What is it?
You could fill an aircraft hanger with all the cool guitar amplifiers Fender has released over the years so it is no surprise that some have fallen under the radar. But that's good news, for it means there are rich pickings to unearth among the Fender archives – like this 2021 addition to the popular '68 Custom series.
Slimming down the original Pro Reverb model to a single 1x12, single-channel format, the 40-watt '68 Custom Pro Reverb has been modified to add a little more touch sensitivity.
We also get a mids control for a more comprehensive grip of the EQ while retaining the core tone qualities of an amplifier that many Fender aficionados would have on their shortlist of the California company's best amps.
Announced at the same time as the '68 Custom Vibro Champ, the Pro Reverb shares the Silverface aesthetic, with the silver control panel complemented by period-correct an aluminium ‘drip edge surround’ on the grille clothe and heavy-duty black Tolex covers the Pro Reverb's solid-ply cabinet
The channel here is made in the image of Fender's classic vibrato – or tremolo circuit – with the silver front panel bearing a pair of instrument inputs, vintage-style black skirted knobs to control Volume, Bass, Middle, Treble and Reverb, Speed and Intensity for the amp's grid-bias tremolo, and a Bright switch. Both the tremolo and reverb are footswitchable.
Under the hood you will find a mix of PCB and hand-wiring Inside the chassis, the electronics are a mix of PCB and hand wiring, with two circuit boards housing the player-adjustable section of the amp – the control pots, switches and so forth – and the other the parts for the preamp, power and power supply.
The preamp section houses a trio of 12AX7s and a pair of 12AT7s, with two 6L6 tubes occupying the power section. As with the others in the series, the Pro Reverb uses a custom-made Schumacher transformers, with reduced negative feedback and some extra sag brought onboard to add some extra dynamics in the amp's response.
Even before you power it up, you will appreciate the revisions. This 1x12 format is a lot easier on the back, with Celestion’s G12 Neo Creamback shaving around two kilos off the load than if it were to have a traditional ceramic magnet. All in, the Pro Reverb weighs a svelte 16kg.
Performance and verdict
In terms of size, output and the amount of clean headroom, the Pro Reverb sits somewhere between the Deluxe and the Twin in Fender's tube combo lineup. It has most certainly too much amp for home use, but might well be a more practical option for most scenarios than the 85-watt Twin.
Using a Telecaster, the Pro Reverb is all but crystal clean until you approach the half-way point on the volume dial, where a little crisp breakup can be detected, but it's only really once you push the dial past 6 until you getting a little more heat, and a sound that is quintessentially American. Its deeply evocative; we have heard this warm, dynamic drive style on thousands of recordings, and Fender are true to their word with regards touch-sensitivity.
The Pro Reverb's dynamic qualities are not restricted to its gain profile. The grid-bias tremolo modulates both your dry signal and reverb as well, and the harder you dig in the more the effect ducks out of the way, returning once the pick attack smooths off. It feels like the amp is pulling in your direction.
• Fender '68 Custom Deluxe Reverb
One of the all-time classic gigging and recording amps, in this new incarnation the Deluxe Reverb is arguably more practical than ever, thanks to the extra versatility offered by being able to utilise the tremolo and reverb on both channels.
• Fender '68 Custom Twin Reverb
Many players will find the Twin too impractical for everyday use, but if you get all of your drive tones from pedals and crave headroom, or if you are a post-rock player looking for arctic sheets of clean tone on which to build heavily effected soundscapes, then it's an excellent choice.
The valve-driven spring reverb complements all this beautifully. There's a lot of it on tap, from that ever-so-subtle bounce and depth to full on drip for tremolo-picked surf guitar wipe-outs. All this musical information is expressed articulately by the speaker. Celestion's G12 Neo Creamback is a superlative choice on an amplifier such as this, of course bringing the weight down but more importantly shining a light on all the little nuances of your tone.
You won't find super-saturated levels of overdrive. At full bore, there's a nice bit of sizzling dirt to chew on. But that's not what the Pro Reverb is all about. This is a medium-powered amp for the paid-up members of the Fender clean tone fan club, suitable for most gigs, and an exceptional base camp for pedalboard adventures. The Bright switch might bring tears to the eye with some bridge single-coils but that might work well in a mix and is a treat for adding a forensic level of clarity with humbuckers.
Perhaps there already were enough tweaks to upgrade the Pro Reverb design without any further tinkering, but it would have been nice to have some power scaling to access some of that low-gain overdrive at lower volumes, but even still, this is a versatile amp that jumps out of the box as an immediate ally to blues, country and jazz players, but if you have populated your 'board with the requisite distortion and fuzz you can make this wonderfully articulate amplifier work for all kinds of styles.
MusicRadar verdict: It just shows what a little bit of refinement and some tinkering can to do reinvent a lost classic and make it that little bit more relevant for today's player. Fender has done that here, without losing the essence of the original with beautiful cleans and sparky, lively low-gain drive.
The web says
"Original Pro Reverbs could sound a little mushy when driven hard, but the ’68 Custom’s Celestion Neo Creamback adds extra focus and definition – it’s a truly superb driver... The ’68 Custom Pro Reverb might be brand-new, but it’s chock-full of vintage American tone and shares the perfectly balanced power of its ancestor, with ample headroom for country twang and yet not so much that you lose those organic squashy dynamics needed for blues and classic rock."
Guitarist (opens in new tab)
"Turn the volume up to around three and a classic Fender clean tone leaps straight into action. With a Tele proceedings stay scuzz-free up to around five, by which point things have got beautifully big and sparkly. It’s nowhere near as loud as an 85-watt Twin, obviously, but you can feel the weight in the bass that tells you this is no late-night bedroom strummer."
Guitar (opens in new tab)
"Fender did a great job re-imagining one of their real unsung '60s combos as an amp that's probably more useful for most modern players than a detail-perfect reissue would have been. It does a great job of capturing those iconic black- and silver-panel tones at an accessible price."
Premier Guitar (opens in new tab)
- ORIGIN: Mexico
- TYPE: All valve preamp and power amp
- OUTPUT: 40W RMS
- VALVES: 3x 12AX7, 2x 12AT7, 2x 6L6-S
- DIMENSIONS: 435 (h) x 570 (w) x 238mm (d)
- WEIGHT (kg/lb): 16/35
- CABINET: Birch ply
- LOUDSPEAKERS: 1x12” Celestion G12 Neo Creamback
- CHANNELS: 1
- CONTROLS: Bright switch, Volume, Bass, Middle, Treble, Reverb level, vibrato Speed and Intensity
- FOOTSWITCH: Supplied vintage 2-button switch, toggles reverb and vibrato effects (needs to be plugged in for vibrato to work)
- ADDITIONAL FEATURES: Valve-powered spring reverb, valve tremolo ‘vibrato’ effect, external speaker jack
- RANGE OPTIONS: 5W ’68 Custom Vibro Champ, Princeton Reverb, Deluxe Reverb, Twin Reverb
- CONTACT: Fender (opens in new tab)