(March 12, 2008)
This is a 2 x 10 40 watt combo. It uses 2 6L6's, 5 12AX7 and 1 12AT7. It has a solid state rectifier. I play music for a living. I bought this with the intention of having it become my main amp. It was used at a Guitar Center in Miami. Sonically it sounded fine at the store, so I went with it, instead of with a new model, which I think was around $1000 or so, plus tax. This is not an amplifier that is designed to be used by a pro musician in any kind of pro situation. It has proven to be very unreliable in ways I will describe below. Also, this amp is NOT a replica of an old Blackface Vibrolux, hence the "Custom" in the title.
There are two main problems I found with the amp. One is in the way that it is built. The other one is its high hiss and bad sound, and this is related to the way it is made and the parts that are used in it.
The amp has huge amounts of hiss. This is due to terrible tubes, terrible stock speakers, and a couple wiring decisions made at Fender to make the amp "better". I ended up having to replace the stock Jensen P10 speakers (which are NOTHING like real Jensens) for some Eminence, just to get this thing to sound a little better. Also, the tubes had to go, and I put in some Winged C power tubes and some JJ's in the preamp section. This corrected some of the noise, but the hiss was still there. An online search provided me with the "Meyer Mods", which are some modification a guy (last name Meyer) did on his to reduce the hiss of his amp. A google search should provide some information. These were a total improvement.
So, after these mods the amp sounds better, but proves to be SUPER unreliable. In the span of a year, I had to service it 3 times because of resistors going bad. The amp is on a printed circuit board, so any tech that you take this to will spend at least 20 minutes taking it apart and putting it together just to get to the board. The labor proves to be expensive.
I could never understand why resistors kept failing, until finally I found a guy that is very knowledgeable about amps, and he compared the schematic of this amp to the original Vibrolux, and found out that in order to save on parts, Fender has put in resistors that have lower values than required. Since the power transformer is a pile of shit, it overheats and ends up messing up resistors. So, know I did a resistor job on the amp, correcting the values that are low. Imagine that, Fender trying to save money that way, in an amp that is $1000 or so new.
Also, the capacitors on this amp are Illinois Capacitors, which are the worst and cheapest made. So, right now the guy is doing a cap job and putting some Sprague's in there to see if it improves the low end response.
In addition to all this, I have ordered both a power transformer and an output transformer from Mercury Magnetics and a new pair of Weber speakers that are supposed to be modeled after original JBL speakers. This will hopefully make the amp heat up less and sound better, as the output transformer on this thing is, again, of the lowest possible quality.
I have a hard time understanding who this amp is marketed to. It is not for newbies, because it is expensive, but if you plan to gig with it, it sucks, because it is very poorly built. I will probably spend close to 700 extra dollars, if not more, on all these extra parts and labour. Not to mention the time spent doing the research. For that amount of money, might as well buy a Victoria, Allen, or some other well built Fender style boutique amp.
At one point I thought about selling this thing and buying a Reissue Twin, but given how terribly built this amp is, why would the Twin be any better?
The Fender brand right now is only a shadow of what it used to be. It is very sad to see that whoever owns this franchise now is not interested it providing a product designed to be used by real players. If you find a used one, and are willing to do all of the above changes, it is a good amp. But, why bother?