gain. Another is a pair or rear-panel bias test points. The external speaker out is switchable between 4, 8, and 16 ohms.
Black Attack The Spectraverb 40 doesn’t break much new ground. But man, it covers the old ground more capably than almost any blackface I’ve encountered, prized vintage models included. It’s unbelievably present and articulate. Sizzling notes pop from the speaker like water droplets fleeing an overheated skillet. Like all blackfaces, it’s bright on top, tight on the bottom, and scooped in the middle. Yet it’s not harsh—I enjoyed lingering on the potentially strident bridge pickup of a pre-CBS Strat. Clean settings transmit maximum pick/finger attack—and these tones won’t get lost in the mix.
Maxing the volume generates almost fuzz-like tones. You definitely get that signature blackface splatter, but with more low-end focus and punchier attack than you might expect. The review model has a tube rectifier (like a blackface Deluxe, Princeton, or Tremolux,) yet tones have much of the punch and power of you’d get from a solid-state one (like you’d find in a blackface Bassman or Bandmaster.) Andrews also offers a solid-state rectifier option if you prefer that configuration.
With the volume set near its midpoint, the Spectraverb is spectacularly dynamic. It’s easy to find a sweet spot where you can pilot the gain by touch, or go from china shop to lava pit via guitar volume knob adjustments. Clean tones are particularly lovely, with just a just a bit of hair—peach fuzz, more like. The words “fat” and “crystalline” tend to be mutually exclusive, but not here. (One volume knob quirk: With the volume all the way off, a thin trickle of guitar signal seeps from the speaker. Silence would be preferable.)
Paul Maul Naturally, switching to an old Les Paul with vintage-style PAFs yielded very different sounds—and perhaps a bit more different than usual. The ultra-responsive Spectraverb seems to telegraph all upstream details: pickup type, string gauge and composition, and most important, playing nuances. Thanks to the amp’s focused lows, macho humbucker riffs emerge tighter and tougher than on most blackfaces. (Granted, it’s not the sort of taut chunk metal players seek, but it’s a step in that direction.) The amp’s bright switch is perfectly voiced to maximize snappy note attack with humbuckers.
When an amp sounds this good played dry, you can pretty much assume it will work well with effects. Dialing in a relatively clean tone, I connected a favorite homemade fuzz pedal, anticipating the sort of—HOLY EFFIN’ CRAP! The sheer impact bowled me over. Sure, scuzzy fuzz through a cleanish Fender is a time-honored tone recipe. But the dish is seldom served so spicy-hot. Wow.
Tank You Very Much Speaking of “wow”: The Spectraverb reverb is one of the best I’ve heard, rivaling vintage Fender outboard units. It’s warm, deep and utterly immersive—a surf guitarist’s, um, wet dream.
The reverb limiter, accessible via a front-panel pot, is a cool addition. It restricts the amount of signal feeding the tank, nixing overly chaotic results when playing loud at high reverb settings. The added knob may solve a problem that doesn’t exist—don't most players want precisely such chaos when they crank the ’verb? Maybe, but now you have the option of getting very loud and very wet without drowning.
Again, there are a couple of quirks here: The reverb can oscillate at its highest setting. Also, the effect comes on strongly in the lowest part of the knob’s range. After fiddling with settings between numbers 1 and 2, I wished for a different pot taper that made it easier to pinpoint near-dry settings. But the reverb felt so good that I just got back in the pool and stopped worrying. (Amp creator Jeff Andrews tells us that he will slightly lower the reverb gain in future units, avoiding such oscillation and making it easier to work within the lower part of the control’s range.)The Verdict If you like blackface-style Fenders, you’ll love the Spectraverb 40. Its focused and articulate tones rival or better the ’60s originals. Clean tones shimmer. Distorted tones clobber. In-between tones clobber as they shimmer, and vice-versa. The reverb is as warm and inviting as a scented hot tub occupied by someone you crave. The workmanship is solid. The price is fair. The Spectraverb 40 wins our Premier Gear Award in a walk.