First Look: the Fender Tonemaster Pro

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First Look: the Fender Tonemaster Pro

Fender Tonemaster
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

The Tonemaster range of amplifiers was launched in 2019, and has expanded to cover some of Fender’s most famous amplifier designs. They harness the cutting edge of modelling technology to accurately reproduce the amplifier circuit as well as the reverb tanks, input stages and gain stages that make the amplifiers unique.

This year, we see the culmination of this in the Fender Tonemaster Pro; a floorboard style modelling unit with all of this tech under the hood and then some. After years of research and development, refinement all the while with advances in technology, the Tonemaster Pro packs over 100 of the world’s most famous amp tones into. In addition to amp sounds, there’s cabinets, microphones and effects. The Tonemaster Pro has Fender’s proprietary modelling process across all its models, offering players a slew of amps from classic vintage to super modern amps.

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The Fender Tonemaster Pro harnesses a 7″ colour touch-screen, coupled with a supremely usable interface. We say supremely because of the touch-screen nature of it all, allowing you to quickly and easily navigate amps, effects and tones. It features 10 foot switches that double as encoders, allowing you to make adjustments on the floor as well as silently switch effects, patches and banks in and out and up and down. Each of the encoders has an LCD scribble strip to communicate its current state. There’s XLR and ¼” inputs and outputs, with four effects loops in addition to expression control jacks, available for use with the Fender/Mission Engineering expression pedal if you wish. The XLR input is intended for us with a microphone but is a combo XLR/TRS input for a line input (for those playing at home, you can reamp through the Tonemaster Pro without a dedicated box to get the line level out of your DAW to instrument level).

The routing of the Tonemaster Pro is unbelievably well laid-out. The input stage has the aforementioned XLR/line input and an instrument input. From here there’s four effects loops which can be routed internally wherever you want them in your chain, i.e. additional pedals to be inserted at different points in the chain. There’s two sets of stereo outputs, one with XLR and ¼” outputs, the second output offering stereo ¼”, being situated below a headphone output for silent recording or practice, or for use as an extra stereo routing option if you need it! Beyond this there’s expression pedal connections, MIDI in and out/thru, as well as USB and a microSD slot. All of this is powered by a robust power cable, not a dinky adapter, the unit being complete with a ground lift switch to alleviate hum in any venue or studio.

The Tonemaster allows you to use it as comprehensively as you wish, either as a world-class multi effects processor adding routing and patch options to an existing rig, or to replace it entirely. The XLR outputs allow you to send your amp tone direct to FOH (front of house), the cab sims and amp tones providing a great sound for the audience, you having the option to monitor directly or use an amplifier if you wish. Fender have also announced the Tone Master FR-12 powered cabinet, a full range, flat response (FRFR) cabinet used to amplify the passive signal from the Fender Tonemaster directly. These are daisy-chainable for stereo rigs.

In use, the Tonemaster Pro is unbelievably easy to get up and running. While initial startup takes a moment before opening in Preset Mode, pedals and amps appear on the scrub screens and LCD screen. I felt a little overwhelmed for a moment looking for a menu to scroll through, before remembering the touchscreen touch screen nature of the workflow had me quickly adjusting settings like I would any other pedal or amp.

There’s a massive amount of presets available, easily navigated via the screen, and quickly jumping through the screens allows you to select and adjust the presets, customising them for your own hands, guitar and rig. I was quickly able to jump into switching pedals in and out, as well as wandering through the menus to find the first EVH 5150 III Stealth model that responds with that spongy, tight bottom end of the head itself, much like the original 5150s from the 90s. Dialling the tone is tangible, the touchscreen allowing me to tweak easily and quickly.

Jumping quickly into more classic British style amps, I found myself trying out the fuzz ‘pedals’ available, which is often an unfortunate shortfall of a lot of amp modellers due to the complex nature of whatever harmonic magic silicon and germanium transistors, as well as the nature of the impedance of fuzz pedals that often shapes the unique sound of the grit they impart on your tone.

Fender Tonemaster 2

The delays and modulation range from gritty, stompbox style sounds to proper digital, studio-quality effects for expansive, crisp sounds, which sound great when coupled with more subtle stompbox-style effects. Adjusting presets and sounds feels much like swapping pedals in and out, albeit having a massive library of sounds to choose from. The space and ambience of the profiles themselves are what sets the Tonemaster apart, having the feeling of air really moving from an amplifier, even when using headphones. The low end gives the impression of an amp in a room, the subtle ‘womp’ of a cabinet being a uniquely difficult feeling to reproduce. Fender’s research, as well as experience producing amplifiers themselves for decades have culminated in over 6000 Fender-captured Impulse Responses (IRs) being available as soon as you power the unit on. What’s more, there’s third party IR support for your own sounds and tones captured!

The Fender Tonemaster Pro is a home run, no doubt about it. It takes the best of Fender’s own research, as well as a clear eye on the industry, using the wants and needs of players to inform their own design. All of this results in a robust, easy-to-use floor unit, with routing to fit into your playing no matter how you want to do it. Record and perform directly, use a couple extra stompboxes in effects loops, and send and receive your signal wherever you want or need. 

For local enquiries, visit Fender Australia.