The Fender Vibroverb Vintage '63 Guitar Amp Reissue

Bob Leggitt | Saturday 20 August 2022

Fender Vibroverb '63 Reissue with Fender USA Vintage '57 Strat plugged in for action

I wouldn't say I was glad to see the back of the 1980s, but the decade had a lot to apologise for. Gated snares, chorussed toms, washes of plate reverb, poodle hairstyles, four-stage gain...

Thankfully, the dawn of the 1990s brought with it a metaphorical ambulance, stacked with much-needed antidotes to the over-produced dirge of the previous decade. With a huge spike in interest surrounding classic vintage blues tones, the guitar amp market ceased going for broke on gain stages, and began delving way back into the past to recover an era when electric guitars sounded like... Well, electric guitars.


Marshall kicked off a vintage amp trend just before the turn of the decade in '89, with their Bluesbreaker reissue. Vox joined the party in 1990 with a vintage AC30 reissue, and Fender almost immediately followed suit, launching into their own new era of retro tone with a revival of the legendary Bassman.

These amps weren't cheap, but they were highly desirable. They looked great, sounded amazing, and instantly showed healthy sales figures. For those of us who had been teenagers in the 'eighties, the vintage reissue amps introduced an almost unprecedented concept: a piece of equipment that made it virtually impossible to get a bad sound. We were the generation who had taken the Gallien Krueger 250ML seriously. When sparkling, full-bodied, dynamic tone came back into fashion, we were not going to be difficult to impress.

"I don't wanna break up a beautiful relationship, but if you feel like your AC30 hasn't been giving you enough respect of late, and you need a special new friend to make your old partner jealous, run off with a '63 Vibroverb. You won't forget the honeymoon in a hurry."

Fender's second 1990s venture into valve amp revivalism hit UK shores early in 1991, and took the guitar press by surprise. The expectation was that Fender would reissue a classic "blackface" Twin Reverb, but they delayed that for the subsequent re-release. Stepping out into the limelight instead, was the Fender USA Vintage Series '63 Vibroverb reissue - model number 021-7200. Vibro-what?...

Actually, we in the UK should perhaps have been a little more prepared for the Vibroverb reissue than we were, since in mid 1990, America's own Guitar Player magazine featured the original in Richard Smith's Rare Bird column - and actually cited the impending arrival of a reissue, due for US launch that September. With credit to that article I can reveal that the original was first publicised by Fender in February 1963 at a retail price of $329.50, and it shipped in just three batches, each numbering between 50 and 200 units. Smith notably described the output of the original Vibroverb's reverb unit as "probably the best reverb sound Leo Fender ever devised". Perhaps the reissue release was a much more obvious move to the US audience than to the UK.

More so still, since Vibroverbs also had a strong association with Texan blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughan - although Vaughan used the later 'blackface' models, and not the mega-rare brown tolex jobs.

The visually-striking '63 Vibroverb reissue was based on the first, very limited surf-era batches of brown tolex 2x10 combos, whose production total numbered in the mere hundreds. The original was not famous in the UK, or even particularly well known. According to Rick Batey, who reviewed the model for Guitarist magazine shortly after launch, Fender selected the Vibroverb for reissue not by demand, but because of its pioneering features. The brown tolex Vibroverb 2x10 was the first Fender amp with onboard reverb, and the first amp from any manufacturer to combine reverb with a native tremolo effect.

With a recommended retail price of £788 in 1991, the eyecatching and authentically-built reissue needed to offer some serious justification for purchase. But did it?...


In a word, yes. If you're a guitarist who loves simplicity, it doesn't get much better than this. You pick up your Strat, or another guitar of your choice (but OMG you need to try this thing with a Strat), then you plug it into the Vibroverb, and that's it. That's your rig. Guitar, cord, amp.

There's no gain stage. If you want overdrive you just turn the volume up, and hey presto, overdrive. With only a relatively reserved 40 watts on tap, the drive kicks in before a studio or PA engineer starts yelling at you to back off. In my opinion the Vibroverb starts to crunch at lower volume than an AC30. And with low-output single-coil guitars it provides excellent natural compression just before the onset of 'grit'. Playing feels very easy indeed. The Vibroverb reissue is an extremely sympathetic amp.

You've got eight valves on the main chassis: two 6L6GCs and six 12AX7s. It's Kennedy-era technology through and through, and the two ten-inch speakers also have a major role in the amp's ability to warmly embrace everything the guitar puts in. The speakers are absolutely lovely.

The basic tone is staggeringly attractive. Fuller than that of an archetypal Fender combo, but using the Bright channel you still get sparkling definition. If you've found single-note lead difficult to sell on a clean Strat, this is the solution. Light and shade is reproduced with dazzling elegance, and when punctuated with a vibrato-arm chord the sonic properties come about as close to actually being in 1963 as it's possible to get... I assume. As someone who was not alive in 1963.


The tremolo effect (alias, the "vibro") is luxuriously implemented, using ultra-trad methods of volume cycling. It's driven with a vacuum-tube. Tremolo is not, however, an easy effect to use across the spectrum of modern music. If you're in a surf or beat era tribute band, you'll doubtless find some opportunities to footswitch it in and add a dose of 100% authentic 1960s shimmer. Both the speed and the intensity are variable, and you can take it up to almost "machine-gun" levels of aggression if you're in the mood.

But cyclic regulation of volume did not stand the test of time as a guitar effect. The problem is that volume is volume. If you're gonna take it up and down at any rate slower than brisk, you're just cyclically dropping the guitar out of the track. At crawling pace it's like: "Where's the guitar gone?... Oh it's back again..."

The 'verb, on the other hand, is something many would want to use all the time, forever. The physically substantial spring reverb unit is secured along the inner base of the cabinet, and like every other element of the amp it exudes class. This is proper vintage guitar reverb, and again, as one might expect it has a distinct 'sixties flavour. The warm halo will withstand bold and prominent usage, although, as we learned in the 1980s, just because something can be done, doesn't mean it should be.

The reverb is only active on the Bright channel, which means the Normal channel, with its more subdued top end, probably wouldn't see much use. I wouldn't recommend doing this on stage, but for recording at modest volume I've found the Normal channel to be quite effective for shaping a bass guitar tone. Other than that, I've stuck firmly with Bright.


People often imagine the most versatile musical products to be those with the most sounds, but that's not how versatility works, and once again, some of the design crimes of the 'eighties prove the point. We saw guitar setups with hundreds of sounds - all basically unusable. I previously cited the acoustic grand piano as an example of how one perfect sound opens up an incredibly wide realm of use cases. But the '63 Vibroverb also epitomises the single voice that will fit almost anywhere.

What the amp does best is to let the guitar speak, or sing, or chop, or whatever else the player wants it to do. If you're playing a Telecaster, you'll know you're playing a Telecaster. If you're playing an ES-335... Yep, you guessed - ES-335 city. But because this is a warm-sounding amp, the complementarily bright Stratocaster proves an ideal partner. In fairness, the original early 'sixties amp was almost certainly calibrated for and matched with the Fender Jaguar - the brand's electric range-topper of the time. But the output and frequency-response of a Jag is so similar to that of a Strat, that the Strat is equally well-matched, and for most applications the Strat performs better.


It's near-impossible to put into words what a joy this amp has been to use. In terms of the kind of guitarist who would love it, I'd say a Vox AC30 fan would be particularly swayed by the Bright channel. I mean, I don't wanna break up a beautiful relationship, but if you feel like your AC30 hasn't been giving you enough respect of late, and you need a special new friend to make your old partner jealous, run off with a '63 Vibroverb. You won't forget the honeymoon in a hurry.