The ’65 Fender Twin Reverb Reissue, is a reissue of the original “blackface” Twin Reverb from 1965 (that clears that up). There are differences between the original and the reissue — due to discontinued parts, updated safety regulations, environmental concerns (such as the use of mercury and lead in electronic parts) or cost-related issues (cheap bastards). Some
anoraks enthusiasts insist this makes all the difference, but for this article I’m going to assume that the original and the reissue are so close in sound and performance that we can regard them as the same amp (if this notion offends you, please harass me let me know in the comments section).
What’s All This Then?
The Twin Reverb is a high powered tube amplifier with lots of headroom, made to do one thing really well — to produce a loud, clean tone. At the time of the original’s release, clean and loud amps were few and far between. You could, for instance, play through a Marshall amp — which was loud but not clean, or maybe a Vox (still not loud and clean). Other Fender amps were available, but neither could really compete with the Twin for sheer volume.
It’s rated at 85 watts RMS, which I suspect is a rather conservative estimate, as even hard-hitting drummer rarely make you turn it up past 3-4. It has large power and output transformers, and it drives two twelve-inch loudspeakers. As a result, it’s a really heavy beast of an amp, and to add insult to injury, there’s just one handle, mounted on top of the chassis. Carrying it basically twists your back in all the wrong places while your other arm’s stretched out for balance, looking like a demented penguin before you finally lose your grip and the amp gracelessly tumbles down the staircase you were trying to negotiate.
It does one thing really well — a bright, glassy, present clean tone. It has a tonal response that is smiley-shaped. There’s ample low end, a rich high end, but a slightly recessed midrange. This contributes to the clean characteristic, as we hear bright sounds as cleaner and thinner than midrangey sounds, which give a fatter but less clean impression.
A Tale of Two Channels
I’ve heard people describe the Twin as a one trick pony. This may be true, but it’s a very nice trick. Even so, if you have an overdrive pedal you can set up the Twin as a poor man’s two channel amp. The amp actually has two channels, but unlike MESA/Boogie or modern Marshall amps there aren’t clean and overdriven channels, there are only two clean channels. That could seem redundant, but there are a couple of important differences between the channels. The so-called Normal channel is fairly basic, with volume, treble, mid and bass controls. The Vibrato channel has — in addition to identical volume control and tone stack — controls for tremolo (infamously labelled “vibrato”) and reverb.
There’s another small but important difference, but you can’t see it unless you disassemble the amp: the vibrato channel has what’s known as a “bright cap” — a capacitor that’s connected to the volume control — that gives that channel a brighter (surprise) tone. For clean tones, this is great. Personally, I love bright clean tones. The warmer Normal channel is more subdued, and to me it sounds like there’s a blanket over the amp.
With an A/B box you can set up the Vibrato channel as the clean channel, and the Normal channel as an overdrive channel, with the use of a good pedal. The point here is that the same property that makes the Normal channel less than satisfying played clean, makes it a good match with dirt boxes. A very bright clean tone can be difficult to match with an overdrive pedal, as it brings out too much fizz. The warmer Normal channel on the other hand is a perfect fit.
The tone stacks are the same for both channels. The treble control is first in the circuit, and this means that the higher the treble control is set, the less effective the middle and bass controls are. It’s possible to work around this by using the bright switch. Turning the bright switch on, let’s you keep some of the brightness even if you turn the treble control down. Because of, um… trade union regulations, I haven’t recorded any examples where the bright switch is used in the accompanying video, but you can see it in action in the article about Clean Tones and the Fuzz Face Clean post.
Misnomer and Reverb
The Vibrato channel has a tube-driven tremolo (which is exactly what it doesn’t say on the tin, as vibrato is pitch modulation, not amplitude modulation, which tremolo is). It sounds very good to my ears, and fits the amp’s tone perfectly. Combined with just a tad-too-much reverb, you can get classic surf sounds. Personally, I love the tone for slightly eerie, ambient soundtrack pieces. The only downside I can think of is that the controls for the tremolo and reverb have a lot of their response concentrated at the beginning of the pot’s travel, which makes it difficult to make precise adjustments.
The Daily Grind
Opinions differ, but I’ll say this: trying to get the Twin to grind is sheer folly. If you want a blackface amp that can get crunchy, I’d look at the Princeton Reverb (12 watts) Deluxe Reverb (22 watts) or Super Reverb (45 watts), not the 85-watt clean behemoth that is the Twin. Seriously, from input to output it’s specifically made to be a clean amp — large power transformer, lots of power tubes and a hefty output transformer. Besides, the stiff power section (high filtering, quite a bit of negative feedback) makes what little grind that does occur, sound raspy and unpleasant.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t sound good turned up to, say, six. At that volume the amp still stays clean — there’s not a lot of harmonics added to the signal — but it compresses and fattens up the tone. Because of the large amounts of headroom, the low end stays tight and deep.
A Twin for All Seasons
So, the venerable Twin Reissue – is it all it’s cracked up to be? I think so. Granted, the cabinet in itself probably isn’t as sturdy as it was in the 1965 amps (especially the baffle at the back seems to be made of the same material as Weetabix), and I’ve had to tighten every chassis screw to minimise cabinet resonances. The circuit itself is mounted on a set of printed circuit boards (PCB) instead of the point-to-point wiring of the original, but that doesn’t bother me. Granted, the PCBs in the reissue are probably on the cheap side. On the other hand, Twins are the standard amp for club backlines, so finding a replacement or a tech that knows how to fix it, shouldn’t be too difficult.
All in all it’s a great amp at what it does, and considering the availability of new amps, used amps and techs who know how to fix them, we should all be twisting and fruging to the reverb-drenched, tremolo-swamped, icepick-in-the-forehead-cleans for years to come (I use the term icepick-in-the-forehead with the utmost admiration and respect, mind).
How do you feel about the Twin Reverb – reissue or otherwise? Do you enjoy the clean tones? Do you use it as a pedal platform, or would you rather
pummel the audience with play your Marshall amp? Don’t keep it to yourself…