A guy I worked for years ago had a theory that everyone had special talents waiting to be discovered. (Although he acknowledged that you had to search a little harder to find them in some people!) One of my special talents seems to be finding beautiful musical instruments at low prices.
I recently saw an online listing for a 1977 Twin Reverb in a music store. It looked beautiful and was described as being fully functional. They were asking $750 for it. But I wasn’t really sure I wanted a Twin, so I didn’t act on it. Two months later, when it hadn’t sold, they cut the price to $630.
I drove 50 miles to the store to check it out. It looked great, but the employees were embarrassed when we fired it up and found that the vibrato wasn’t working (and the more you turned up the vibrato, the lower the amp’s volume became). Apparently, their amp tech had months of backlogged work, and they wanted it off the floor. So, they quickly dropped the price to $430. Sold!
So, here’s what I got: It’s an early 1977 Silverface 100 watt model with push-pull master volume, built just before Fender started building the less-loved 135 watt Ultralinear Twins. The grill cloth and Tolex are nearly flawless. Not a spot of corrosion on the hardware. It came with a pair of original, Fender-labeled Rola speakers that are in great shape, and the original foot switch.
It even included the original warranty envelope and card, owner’s manual and schematic. I’m thinking someone bought this — and then never quite got around to learning to play guitar.
A few days later, I took the amp to an outstanding tube amp tech. For an hour of labor and a few dollars for parts, he made it, in his words, “better than new.” He inspected everything and found that it had already had the power supply re-capped. He found a single cap in the vibrato circuit that apparently had been burned by someone who was careless with a soldering iron. Replacing that cap restored the vibrato. He replaced a tube someone had subbed with the wrong type, which was robbing the amp of its full output power. And he made two small modifications to the original Fender circuit design: One eliminated a slight ticking sound that’s often heard on the vibrato of Twins of this vintage; the other eliminated a tendency of the reverb circuit to make an occasional sound on some low notes that he likened to “the sound of a blown speaker.” He did a great job!
(And then, not to be outdone by the tech, I added my own mod that I learned about on the Web: I increased the value of two caps in the vibrato circuit, which slowed down the speed of the too-fast Twin Reverb vibrato. (Well, it’s really tremolo). Apparently this is a common mod for guitarists, too. I love dreamy, slow tremolo with a Rhodes. The Twin now goes from a slow heartbeat kind of speed to so fast that it’s a blur. A much better range of speeds.)
So, is this really a good amp for vintage keys?
I love classic gear. And nothing is more classic than a Rhodes or Wurli (or, for that matter, a Clav) played through a Twin. My initial hesitation in buying the amp mostly related to why the amp isn’t as popular as it once was with guitarists: Guitarists complain that the Twin Reverb is ridiculously loud, and will blow out your eardrums before it gets any “tone.” Did I really want an amp like that I only planned to use in a home studio?
Well, yes! In talking to other electric piano players, I became convinced that the guitarists were really talking about how clean the Twin sounds at even very high volumes. They want tube distortion at reasonable volumes, so they prefer far less powerful tube amps. (And they can get away with this on stage, too, by miking low-powered amps.) But I want a clean, full-bodied sound for my EPs, and don’t really care if I get it with the volume on 3 and I never need to explore its higher settings. If I ever want to experiment with over-driven sounds, the push-pull master volume control on the later Twins (again much-maligned by guitarists) will let me get some grind at low volumes. And since I bought it for home use, I don’t have to deal with the other common complaint about Twins: how heavy they are to lug around.
This is a great amp for vintage keys. It’s bright enough to let a Rhodes upper registers shine, and handles the lowest notes on a 73 quite adequately. Nothing beats Fender reverb. And if you haven’t heard your Rhodes through good vibrato then you have a treat ahead of you. There are plenty of reasons why this is a classic. And the fact that many guitarists turn up their noses at the Silverface Twins just lowers the prices for keyboard players. What could be better?