They say don’t judge a book by it’s cover. I hate cliches like this, but there is no doubt that in recording what we expect to sound great isn’t always what sounds great. Sometimes what we think sounds like 6 cranked full stacks of guitar amps is just a tiny little Pignose practice amp. Sometimes the most powerful bass tone is not an Ampeg VST through an 8×10 cabinet, but simply a DI.
When Fists of Phoenix brought in a couple of amps to record with last night, I didn’t know what to think of this Fender Bronco. It’s a strange looking amplifier in it’s shape. I’m not even sure what speaker it has in it, but it’s not a 12” and it’s not a 15”. I’m guessing it’s a 14” speaker or something. It’s not looking good for the Bronco! This is an amp that I’ve never heard of. It looks like it may be from the late 60s and it has 6V6 tubes.
The band had brought it down because they knew it would be great for this one part on just one song. I say “okie dokie, we’ll give it a try”. The guitar players I’m working with work at the local music store and had brought in this $2250 Orange amp that was definitely a high class guitar amp and worth the money to anyone who had the money to waste on a $2250. However, even after using such a high end amplifier, my eyes lit up the second we fired up the Fender Bronco. I KNEW it had this big sound with “bark” to it that would sound big but not step on a bass guitar.
I had used my Sennheiser MD 421 on recording the Orange 2×12 guitar cabinet and just for fun I slapped up a Shure SM7b on the Fender Bronco. It was absolutely perfect for sound we were going for. This was kind of a weird section of the song. The Fender Bronco has a great sounding tremolo (which I’ve never really used before) and the band took advantage of it.
When the session was over, I asked the band if I could play around with the amp. Because the Fender Bronco didn’t have any real gain to speak off, I wanted to hear it with my yellow Boss OD-1 overdrive pedal in front of it. (I’ve always liked the Boss OD-1 overdrive pedal in front of great sounding guitar amps). I had grabbed one of the band member’s Gibson SG’s (with a bridge pickup from an Agile guitar, by the way). I set it for a fair aggressive amount of gain and hit a big A power chord. HOLY HELL!!!! It was THE tone. It was the sound I’ve been looking for years. It was a sound with all the excitement of the first Van Halen album, but also a tone that unique enough to be mine.
I tried a Fender Strat with single coils through the Fender Bronco. It was cleaner sounding, even with the gain and volume on the pedal cranked up, but it was a VERY pleasant tone. I grabbed my Agile Telecaster, which has strings older than god. While the tone was a little dead because of the old strings, this would PERFECT for any Melloncamp type of tone. Backing off the volume cleaned it up really nicely. I grabbed my Jackson Kelly Marty Friedman Signature Series guitar (which unfortunately still has the EMG 81 pickup in it). The EMG 81 is simply not capable of getting that upper midrange excitement that I’m looking for in this particular tone. As I expected, the EMG 81 had a certain balls to it’s character, but it did not have the upper midrange harmonics that I needed for the tone. With that said, the EMG 81 equipped guitar did have a tremendous modern “new metal” type of tone. I could use that tone on any modern rock recording without thinking twice. So while I wasn’t thrilled with the EMG 81 equipped Jackson Kelly with this amp, I could tell it was VERY useful.
I then plugged in my Fender Strat Plus Delux which I had put Seymour Duncan JB Jr in the bridge. AH HA!!! The strings were rusty and old, but I could hear exactly what I was looking for. The bolt on Strat with the humbucker in the bridge is, once again, a great match for me. There was too much low end at first, but I adjust the tone knob on the Boss Overdrive pedal and that took care of that. I could just hear heaps and heaps of upper midrange harmonics without sounding the least bit fizzy.
You know you have a great amp when it sounds great for clean stuff, dirty stuff, and high gain stuff all on the same channel. This is something the kids usually don’t understand and something I didn’t understand until I got a big lesson just a few years ago from a 1968 50 watt Marshall Plexi! The things that make an amp sound great, make it sound great on just about everything. Okay, the Fender Bronco isn’t of much use for Pantera or Ministry type of guitar tones. Well, maybe some Ministry. However, the Fender Bronco has something about it in the clean, dirty, and high gain departments that may just make it my favorite amp.
Granted, I played on it 10 minutes last night. However it was love at first hear. I KNOW I have something damn good here. In fact, I may be selling my 1971 Marshall Superlead because I’ve found what I’m looking for. The best part: I cost me a whopping $175!