Review: Fender Tone Master Princeton Reverb

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Review: Fender Tone Master Princeton Reverb

Fender Tone Master Princeton Reverb
By Christopher Hockey

Fender Tone Master Princeton Reverb | Fender Music Australia | RRP: $1,499

Before I get to the Fender Tone Master Princeton Reverb, let me set the scene. It’s the moment that all musicians dread. After a long night of rehearsing, recording or gigging, your euphoric wave of adrenaline comes crashing down and is replaced with one solitary thought: it is time to load out.

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God it’s awful.

You lug your heavy equipment back to your car, utterly exhausted from exerting your immense creative genius, questioning the injustice of it all. ‘Why do we not have roadies?’ you ask, knowing that the answer is because you are, in fact, not Taylor Swift.

You drive home in your rapidly deteriorating hatchback, but you’re not out of the woods. You must now carry all that equipment into your house, despite your skinny musician’s arms crying out with protest. ‘How could you ask us to carry this crap for the fourth time tonight?’ they shriek, begging for mercy.

The Triple RRR sticker on your rear window seems to mock you as you lift the boot one last time. Reaching into the messy stack of black metal and roadcases, you pray that your tired, weak spine will hold on just a little bit longer.

But what if it didn’t have to be this way? Imagine a world in which you could carry all your gear with ease, guitar in one hand, amp in the other, perhaps a pedalboard case slung across your back. For drummers, this is a foolish pipe dream, for they are a cursed people doomed to require many many trips to relocate their equipment even from one room to the next. But for guitarists, this dream has now become a reality.

The Fender Tone Master Princeton Reverb, is an exceptionally light amplifier. Coming in at only 9 kilos, it’s a compact, easy, one-handed carry that packs a surprisingly huge sonic punch. Using digital processing, this solid-state amplifier achieves something truly impressive: faithfully recreating the sound of an original tube driven Princeton Reverb, without all the extra weight, cost and maintenance.

Sporting a classy silver and black aesthetic, the Tone Master has everything you expect in a classic combo from this iconic brand. The familiar Fender front panel features standard controls for level, treble, bass and reverb, as well as speed and intensity controls for the onboard tremolo, just like the original Princeton. However, the rear panel is where this amp gets interesting.

Featuring an output power selector that boasts six wattage settings, a balanced XLR line output its own volume control, cab simulations, a mute switch and a USB port for firmware upgrades, the addition of these controls adds an element of modern flexibility to this beloved design. Combined with all the classic appointments and tone of the original Princeton, these added features ensure that this amp is equally at home in the studio as it is on stage.

The sound of the amp is classic Fender. When set clean, the familiar jangly sparkle of the top end is brought to life beautifully by the single 10″ Jensen speaker. The lows are full and clear, and the mids are firm and present. Compared to the original Princeton, the Tone Master has ever so slightly more bottom end, which is not a bad thing.

The unmistakable and unmatched Fender reverb sounds as exceptional as ever, ranging from a subtle echo all the way up to full blown, modulating surf tones. The tremolo is extremely usable, nailing everything from a subtle warble to that classic ‘Gimme Shelter’ sound, and everything in between. Both effects have an impressively linear escalation as they are turned up, something which can not be said of many similar amplifiers.

An attenuator switch becomes particularly useful when trying to achieve a dirtier tone at bedroom levels. Featuring six settings, 0.3w, 0.75w, 1.5w, 3w, 6w and 12w (full), the attenuator allows players to utilise a very natural sounding breakup at low volumes, thanks to the DSP’s pristine emulation of the original tube amp’s gain structure. Set to full wattage, the amp boasts enough headroom to be appropriate for live performances, but can still be driven into a pleasantly tube-like overdrive if pushed to its limits.

The solid pine cabinet, although sturdy, is even lighter than plywood, making this surely the lightest and most convenient mid-powered amp on the market. As well as coming with its own footswitch for the onboard effects, this amp also pairs very well with pedals. The high headroom and balanced tone of Fenders have made them famous for being excellent pedal platforms, and the Tone Master is no exception.
Admittedly, I am a digital naysayer. I have spent years breaking my back, lugging 30kg tube amps with my toothpick arms into rehearsal studios and venues, playing at unnecessarily earth shattering volumes for the sheer thrill, revelling in my commitment to the tradition of using old things to make loud noises. But at what cost? Well, I have tinnitus at the age of 26, my back doesn’t work and every sound person in Melbourne hates me. Was it worth it? Sure it was! Is this amp a really good alternative to creating that kind of misery for myself and others? Absolutely.

I have to admit, as I’m sure you will, that the solid-state Tone Master is virtually indistinguishable from its tube-powered predecessor. In fact, it sounds really bloody good.

It’s the perfect wattage for home recording, rehearsing and smaller shows, with the added benefit of an attenuator that allows a full sound and natural breakup at any volume and an XLR line out.

So, whilst I don’t think I have suffered in vain, perhaps load out time doesn’t have to be such a scary moment after all.

For more information, head to Fender Music Australia.