EL84 power section
Four 12AX7 preamp tubes
Custom features about 36 watts of class-A
power. But unlike its predecessor, the Custom
has a solid-state rectifier in place of a GZ34.
The Custom’s front panel is elegant and
simple. At the far left is a single 1/4" input,
followed by three controls for the built-in
reverb—Mix, Tone, and Dwell—that will
be familiar to anyone who has used a stand-alone Fender Reverb unit. To the right of
the reverb controls are the amp’s Treble,
Mid, Bass, and Presence knobs, followed by
a pilot light and the standard standby and
on-off toggle switches, plus a ground switch.
On the back of the amp are 1/4" outs for
8Ω and 16Ω speaker configurations.
Positively Killer Sounds
I auditioned the Underground Custom head
with a half-open Bruno cab equipped with
two 12" Celestion G12-65 speakers. Plugging
a recent Gibson 1963 ES-335 Historic with
factory Burstbuckers directly into the Custom,
I was blown away by the amp’s power. Set on
2, it seemed as loud as other 30-watt models
do at much higher volume settings.
Bruno says he conceived and voiced the
Custom for lead playing. So I first tried
some single-note lines in a variety of idioms, including blues-rock and modal jazz.
The Custom did indeed impress in all these
contexts, delivering a warm and spongy
sound filled with blooming harmonics and
uncommon definition and sustain.
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
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.
Tony Bruno’s Underground Custom may be
an evolution of the Underground 30, but it
has the potential to become just as lust-wor-thy 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
EL84 reverb driver
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.
you’re looking for a boutique, hand-
wired tube amp with a powerful lead
voice and gorgeous rhythm tones.
you’re a high-gain player, or only vin-
tage will do, or you’re short on cash.
As reviewed: head $2899,
or use a mobile device to download
audio clips of the amp at