Guitar World Magazine's Sound Check by Chris Butler
The Bruno Underground 30
Reviewed by Guitar World Magazine in the June 1995 issue

"The Bruno Underground 30 could do magic tricks too. Besides its awesome sonics, it could make itself disappear...anyone who used it insisted on taking it to recording sessions or on gigs. Comments ranged from "It rages...gimmie!" to "It's got the harmonics of a Vox with the snap of a Fender" to "Butler...I'm gonna hurt you bad if I don't get to use this amp!" The last being the most persuasive.

Tony Bruno's work might already be familiar to you if you noodled around with a Sovtek Mig 50 head, which is also Tony's design. For his eponymous amps, however, Tony passed on the Mig's 5881 power section in favor of the richest power tubes ever created--a quartet of EL84s-- the same tube type used in the renowned Vox AC30 "Top Boost" 2X12 combo. Although sharing a vintage AC30's Class A circuitry, as well as being influenced by the preamp stage of a tweed ‘59 Fender Pro Bruno has given these noble antecedents a strong personal touch by employing different filtering techniques, dumping Vox's clunky tone control system and upgrading Leo's compromises to mass production.

The 36-watt Underground 30 has only two inputs--normal and bright--versus the Vox's usual six. There's also no tremolo, and the presence control works on the normal input, an EQ feature that no AC30 ever had. In addition to the aforementioned presence control, there are front panel base and treble pots plus power, standby and ground reverse switches.

Cosmetically, our loaner open back Bruno had round cream knobs, a brown silk screened front panel, a mustard yellow anodized steel chassis, Fender style brown Tolex, aged yellow grill cloth and a custom leather handled with nickel fittings. All future versions will come with age ivory "chicken head" knobs and a new Art Deco style control panel. There's also a new "skinless" version in cherry red stain that's pretty enough to share the stage with G.E. Smith every week on Saturday Night Live.

Guts-wise, the Underground 30, like that Diaz above and the Naylor below, is the sum total of years of trial and error experimentation. For example: the amp's main components are hand-soldered and suspended between two parallel metal rails, as opposed to residing on standard issue Fender-style fiber boards. This departure from the basic Fender design cures an electronic problem often called Fender Disease--that "frying bacon" crackle that persistently lurks in the background and which no amount of tube-swapping or pot-spraying seems to eliminate. Tony discovered that this crackle came from arcing between terminals caused by small amounts of moisture condensing on the fiber boards. "Humidity is as important a consideration in amp manufacture as it is in acoustic guitar production", he told me. "Some amp makers from dry climates have had noise problems when shipping to damper ones. I live in New York City, which is humid so the rails let my amps start clean and stay clean when shipped anywhere. This was not a straight part swap either. Boards also worked as big tone twisting capacitors so I had to fiddle with the components on the rails to maintain overall musicality."

Tony's very independent-minded search for That Perfect Tone also shows up in other aspects of his gear. He's into odd numbers--our test amp came with three 20-watt Mojo Tone 10-inch speakers. As to why use 10s at all, the nature of their size and construction offers an even distribution of frequencies anywhere on the cone, while 12s go from brittle in the center to mud at the edges, and often over emphasize unwanted amounts of both. If you not into experimenting with speakers the output transformer has both eight and 16 ohm taps for more traditional speaker arrangements, as well as a 2.67 ohm tap that's correct for this 3 X 8 ohm parallel configuration. Incidentally, all three transformers (output, power and choke) are self-designed and custom-made.

Cabinetry also gets special attention: the amps corners are dovetailed and stainless-steel bolts and screws are used rather than rust-prone plain or chromed-steel ones. A word for the wary: don't ask Bruno about wood unless you've got an hour or two free. In condensed form this discussion revealed that he uses clear pine for its brightness and a birch ply baffle for resonance--because the standard particle board is to dense and dull-sounding.

Along with the above mentioned high-profile G. E. Smith (who fell in love with one Bruno and now owns two), other NYC area musicians are picking up on the Underground 30--Cameron Greider just finished using it on PM Dawn's new album. Greider had already been Brunoized (he also owns an early, more Fenderish Bruno model called a "Tweedy Pie"), but is even more enthusiastic regarding the Underground 30. "It records amazingly" he enthuses, "I used a Tele, a Les Paul and a Strat with many different sounds and volume levels, all with superb results. There's clarity and fatness simultaneously, you can hear the notes through the crunch, and the sustain just sings, and there's so much bass!"

Review reprinted from Guitar World Magazine June 95 issue.