The Blueverb's cream knobs are a nice touch, and the vintage Fender reverb (including a dwell control) and tremolo add to the legendary Leo vibe. The Fullerton mystique extends to the construction, where we find a hand-wired Vulcanex eyelet board, a box-jointed and glued cabinet, and a 16-gauge, cold-rolled, three-piece, welded-steel chassis that is electro-plated to prevent corrosion. A few deviations include the use of 13-ply Baltic birch instead of pine for the cabinet wood, and paper-in-oil capacitors.
Though an unabashed vintage Fender fan, Smith is not afraid to criticize some of the shortcomings of the old Fender amps. “In my opinion, when pushed hard their tone left much to be desired. The harsh flabby breakup they exhibited was in part a fundamental limitation of the single volume knob design philosophy,” he notes on his website. With his amps, Smith spreads the gain over five tube stages in the attempt to provide smoother overdrive, greater dynamics, and clearer tone. The first gain stage is a 12AX7 right after the input. The Blueverb has two inputs that, though labeled Hot and Not, are essentially identical to inputs 1 and 2 on an old Twin or Super Reverb. A Deep switch adds bass, while the Volume and Treble, Middle, and Bass tone stack push a second 12AX7 gain stage. The Drive control pushes a third 12AX7 gain stage, followed by the Reverb and Tremolo sections. A Pre (Master) control comes before the phase inverter tube and a Post (Master) control comes after it. The Soul control tightens or loosens the feel in a subtle manner. On the back panel are a Pentode/Triode switch, and a knob that brightens or darkens the amps tone overall. Altogether, I found that these multiple gain stages, switches, and knobs allow Blueverb’s wide range of the overdrive characteristics to be easily fine tuned.
The Blueverb was tested with a 1965 Stratocaster, a Fernandes T-type, a Les Paul Special, a Danelectro Dead On ’67, and a Stromberg Monterey. It was cabled into a custom closed-back 1x12 cabinet with an Eminence Texas Heat speaker or an open-backed Goodsell cabinet with a British Celestion G12H 70th Anniversary 12" speaker.
Smith is not the first amp builder to base his creation on a souped up Fender. The Marshall was originally an early Bassman circuit, the Mesa/Boogie MK I was a hyped Princeton, and the Dumble started out as a Twin. What is unique about the Bluetron approach is that unlike those amps, Smith doesn’t end up with a new sound. The Blueverb still sounds pure Fender—an überFender.
For the ultimate ’50s jazz sound, I plugged the Stromberg into the Not input, flipped on the Deep switch, turned everything up but the Drive, and it was Wes Montgomery-city. For blues nastiness I plugged my Strat into the Hot input, left the Deep switch on, and cranked everything—instant Tweed Deluxe. Tele twang? Spanking funk? Fusion drive?—it was all there. With a little practice, I found it easy to dial in any level of distinctly Fender grit at any volume. Backing off the guitar volume cleaned up all but the most extreme gain settings and picking dynamics were a dream.
All this tone comes at a price—in the case of the Blueverb it is weight. At 50 lbs, this head is as heavy as many combos. This is due in part to the birch cabinetry, but more so to the weight of the high-quality, audiophile transformer that adds much to the amps incredible clarity and dynamics (and price). This version of the Blueverb is just one of the many custom designs that Smith will gladly make for you. If you are a lover of all tones Fender and want the ultimate version thereof, call Smitty and have him whip you up a Blueverb. —Michael Ross
Contact Bluetron (615) 944-1545; bluetron.com