September 18

Fender ’64 Vibroverb Custom

Introduced in 1964, the Fender Vibroverb was essentially a Super Reverb Pedal fitted with a single 15 instead of four 10s (a change that required a shorter cabinet and a different output transformer). Fender pulled the plug on the Vibroverb after a little more than a year in production–a move destined to make the amp a prized find today, even without the added cache of having Stevie Ray Vaughan as its most noted user.

In 2001, Fender was approached by custom-amp builder/guitar-tech Cesar Diaz (known for his work with Vaughan, Keith Richards, and Bob Dylan) with the idea of resurrecting the Vibroverb in a guise that incorporated some of his favorite mods. Diaz remained involved in the project until his death in April, 2002–almost a year before Fender’s introduction of the ’64 Vibroverb Custom ($2,099 street), the first new amp to be added to its Custom Series since the mid 1990s.

Return of a Legend

The ’64 Vibroverb Custom looks identical to an original Vibroverb, and it features such authentic details as a handwired circuit and a finger-jointed, solid-pine cabinet. Major differences include a glass-epoxy circuit board, (the oldie employed a wax-impregnated fiber board), vinyl-clad wiring (vintage models had cloth-covered wire), an Eminence speaker (Jensen was the original maker), and, of course, the Diaz-inspired functions. The Customs circuit is cleanly assembled, and many of the components (including all of the tube sockets) are chassis-mounted as per original spec. Less inspiring are the four tiny silicon rectifier diodes (the smallest I’ve ever seen on a tube amp) and the thin-gauge wire used in some parts of the circuit. Size issues aside, the amp performed beautifully after being trucked around to various gigs, and it’s worth noting that Eric Johnson had his way with this amp for several weeks before we got it.

Hail Cesar!

The ability to switch between tube and solid-state rectifiers allows you to subtly soften or stiffen the Customs dynamic response (not to mention the diodes activate automatically in case of rectifier tube failure), but it’s the Diaz-designed Mod/Stock switch that makes the Custom a more flexible animal than its vintage counterpart. Switching to the Mod position pumps-up the gain and toughens the mids for punchier, grindier tones with single-coils, and a heavier, Marshall-like presence with humbuckers. Don’t expect gonzo overdrive, however–the distortion/volume increase is similar to what you’d get by stepping on a mild and best rated overdrive pedal. In fact, as the vibrato is disabled when the Mod function is selected, it would appear the Diaz modification creates a signal boost by simply bypassing the vibrato circuit. (Fender’s Shane Nicholas says the Mod function also rebiases the preamp tubes for more distortion and attenuates the lows for a tighter bottom.)

Vibro Verve

If you’ve never played a Vibroverb, you’re in for a real treat when you plug into the Custom. This loud, bright-sounding amp offers loads of bottom, as well as a slightly twangy treble voicing that adds a little Texas accent to whatever you play. Tested with a variety of single-coil and humbucker guitars (including a ’68 Les Paul Custom reissue, a ’70s Tele, a ’50s reissue Strat, a PRS McCarty, and a P-90-equipped Hamer Monaco 3), the Custom delivered sparklingly clear and balanced tones through the Vibrato channel with the tube rectifier selected, the volume around 5, the Mod switch in the Stock position, and the well-voiced tone knobs about halfway up. At higher volume settings (we’re talking 7 or more with single-coils), the tones became grittier and significantly brighter–enough to require turning down the treble a fair amount. Switching to the Mod setting boosts the volume and distortion while adding a more aggressive midrange bark. Too bad the Mod function isn’t footswitchable, though, as it would be perfect for a lead boost (a two-button footswitch is included for the reverb and vibrato).

Low Rider

One of the Customs standout attributes is how rich and gnarly it sounds on the low strings.

With a little distortion, you get throaty, sax-like tones that are perfect for hard-driving blues. Reduce the grit and/or lighten your attack, and fat, spanky country licks snap from the big speaker.

The tube-powered spring reverb is bright and reflective, and it offers plenty of surf-approved splashiness when turned up. At high volumes, the reverb gets pretty trashy–especially with the Mod setting engaged–but it’s still an awfully cool effect. The excellent vibrato (which is really tremolo, because it’s modulating volume not pitch) has the smooth pulse and wide speed range that are trademarks of blackface Fenders.

Good Vibes

With its meaty response and bell-like clarity, the ’64 Vibroverb Custom is a hip choice for any guitarist seeking a tough-sounding amp that excels at clean-to-moderately-overdriven tones. I’m not sure what type of player Fender originally had in mind for the Vibroverb, but it’s probably safe to say that SRV and Diaz would smile in approval of Fender’s efforts to give this maverick combo a new lease on life.

August 31

Maxon FA10 Fuzz Elements – Air VS Hallmark Nu-Fuzz

Maxon FA10 Fuzz Elements – Air

We’re jazzed to get a first shot at Maxon‘s entire Fuzz Elements series–which seeks to emulate vintage top fuzz pedals without resorting to the use of silicon or germanium transistors.

“Maxon mapped the sonic elements of these classic pedals using advanced software technology,” explains Kevin Bolembach of Godlyke Distributing. “The replicated sounds are achieved using analog circuitry, but they do not necessarily use the same components as the originals. In other words, there may not be any transistors in a particular circuit–it depends upon what components were required to replicate the sound of the original pedal.”

In the case of the Air ($189 retail)–which emulates the octave fuzz of the Univox SuperFuzz–there’s absolutely nothing light and airy about its sound. It is, in fact, heavy, as hell. You get soaring crunch with the mode switch on Fat, and terrifying nails of doom on Scoop. The Expander control pulls down sustain for blistered, stuttering tow-power effects. The octave effect is subtle, and it tends to decay faster–and with some audible frazzle as it falls off–than the root note. This is either an ultra-cool texture, or somewhat annoying, depending upon the application, but it’s definitely a unique effect.

  • Kudos Awesome roar. Fat/Scoop switch.
  • Concerns Fast-decaying octave effect not for everyone.

Hallmark Nu-Fuzz

Hallmark‘s Bob Shade sweats the big and small stuff in his company’s guitar designs–many derived from classic Mosrite models–and he took the same course for his first pedal release. In reviving Mosrite’s mid-’60s Fuzzrite–which gained buzzy acclaim on Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”–Shade brought on the original designer, Bakersfield, California’s Ed Sanner, who hand builds each pedal in the USA. The Hallmark Nu-Fuzz ($249 direct) is actually modeled after the Nu-Fuzz that Sanner evolved from his Fuzzrite design for Rosac Electronics in 1968, after he left Mosrite. Despite the passing of nearly five decades, the limited-edition Nu-Fuzz (only 100 will be made–all signed by Ed) remains tethered to the ’60s via its roadster finishes (Kandy Orange, Kandy Lime, Kandy Apple, Kandy Gold), vintage amp control knobs, homespun construction, and sole reliance on 9-volt battery power.

The trip to the fab ’60s continues when you put boot to pedal, as almost every “beautifully awful” caterwauling frazzle from bands such as the Electric Prunes, Davie Allan & the Arrows, Frijid Pink, and Count Five is brought to mind. The midrange sear of the Nu-Fuzz is so formidable–even with the Tone knob knocked back–that I haven’t found a track it couldn’t cut right through and slap you across the cheek. This is the sound of classic fuzz. Celebrate it. Fear it. Adore it.

  • Kudos Stunning recreation of ’60s fuzz. Cool colors. Ed signs ’em.
  • Concerns Battery is only power option.