The Legend of the Lucky Vibrolux
How our columnist’s risky purchase turned out to be a dusty pre-CBS jewel.
This month, I’d like to share the story of my 1964 Fender Vibrolux Reverb. It was a really risky purchase that had some big surprises.
In October 2011, a black-panel Vibrolux Reverb appeared on eBay with a short bid time. It was poorly described with miserable pictures and barely any details or description of condition and origin. Normally I walk away from such auctions, but there was something that caught my eye. First, some red on the speaker labels led me to believe they were perhaps OEM Jensens. And while the amp’s faceplate was unreadable, I thought I saw a long pattern of four words with a very short last word, as in “Fender Electrical Instruments Co.,” and not the more common “Fender Musical Instruments.” What if this was a 1964–65 pre-CBS amp and no one else recognized it? In the automated eBay watch-and-bid sniper tool I used back then, I set up a $2,500 max bid to be placed 10 seconds before the auction ended. When I woke up the next morning, I had bought it for $1,860. I felt both happiness and regret. What had I gotten into?
When the amp arrived in Oslo several weeks later, I was thrilled to see an all-original 1964 Vibrolux Reverb with Jensen C10N speakers—highly desirable among Fender amp players and collectors. I pulled out the chassis and noticed a well-preserved circuit board, with the death cap wired to the ground switch and a non-grounded two-prong power cord. The brown electrolytic Mallory DC and filter caps looked surprisingly nice and were not leaking. The resistors on the power tube sockets also seemed to be in good shape. It even had factory-original RCA tubes.
When I woke up the next morning, I had bought it for $1,860. I felt both happiness and regret. What had I gotten into?
If you see a leak on a 30-year-old electrolytic capacitor, I strongly recommend replacing it. Old electrolytic caps can mean little clean headroom and farty bass, since they can’t hold the required DC voltage when you strike a chord and the massive current starts flowing through the power circuitry to the tube plates. But I decided to not replace any tubes, caps, or resistors before testing the amp. And the grille? Wow! I don’t think I have ever seen such a dark brown—and nice—piece of cloth, with just minor rifts.
I uninstalled the speakers and noticed the cones were marinated with a thick layer of dirt, dust, and smoke particles, probably from a long life in smoky clubs and bars. I screwed them back on the baffle without cleaning them. The wood was still whole and robust, but the Tolex had many scars and cigarette burns, and the faceplate and knobs indicated heavy but not rough usage. Surprisingly, the pots rotated very smoothly. All this indicates that an amp has been played on a regular basis. It looked like a true warrior.
I found a 230/110V step-down transformer and flipped power and standby on for a 15-second interval. Without proper grounding, I was careful to not touch any other electrical equipment in the room, since you don’t know what voltage guitar strings might carry when connected to a non-grounded amp. I expected the regular background noise—scratchy pots and pop and crackle from bad tubes—but the amp was dead quiet! I stroked a heavy E chord and got a loud, mellow, and very dark and midrange-y tone. I flipped the bright switch on and increased the treble to 5, which is normally an extremely bright setting on Fender amps.
The dusty speaker cones on these old and inefficient speakers filter out the sharp treble—a truly desirable feature in vintage amps. They really make your guitar and pedals sound smoother and creamier, and this was the darkest sounding Fender amp I have ever come upon. What makes the Vibrolux Reverb so good is the balance between the attack and responsiveness of the lightly driven 10" speakers, and the compression from the smaller power and output transformers. I think Fender nailed it with the size, weight, and power of this 35-watt, dual-6L6GC creation.
Later, I installed a grounded power cord and disabled the death cap and ground switch. I got a 230V high-quality power transformer from Mercury Magnetics. It’s 10 years later, and the amp has, incredibly, never failed me. I play it at carefully selected gigs with the original speakers, tubes, and caps still in place. Someday I might consider installing a 25k mid switch or pot on the back in the ground switch slot. This is a must-have and easily reversible mod for Fender amps lacking a mid-pot. It makes them break up much sooner, with a crunch outside the clean Fender tone borderline.
An important point of this story is that we can’t typically expect this kind of luck with vintage amps. Some maintenance is usually required and will make an amp more reliable and durable. Be sure the electrolytic caps are in good condition, and always bring spare tubes to gigs and practices, or bring a backup amp.
64 Fender Vibrolux Reverb vs 65 Super Reverb speakers
- What's So Special About the Fender Princeton Reverb? - Premier ... ›
- Ask Amp Man: Supercharging a Super Reverb - Premier Guitar ›
- Fender '64 Custom Deluxe Reverb Review - Premier Guitar ›
Holiday Gear Finds 2022
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
Gibson Les Paul Standard 50s Faded
SE Standard 24-08
MONO FlyBy Ultra Backpack
JBL 3 Series Studio Monitors
Guitar Tech Screwdriver Set
Xvive U2, U3 and U4 Wireless Systems
Elixir® Strings Acoustic Phosphor Bronze with NANOWEB® Coating
Elephant Foot Risers and Frames
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
Caparison Horus-WB-FX MF
The Woman Tone
Templo Devices Holiday Specials
Taylors Guitars GS Mini
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Sennheiser MD 421
Orangewood Guitars Oliver Jr.
Marshall CODE 50 Digital Combo Amp
Line 6 Catalyst 100
LR Baggs Venue DI
Kali Audio LP-6 V2
Eventide H90 Harmonizer®
Wilkinson R Series Trev Wilkinson Signature Pickups
Hercules Stands Five-Piece Guitar Rack with Two Free Expansion Packs
ISP Hum Extractor Pedal
LAVA ME 3
Gator Cases Transit Guitar Gig Bags
DeLoach Guitars DL-225
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Outlaw Effects Launches NOMAD Pedal Boards
Outlaw Effects introduces their next generation of NOMAD rechargeable battery-powered pedal boards.
Available in two sizes, NOMAD ISO is a compact, versatile tool that offers the convenience of a fully powered board plus the additional freedom of not having to plug into an outlet. NOMAD ISO is ideal for stages with limited outlet availability, quick changeovers, busking outdoors, temporary rehearsal locations, and more!
NOMAD ISO builds upon the legacy of the ultra-convenient and reliable NOMAD rechargeable pedalboard line originally launched in 2018. The brand new NOMAD ISO editions feature eight isolated outputs (1 x 9V DC, and 1 switchable 9V/12V DC) for even more versatility and clean, quiet power. With an integrated lithium-ion battery pack boasting 12800mAh capacity, NOMAD ISO can fuel a wide array of pedals, and will last over 10 hours* on a single charge.
Each NOMAD ISO pedal board includes adhesive hook & loop pedal-mounting tape, eight (8) standard DC connector cables, and one (1) reverse polarity DC cable, giving you everything you need to build your ultimate "off-the-grid" rig. A rugged, road-ready padded gig bag with shoulder strap is also included, to safely protect your gear while you're on the move.
NOMAD ISO S: MSRP $309 / MAP: $249
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 5 ¼"
NOMAD ISO M: MSRP $349 / MAP $279
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 11"
More info: https://www.outlawguitareffects.com.
Dunable Reveal the Minotaur
Dunable announce new Minotaur model featuring Grover Rotomatic Keystone tuners.
The Minotaur's DNA is rooted in their classic Moonflower model, which Dunable discontinued in 2017. However, they have long since wanted to create a fresh take on a carved top guitar design, and various attempts to rework the Moonflower led them to a brand new concept with the Minotuar.
Dunable's goal is to give the player a guitar that plays fast and smooth, sounds amazing, and gives maximum physical ergonomic comfort. The Minotaur's soft and meticulous contours, simple and effective control layout, and 25.5" scale length are designed to easily meet this criteria.
- 25.5" scale length
- Dual Humbucker
- one volume, one tone, push pull for coil splitting
- Grover Rotomatic Keystone tuners
- Grover Tune O Matic bridge with brass Kluson top-mount tailpiece
- jumbo nickel frets
- 12" fretboard radius
Missing Link Audio Unveils AC/OD Pedal
This full-amp-stack-in-a-box pedal brings a new flavor to the Guitar Legend Tone Series of pedals, Missing Link Audio’s flagship product line.
Adding to the company’s line of premium-quality effects pedals, Missing Link Audio has unleashed the new AC/Overdrive pedal. This full-amp-stack-in-a-box pedal – the only Angus & Malcom all-in-one stompbox on the market – brings a new flavor to the Guitar Legend Tone Series of pedals, Missing Link Audio’s flagship product line.
The AC/OD layout has three knobs to control Volume, Gain and Tone. That user-friendly format is perfect for quickly getting your ideal tone, and it also offers a ton of versatility. MLA’s new AC/OD absolutely nails the Angus tone from the days of “High Voltage” to "Back in Black”. You can also easily dial inMalcom with the turn of a knob. The pedal covers a broad range of sonic terrain, from boost to hot overdrive to complete tube-like saturation. The pedal is designed to leave on all the time and is very touch responsive. You can get everything from fat rhythm tones to a perfect lead tone just by using your guitar’s volume knob and your right-hand attack.
- Three knobs to control Volume, Gain and Tone
- Die-cast aluminum cases for gig-worthy durability
- Limited lifetime warranty
- True bypass on/off switch
- 9-volt DC input
- Made in the USA
MLA Pedals AC/OD - Music & Demo by A. Barrero
Missing Link Audio AC/OD Pedal