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.
you want a great-sounding and versatile
amp with vintage tone and appearance
and high reliability.
you need a lot of built-in bells and
whistles, or you’re not playing medium-to-large venues that provide
Click here to watch a
video of the Fender ‘ 57
Twin in action