If you’re anything like me, you’ve always been a little confounded by the terms for vintage Fender amps. To help sort all of this out, a few months ago over on the Riff City Sunday Papers we ran an article that untangled the eras of Fender amps and dispelled the confusion. This week on TPS, Dan & Mick added to our understanding by overlaying this glossary of terms with sounds from several sought after amps of Fender’s past.
Few of us will have first-hand experience with the original Fender amps yet are often navigating purchases based on these classic typologies. Because of this it can be helpful to hear the vintage inspiration behind modern reissues or renditions. While Dan & Mick didn’t do a shootout between the old school Fender amps and their reissues, they did have a lot to say about the sonic architecture and tonal territory of the originals.
So if you’re in the market for a vintage-inspired new amp, here’s a synopsis of Dan & Mick’s encounters with some of Fender’s rockin’ relics.
1966 Fender Princeton Black Face Amplifier
The Fender Princeton was “the little amp that could.” Judging by the several iterations that followed after the original, it’s apparently also “the little amp that still does.” If you’re looking for a new version these days, chances are it will be the Fender ’65 Princeton Reverb or the Fender ’68 Princeton Reverb, the latter of which draws its inspiration from the CBS era silver face designs.
Dan & Mick’s tour de Fender started in the brown face days, with the 1962 Princeton amplifier. However, by 1966, the amp arguably hit its stride with the classic makeover of the black face edition. As Mick noted, “most people are probably more aware of the ‘black face’ amps because these have been the reissue for so long.” This is one of the main amps that established that iconic Fender tone: more negative feedback, a slight scoop in the mid-range EQ, higher-efficiency and more power.
On it’s own, the vintage black face Fender Princeton had smoothness and swagger. When hit with an overdrive pedal, it caved in beautifully without risking the harshness of that “broken small amp” type of drive that can be difficult to wrangle. As Mick remarked, “obviously the big change between the [brown face and black face] amps is the addition of reverb.” This new feature in the vintage box truly set the stage for decades of spring reverb and gain structures thereafter.
With such a small footprint and epic sound, it’s no wonder the Princeton continues to be a go-to on stage and in studio.
1958 Fender Bassman Tweed Amplifier
This is arguably the one that started it all. At the very least, it’s the one that set so many things in motion for amplified guitar sounds that we’re still feeling the effects today. And speaking of effects, now sixty years after its origins, this is one of the main amp circuit styles that contends against the best as a leading pedal platform amp.
As Dan started this segment, he noted boldly, “this is arguably the most important amp in rock and roll.” While there’s nothing quite like the 4×10 speaker set up and drive of the 5F6 circuit that makes up the quintessential Fender Bassman, these days you’ll find sounds inspired by this amp in the custom channels of both the ’65 and ’68 Fender Deluxe Reverb reissue amps as well as in the Fender Bassbreaker lineup.
As Dan & Mick faced off with the original, the sounds ranged from a handsome low gain swagger to an in-your-face raw edge of Fender overdrive that has blared across the decades. The amp lived up to its reputation with just about any guitar-pickup configuration Dan & Mick threw at it.
The question at the end of the segment was simply, “why haven’t we got a Bassman yet?”
1965 Fender Super Reverb Black Face Amplifier
Jumping in the Fender amps time machine one last time, Dan & Mick travelled to 1965 to play an original Fender Super Reverb. As Mick commented, “this is probably one of Fender’s most famous amps in terms of stature. It’s favored by all kinds of blues players and you’re used to hearing our reissue all the time on the show.”
Even with this familiarity with the later iteration, Dan was taken back at the sound of the original. “That top end and chime is just remarkable…what a sound!” The sound is one that is so familiar to our ears from so many recordings and performances, that it just sounds like home. Yet at the same time, it’s oddly able to transport itself into entirely new terrain with any pedal partnership.
As Mick concluded, “we’re all emotional now because it does sound absolutely god-like.”
With the Fender library of amps always growing and changing, having a sense of the foundational sounds that set up the core typologies can be a huge help in picking your next amp. While even the best of reissues reimagines an original sound for a new generation, finding out what tone you gravitate towards is the first step in the journey towards a new amp. If there’s a Fender amp in your future, be sure to check in with us at Riff City so we can help find your next modern classic!
TPS Rig Rundown:
Guitars:Gibson Memphis 1958 ES-335 (2017 model), Fender American Vintage ’62, Fender Custom Shop ’63 Telecaster, Gibson Custom 1958 Les Paul Standard, Collings 290DC S, Gretsch G6118T Anniversary.
Pedals:Boss TU-3S Tuner, Analogman Sun Face BC183 Fuzz, Fulltone Octafuzz, Thorpy FX Warthog, Keeley D&M Drive, Analogman/Maxon OD 9/808 with Bad Bob Boost, Tru-Fi Colordriver, Boss DC-2w Dimension C, Analogman ARDX 20 Dual Analog Delay & Amezeo, Foxgear Echosex Baby, Fulltone Mini Deja Vibe, Neo Instruments Mini Vent II.
Amps:1958 Fender Bassman (5F6-A), 1962 Fender Princeton, 1965 Marshall JTM45, 1965 Fender Super Reverb, 1966 Fender Princeton Reverb, 1969 Fender Vibratone.