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Life in Fenderland Pt. 7

December 13, 2017

 

Installment 7 - Fender Crunch, Jumbo Shrimp and Other Oxymorons

Up to this point, the discussion has been about classic Fender clean tone. I have, however, also pursued a killer Fender crunch tone over the years with fairly limited success. The problem is that Marshall pretty much owns classic tube crunch. And with six Marshall tube heads and three different Marshall 4X12 cabinets at the studio, the bar is raised pretty high for "good crunch". Not to mention what our Bogner, two Orange and three Mesa-Boogie tube amps bring to the party. Still, a sweet Les Paul through a cranked Marshall tube head into a 4X12 cab is hard to beat...

My first attempt at Fender crunch came early on with the purchase of a Fender Twin Amp. Officially called the Fender Pro Tube Twin, this monstrosity  was rated at 100 watts and featured separate foot switched clean and gain channels.
A version with a slightly different feature set was offered by Fender as the "Evil Twin". That should have been a tip off. The amp came from the factory equipped with casters (probably a good thing as it weighed considerably more than the clean Twin version). As you can imagine, the amp got blisteringly loud but not in a particularly pleasing way. It featured a 100 watt/25 watt power switch to  reduce the roar to a bedroom friendly volume level. Not exactly sweet singing distortion. Luckily I found mine used so I didn't take a serious bath on it . Good to see it go (quickly). The bad taste left by the Twin Amp stuck with me for a few years until I decided to take a chance on the newly released Blues Deluxe Reissue. Available at a fairly modest price, the Blues Deluxe Reissue offered 40-watts into a single 12" Eminence special design speaker. Designed for gigging guitarists, the Blues Deluxe featured two footswitch selectable channels - Normal and Drive, and a classic tweed look (but not a vintage tweed circuit). The amp featured 3X12AX7 preamp tubes, a solid state rectifier and was driven by two 6L6 output tubes. Although in the normal channel the Blues Deluxe presented itself well, sounding surprising similar to the the more expensive '65 Twin Reissue, the drive channel was very disappointing, not having much character or tone. OK, so far Fender is 0 for 2...

A random Sweetwater email in 2016 put me back on the trail of Fender crunch. The email included several You Tube videos of new Fender tube combos. The videos featured "clean" and "dirty" demos for several small tweed reissues. Most were pretty forgettable, but one clip really caught my eye (or ear). The '57 Bandmaster Combo reissue. Man, the "dirty" clip of this amp sounded particularly sweet. A quick call to Rich Longacre at Guitar Showcase gave me the particulars: a handwired reissue based on the 50's 5E7 vintage circuit, the Bandmaster featured 26 watts into three (?) 10" Jensen PR10R-F vintage style speakers. It featured 3X12AX7 preamp tubes, one 5AR4 rectifier tube and a pair of 6L6 output tubes. For an additional teaser, he added a '57 Bandmaster was used on the first Montrose album as well as on the "Who's Next" album. Oh, and as a final touch, the reissue was a limited edition amp and there were none left in the distribution chain. Oh well, it was a nice idea...Literally a week later I got a frantic call from Rich saying the Showcase Consignment Shop had just received a mint condition '57 Bandmaster reissue, and he had set it aside for me. Rich added that the owner wanted to sell it quickly, and to get my butt down to the store immediately. Off I went, with checkbook in hand, and Rich and I spent about an hour putting the Bandmaster through it's paces. Strat or Les Paul, low gain or high, we could not get a bad sound out of that amp. At low volume settings, the Bandmaster had a vintage vibe, similar to my '57 Twin Amp, but with a little more "grit". Very nice... But when you cranked the input up to about 7, something magical happened - the amp started to sing like a Marshall, but with a sweeter tone. Holy Crap!! Single coil or humbucker, it didn't matter; what a glorious sound. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner! The deal was sweetened even more by the fact that the amp was on consignment, so I brought it home for considerably less than it's $2,499.00 list price (remember it is handwired). Definitely a win-win situation. Since bringing it home, I've noticed the amp is very responsive to players dynamics, and for some guitarists it won't do the singing distortion trick. But when it works it is an amazing thing - the essence of Fender crunch in a little three speaker combo amp. Highly recommended (if you can find one)...
 

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