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NAD - Fender Vaporizer - Review, examination

Discussion in 'Glowing Bottle Tube Amp Forum' started by sulaco, Feb 5, 2014.

  1. sulaco

    sulaco Tele-Meister

    Aug 24, 2012
    Nashville, TN

    I don't know why. But as soon as I saw the Vaporizer back in November or so in it's surf green ridiculousness, I just had to have one.

    I've been on kind of a low-power, low-cost amp quest and have been super happy with my current amp: a mexican blues junior with billm basic mod, WGS G12C/S speaker, and JJ EL84's. But I've always been a big fan of 2x10 setups.

    I'm awfully poor, and likely can't afford to keep both amps, so one of them will ultimately have to go (return the vape or sell the bjr).

    Anyway, without further adieu:

    Right off the bat I notice the amp is a bit larger than I expected. That's a plus.

    It appears to be very well constructed. Can't find a single flaw on it. No imperfections in the tolex, all the pieces fit together very nicely. It's not really "tolex" as you know it. It's softer and has more pits and divots than your average tolex. It feels almost plush to the touch, but is still somehow very firm. Hard to explain.

    There's some reports online they are made in Mexico. They are not. They are made in China.

    All tech specs online say the amp is 12 watts. Manual says 12 watts. On the back of the chassis there's a stamp for speaker output that says "8 ohms MIN 15 WATTS" Not sure what to make of that.

    My weapon of choice: 2001 stock USA Strat.

    I immediately crank it to max. It's quieter than I expected. I'm used to my Blues jr shaking the walls with 15watts and volume knob at 12 oclock. This thing is definitely "loud" at max, but it's definitely not as loud as I expected. More on that later.

    I notice more headroom than expected after watching every video on youtube about it. Other people get breakup after 9 oclock on the volume, with downright crunch at max. Mine does not.

    At 9 oclock I can bang on an open chord as hard as I can and really dig in, and detect some faint break up. At noon it's more noticeable, but not enough breakup to really do anything with. At about 2 o'clock it's definitely break up. But at full volume (5 oclock) it's still not crunching and distorting as much as I've seen in other videos. This is all good for me. I was hoping this would be the case. I like to goose my amp and then use my guitar's volume knob and various pedals to get the sounds I want. I use an oxfuzz nkt274, OCD v4, and maxon OD9 in various combinations.

    The amp is VERY touch responsive. This is a huge, huge plus for me. My fingers do most of the talking, so I love an amp that responds well to my touch. Probably my favorite part about this amp. My current sweet spot that I've found so far is strat plugged into bright input, guitar vol and tone at 10, amp at 2 oclock, reverb at 3 oclock, tone at noon. I can be gentle or rough and get a wide range of tones out of it. Roll back on my guitar's volume just slightly and get some really good sounding chords. It's great!

    So far, I'm preferring the bright input to the normal input. Something just wasn't sitting right with the normal input for my strat or my classic vibe 50's tele. It was missing something. Perhaps too much mid, and zapped away too much treble? Not sure. My biggest gripe about my bjr before modding was that it was too bright, so I don't have a tin-ear. But, on the vape, with my tele I do turn down the tone knob on the amp from noon to about 10 oclock.

    With pedals it behaves as expected. My fuzz brings out more mid than previous amps. But it's all still very musical. I'd say it responds to pedals quite well. It lets you add that mix of "my amp is already just over the edge of breaking up, and now I'm pushing it even harder." It sounds good! Can't wait to try it at a gig.

    At low volume? Totally acceptable spring reverb. Similar to my blues junior, hot rod deluxe, and other modern cheap fender amps. Nothing to write home about, but passable.

    The problem with the reverb becomes big and apparent. It's pretty much a deal-breaker if you absolutely rely on reverb. This has been covered elsewhere, but the reverb occurs before the preamp section. At low volumes your reverb can be thick and lush. But as you crank the amp's volume, it leaves the reverb signal behind. Pretty much anything past 12 oclock on the volume knob and you have to crank reverb to max to even hear it at all. And when the amp is maxed, the reverb is almost non-existent unless you stop playing suddenly and listen for it. This is a pretty big "flaw" in this particular reverb design. I know, I know. "Pawn Shop" series cheapo bargain bin amp. But it makes you wonder why they bothered with reverb in the first place. I'd rather have this amp without reverb but with a price of $300 or $350. Regardless, you're still getting a lot of amp for $400.

    Last thing on the reverb: it's noisy. With reverb at 0, no matter how loud you crank the volume the amp is SILENT. It's actually quite impressive. NO hum or hiss. But as you crank up the reverb, it starts to hiss and hiss. Big issue if you'll be recording with it. Noise doesn't bother me that much, so I don't count this as a "big deal."

    Vaporizer setting via footswitch: Garbage for me. Way too bright. It actually has some pretty nice crunch and saturation, but is just FAR too bright and shrill for anything, really. I can see early Boston cover bands finding use for it. Not a big deal for me, because I've never seen a footswitchable function on an amp that was of any use to me, except the tremolo on my vibrolux. I'd REALLY be curious if there's a way to prevent the Vaporizer switch from removing the tone pot from the circuit, or perhaps convert it to just give a volume or mid boost. Surely something can be done.

    I disassembled it as much as I could without doing things that would obviously void the warranty. (Hey, I might want to send this thing back within 30 days and stick with my bjr)

    The circuit was typical green PCB but with plenty of room to work on it. Chassis was super quick and easy to remove. Once you remove the back plate it gets a wee bit flimsy but nothing to be concerned over. Only 3 screws hold the chassis in place. 1 of the three attaches to a special bracket on the power transformer. With it removed, the chassis sits oddly in the cab. That screw is there to support the weight of the transformer to keep it from flexing the chassis/cab. Simple, yet effective.

    Lots of room to work inside the cabinet. No tight fits anywhere. I did not remove speakers, as they have this paint over the screws that would definitely throw a red flag that I'd voided the warranty if I shipped it back. I'm leaving them alone. From what I can see on the back side, they're smooth coned.

    All of the caps seem kind of weak. This is par for the course for fender on many amps these days. The biggest pleasure I got on my bjr modifications was replacing the power supply stiffening cap with a bigger, more powerful one. That SERIOUSLY made the amp sound bigger and fuller. If I decide to keep the vaporizer, that's the first thing I'm doing. Tone caps are the same brown crap I used to have in my BJR.

    The tone:
    After about 2 hours of playing on it at very high volumes, I did start to notice improvement already. I had very high expectations (which i try to avoid, so I can be objective) and was not really blown away at first. But, as I kept playing for a couple hours, the amp started to open up more. It has a distinct, smokey flavor to the tone. The 10 inch speakers are punchy with a bit of rasp. So far, I like them. I can't help but wonder what a better set would do (perhaps Ragin Cajun paired with a G10C). I happen to have a super sonic 60 sitting nearby and decided to run an experiment:
    I unplugged internal speakers and ran the vaporizer through the Celestion V30 in the super sonic. There was NO increase in loudness. If anything, it sounded identical but lost some punch (12" opposed to 20", is to be expected). That was baffling and might say something about the stock vape speakers--though they do have seemingly tiny ceramic magnets.

    I swapped V1 with some various alternatives I happen to have lying around:
    3 other Groove Tubes 12AX7's: no apparent change in tone
    1 JJ ECC 83S: slightly warmer, but not very noticeable

    Have a GT 12AT7 I can swap in later for experimenting.

    So, bottom line:
    I like it. A lot. It's quirky, so ugly it's cool, makes impressive sounds in stock form, and fits my needs and budget very well.

    My wish list for mods:
    Make it as loud as 12 watts should be
    More low-end punch
    Reverb more audible at higher volumes
    Remove some of the thinness from the breakup

    Attached Files:

  2. Telepathist

    Telepathist Tele-Afflicted

    Nov 19, 2013
    Congratulations! Good review. Keep us posted on how things turn out with your Vaporizer.

  3. wstarkel

    wstarkel Tele-Meister

    Nov 14, 2012
    Norcross, GA
    Nice! These look like a lot of fun. Thanks for the review.

  4. robrob

    robrob Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    United States
    Very nice review.

  5. pondcaster

    pondcaster Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 29, 2010
    Tryon, NC
    Best review yet, IMO. Thanks!

  6. syrynx

    syrynx Tele-Afflicted

    I really, really appreciate detailed personal reviews, and this one is outstanding. Thank you very much for taking the time to record and share your observations, and I hope you'll update the thread over time as the speaker breaks in and you make the Vaporizer vs. Blues Jr. decision. (I hope you can find a way to keep both.)

    That simply means that you shouldn't connect a speaker that is not capable of handling at least 15 watts. Chances are good that you'll blow it if you do. Any 8 ohm speaker with a higher power rating would be fine.

  7. sulaco

    sulaco Tele-Meister

    Aug 24, 2012
    Nashville, TN
    I'm leaning towards keeping my Blues Jr at this point.

    The vaporizer has potential in the same way my Blues Jr did before it was modified with Billm basic kit and a WGS G12C/S.

    As the 2 amps sit right now, the Vaporizer doesn't hold a candle to the blues junior in any way. The Blues Jr has much more volume, much more punch, much more clarity. Most importantly, the breakup and sounds I get out of my Blues Jr are much more musical and warm.

    The breakup on the Vaporizer hasn't changed much as it breaks in. It's still VERY bright. The clean tone of the amp is still nice and on the warm side, but as the volume increases into break-up territory, it becomes tinny and shrill. It's only the breakup that's shrill and brittle. I've emailed Billm for ideas, but I don't want to pester him. He said he and David Allen are talking about it right now, so I'll wait on their results.

    At this point, I'd probably be most happy if the breakup can be cleaned up on the vape so that it's just as clean and punchy as possible.

    Right now my OXFUZZ germanium just sounds like garbage compared to my blues jr and old vibrolux. My OCD and tubescreamers sound great at low, clean volumes but just seem to highlight the amp's bright breakup at higher volumes.

    I'm no amp tech, but I have a suspicion that power supply stiffening cap would go a great deal to fix at least some of this. I recall what it did for my BJR. But, I don't understand what causes different kinds of breakup in an amps circuit. If someone could shed light on what causes this particular kind of breakup in this particular circuit, we could be well on our way to tweaking it.

    I'm probably 90% convinced I'll be sending the vaporizer back and sticking with the BJR. Perhaps in a year people will have found what it's missing.

    I still think the amp is drop dead gorgeous and with the size of the cab and 2x10 setup, there's an ocean of possibilities (especially if one just builds a new chassis and wires a differen't circuit into it).

    But for the $340 I spent on this, I could have had a cab company custom build a 2x10 box for my blues junior.

    Even if I could keep both amps: In their current state I'd pick my blues junior every time, no contest. So, really begs the question why I'd keep the vaporizer.

  8. Mike Eskimo

    Mike Eskimo Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

    Nov 9, 2008
    Wait - Fender has put out yet another amp that you buy brand-new and immediately have to work on/improve to get anything out of it ?

    I've never fully digested that idea.

    I always think of that paradigm applied to a new car. Would you not wonder about the folks who bought them after word had gotten out ?

    Cab/design ? Like a retro "50's Diner™" chain aesthetic. People's hazy idea of something from the past that never existed.

    Good/comprehensive review though.

  9. sulaco

    sulaco Tele-Meister

    Aug 24, 2012
    Nashville, TN
    Valid, valid, valid.

    Though, a bit flawed if you leave out the price point. This amp retails new for $400. If I paid $800+ for this amp new, I'd be threatening war. I just have fun in the low-end market right now to see what a few c-notes will get you in the cheap tube market, and what can be done.

    Do car guys buy a cheap basketcase and expect to just leave it as is? Nope. They immediately tinker and upgrade and make it their own.
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2014

  10. Telepathist

    Telepathist Tele-Afflicted

    Nov 19, 2013
    I really like how my Vape sounds out-of-the-box. No doubt there are better amps for more money. I'd have a Bassman if I had my druthers, except my wife, wallet and lower back wouldn't appreciate that.

    It's great to know that the Eminence 10516's will boost the clean volume of the Vape for gigging.

  11. Mike Eskimo

    Mike Eskimo Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

    Nov 9, 2008

    I've got just about market value into this amp right now. Bought it right b4 Christmas and my amp guy did caps and NOS 6973's power tubes.

    It gets you 75% of the way toward Supro 1624/Led Zep 1 tone.


    What could I have gotten from Fender point to point for that kinda dough ?

    Not even a used tweed Champ RI.

    At any price point I include "used".

    If, for instance, a DRRI costs X amount of dollars, what else can I get at that price - new and used that would sound as good, be better built, possibly appreciate ?

    Sometimes you have to look at new stuff on the "fun"/discretionary market - especially stuff as "fun" and discretionary as music gear - as shiny baubles.

    They come out w/ something and they wave it in front of the populace and it works on some folks - "Oooooo....I want that ! Gimmee that !"

    That's how they want you to behave and sometimes that behavior is actually warranted (first iPhone, clip-on tuners, One Spot) and sometimes it's not (Fender Excelsior) .

    But - a mint used Excelsior on CL for $150 ? That's the right price point.

  12. sulaco

    sulaco Tele-Meister

    Aug 24, 2012
    Nashville, TN
    Very interesting amp you've got there, mate!

    Another follow up:

    As the amp breaks in, it has a very distinct british flavor to it. It's very vox-like. My friend came over whom is a slide-guitar master and he was very fond of it. It sounded amazing to me, as well. But, I only enjoyed it while he was playing through it (a telecaster with a PAF in the neck). Though, he may be the type that can make anything sound great.

    I like many of the amp's characteristics, but just not the overall style of the breakup. If it created some good ol' DRRI style of breakup instead of the overly-bright vox style, I can see myself falling in love.

    But, oh well. I'll likely send it back this week.

  13. Mike Eskimo

    Mike Eskimo Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

    Nov 9, 2008
    Here's what I want to know - at what price would you keep the Vaporizer ?

    BTW - the Ramparte looks way more like a Vaporizer than the Vaporizer...:lol:

  14. sulaco

    sulaco Tele-Meister

    Aug 24, 2012
    Nashville, TN
    Honestly, $400 is fair. Only reason I'm not keeping it anyway is my own finances.

    I got my billm blues jr back today (billm basic kit, WGS G12C/S) and swapped outputs around so each amp was pushing the other amp's cab. Got some very interesting results. The vaporizer sounded much better and a good deal louder through the G12C/S in the BJR cab, with nearly all of the brittle, high breakup eliminated. It did lose some low-end, which was expected. It also had a strange effect on the mid-range. The BJR through the vape cab was interesting. It had truckloads of low end and punch, but it also acquired some of the high-end I didn't like in the vaporizer. That's a pretty big clue as to what a difference a speaker swap would make. But at $400 plus an immediate $100+ speaker swap, it's just silly.

    That being said, I see where your question is headed: In my opinion, a used vaporizer for $250 plus 2 new speakers (hemp cone eminence lil buddy + WGS G10C/S is my suggestion) for roughly $120 makes it much more understandable and about the same value proposition as buying a 2nd hand BJR and modifying it. Having a well-built 2x10 cabinet goes a long way in that equation. NONE of that small-cab boxyness you can't escape in a BJR.
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2014

  15. Abu Twangy

    Abu Twangy Friend of Leo's

    Mar 16, 2012
    Rocky Mount, NC
    I recently had a chance to play a Vaporizer and a Ramparte with humbucker and single coil-equipped guitars.

    The Vaporizer's reverb is a bit weird--you can play through it with the volume off and it gets progressively lower in the mix as the volume is cranked. The reverb sounds like it was cloned from an off-brand '60 amp--a bit bright and a bit thin. It is a bit bright with the single coils, but sounds good with 'buckers.

    The Ramparte surprised tone controls but surprisingly good sounding. I was set to dislike the Ramparte but I ended up feeling pretty good about it. However, it wouldn't suit me as a small gig amp.

    The surf green Vaporizer sold within the week; the Ramparte remains.

  16. sulaco

    sulaco Tele-Meister

    Aug 24, 2012
    Nashville, TN

    Interesting. I bet I'd like the ramparte as well, but it really has no home in a house that already has a superb sounding blues jr.

    My vape is currently on nashville CL with a starting price of $400 OBO. I have a return ticket created, but I'm giving locals a few days to want it before they have to suffer the slings and arrows of going to guitar center.

  17. sbpark

    sbpark Friend of Leo's

    Feb 10, 2009
    The West
    I just wish they would make these in not-so-flamboyant colors. I might even consider one fi they did that, but cannot get past the colors.

  18. Myewgul

    Myewgul TDPRI Member

    Feb 10, 2014
    St. Louis
    I like em... They look like a Swart, Tone King, Morgan boutiquie kinda thing.

  19. Mekhem

    Mekhem Tele-Holic Ad Free Member

    Oct 31, 2010

    As I posted in an earlier thread - to keep with the pawnshop meme...

    Rattlecan flat black - $2.79
    Rock t-shirt of choice (for grill cover) - $10-15
    Thumb tacks (for new grill cover) - 1.79

  20. sulaco

    sulaco Tele-Meister

    Aug 24, 2012
    Nashville, TN
    Wellp, the wife has decided to let me keep both amps. But as long as I've got the BJR, the vaporizer won't get much play time.

    Running each amp through the other's cab has revealed some clues.

    The vape through the BJR is louder, with MUCH more tame highs. It has a really good crunch to it, and honky mids. More enjoyable, but still has room for improvements in the clarity and low-end department.

    The BJR through the vape cab is tight with lots of punch, but has overly bright highs and adopted some of the shrill brightness from the vaporizer. Doesn't like to be pushed hard at all. I'm starting to believe at least 60% of the vaporizer's fizzy, buzzy breakup is the cones on these cheap chinese speakers crying.

    Even though I have free range to keep both, I'm ordering some WGS G10C speakers to drop into the vaporizer in the mean time.

    MF can't ship the 16ohms until 2/24 but can ship the 8 ohm speakers immediately.

    Anyone know if I'm in any danger running two 8 ohm speakers at 4 ohms into the 8 ohm tap?
    4seven3 likes this.

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