If you’re anything like me, your first amp was kind of a p.o.s. I won’t even tell you what my first amp was, but I will say that it had an 8” speaker and sounded, at best, awful. Eventually, I upgraded to a solid state Marshall that had a 12” speaker and a footswitch so I could go from clean to dirty without the use of a small pushbutton on the face of the amp. This got me by until I was asked to join a band for the first time—at which time I realized I had to get serious about my rig, STAT. There was only one obvious choice for my first tube amp, for my first band, for my first gig: the legendary Fender Twin Reverb. I had to let it go, sadly, since I couldn’t carry it by myself (having always relied on the kindness of the boys in my band) and replaced it with a couple 1x12 HRDx combos that wouldn’t break my back.
Though I’m obviously a card-carrying member of the Fender amp club, I’ve always sidestepped the blackface vs silverface debates. Here in Portland, I almost feel like I’ve seen more silverface amps in the backline than blackface amps—we’ve always been a music scene that embraces the less-loved, less mainstream equipment—and they’ve always sounded amazing. When I heard that Fender was releasing new silverface amps, I felt like maybe the SF was finally getting its due. Judging by the tones coming out of the new ’68 Custom Deluxe Reverb—silverface might be the new benchmark for Fender tone. Might.
A bit of background: this silverface (and the ’68 Twin Reverb and ’68 Princeton Reverb that arrived alongside it) is NOT a reissue. Part of Fender’s Vintage Modified series, the ’68 Custom Deluxe Reverb takes its inspiration from the original but immediately detours into cool new territory: the reverb and vibrato work on both channels and the “custom” channel gets a killer modified Bassman tonestack that really opens up what you can do with the amp vis-à-vis using pedals. To be clear, these are two completely different channels—not simply a Normal & Bright pairing, but two unique voicings perfect for channel switching.
I plugged in to the Deluxe Reverb with both a ’69 Tele thinline and my go-to rock machine, a heavily modded Squier Jagmaster that has a L500XL in the bridge. Both guitars sounded great through the DR, but there was something magical about the Fender-into-Fender combination with the Tele. I dialed in my normal tone (I often nudge up the bass on a Fender and pull down the treble to keep it from being too piercing—especially with a Tele in hand) and ran through a couple tunes. What I noticed time and time again is that this amp is beyond responsive—it feels like it is actively responding in real time to what you are playing on guitar. Has Fender figured out how to put artificial intelligence into their tube amps or what?
Switching between a pick and my fingers, the amp immediately met me halfway, producing a wonderful sound full of shimmery overtones. Though it isn’t alluded to in any of the official product verbiage from Fender, the reverb on this amp seems to have a much more useable range. On my Twin Reverb and the other Fender tube amps I’ve owned, the reverb seems to have a bit of a range from 1-3, but at 3.5 and up is just all surf, all the time. The DR employs a very useable reverb range and doesn’t just go immediately to Dick Dale.
The Custom channel retains that Fender sparkle but rounds things off somewhat, providing a slightly smoother tone that is just a bit darker than your typical Fender sound—in fact, in concept it reminded me somewhat of the Humboldt Hot Rod, an amp purposely designed to roll off the Fender highs. I tossed a Spaceman Aphelion into the front of this channel for a tiny bit of grit and the DR loved it. Then, for fun, I smothered it with the entirety of my pedalboard. No matter what I threw at it (delay, pitch shifting, harmonic boosts), it hit back. One thing I didn’t try was putting a high gain pedal into the DR; I’ve never had luck doing so and besides—that’s why I own a Rockerverb.
At bedroom volumes, this thing still slays, but cranking it halfway, between 5-6, created perfect Fender tone: clean when you back off the guitar a bit, gritty when you really dig in. At 22 watts, it has plenty of headroom in a mic’d situation but still plenty of dirt available when you push it. The DR is powerful, nuanced, innovative, and best of all—lightweight. My Hot Rod Deluxes have been great workhorses in the gigging world, but honestly they don’t hold a candle to the responsiveness of this amp. Street price is a “little” on the steep side on paper (a thousand bucks) but it’s still cheaper than the ’65 DRRI and has a way cooler character. If you already love Fenders, like me, this amp is going to surprise you with how much more Fender-sounding it seems to be than your Fender. If you don’t already love Fenders, you might want to give this amp a test drive—its ability to interact with your playing just might hook you.