Introduced in late 1963, the Super Reverb used a pair of 6L6 output
tubes and a 5U4 rectifier to pump 45 watts into a quartet of Jensen 10"
alnico-magnet speakers. The Super Reverb’s link to the famous 4x10
Bassman of 1959 is obvious (more so than to the 2x10 Super of 1947),
however, with its reverb and tremolo (or “vibrato” as Fender called
it), dual channels with independent controls, and tilt-back legs, the
Super Reverb was a far more advanced design that would sit just below
the flagship Twin Reverb in Fender’s mid-’60s combo lineup. The Super
Reverb incorporated a photoresistor-based tremolo circuit (as opposed
to more complex tube-oscillator trem circuit used on some of the
earlier “brownface” amps), and its spring reverb used both sides of a
12AT7 dual triode for drive and recovery.
Following the transition to a silver front panel and blue-sparkle grille around 1968, the cabinet was slightly enlarged—the top and bottom speaker pairs were also shifted respectively to the left and right—and, in an attempt to clean up the sound, the bias circuit was reworked and a hum-balance control was fitted to the rear panel. Fender saw fit to undo some of these circuit changes a year later, and, in 1970, the cabinet was downsized a bit, and a 3-position ground switch was added. The mid ’70s saw the addition of a master volume and a pull-boost boost function. In 1981 the amp was given blackface cosmetics , a line-out jack, and a Middle control for the Normal channel. The Super Reverb was phased out in 1982, essentially replaced by the II series 4x10 Concert. The early Super Reverbs remained popular among blues players, however, and Stevie Ray Vaughan certainly gets the lion’s share of the credit for the Super’s ascension into realm of super-collectable blackface Fenders.
In response to the popularity of this classic combo, Fender introduced the 65 Super Reverb ($1,699 retail/$1,189 street) to its Vintage Reissue series in 2004. The new amp looks much like an original 1965 model, though it does differ in having modern PC board circuitry and components (as opposed to the original amp’s handwired circuit and vintage-spec carbon-comp resistors and electrolytic filter caps), a plywood cabinet (instead of the solid pine of the original), no AC convenience outlet, and no ground switch. In most other regards, however, the 65 Super Reverb is functionally identical the original model.
So why are people willing to spend more money and go to more trouble to buy a vintage Super Reverb? Undoubtedly, owning a piece of early Fender history is a large part of it. Just knowing that these amps were built in the original Fullerton factory and that their circuits and cabinets were hand assembled by people who watched black & white TVs and drove to work in Ford Falcons and Chevy Novas is enough to summon the urge to splurge. Then there’s the larger question of tone, as it’s almost universally accepted that older means better. But is that really the case? To find out we pitted a new 65 Super Reverb up against a mostly original 1964 model. By “mostly” I mean that the ’64’s original Jensen speakers have been replaced—probably more than once in its 43 years. It was equipped with a set of well used Eminence Legend alnico 10s, which we used for our initial testing before swapping in a set of Kendrick Black Frame ceramic-magnet 10s. These speakers sport U.S.-made 3KSP 92-lb paper cones made by Donal Kapi of Chicago, which were pressed on the original Jensen P10R tooling die.
It’s easy to see how two amplifiers that were built so many years apart would sound different (for the record, both amps were biased to an idle- current draw of 33 milliamps, using a Weber Bias Rite meter), but there are definitely things that would draw various players to either one. For example, some testers preferred the mellower response of the ’64, while others liked the tighter, brighter, and more easily overdriven sound of the reissue. I had to put the old amp’s Vibrato channel Volume knob on 10 to equal the amount of distortion being produced by the reissue amp with its Volume on 7. Part of this difference is due to the fact that the new amp uses 12AX7s entirely in its preamp, while the oldie has four 12AX7s and two lower gain 12AT7s (as specified in the amp’s onboard tube chart). A more curious thing noticeable on the reissue was occasional “ghost” harmonics that emerged on some notes when the amp was played at very high volumes. This was not detectable on the ’64, which, by the way, was fitted with fresh Sprague filter caps in its power supply.
Effects-wise, the two amps differed significantly. The tremolo sounded substantially stronger in the 65 reissue—I had to peg the ’64’s Intensity control to get even close to the depth of the reissue’s tremolo with its Intensity control on five. There were speed issues as well. The reissue’s trem could go much slower than the ’64’s—and faster too—with better clarity and definition. The reverb on the new Super also sounded brighter and more reflective, though, I’ll admit to preferring the darker, less intense sound of the ’64’s ’verb, which added a warm airiness to the tones without sounding too effecty.
The speakers made a big difference here too, which was easy to hear when running the old amp initially through the reissue’s Jensen-loaded speaker cabinet. Instantly, the ’64 sounded, well, newer, as its voice assumed some of the tight, crispness of the reissue amp. Conversely, the 65 reissue sounded a little rounder and smoother when played though the ’64’s cabinet. Bigger differences ensued after installing the Kendrick speakers in the vintage Super, which responded with throatier tones that offered more midrange presence and less top-end frazz. These speakers worked particularly well when going for more overdriven tones, making it easy to get balanced, muscular sounds without the brights jumping out so aggressively when digging into the strings on a Gibson Les Paul and a Fender Tele. The 65 Super Reverb responded similarly when played through the Kendrick speakers using the same axes.
The differences we noticed between the two amps were not deal breakers. While the ’64 displayed some sweeter and more complex tonal colors, the reissue proved a satisfying player in own right, delivering more aggressive lead tones and more wide-ranging and responsive effects. I suppose it comes down to this: If you land on a vintage Super Reverb at a price you can hack (the current range is around $1,600 to $2,100), and you’re prepared to perform the upgrades and ongoing maintenance necessary to make it sound great and operate reliably, then go for it. You’ll own one of the best blues-rock amps ever made, as well as a living, breathing piece of Fender’s storied past. On the other hand, if you prefer the simplicity and peace of mind that comes with buying something new, the 65 Super Reverb will not disappoint. You can take this amp straight to a gig and have a great time with it—leaving the door open for future experimenting with different tubes, speakers, and other components if you wish to enhance its capabilities.