Hands-On Review:An entirely new breed of amp technology
OK, I admit it. I’m hardly the voice of objectivity when it comes to Fender’s new brainchild. I actually managed to get a patch cord into the Cyber-Twin at the NAMM show last January. It was love at first plug. But I didn’t have time to really put it through its paces. So I was thrilled when Musician's Friend asked me to write about it.
A whole new concept
The first thing Fender wants the world to know is that THIS IS NOT A MODELING AMP! It WILL sound like most of the amps out there and it has labels Fender calls "Amp Design Presets" that have names like "Champ ’49," "Bassman N P ’58," and "Amp Liverpool." If the Cyber-Twinhad come along first, they probably would call it a modeling amp. But it’s a very different technology, so Fender is determined to use different language to describe it, and rightfully so.
The new idea is primarily a matter of control. A modeling amp basically gives you static digital snapshots of the modeled amp with the knobs set a certain way. But when you try to take control of the sound, the knobs on the face of the modeling amp do things, but not what they would have done on the original amp, and usually your adjustments only detract.
The Cyber-Twinis an entirely other animal. When you dial up a Vibro Champ ’68, the amp’s circuitry virtually rewires itself to route the signal exactly as it was routed in the actual ’68 Vibro Champ. It has real tubes, capacitors, and resistors like the original. And I’m not exaggerating when I say the tone is indistinguishable from the real thing. When you crank the knobs, the Cyber-Twin responds precisely as the original amp would have. You have the WHOLE AMP, not just a model. This may sound like a case of "Our amps go to eleven," but when you plug into this baby you’ll become a true believer quick.
Our amps go to 205
The Cyber-Twin was a little intimidating when I plugged it in, tuned up with the automatic digital chromatic tuner, and started up the demo. Knobs on the face started turning every which way while it talked to me, scrolling letters across a big, bright LCD screen. It invited me to plug in and play. Then, amazingly, all of the stock sounds of rock ’n’ roll - the hidden archetypes of tone from my misspent youth ? flowed over me. It was dazzling. And the flavor of my trusty Tele was never lost. The finest adjustments of my tone and volume knobs and pickup selections rang through with sweet clarity.
But the real thrill came when I stopped the demo (I never was a guided tour kind of guy) and just started cranking knobs. I’d dial in one of the 120 factory preset amps (plus 85 more rewriteable ones), then just adjust the face knobs as I normally would. They changed the amp’s tone exactly the way they would have on the original amp in question. It was like walking through a giant show-room of amps, tasting the sweetness of each.
To this overwhelming smorgasbord of sonic delights, Fender has added a bevy of studio-quality digital effects. Without looking at the manual, I was able to tap right into 28 effects types - even fancy stuff like pitch shift, tap delays, rotary, and wah - each of which has a level parameter and four or five other parameters. And they all sound PERFECT! You can even control where to put them into the amp circuit.
Dr. Frankenstein, I presume
But all of that stuff was just the first night’s play. The second night, I got into the manual and found out what the Cyber-Twin is REALLY all about. It lets you walk right in and operate on its brain. It gives you control over 18 menu items that are core components of an amp’s design including: treble, middle, and bass control circuitry and location; drive circuitry; reverb type, in level, time, and diffusion; timbre; speaker phase polarity; com-pression; noisegate depth and threshold; expression pedal assignment; and reverb/FX bypass.
The whole thing was laid out very intuitively. In just a few minutes I was creating my own amp. You not only can design your own amps, you can make amps that sound GREAT! I have to admit my first creation didn’t sound as good as any of the classic pre-sets. But the process was so easy I got completely sucked in. By about one-thirty in the morning, I had created a Champ/British hybrid that really turned me on, better than any amp I’ve ever played.
The long haul
When I’d finished my Frankenstein creation, a stunning realization dawned on me. If I had the Cyber-Twin, I would never need another amp. Even if I got tired of every model in there which would be hard to do ? I could create my own. Next time I hit the road with my classic rock cover band, the Cyber-Twin will definitely be in the van, replacing the mess of rack gear and pedals I’ve used for years to generate the sounds I need for plausible covers.
Features & Specs