“If an alien came to earth and wanted to hear an American guitar sound, I would play him my Twin with a Jensens set.”
I found this statement many years ago and it sums up my feelings about the Twin Reverb, Fender’s flagship amp. So, allow me to share my thoughts on the bigger brother of the Fender family and discuss speakers, tube swapping, and how to unlock its secrets. My goal is to make all of you educated fans of this legendary amp that has somewhat lost its place in the modern world. But first, some facts.
Fender released the Twin Reverb as we know it today in 1963 as one of the first amps of the black panel era. It was a two-channel combo with two 12″ speakers, diode rectifier, reverb, tremolo and four 6L6GC tubes producing 85 watts. It was aimed at professionals and was the most powerful amp ever made. by Fender. Back in the tweed days, the Twin arrived as a 2×12″ combo amp—first, a low-power 25-watt version with a single pair of power tubes; then, after 1958, a high-powered version with four 6L6GC tubes and 80 watts.
“Speakers are like ice cream – everyone has their favorite.”
The blonde Tolex Twin arrived in 1960 and looked more like the black-panel classic we know today, with separate normal and vibrato channels on the faceplate. Reverb and a diode rectifier were added to the black-panel Twin Reverb, which had all the features and the biggest iron Fender could offer at the time. It was the first and only black panel amp with a full tone stack on both channels, with bass, mid, treble and a bright switch allowing you to dial in everything between a Dick Dale Strat surf sound and a smooth jazz sound for, say, a Gibson kick drum. The silver-panel Twin Reverb underwent several changes beginning in 1972, primarily in the power circuitry. There was a 100 watt and 135 watt silver panel version with master volume. They’re not very popular today but will work well as a cheap practice amp if you can find one in good condition.
The disadvantages of the Twin Reverb are the weight and the volume. Depending on the speakers, a Twin weighs 73 to 88 pounds. The 13-pound JBL D120F speakers that came with the original black-panel Twins were, in my opinion, too heavy for the amp, as were the four 10-inch JBL Super Reverbs. While these speakers are highly collectable, the weight of these ceramic JBLs will eventually tear the wooden cabinet, so you can’t carry these amps around for regular touring.
My favorite vintage speakers for the Twin Reverb are the lighter Jensen C12N (7 pounds) or the Fender Oxford 12T6. The Oxfords sound surprisingly tight and good, and not as soft as the Oxfords you find in other low-powered Fender amps. The 1965 reissued 1965 reissued black-panel Twin Reverb Jensen C12Ks sound unforgivingly stiff to my ears. Although they’re getting better after years of play, I’d rather swap them out for the lighter Jensen P12Q, which has a smaller voice coil and vintage steel basket, or the brighter G12C/S from Warehouse Guitar Speakers. The G12C/S offers great authentic Fender tone at a reasonable weight and price (10 pounds). But don’t just rely on my speaking tips. Speakers are like ice cream: everyone has their favorite. With the right speakers for your ears, a Twin Reverb reissue will give you everything the goods for you.
While other Fender amps typically separate at around 4 with a Strat, the Twin Reverb stays clean up to around 6 – and those clean notes are sharp as a knife’s edge and will stand up to heavy drummers and bass players. That’s exactly what the amp is made for: to be played without a mic in, say, a gospel band at a 300-seat church every Sunday, or Friday night at a cowboy bar in Bakersfield, circa 1963. It is designed for not to break up. So you need to have your expectations set correctly – or be skilled with the pedals – to truly appreciate the diabolical Twin.
A simple trick to reduce headroom is to disengage one of the speakers and pull out either inner or outer power tubes. You’ll then essentially have a 1×12″ 40 watt amp while still getting the big cabinet ambience. Other than that, there are no mods I recommend with this amp. The Fender Twin Reverb is made for big occasions, and once you learn how to use it properly, you’ll enjoy a very physical sonic experience with everyone else on stage, who will have no problem hearing this amp.
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