Those who have had the pleasure of listening to Robert Cray are well aware of how uncompromised the tone of a rosewood strat through a clean’ish Fender amp can be. It is a combination that never fails. It’s all about finding your amp’s sweet spot, a matching set of speakers and a strat that doesn’t come out too bright, too sharp or too muddy. We’ve never seen him use any pedal, which to us makes his music even a bigger piece of art.
Robert Cray has during his career used, among others, Super Reverbs and Vibro-Kings. Both are big, massive and screamin’ 10″ speaker amps capable of making your ears bleed when cranked. We know too well how difficult and sad it can be to bring these amps to smaller venues hoping to pull 40watts out of them, or just even 20W. You’ll run into fights with your band, the sound techs and the audience telling you to turn down. Sadly, the tone is reduced to a cold, shrill and ice picky sound. The solution to this problem is to lower the amps’ headroom or, even better, use smaller amps with a similar scooped character to nail the Robert Cray tone.
Here is a video demonstrating the Robert Cray tone with two different amps, the Super Reverb and Vibro-King. To see embedded text comments, go to video on Youtube.
You will be be pretty close to the Robert Cray tone with most AB763-simliar circuits. The smallest amp we would recommend is the Deluxe Reverb 1×12″ or a powerful Princeton Reverb. Make sure it is not too heavily cranked as the burning mids and highs of the 6V6 tubes will easily take you out of Robert Cray land.
The Vibrolux 2×10″, the smaller brother of the Super Reverb, is a better choice. As for the speakers we would recommend some that can deliver the sparkling high and crystal clear, American Fender tones. We would avoid Celestions and the British character, at least when used separately or without pairing them with a Jensen-style speaker. The characteristics of Jensen P10R, P10Q, Eminenence Legend Alnicos, Eminence Copperhead or Weber 10A100/10A125 are good at delivering uncolored clean tones. Dozens of other speakers will too. Full tone speakers like JBL and EVM can do an excellent job, but they can easily become too loud and bassy, and deliver too much of the bright or lows. If you were to play real distorted tones (not R. Cray) from either pedals or tubes, we’d aim for more powerful and warm speakers.
They don’t tend do break up as easily and can smooth out the trebly highs of a cranked 6L6 amp.
We’ve achieved our best Robert Cray tone with a 1994 Vibro-King loaded with the original blue-frame Eminence Alnico speakers. Yes, they are bright and shimmering and you must crank it just enough and not too much. The speakers are very transparent and touch-sensitive. A rosewood strat makes a good pair with this amp.