Rivera Chubster 55 and Clubster 45

Paul Rivera was the mastermind behind Fender’s highly successful Super Champ back in the early ’80s, and since that time he’s built a reputation for producing some of the best-sounding and most reliable amplifiers on the market. Rivera’s essential design philosophy for his own amps has been to combine an “American”-sounding clean channel with a “British”-voiced lead channel, and the majority of his amplifiers also feature footswitchable boosts on both channels, providing four distinctly different sounds without ever having to take your hands off of your guitar.
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The two amplifiers reviewed here are positioned mid way in Rivera’s product line. Both are two-channel, 1x12 combos powered by a pair of EL34s, and both feature standard Rivera design elements such as welded steel chassis, military-grade components, and oversized transformers. The primary difference electronically is that the Chubster 55 uses 12AX7 tubes in its distortion and reverb circuits, whereas the Clubster 45 handles those functions with a combination of 12AX7 and propriety high-voltage FET circuitry.

Both amps were tested using a PRS Brazilian Custom-24, a ’69 Gibson Les Paul Custom, a mid-’70s Fender Stratocaster, and a Gibson ES-175.

Chubster 55

The Chubster 55 was developed in response to concerns that Rivera’s flagship 1x12 combo amp, the R55-112, sounded slightly “boxy” due to its relatively shallow cabinet. The Chubster 55 sports an extra-deep enclosure—constructed of American maple solid-core plywood—which provides more low-end oomph and a larger overall sonic signature than that of the R55-112 and most other small combo amps. Cosmetically, the Chubster’s stock Ruby Red covering, blonde grille cloth, and leather handle lend it a touch of class. (Four custom color combinations, including our review amp’s British Vintage Green with Basket Weave grille cloth, are available for a $240 upgrade charge.)

The Chubster’s front panel is organized into five sections. High Gain and Low Gain inputs are located on the far left, and the Power and Standby switches are on the far right, adjacent to the Presence and Reverb knobs. The controls on both the British (lead) channel and the American (rhythm) channel are identical, but all five contain pull switches that double their functionality. On the lead channel, the Volume and Master knobs select channels and engage the Boost function respectively. On the rhythm channel the Treble knob doubles as a Bright switch, the Master volume knob engages the Ninja Boost, and the Middle knob switches between regular and Notch frequency response. The included FS-7 footswitch can also be used to switch channels and engage the boosts.

The Skinny on the Chubster

The Chubster 55 dishes up delicious vintage-Fender-style clean tones alongside tasty Marshall-style crunch and punch. Unlike old Fender and Marshall amps, however, the Chubster 55’s tone controls are voiced to provide an atypically broad range of options, and slight changes in position can yield very appreciable results. The Chubster’s immense capacity for tonal variations makes it one of the most flexible small amps I’ve ever encountered. Playing the ES-175 through the clean channel at a moderate volume, with the neck pickup selected and the amp’s tone controls set flat, gave me a warm and luscious tone that would satisfy even the most jaded jazzbo. Then, turning up the Volume and Presence controls a bit, pulling out the Bright switch, and going to the bridge pickup added enough bite and squawk to place me squarely in Steve Howe territory.

The clean channel sounded equally good with the other guitars. For example, the Stratocaster and the Custom-24 produced an impressive variety of tight and punchy rhythm tones, from dark to sparkly, and the Les Paul sounded characteristically round and fat. Increasing the Volume elicited bluesy breakup reminiscent of an overdriven vintage Fender Deluxe, and engaging the Ninja Boost added beefiness in addition to increasing the volume. (Note: The Ninja Boost provides more noticeable level shifts at lower volume settings than when the amp is already cranked up.) The Notch switch thinned out the mids nicely on all settings, and was particularly effective with the Les Paul.

The Chubster 55’s lead channel is similarly versatile, and also sounded great with all four guitars. Adjusting the relationship between the Volume and Master Volume levels yielded tones ranging from slightly ragged to crunchy to seriously distorted, and kicking in the Boost at any point increased the burn factor dramatically. With lots of experimentation I was able to get crisp “plexi”-style and ultra-saturated ’80s-era Marshall sounds, edgy Hiwatt-like crunch, and even non-British Rectifier-type raging.

The Chubster 55’s tonal versatility, combined with additional features—such as its rich-sounding spring reverb, an effects loop with adjustable send and receive levels, and a direct recording/line output—make it a great choice for anyone looking to emulate classic sounds, or create amazing new tones of their own.

Clubster 45

The Clubster 45 has a more modest feature set than the Chubster 55, but it is more fully equipped than its little brother, the Clubster 25, or the entry-level Pubster series combos. The amp’s open-back enclosure, which is constructed of y" lumbercore plywood and covered in black Tolex, slants back a tad so that the sound projects upward slightly when the amp is placed on the floor.

The Clubster 45 sports the standard Rivera dual-channel configuration, though there is no boost function on the clean channel, and the lead channel has a somewhat different character than that of the tube-preamp models. There is a boost for the lead channel, but to engage it you pull on the Bass knob rather than using a footswitch, which obviously requires taking your hands off of your instrument. Although this eliminates one of the cooler features found on more expensive Riveras, you can still preset a boosted lead sound, and then switch between the lead and clean channels using the included FS-20 footswitch. Interestingly, the FS-20 also lets you switch the reverb in and out, which is something you can’t do on most other Rivera combos.

The Clubster 45’s complement of tone controls is similar to that found on the Chubster 55, except that there are no Master Volume or Middle/Notch controls on the clean channel. The response of the tone controls, however, is equally broad. Other cost-saving measures include a lack of Send and Return level controls on the effects loop, a less robust speaker, and a slightly less warm-sounding reverb.

Club Tone

Despite its scaled-back features, the Clubster 45 is packed with tone power. Though not as versatile overall as the Chubster 55, its clean channel sounded remarkably similar when comparing both amps side-by-side. Even the lead tones were in the same ballpark, if not as nuanced and complex as those of the more expensive models with tube-driven lead sections. Fans of massive amounts of reverb will be especially pleased, as turning the Reverb knob much past 2 on the Clubster 45 completely saturates the sound, and turning it past 4 creates waves that would likely send Dick Dale heading for higher ground. (Note: Paul Rivera says that the potentiometer taper value is the reason, and will likely be changed to that of the Chubster 55’s in the near future.)

It’s also worth noting that the Clubster 45 comes with a very useful single-page Getting Started sheet that provides suggested control settings for a variety of sounds for each channel, along with complete control and back panel descriptions.

’Ster Crazy

The Chubster 55 and the Clubster 45 deliver a lot of tone and features for the price, and though neither falls into the “budget” category, they both represent excellent values for entirely American-made boutique amplifiers. For my money, the Chubster 55 (or the Chubster 40 at $1,295) is well worth the additional cash outlay, but if a grand is your limit, you certainly won’t go wrong with the Clubster 45.