Fender Vibratone

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A Fender Vibratone

The Fender Vibratone was a Leslie speaker designed for use with electric guitars. It was made by Fender from 1967-1972. Named after the first Leslie speaker made for the Hammond Organ in 1941, the Vibratone was associated with the electric guitar, although it was used in vocals on many famous songs. The Vibratone was essentially an equivalent of the Leslie 16. A prime example of the Vibratone's sound is on the song "Cold Shot" by Stevie Ray Vaughan.


In the mid-1960s, guitarists, from bands like The Beach Boys, started experimenting by playing through Leslies. At the time, Fender was bought by CBS, who owned the patents to the Leslie company. The Fender Vibratone was introduced in 1967. Since its introduction, many groups like The Beatles, The Byrds, The Zombies, Blind Faith, as well as guitarists like Mike Campbell, David Gilmour, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, all have used the Vibratone in their recordings.


Unlike a high fidelity speaker, the Vibratone was specifically designed to alter or modify the sound. It consisted of a single driver unit, particularly a 10-inch guitar speaker, with a 15-inch Styrofoam cylindrical rotor in front of it. The cylinder was electrically rotated to create various effects, like chorus and vibrato, based on the Doppler effect. The effect could be changed, via a two-button footswitch, between slow and fast speeds, or switched off altogether.

Much of the Vibratone's unique tone comes from the fact that the cabinet uses a guitar speaker, instead of a horn and woofer. The effect was dispersed vertically, unlike the Leslie that is dispersed horizontally, with grilles on the sides and top of the cabinet. With no built-in preamp, the Vibratone had to be powered by a separate guitar amplifier; in recording situations, microphones were placed next to the grilles in order for the effect to be heard. A crossover was also built-in, with the Vibratone handling the mid-range frequencies, and sending the high/low frequencies to the driving amplifier.


Today, many modeling devices, such as the Line 6 POD and Fender Cyber Twin, depict the sound of the Fender Vibratone. Other Rotary Speaker Simulators, like the Uni-Vibe or Rotovibe, became suitable substitutes for guitarists alike. Many similar cabinets to the Vibratone are also in current production.

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