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May 2014
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Fender Custom '57 Twin-Amp Review

Fender Custom '57 Twin-Amp Review

Enough already, How Does it sound?
This being a brand-spanking-new amp, I subjected it to many hours of component and speaker burn-in/break-in before I even plugged in. When I plugged in, I was struck by how little it sounded the way I expected. The amp was loud indeed, but the high end was brittle and percussive, and there was very little of the singing sustain that I had come to expect from the Tweed series. This tone would probably be fine for a pedal steel sound, but I was looking for something more blues-rock oriented. I plugged in a Weber Bias-Rite and measured the bias current and plate voltage: 29mV and 475V respectively. Hmm. That alone could be the source of the problem. I checked the online Weber bias chart for these 6L6s and proceeded to gradually increase the bias current as I played the amp. At about 40mV, things started smoothing out, and at 45 the amp sounded very good—and I was still well within bias parameters. Plate voltages had dropped to around 450. [Note: there are dangers inherent in working on amplifiers, including lethal voltages. Do not attempt to service your amp, including bias adjustment, unless you’re properly educated and equipped to do so. A well-qualified amp tech will be able to help you obtain the sound you want.]

The sound was still punchy, but there was now a sweet but very ample top end and midrange, with a full, but not muddy, bottom. I suspected much of the punchy attack came from the speakers, so I plugged a couple of other amps into the same speakers making sure I stayed at a 4-Ohm load, and yes indeed they sounded just the way P-12Ns sound, which is a good thing, unless you have an amp that has a predominantly dark sound. This Twin has plenty of high end, making this speaker a good choice.

The noise floor of the amp is low, but it will hum with single coils. Nonetheless, I like the way Gibson single coils sounded with this setup and mainly used them for test playing and listening. I threw in a Strat with DiMarzio virtual vintage pickups, and an Ibanez with Schofield humbuckers, too.

With the Normal channel set at 5, Bright at 0, Treble at 8, Bass at 4 and Presence at 5, the tone was bright, clean, and sustained, sounding like the missing link between Tweed and Blackface. Increasing the Normal volume (V1) to a stageworthy 8 brought some clipping to the output that was mostly smooth and creamy with just a hint of buzz. Pulling one of the rectifiers didn’t result in much of a change, but a slight compression. There would be more sag at a higher gain setting.

The next tonal excursion led me to replace the missing rectifier and Y-cord the two input channels together, thereby pushing the output with both preamps. This really popped my cork! Smooth distortion with good bite and a bit of upper-mid feedback. Nice. I messed with the two V knobs and liked V1 at 7 and V2 at 5 for a medium stage volume. I reduced the treble to 6.

A Fender reverb tank made the sound (you guessed it) reverberant. Effect and gain pedals sounded fine but adversely affected tone purity. Humbuckers sounded very sweet and sustained with nice mid support, but without the P-90 grind.

I pulled the three preamp 12AX7s and replaced them with NOS RCA 12AY7s.That sound was good enough to eat: clean but sustained with more headroom. When pushed, the clipping was very smooth without the previous buzziness. I Y-corded the two channels and could not find a sound I didn’t like. If I wanted a bit more shimmer, up went the bright channel volume; more weight brought the normal channel into play.

Modifications are included in the documentation for the amp. There are many more things that can be done to a tube amp to change its sound, such as substituting different tubes (output tubes especially can make a large difference), or speaker substitution—even internal components may be easily changed (but only by someone aware of the risks of high-voltage circuits).

My one beef has to do with the thin leather handle. It is fine for lifting it out of a road case, but it hurts when you have to carry the amp more than a few yards. The amp is not light (53 pounds) and deserves a better handle. Fender acknowledges that the handles on the old amps did routinely break, and that the ‘50s-style leather handle of the reissue is intended for period-correct looks, and has a similar chance of breaking. Fender does provide a spare handle that, while it looks as uncomfortable as the original, is reinforced to increase its reliability.

The Final Mojo
If you’re a blues or classic rock player, this is an amp that you can take to the bank (may as well bring it along when you talk to the loan officer). It has classic Fender tone available in many easy-to-blend shades. If you like the way it sounds out of the box, great; if not, a trip to your favorite amp guru can get it up and running for your signature sound. It reveals excellent build quality with minimal coupling circuits and 5:8 knob-to-tube ratio—always a good sign, as far as I’m concerned.
Buy if...
youw ant a great-sounding and versatile amp with vintage tone and appearance and high reliability.
Skip if...
you need a lot of built-in bells and whistles, or you're not playing medium-to-large venues that provide medium-to-large paychecks.
Rating...
4.5 

MSRP $3880 Street $3100 - Fender  - fender.com

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