Installment 3 Fender by the Numbers - The '65 Princeton Reverb Reissue
We'll start this installment with more definitions (yikes!). Over the years, Fender has modified, improved, and in some cases, replaced its all tube amp designs. As a result, some of the classic circuits in use are described by aficionados in terms of the cosmetics of the various amp models that contain these circuits. For example:
"Tweed" - These amps reflect the early years of Fender production and are defined by the natural ("blonde") lacquer used on the wood cabinets, traditionally pine, and the tweed colored grill cloths that cover the speakers. It should be noted that Fender periodically offers "Tweed Upgrades" to some of its non-vintage amp models (like the Blues Junior or Hot Rod Deluxe). These reflect a more vintage looking amp, and sometimes include a speaker upgrade but not a replacement of the amp guts with a classic tweed tube circuit.
"Blackface" - These amps reflect the next stage in Fender tube circuit design. The amp cosmetics include gray grill cloth, black tolex covering the cabinet, and a black faceplate with white lettering. Probably the most recognizable of all Fender combo amps.
"Silverface" - Generally the most recent of the Fender tube designs. These amps are distinguished by gray grill cloth and black tolex, but with silver trim around the grill cloth and a silver faceplate with blue lettering.
There are a couple of other iterations (i.e. "brownface"), but these are the most common and easily recognized.
I would like to start with the smallest of the reissue series amps that I have experience with, and move up the product line. It should be noted that Fender does make a tiny reissue, the Champ, at something like 5-watts through a single 8" speaker. IMHO an 8" speaker, even a vintage reissue one, doesn't due justice to big fat guitar tones, so we will ignore it and move on to the '65 Princeton Reverb with its 10" speaker.
The Fender '65 Princeton Reverb features 15 watts of output power through a single 10" Jensen C-10R vintage style speaker, and was originally designed to be a student amp. The Princeton is driven by two 6V6 output tubes and features a tube driven onboard spring reverb and tremolo circuit. It also includes "blackface" cosmetic treatment. My personal take is the amp sound quite nice at low to medium volumes with just a touch of the onboard reverb added in, especially with single coil pickups (i.e. Starts and Teles). The 10" vintage style Jensen speaker has quite a bit of high end chime. As you crank the amp up, it starts to thin out (as mentioned in earlier installments) and gets a little piercing. I have already documented my attempts at trying vintage versions to get a sweeter and fatter around tone.
Earlier this year I stumbled on an add in a trade magazine for a new offering from Fender - the '65 Princeton Reverb Limited Edition combo. What Fender did to this version was to take a reissue and remove the speaker baffle board and 10" Jenson speaker and replace it with a 12" alnico magnet Celestion. Hot Damn! That's what I'm talking about - a Princeton with a fatter and more beefy tone!. So immediately I was on the phone with Rich at Guitar Showcase to find out what he knew about this new amp. His response was they had one in stock! Alright, would he take my reissue in trade for it? His response was little odd - "You ought to come down and listen to the Limited Edition". OK, so my Princeton goes into my truck, and off to Showcase I go (again!). When I get there, Rich has the Limited Edition and the A/B box ready so I set my Princeton next to it and get ready to rock and roll. The first thing I notice is the amps appear to be identical except the blackface is, well... black and the Limited Edition is sort of midnight blue. The electronics and cabinet are exactly the same on both amps, and you have to peer into the back to see the differences in the speakers. Rich plugs in a nice Strat, and my jaw drops - the two amps sound completely different! It's not even close, it's like apples and bicycles. It's hard to wrap my head around it, the amps look identical and it's hard to believe just changing the speaker did this (Note to self: the speaker makes a BIG difference). The Princeton reissue has this really nice sparkly top end, while the Limited Edition has this beefy midrange response but very little sparkle on the top. No wonder Rich wanted me to hear the Limited Edition before I bought it! The problem was, the more we A/B'd between the two amps the more I liked some of the characteristics of each of the amps, but wasn't sold completely on either one by itself. So what was the solution beside owning both amps and running them together? (Not really feasible as the Limited Edition was like $1,299 plus tax). Then Rich came up with a great idea - How about keeping the reissue and buying an extension speaker cabinet to house a 12" Alnico? Bloody Brilliant! The reissue has an extension speaker output on the back, and a cabinet/speaker combo would be a whole lot less expensive than buying a whole 'nother amp. So we searched the Fender catalog for an extension cabinet with a 12" speaker and an open back that would match the size and cosmetics of the Princeton reissue. We didn't find an exact match, but the Bassbreaker cabs were close and cheap (like $225!). So Rich ordered a standard 12" Bassbreaker open back extension cab and a raw frame 12" alnico Celestion with the right impedance, and we waited. When the pieces came in, Rich removed the original speaker in the Bassbreaker cab (I actually got $25.00 in store credit for it!), installed the new 12" alnico and we were off to the races. Now the Princeton sits on top of the Bassbreaker cabinet and it's a glorious thing. You get the vintage Jensen chime off the top of the mini-stack, and the beefier Alnico tone off the bottom. For recording, you can close mic each cabinet and combine them in Pro Tools (or hard pan them left and right for an interesting effect), or back a single mic off the two cabs to get a blended tone. An added bonus is that the combined cabinets are significantly louder than just the Princeton by itself, enough so that you use the combination in a live performance situation (assuming you weren't playing with a drummer who was a real pounder). BTW, the total cost was just a hair over $500, way cheaper than buying the second amp. Nice...