Tuesday, October 25, 2016

1976 Fender Super Reverb, end of the good ones.

This came in last week, belongs to a recording studio. The complaint? Harsh distortion at any volume.

First note, just a low E revealed this to be true. I felt annoyed. Sounded like bad voice coils. I did not wish to box up another four speakers and send them to California, not after the last 4x10" amp ('67 Marshall Bluesbreaker combo) had four bad voice coils. Made that telltale "THWACK" sound. Ruh Roh.....

But after opening the amp up I could see one electrical problem. The screen grid resistors were fried. I believe they were 1 watt resistors. Never use less than 2 watt.

After installing them I checked the bias. Each of the Sovtek 5881 WXT tubes were drawing about 4 milliamps. So, I re-biased for 35ma and the amp came to life.

This amp was rebuilt by someone years ago, new caps etc. They also did the black panel Fender mod which is pretty extensive. Worth doing. These amps have nothing really special about them so why keep a rather mushy sounding amp 'original' when it can sound great, and this amp does sound great. It's one of the last of the 45 watt models. They went to 70 watts about a year later. I really don't like those! The 70 watt amps are heavier (these are plenty heavy!) have an ultra linear transformer which I'm not fond of, lacks the power supply choke and no tube rectifier. The result is a harder sounding amp. Okay for country music if you need to play really loud. But for me? I prefer the softer compression a 5U4 or 5AR4 rectifier tube offers. These earlier models just have nice color to the sound, more warmth and more compression when you hit a note at high volume. Amps from this era can be a bargain. Still hand wired, still very high quality and easily modded to be close to the coveted 60's black models.

One more problem was noise. The reverb recovery tube was bad and the 2nd channel preamp tube for volume and tone had a good hum. That part was easy. The first channel had a good amount of snap crackle pop going on. And to make matters worse after replacing the load resistors and cathode cap, it didn't go away, it just became intermittent. Ugh. Some 70's Fender amps I've found the wire to oxidize and go noisy. I really hoped it wasn't that. Not up to replacing wires but if you do find this, start with the anode wires going to pin 1 and 6 on the 12AX7.

Fortunately it wasn't this. I found when it was in full crackle mode if I turned the channel all the way down it was gone (duh!) but also found if I turned the channel all the way up is went away. It only crackled in the middle. So I threw in a brand new CTS 1meg volume pot. Let it play for 2 hours and no noise. It's rare I get a volume pot that does this but I remembered my man Steve at Angela Instruments telling me this back in 1990 or so. Worthy of a try and it worked.

This amp has the original master volume and distortion circuit accessible through a pull switch. If I did the mods I would pull that bullshit out of there! The master volume never really gets dirty enough to justify having it in there, the distortion is comically bad sounding and the extra wires running around add a bit of hum. But like I said, this amp sounds great so if it ain't broke.....

For some ideas on Super Reverb prices, click here:


The 1967-1969 ones are some of my favorites once converted. But even the 1967 black panel amps aren't awfully expensive! You can spend way more on a boutique amp. Heck, I even built one for a client that set him back $1800 initially. He had every ultra expensive component mapped out for the thing. Top of the line Weber speakers, big ass Mercury Magnetics output transformer, every cap and resistor mapped out from years of "research" on internet forums. The result was the only amp I ever built that I didn't like. It was anemic. Another $1000 later it was exactly as I would have built it. Run of the mill Sozo caps, carbon comp resistors, cheap Weber Chicago series speakers, and the amp sounded like an old Super. Really great! And I was was baffled as to why anyone would go to the expense when an original is just not as expensive! Though, I sure appreciated the business, and he was a great client. Learned a lot about cap differences through his OCD tendencies. Literally, he would have me change one cap due to some jive he read on the web, but that one cap did make a difference....

I remember the first Super Reverb I ever heard. It was a Berklee Professor named Jim Kelly who had one and I saw him on a gig. I was floored by his tone. The second was my man David Lyons who now owns Sonic Circus (http://soniccircus.com/) in Vermont. After playing his my "new amp" phase abruptly ended. He had such a lovely sound. I no longer really play gigs big enough to justify using one of these but if I did, these are excellent workhorses. Tough as nails and really cut nicely.

Let's see. One these plus that Bluesbreaker equals 8 ten inch speakers....... Yeah, that's the ticket....


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