It can be entirely too easy to get a little too focused on the supposed Holy Grails of vintage amps – the Tweed Champs, TV-front Deluxes and ‘65 Deluxe Reverbs, the Marshall “Bluesbreakers” and the Top Boost Vox AC30s. There are smaller cults for other amps, of course – White-Knob Princetons, Blonde Bandmasters, Magnatones in their various guises and the odd assortment of amps built by Valco for Gretsch and the like – but even those seem to have a bit of a been there, done that about them these days. Our Catch of the Day, on the other hand, seems to be well off the Hipnoscenti’s radar. What we have here is a 1962 Ampeg R-12R, the venerable Reverberocket – one of the first amps (if not the first) with onboard reverb, and a distinguished alternative to the ubiquitous Blackface Deluxe Reverb (for not much more than a reissue, and about half the price of a vintage model) – that we stumbled upon just down the street, at Mike & Mike’s Guitar Bar.
Here’s the thing about the R-12R: it’s, in a way, a bit of a misfit, unlike anything else Ampeg was making for guitars (they favored big and clean, for jazz guitarists) but also sitting somewhere in between the earlier, Tweed Fenders and the later, Blackface amps that were Fender’s earliest forays into amplifiers with built-in reverb. What Ampeg built here was a cathode-biased amp, with octal preamp tubes, powered by 6V6s, cranking out about 18 watts, generally tighter than comparable Fenders and edgier than typical Ampegs. Meanwhile, it had its own, rather distinctive reverb (called “Echo” and controlled via a “Dimension” knob) and bias-based tremolo (with “Speed” and “Intensity” controls). The reverb is notably splashy, big without being particularly deep; the tremolo is more psychedelic than swampy.
This particular example is in pretty much stellar shape, not to mention dead sexy with its “Navy Random Flair” Tolex (rather than the “Blue Diamond” Tolex more typically associated with Ampeg). It still has its original cover, footswitch and 12″ speaker (a Jensen P12R AlNiCo beauty), plus original or appropriate NOS (Sylvania) preamp tubes, but it has new caps, a new Mercury Magnetics transformer and it has been updated with a new 3-prong power dealio. The power tubes are new JJs, which are a good, reliable choice. Because of its relative rarity, and weighing the overall cleanness (not to mention the coveted fancy Tolex and that sweet P12R) against the replaced/upgraded components, the $1,349 price tag seems reasonable, if not necessarily a steal.
To put the amp through its paces, I grabbed a 2015 Fender ’62 Telecaster Custom vintage reissue that just happened to be looming over the amp and seemed appropriate. A fine time, indeed, was had.
At its core, the amp is clean and tight. There’s not a lot of breakup at the front of the amp, and even as I increased the volume past noon (all the way to just short of dimed) it never got particularly crunchy – something that can probably be attributed to the Tele and the JJs (I’d be tempted to find an appropriate NOS set of 6V6s). As splashy as the reverb can get when cranked, it added a nice “dimension” at lower settings, and the tremolo had a quick, hard chop that put me in the mind of “Crimson and Clover” (over and over). That said, I left with the distinct impression that this was an amp that Bill Frisell would love – there was no flab, no murk, plus great depth on the Tele’s neck pickup, a sweetly compressed quack in the middle position and a nice bite from the bridge pickup. In fact, had I not recently picked up a PANaramic 1210 of similar vintage, I would have been hard-pressed to choose between buying the amp and writing it up…