A look at the versatile acoustic amp with both bass and guitar in mind - with sound clips covering acoustic, electric, resonator and more.

Download Example 1
Fingerpicked Guitar - Flat/Mild Hall RVB - Tweeter On
Brad Pouleson on Martin DM McIntyre FT HR
Download Example 2
FP & Vox (channel 2) - Flat/Increased RVB - Tweeter On
Brad Pouleson on Martin DM
McIntyre FT HR
Download Example 3
Dobro C Tuning - Flat/No RVB - Tweeter Off
Dustin Busch - Lebeda Resonator
Download Example 4
Chicken Pickin' - Slight Treble Increase - Tweeter On
Dustin Busch - Ibanez AS-103
Download Example 5
Swingle String - Flat/Mild Hall RVB - Tweeter On
Bob Goffstein - Borys BG100 Custom
Download Example 6
Jazz Blues - Decreased Treble - Tweeter Off
Steve Grismore - Epiphone Byrdland
Download Example 7
Tight Chords - Flat/Mild Hall RVB - Tweeter On
Bob Goffstein - Borys BG100 Custom
Download Example 8
Blue Tone Reamp - CH2 Sent to SF Champ - Tweeter Off
Bob Goffstein - Anderson Cobra Special Neck Pup
Download Example 9
Electric Upright Bass - Flat/Mic'd at 18" with condenser
Dan Berkowitz - Azola BugBass
Download Example 10
Upright - High-Pass at 60Hz/Flat EQ - Mic'd at 18"
Dan Berkowitz - '63 American Standard upright w/Revolution Solo wing pickup
Some people skirt convention, developing a fresh take on what it means to create an amp. If you’re an acoustic player, the Acoustic Image Ten2 combo requires a stretch of the imagination just to fathom the path taken in its design. Picture a combo that’s equally at home with string bass, acoustic guitar, hollowbody jazz guitar, keyboards, vocals, and a whole gamut of other string instruments.

But what if this amp we’re imagining had two 10" speakers and a tweeter, measured only 17" high and weighed just 28 pounds? What if this amp pushed eight ... hundred ... watts of power into a little round box—about the same height and weight as a Princeton Reverb amp, except with 67 times as much power—and provided full-range sound from 30 Hz to 20kHz?

That’s just the beginning of what Acoustic Image came up with in the fourth generation of its compact, high-powered acoustic amp, this time called the Ten2. Here are two takes on this rig, first through the eyes of a guitarist (that’s Bob), and then from a bassist’s vantage point (from Dan).

A Guitar Player’s Perspective
By Bob Goffstein
Just as the Acoustic Image (AI) name and philosophy has legendary status among bass players, the Ten2 breaks new ground in versatility by being very suitable for the guitarist and vocalist as well. The core of its increased versatility begins with a true two-channel amp, with features that provide sonic and signal routing solutions like no other guitar amp. I like to think of it as the hand grenade of amps, though its round little body, especially with its tilt-back legs deployed, also speaks to me of my favorite Star Wars robot, R2D2.

Versatility starts at the beginning of the signal chain: the inputs. Each of the two inputs utilizes a 1/4" XLR combo jack. The XLR portion presents 600-ohm impedance and 47 volts of phantom power, ideal for both dynamic and condenser mics. The 1/4" input shows 1 megohm of impedance, optimal for piezo pickup outputs without the need for a separate preamp.

Guitarists will note the absence of channel switching, which is no big loss since the amp is really not designed for rhythm/lead rock/blues work. Its class-D power amp and solid-state preamp are just too clean. With an SPL of 93dB at one watt, the Ten2’s other 799 watts providebeaucoup de headroom and a true high-fidelity platform. You just aren’t going to overdrive anything here (more on that later). Additional cool features for the singer/guitarist are the feedback-controlling notch filter and a high-pass filter that are selectable on each channel. Some high-end instrument pickups utilize a small mic inside the guitar as well as a piezo or magnetic element—easy to accommodate with the Ten2. Alternatively, use an external mic along with your built-in piezo. The Ten2 is ready for that, too.

Onboard effects are yet another set of bullets in the gunbelt of this singing cowboy. Although only one effect can be selected at a time, they may be routed to one or both channels or, of course, neither. In addition, each channel has its own Effect Level control. If you need more, don’t forget there’s a blendable effects loop on each channel, too. I found the onboards to be very sweet in their preset format, though I must admit I had trouble finding a use for the flanger.

An additional, and rather unique, function adding to an already versatile platform is the Ten2’s “Channel 2” switch. In the off position, this little button disconnects the output of the channel 2 preamp from the combo’s power amp, yet it retains its output at the Effect Send jack. You can then connect this output to an outboard power amp to create a true stereo mode.

For example, place a powered PA speaker on a stand and run voice on channel 2 to put your voice up and above the crowd, with full control from the preamp. Another way is to Y-cord the two preamp inputs together and put a delay in line with the output of the send to the input jack of a second guitar amp, which creates a huge sonic stage panorama for your instrument. And there are many more variations on this theme, limited only by your imagination and equipment.

Earlier, I mentioned this is not really an amp for use on rock and blues gigs. While true for the amp by itself, you can put the Ten2 to this task. Take an A/B/Y box and input the same instrument to both channels. Then use the Ten2’s Channel 2 switch to separate the two channels, sending channel 2 to overdrive a blues amp. I tried this re-amp feature with my SF Champ, Tweed Deluxe, and Boogie .22. In each trial I was able to produce tone and volume that integrated seamlessly with the “rhythm” channel 1 sound, and yet delivered a very sweet tube crunch merely by switching channels. The amount of overdrive is controlled by the channel 2 preamp Volume, and the overall volume of the blues machine is controlled by its Gain control.

I then switched to the “Y” input mode and used the two amps together. I gave this arrangement a couple of tweaks, turning off the Ten2’s tweeter and dialing down the highs. Everything seemed in phase and created a composite sound with strong, tight lows and sweet, crunchy mids and highs.

Okay, time to get back to the sound of the amp itself.

For this segment, I called on a few friends with nice instrument setups and better voices than mine, although I did put my two cents worth in for a few tracks. First, we tried acoustic guitar with a piezo pickup. The sound was luscious with tight, authoritative lows and clear, sweet highs. The mids were musical without a hint of nasality. We then added vox to channel 2 and, once again, after a bit of feedback notching for the small studio room, the sound was authoritative yet as neutral as the RE 20 dynamic mic we were using.

Next came dobro in C tuning. The highs again were sweet without the stridency sometimes associated with a metal slide. The low C string growled with Rottweiler-like authority and Muhammad Ali punch. Removing the ’verb added a bit more to this gut-rattling attack. We then plugged in an electric guitar. Using the bridge humbucker produced some superbly clean “chicken pickin’” with all the snap and pluck you might want—no feather left on that bird! Jazz sounds came next, and what a treat that was. Turning off the tweeter and rounding the sound a bit made for a Joe Pass-like tone to die for. Turning the tweeter back on and playing some tight interval chord-melodies really brought out each interval, along with the total harmonic structure of each chord. (Did I mention that Pat Martino uses AI amps?)

While you can use the Ten2 in straight-ahead plug ‘n’play, placing all of its features, power and dynamic range requires some knowledge of signal routing and levels. It is possible to harm the amp, making this more of a proaudio product than most guitar amps. But all this versatility and tonal nirvana—combined with a five-year warranty and AI’s legendary customer service—make it very difficult to find any fault whatsoever with the Ten2.

A Bassist’s Perspective
By Dan Berkowitz
I first tried the Ten2 with my trusty G&L L-2500 five-string bass. The result? A solid bottom end that easily hung in, clear down to the low B. The Ten2 doesn’t have the zing of a typical amp designed strictly for electric bass, but its focus, warmth and lack of boominess create a pleasant bass sound that will fit a lot of your small gig settings. I also tried the Ten2 with a fretless bass—the bottom was once again solid, with the focus of its notes beautifully defined.

I then gave the Ten2 a try with my Azola BugBass electric upright, a beefy axe with a fat bottom end that has challenged many a little amp and walked away laughing. As you might expect, at a blues trio rehearsal the Ten2 provided a pillow of bottom end from its down-firing speaker, while the forwardfacing speaker did a great job of maintaining presence. At a small wine bar gig with this group, I kept the controls nearly flat and turned down the Room Coupling Control a notch. The extremely quick and focused low end got through the mix on the merits of its clean note definition—instead of pushing the mids—keeping the sound smooth and round.

In one last go-round, I plugged the Revolution Solo piezo pickup on my old American Standard upright into the Ten2, and that’s where the high-pass filter and notch filter proved valuable. The variable frequency high-pass (aka “low cut”) filter was great for taming the low end and eliminating those sub-range frequencies that make a speaker cone flop around. The notch filter, in contrast, zeroes in on a narrow frequency band and cuts out instrument resonance that produces feedback on one or two notes. In all, I got a nicely detailed sound with a well-defined, natural-sounding bottom end.

Finally, there’s a secret benefit for bass players: just turn two thumb screws and the head slides right out, ready to hook up to a bigger cab and loaded with plenty of power for whatever situation you might face.

Although it’s a niche piece of gear, the Ten2 offers plenty of versatility for the bassist playing a variety of instruments. You could even double on electric and acoustic basses by plugging one into each input and dialing in separate EQs. Likewise, if you’re playing upright bass with both a piezo pickup and a condenser mic, the Ten2 makes the task a cinch.

We did, however, find the Ten2 just a touch awkward to carry, although its built-in side handles are up to the job. You also need to remove the power cord and speaker cable for safe transporting, but that’s a quick task. The amp actually includes a slipcover with carrying strap and cord pouch that wasn’t available at the time of our review.

A Guitar Player’s Perspective 
Buy if...
you’re a guitarist/vocalist seeking a lightweight and versatile gigging amp for small to medium venues; if you double on bass or keyboard, so much the better.
Skip if...
you play primarily electric guitar in a high-gain style at high stage volume. 

A Bassist’s Perspective
Buy if...
you need a super-high quality, flexible amp for small or large stages, or you’re an upright player or a doubler.
Skip if...
you need a really loud rig to keep up with a rock band and you like to play it dirty.

Street $1539 - Acoustic Image - acousticimg.com

The Fret-King Corona 60 HB takes the vintage Strat mold and makes all the necessary improvements


Download Example 1
Download Example 2
Single Notes
Download Example 3
Blues using Clark Gainster
Download Example 4
Demo of return to intonation of vibrato
 All clips recorded through Fender Princeton Reverb
Watch our video review:

Click here to watch full-size video
Those of us who’ve been around guitars for a while are familiar with the Wilkinson brand of vibrato bridges, tailpieces, tuners, and pickups. Recently, Trev has launched an extensive new range of his signature guitar line, Fret- King by Trev Wilkinson, first introduced as a boutique product in 1995, and comprised of “Blue Label” models made to spec in Korea and “Green Label” guitars made in the Wilkinson workshops in northern England. Having gained an excellent reputation abroad, these instruments are now beginning to find their way into the US market. Our review model is the Green Label Corona 60 HB, Mr. Wilkinson’s “tip of the hat” to his former mentor Leo Fender’s Stratocaster.

My first experience with a Strat was purchasing and gigging with a ’57 maple neck that I picked up in the mid-60s for under $100. It was a bit rough about the edges, but it was an excellent instrument to learn the ins and outs of Stratocasting. My experience with that guitar makes the changes wrought by Mr. Wilkinson all the more dramatic to me.

The original Strat’s problems involved string breakage and poor return to intonation using the vibrato arm. Wilkinson has solved these problems in simple and elegant ways that would have had old Leo slapping his forehead and muttering, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Strat players and subsequent engineers for Fender have tried multiple fixes for these problems. String breakage was fairly easy to solve, but vibrato problems brought forth a plethora of clamps, locks, roller bridges, non-fulcrum style vibrato bridges, dampening devices, etc.—all solving some of the problem but creating new problems in their wake. I would venture a guess that most Strat players have eventually ended up immobilizing their vibrato with a block of wood, as I have done. Fret-King has taken the best of the new and combined it with innovative additions to produce an instrument with the vibe and sound of a vintage Strat, but without the problems, all the while keeping the needs of the journeyman player first and foremost in mind. Let’s see how they have done it.

Appointments and Features
Opening the included lightweight composite case, we found a typical Strat-shaped solidbody guitar with a few extra curves and bumps on the headstock and pickguard to distinguish it—the curves actually represent a stylized rendition of Trev’s signature. The neck is straight-grained maple, and the fingerboard is integral to the neck, not glued on. This is an option, as the standard neck uses a glued-on rosewood board. The neck finish is a unique, proprietary clear satin, and very lightly applied so that surface grain is still present. Body woods are either swamp ash or alder. Our guitar is painted a beautiful Candy Apple red and has the heft of alder. I suspect the ash bodies are used on the sunburst and other finishes with visible wood grain. Both bodies are two-piece with a central joint. The neck is bolted to the body in typical fashion, and the logo and serial number are applied to the headstock. This model of the Corona range has two single-coil Strat-style pickups in the neck and middle positions, and a nickelsilver covered humbucker in the bridge position, hence the “HB” designation.

The tuners are Wilkinson/ Gotoh “Easy Lock,” similar in style to vintage Klusons, complete with lubrication hole. The instructions appear to be translated by a computer, thus rendering them useless... luckily, I have Gotoh/Anderson lockers on my Tom Anderson Cobra, so I know how to operate them: thread the string through the bridge and tuning post, then pull the string tight while turning the tuning key counterclockwise. Once the internal locking post locks the string against the inside, the entire post begins to rotate counterclockwise to tighten the string. These tuners have height-adjustable posts, making it possible to keep the angle of the strings over the nut optimum for vibrato use and tuning—and eliminating the need for a string tree. The nut itself is made of light-colored “Wilkaloid” (a self-lubricating acetal resin unique to Fret-King) that maintains the vintage look with the advantages of contemporary composite technology.

Moving along the neck toward the bridge, we find 22 medium frets, nicely polished and shaped, and standard black position markers. The fingerboard has a lightly applied satin clear finish and a radius of 10”, which is a nice compromise between comfortable chording and easy string bending. The neck itself is the shallow ‘C’ that many contemporary players prefer, while the contrasting walnut “skunk stripe” maintains the vintage look.

The pickguard is laminated plastic with a visually stunning material called “vintique gold 24 carat” on top. It looks like something that might glaze an ancient vase from a pharoah’s tomb and probably should be treated with some care. The back of the instrument reveals the vibrato spring cavity, also covered with this material. The sustain block has the usual holes for springs, but the string-insertion holes are far from typical. They are, in fact, part of the Wilkinson VSV High Performance Vibrato System, and allow the spring tension to be adjusted without the backplate coming off—one of the features that separate this fella from the rest of the “Strat” types.

Vibrato System
The VSV system factors in the variation of saddle position on the bridge plate resulting from proper “octave” intonation of the string itself. The string holes in the plate also correspond to this positioning and are relieved in the direction of the string, as well, to minimize string breakage. VSV uses formed and plated steel saddles with a larger radius, upon which the string rolls without sliding across or losing contact with the saddle surface. The larger radius also allows the heads of the string height adjustment screws to be positioned within, so they don’t poke into the player’s hand while palm-muting—a nice touch. The method of octave adjustment employs a special tool provided along with instructions (apparently translated by the same Gotoh computer). Fortunately, the methodology is simple and intuitive. The bridge assembly pivots on the typical 6-screw knife-edge fulcrum. The other improvement worth mentioning is the vibrato arm mount system. The push-in arm simply slides into the hole and stays at whatever height you leave it, making it easy to use with any particular picking style.

There is the standard 5-position pickup switch and three knobs, but the electronics are not completely standard, and their innovation deserves mention. The proximal knob is a Master Volume and has a silicon “O” ring mounted in a groove a couple of millimeters from the top of the knob, giving a very positive feel to the adjustment and facilitating techniques such as faux pedalsteel licks. There is a rolloff of high frequencies as the volume is decreased. The second knob is a Master Tone control. The third knob is an unmarked special control that allows continuous “panning” between single coil and full humbucker. Mr. W calls this the “Vari-coil” system. It’s not unusual to have a two-position switch between single coil and humbucker, but to my knowledge this is the first time a variable amount of each has been made available. Of interest, beyond the distinctive sound, is the fact that as soon as you leave the full singlecoil position, the hum associated with true single coil disappears.

Plugging In
With so many innovations, how does it sound and play? The short answer: superb! The guitar arrived fully setup with very light gauge strings (.009s), which further enhanced the demonstration of its intonation abilities. There was a bit of relief in the neck, which is required with light strings. The truss rod is vintage-style: light in weight to help provide the guitar with maximum resonance. It also uses vintage adjustment technique, which is to say it’s at the heel end, and things must be taken to pieces to make the adjustment. Intonation was good in all positions, though it took me a while to be able to adjust to the light strings. The vibrato system was easy to use and sensitive— and best of all, it had excellent return to pitch. Tuning was effortless, and it stayed in tune. The pickups have a vintage Strat sound and the humbucker was smooth and clear when activated. I enjoyed playing with the “Vari-coil” feature, particularly in switch position 4.

The Final Mojo 
The Fret-King Corona 60 HB appears to be a resurrection of the vintage Stratocaster with almost all the major defects fixed. Kudos to Trev Wilkinson.
Buy if...
you like the sound and feel of a Strat and want one with a vibrato system that stays in tune.
Skip if...
all the vibrato you need is in your fingers (and your G.A.S. Anonymous counselor says "no").

Street $3495 - Fret-King - fret-king.com

North American distribution is handled by JhS North America, dba MIDC Ltd: midc.ca.

The Twin Tube Blue is a useful pedal for blues players with an interest in effects

Dunlop Eddie Van Halen Signature Wah
Download Example 1
Download Example 2
Download Example 3
SIGNAL CHAIN: Tom Anderson Cobra Special-S with 3 mini humbuckers cable to the unit by a Mogami Platinum 12' and from the unit with an Alleva-Copollo 20'.
The Twin Tube Blue is the third in a series of Twin Tube stompboxes manufactured by Seymour Duncan and Co., best known for their full line of excellent pickups. Each in the series uses a different subminiature triode tube; the “Blue” uses the 6111 military spec tube, hence the designation SFX-11. I’m sitting at my computer pondering the 3 lb. “Blue” and wondering what might the other two units do that this one doesn’t, and vice versa. Maybe it’s the old “collect all three and trade ‘em with your friends” thing… or not. All I can say is this unit does a lot and does it well.

On the outside, the unit is painted a very pretty metallic blue with well-done graphics and labels in contrasting colors. The bottom cover is black with a large corrugated rubber “slip strip” and slotted vent openings for cooling on each side. Four screws hold the beefy steel top and bottom together. The left hand side has a status light at the top to show that the unit is engaged. When the light is out, the unit is in true-bypass mode. Below the light is the master Tone section with separate Bass and Treble controls, affecting both Rhythm and Lead channels equally (but of course not affecting the bypass signal). Below that is the logo, and at the lower edge of the chassis is the On/Bypass switch, brilliantly located so that it may be actuated easily with a toe (preferably in a shoe).

The right side of the top has the Rhythm channel, with separate Volume and Gain knobs. Below that is the Lead channel, with separate Volume and Gain controls as well. Below that, similarly placed to the bypass switch, is the Channel Select switch, which allows either the rhythm channel or the lead channel to enter the signal path, but not both. The rear of the blue cover has a 1/4" input for the instrument and a like output into the amp (or other device). There is also an input for the 16V 560mA AC power supply from a wall wart—the only way of powering this unit.

Removing the bottom cover reveals a very neat layout and tidy soldering. The mounting of some of the heavier components is reinforced by neatly placed dabs of flexible glue. There are some beefy capacitors in there that could definitely knock your socks off, so don’t be trying this at home unless you are sure you know what you’re doing. The 6111s have wires extending from their bases (instead of pins) and the wires are nicely insulated from each other and neatly soldered to tabs. A skilled tech should be able to change tubes in about 15 minutes, should that ever become necessary. The tubes are held to the board horizontally with a removable metal clamp and cushioned somewhat by silicon or Teflon tabs on the clamp and the board. All components both inside and out, except the footswitches, are mounted to a fiberglass printed circuit board. Components appear to be of good quality. The pots and switches are labeled “Alpha,” a reliable brand.

Time to light this baby up!
First, I tested the bypass by A/B’ing the unit in bypass mode with a direct connection and heard no change. I then read the very well-written instruction manual and set the unit up using my Clark Beaufort 2x10" and Mogami Platinum and Alleva-Coppolo cables (both very neutral sounding).

At middle, but appropriate, gig volume levels, the rhythm channel sounded very transparent and easily duplicated the bypass sound when dialing in less gain and more volume on the channel, with the master Tones set for Bass at 11 o’clock and Treble at 2. I could do the same with the lead channel, but had to add bass and back off the treble. This indicated that the rhythm channel used a different voicing than the lead channel. Indeed, further tweaking and listening showed the Lead channel with more top and a bit less bottom than the Rhythm channel. This makes sense if you plan to use the unit in the standard way, since you’d want the lead to come forward in the mix without adding mud to the overall sound of the band.

I set up other scenarios with the bypass, providing a solid rhythm sound and adding more gain to the Rhythm channel and Lead channel, but being careful not to overdrive the input of the amp at the same time, as this changed the character of the sound of the guitar and added some unpleasant (to me) forms of distortion. The unit outputs 2 Volts at max before clipping, so there is overdrive potential there. Everything I tried without going over the top retained a sweet tube sound. I then thought of using the unit as a two-step overdrive, which might actually work well with some amps.

I switched to my ’71 Princeton Reverb and set up the basic sound at a volume where it was slightly overdriven. I then set up the unit with low gain and high volume on both channels to produce an intrinsically clean sound but with incremental increases in volume, and thus was able to overdrive the Princeton in steps, each step having a useful tone and volume in a blues gig setting—all the while producing the sweet sounds of a Princeton Reverb (with a 12" Weber Alnico) in torture… er, I mean “enhanced interrogation” mode.

Another cool thing about the unit is that its Volume control doesn’t start at the volume of the input guitar but can be used to lower the volume instead. In other words, if you really love the sound of your amp going straight out in bypass mode for solos, you can use the unit to instantly lower the volume and at the same time change the tone and character of the sound at two levels.

To round out the testing, I used a number of other amps, including a Fender ’69 Champ and ‘90s Hot Rod Deluxe, an Ampeg ’65 Reverberocket, an Allen “Old Flame” and a Clark Beaufort, as well as multiple guitars with both humbucking and single-coil pickups. In all cases, the amps and guitars sounded like their glorious selves, but with the addition of smooth, clean tube tone changes produced by the effect.

A few concerns surfaced during use. The unit became somewhat microphonic at high-gain settings, causing particularly the bypass switch to “clank” loudly when actuated. The unit ran quite warm, which is understandable since the tubes are run at normal (high) plate voltages. Just don’t block the vents. Of more concern is the wall wart power supply. It is a real oddball voltage and runs very warm. I personally would not gig with this pedal without a backup power supply. I checked the internet and found no aftermarket replacements. Digikey, the supplier cited in the instructions by Seymour Duncan, listed the part as obsolete and unavailable. I did not find its exclusion from the warranty, so along with all else, it’s covered for one year (except tubes, which are covered for 90 days). Tubes are tubes, and prone to failure. These particular tubes are heavy duty and designed for mechanical stimulation as might be found in handheld devices, such as microphones. I suspect they will last a long time if the unit is not abused.

There are no value markings on any of the controls, but the use of “chicken head” knobs makes clock-hour values calculable—I’ve used small color-coded stick on dots found at office supply stores to indicate approximate setup for particular amps and guitars with final tuning by ear.

The Final Mojo
This is by far the best blues-oriented pedal I have ever used. I have used many over many years, and I still own the original BK Butler Tube Driver, a TS-9,etc. The Twin Tube Blue is so good it doesn’t sound like a pedal. I need one.
Buy if...
you're a player of amplified blues with no hang-ups about pedals.
Skip if...
you're an acoustic player, or an amplified player who doesn't use effects.

MSRP $325 Seymour Duncan - seymourduncan.com

Fender''s Custom Shop ''57 Twin Reissue looks the part -- we see if it sounds the part.

Download Examples
3.9MB Zip file with 10 mp3s and description
 Watch a video review:
A couple of decades ago several small amp manufacturers, noting the demand for used Fender amps, started to produce amplifiers using old Fender circuits, capitalizing on the simplicity of operation and purity of tone of these classics. I invested in a Clark Piedmont (’59 Bassman) and a Clark Beaufort (narrow panel Deluxe) and so am well acquainted with the high standards used to produce these replicas.

It didn’t take Fender long to figure out that there was a market waiting for reissues of some of their most revered models, and thus followed a steady stream of amps that bore the Fender logo and looked just like the amps of yore. Most contemporary players understood the choice of the first series of reissue models, but sometime around 2004 the ’57 Twin (model 5E8-A, also known as the low-power Twin) came out, and the less vintage-oriented players scratched their gearheads and wondered.

What’s up with the ’57 Twin?

The first Fender amps (and most others) were born out of circuits printed in the back pages of tube manufacturers’ catalogs suggesting ways to use their new audio tubes. The early circuits based on these primitive tubes were simple, and the initial amp models were wimpy, but somewhere against the hum of these primordial beasts the sharp report of the starter’s pistol signaled the beginning of the amplifier race.

Leo Fender could not play the guitar, but he had a knack for translating into products the suggestions and demands of those who could. Most of his advisers were the country guitar and steel players of southern California, with a few big-city rock ‘n’ rollers thrown in. The professional players wanted loud. They needed to fill the sonic space of large ballrooms, dance halls, roadhouses and outdoor celebrations without the benefit of the Front of House monoliths that are seen at today’s large venues. Beginning in 1952 at 25 watts, the Twin Amp was Leo’s answer to this demand.

The Twin underwent constant modification and several model changes in the years to follow. As the models changed, the power output increased. What is unique about the 5E8-A is that it used two 5U4 rectifier tubes (higher power rectifiers had not been invented yet) to prevent the sag of the attack/decay envelope and allow a decrease in the negative feedback loop to the tone stack. This made the Twin loud and punchy enough to cut through, but also allowed another browner, spongy tone favored mainly by Blues players by simply removing one of the rectifiers.

The subsequent Twin Amp models featured four output tubes and high-power or solid-state rectifiers and many more output watts, making them suitable only for very loud rock gigs and large venues.

Meet the Beastie
The ’57 Twin RI is a replica of its predecessor manufactured by the Fender Custom Shop (with a few changes thrown in for versatility’s sake). The nicely applied lacquered Tweed cloth covers a finger-jointed, solid-pine cabinet with a thin leather handle (more on that later). The chromed steel vertical chassis houses highquality components mounted on a sturdy black fiberglass eyelet board, sturdy tube sockets, and nicely done point-to-point wiring. The switches, jacks and pots are high quality and the transformers and choke are from the highly regarded Mercury Magnetics Company. There is a bias adjustment pot on the circuit board.

The tube complement includes four Sovtek 12AX7WCs, relabeled Groove Tubes 12AX7- R; two Groove Tubes-6L6GE (made in the USA) and two Electro Harmonix 5U4GB rectifiers. The speakers are 12” Eminence Alnicos designed by Ted Weber (of Weber VST), which look remarkably like Weber P-12Ns. The top rear-positioned control panel features five chicken-head knobs, which all traverse from 1–12 (take that, Nigel). There are separate Bright and Normal channels, each with its own preamp circuit, separate Volume controls and two jacks, followed by Treble, Bass, and Presence controls that are common to both channels.

Comparing schematics of old and new, there are some relatively important differences. The original used three 12AY7 preamp tubes (but the same AX as the phase inverter). There is no bias adjustment pot on the original, and output tube plate voltages have been increased in the reissue to 450V from original 400V. There are also a couple of internal fuses on the new circuit (good idea). The new circuit is geared toward a brighter, louder sound, with the flexibility of being able to adjust bias on output tubes to provide a more customized sound and allow changes of output tubes from one brand to another.

A few design considerations are in order for us “filament brains” and non-tech types as well. The old Fender amps were not very consistent in sound, due to the fact that the factory tended to use whatever components they had on hand at the time, often of loose tolerance, which led to variations in circuit voltages that could affect sound. Add to this the fact that there was no practical way of adjusting bias in this fixed-bias amp and you could end up with two amps that looked the same but sounded very different.

When Fender set out to make this ’57, they picked one particular amp that was admired by many top players and measured all the circuit parameters of that amp. They then used tighter-tolerance components and handwound transformers that individually tested to spec in order to replicate the sound of this amp.

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.

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