The Custom offers a great deal of clean headroom too. Pushed past 5 or so, it growled richly, yet the sound was smooth and liquid. The amp was thrillingly responsive in this setting. And when I eased up on my pick attack, the sound cleaned up dramatically. It’s a touch-sensitive amp, to say the least.

Since Underground fan Brad Paisley is known to wield a Tele, I plugged in a 2001 Fender Custom Shop 1963 NOS model. On the bridge pickup, the Custom added warmth that negated the pickup’s tendency toward shrillness. And countrified bends and chicken pickin’ sounded especially robust when emanating from the Custom.

Switching back to the ES-335, I came to respectfully disagree with Bruno’s characterization of the Custom as being primarily a lead amp. Triadic harmonies sounded plush and full-bodied, while more complex chords rang out in perfect agreement, with none of the murkiness sometimes encountered on lesser amps. For chord work, the Custom responded equally well to flatpicking and fingerpicking, arpeggios or block voicings. And the amp would willingly range from cutting to mellow, depending on pickup selection and how I manipulated the guitar’s tone and volume controls.

As the control set for the reverb section suggest, the Custom’s reverb is inspired by Fender’s legendary stand-alone units and their awesomely echoic sounds. Whereas a standard built-in reverb has only a level control, the Bruno has additional dials for adjusting reverb tone and duration. This lush reverb is perfect for adding anything from subtle depth to super-wet surf insanity—all without the noise often encountered in vintage units.

The Verdict

Tony Bruno’s Underground Custom may be an evolution of the Underground 30, but it has the potential to become just as lust-worthy on its own merits. It’s made from super-premium components, it’s all handwired, and it has an uncommonly solid build. While Bruno conceives of the Underground Custom as being voiced for lead work, the amp’s warm, lush sound lends itself to an impressive variety of contexts. If you have the dough, this amp can fill many roles and is capable of everything from biting Vox-like lead tones to spongier and cleaner Fender sounds. It’s built to last, too. Which is a good thing: Once you play through the Underground Custom, you may never let go.
Buy if...
you’re looking for a boutique, handwired tube amp with a powerful lead voice and gorgeous rhythm tones.
Skip if...
you’re a high-gain player, or only vintage will do, or you’re short on cash.

As reviewed $3299 (head) and $979 (cabinet) - Tony Bruno Custom Amps -