1971 Vibrolux Reverb

Vibrolux Reverb

I actually can't remember where I got this amp. I want to say Ebay or Craigslist, it was something like that, but seriously, I just can't remember. Oh well. I think it was in July of 2000.

I have played and owned a fair share of Fender amps over the last 35 years, including brownface Bassmans, Twins (very short lived romance), and right before this one, a '63 Showman + homebuilt 2 x 12 cab with JBLs - my Dick Dale rig - which I loved, but got tired of carrying around, and was too freakin' loud for most club gigs. I decided I wanted a combo I could carry easily, and thought a Vibrolux would be perfect. Although I love the older Brown and Tweed Fenders, I wanted the reverb built in (one less thing to carry), so was thinking Blackface. But I found this one, and thought "eh, why not, I can always ditch it if I don't like it."

I did like it. While I was never enamored with silverfaces in general, I've played some good ones, and this one is a real good one. The date stamp is Sept 1971, with the name J. Castillo. (his name is in a bunch of Fender amps from this period). The 6L6 tubes it came with looked to be the original "Fender Design" tubes, but I have since replaced them with Ruby 6L6s. Yes, I have had amps with NOS RCAs before, and yes, I like them - but these days, NOS 6L6s are a crapshoot, both in reliability and tone, and not cheap; so I made the decision to go with a new production tube. Between you and me, I think people get far too worked up over power tubes and not worked up enough over preamp tubes, but we'll keep that our little secret.

I replaced the 5U4 rectifier with an NOS mid-50's RCA, really not necessary, but price was right, and I'm goofy for retro shit, so why not. Some folks like the GZ34 in these amps, but I think they sound like a solid state rectifier in lower watt amps, which I don't like. The amp is plenty responsive enough with the 5U4, and I like that sag when you really dig in. Makes it sound like it's being abused. Not to mention, with a GZ34, you gotta make sure you re-bias properly and make sure the tranny can handle the increase in voltage. Vibroluxes are noted for having somewhat underpowered trannys, which help give them their sound, but pushing that further doesn't strike me as a good idea.

When I got it, it had a stock Fender 12AT7 in V2 , I guess to reduce gain, but sounded pretty blah, as AT7s can in vital "tone spots". So I yanked the 7025 from V1, which looked pretty shot anyways; stuck a '56 RCA blackplate in V2 (folks, this tube will shape most of your tone - don't scrimp here! The RCA blackplates really do sound incredible), and the stock 7025 in V4, the second most important tube in your amp. Much better. The V1 stage is empty , a common mod to slightly increase gain in V2, giving a slightly thicker, dirtier tone. Probably have to replace that V4 soon as well.

The amp has been "blackfaced" by Mike Nemeth of Twisted Wires, my go to amp tech. Seemed to be a real easy job for this circuit, change a few resistors, snip a few caps, done. He also recapped it, as many of the caps had fallen out of spec. I was thinking the difference would be subtle; it wasn't. People constantly remarked how much more open, smooth and solid the amp sounded, especially when being driven. I tend to agree. Up until say 3 on volume, the amp is a bit constricted (as tube amps are wont to be), but get to 4, and the thing opens up like a 25 cent whore.

The tremolo channel doesn't work or has been bypassed, which is fine. I think the trem tube is being used for the reverb driver, as most Vibroluxes I've played don't have a lot of reverb, but I can get drenched on about 5 on this amp. Yeah, Fender tremolo does sound awesome, but it's a good trade off. I'd rather use a tremolo pedal than a reverb pedal, as my Voodoo Labs trem sounds pretty good, while reverb pedals generally sound like shit.

The speakers it came with were the original blue label Oxfords, not my favorites, and were shot. I replaced them with Weber Alnico 10s (the Jensen style), which sound great - until one of them died on me. I was under the gun, needed to fix it, so threw in a reissue Jensen that Mike had. Turns out, the blend is pretty cool, and a plus is when recording, I have another tone to go to by micing one or the other speaker. I had used 12 inch speakers for a long time, but have become a convert to the 10s. I like the more responsive, crisper tone.

I don't glue my settings down, I will change them a little depending on the room and my whims, but generally I set treble between 7-10 (bright switch off), bass around 3 or 4. Reverb depends on the song, sometimes almost off, sometimes drenched. True to Vibrolux form, it starts to breakup nicely around 4 on the volume, which is pretty dang loud. A 40 watt amp is not half as loud as an 80 watt; common misconception. It doesn't work like that. (but it does sell higher wattage amps I guess).

People often think of a Vibrolux as a 2 speaker Super, a 2 x 10 Deluxe, or a scaled down Twin. It's not. (although I do love Supers and Deluxes). Vibroluxes have a character all their own, both in the breakup pattern and the response. Some folks point to the relatively weak power tranny. Even with the 5U4 sag, the response is quite sensitive. You can really control your sound with your picking approach. The flip side is, if your picking hand aint together, it will show on this amp. Unlike say a cranked Marshall or Boogie, which highly compress your picking dynamics, this amp will put out what you put in with alarming clarity.