AF’s Weblog

July 2, 2012

Fender Super Champ X2 Review

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  Fender Super Champ X2

In the world of guitar amps, war is raging. The transistor forces from the digital world are fighting the tubes army. Turning itself into a peace dove, Fender tries to put an end to this war by introducing a hybrid concept: the Super Champ X2. This new amp made in Mexico combines digital technology with tubes has finally seen the light of day. It’s on neutral ground so I can start examining the beast. Hopefully this leads to a peaceful co-existence.

What a Cute Combo

Fender Super Champ X2

I thought I would break my back carrying this new amp. But surprise, surprise, the newcomer is light (considering it’s an amp!), so I was able to climb up the stairs carrying it single-handedly. Aesthetically, it is very Fender looking: black vinyl covering and silver grill cloth with Fender logo. The front panel in Blackface style is not what I’d call original, but it still looks very nice. Manufactured from 1964 to 1967, the Blackface is part of Fender’s legend. Insiders will understand that I refer to the Princeton Reverb, Deluxe Reverb and Vibro champ. The dimensions are somewhat small (9.2″ x 17.5″ x 15″) and the weight reasonable (24 lbs). It will match a vintage environment perfectly. Under the hood, you’ll find all you need to have a blast! You get a pair of 6V6 power tubes for a total output power of 12 watts, one 12AX7 tube in the preamp stage and several transformers matching the tubes. The speaker is a 10” Fender Special Design allowing the combo to stay compact.

Too Much for Beginners?

Doctor J.’s minute!

Vibratone? This effect was conceived in 1941 by Donald Leslie. The Leslie cabinet (better known as Leslie Rotary Speaker) includes its own tube amplifier. A Leslie amplifies the signal and sends it to the speakers. The sound of the low-frequency speaker is sent to a closed baffle through a rotating drum while the sound of the high-frequency driver is sent to a rotary horn. This speaker cabinet creates interesting sound modulations. The source seems to move forwards and also from left to right alternatively while the loudness varies.

One of my worries with digital technology is that you have to turn and push a lot of different controls and you can’t understand anything without the user’s manual. But don’t fear this Super Champ X2: it provides only a few, easy-to-understand controls. The amp provides two separate channels based either on tube or digital technology. Both channels share the EQ section with Treble and Bass controls, the FX selector, the Tap Tempo switch, and the FX Adjust control. Each channel has its own volume control. Plus, there’s a channel selector and a 16-way Voice selector. The rear panel is even more simple: a mains power socket with On/Off switch and fuse. You also get a speaker out, a line out, a footswitch connector (unfortunately, a matching footswitch is not provided), and a USB port. When it comes to effects, we’ve been spoiled: Reverb (Large Room, Concert Hall, spring reverb, delayed reverb), Delay (130 or 300ms), Chorus (fast sweeping, deep sweeping, chorus+delay, chorus+reverb), Tremolo (slow, normal or fast speed), Vibratone (slow or fast speed).

Now let’s take a closer look…

….

Nobel Peace Prize?

The Super Champ X2 is a nice surprise. The amp models sound very good, the tube power amp adds natural warmth and compression to your tone, and you get a dedicated, easy-to-use software. Considering the wide range of amps provided, you’ll easily find your own tone, regardless of your playing style (blues, rock, ska, metal, etc.). Unfortunately, the output power (15 watts) won’t allow you to use the amp in all situations. It’s perfect for playing at home or in a recording studio, but it’s not powerful enough for rehearsals if you have to compete with a drummer. Fender won its bet with this small combo sold for $300 — and this small jewel is also available as an amp head for $250. Unfortunately, the matching footswitch is not included…

Advantages: 
  • Compact size
  • Weight
  • Voicings
  • Effects
  • Tube power stage
Drawbacks:
  • A mid setting on the front panel would be nice!
  • We wish there was a version with more output power
  • Footswitch not included…

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  Fender Super Champ X2

June 11, 2012

Fender Machete Review

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Machete Review

The Fender Machete represents a new direction for the manufacturer. It’s not like they want to start to making cutlery but rather they want to enter the heavy distortion world. This strategical decision caused many reactions in the guitar world. So, with mixed feelings I leave the sandy roads and whiskey smell of Mississippi to enter the country of tattooed, long-haired musicians.

A Weapon for the Strong!

Fender Machete

I receive the weapon under seal. It hardly fits the trunk of my car with the rear seats folded (for insiders, the JeyMobile looks a lot like the GarthMobile). I come to my place of destination and ask for help to take the cardboard box out of my car because it’s twice as large as me… Right after unpacking you’ll discover that the amp is much smaller than the box (big foam protections inside!) but still not lighter. The physical specs: 24.5″ x 11.5″ x 22″ and 71 lbs. The manufacturer had mercy on us and decided to add clipable casters so we won’t break our backs when transporting the amp. The two-color combo is protected by a black vinyl covering with white edging and a center stripe in the style of a roadster steering wheel. The front plate is made out of black steel and offers nice-looking, brushed-aluminum Telecaster knobs. The overall roadster look is faithful but it might not be everyone’s favorite.

Swiss-Army Knife or a Classic?

Fender Machete

Let’s have a brief tech talk. Under the hood you’ll find five 7025 tubes (also called 12AX7), a pair of 6L6GC and a 12″ Celestion Vintage 30 speaker that matches the roadster look perfectly. The front and rear panel are fully packed. The engine offers two separate channels with Gain, Volume, Bass, Mid, Treble, and Notch controls each. The front panel also includes three selectors: a 6dB pad (for active pickups), a channel switch and a speaker damping selector (damping is the interaction between power tubes and speaker). Finally, the amp offers one reverb for both channels. A small disappointment is that the reverb is not a tube but a digital one…

Fender Machete

On the rear you have Power and Standby switches, an effect loop with send and return level controls, a line output on XLR connector, MIDI in, footswitch connector, and a pair of speaker outs with impedance selector, as well as a pair of PA Mute (mutes the power amp) and Cab Emul (adds the speaker emulation to the line out) mini-switches. The included footswitch provides four options for channel selection, gain boost (ch.1), FX loop, and reverb. It is equipped with two connectors: one for the amp and a second one to chain an additional Machete footswitch (can be useful on large stages). Something tells me it’s time to plug my axe now.

Let’s take a closer look and a listen…

Happy?

Fender’s goal was to offer an aggressive sounding combo to the tattooed, hairy metal community and they have succeeded! The amp is sturdy, so it can be taken on stage and to the studio or stay at home. Moreover, it offers a wide range of clean sounds plus everything from crunch to heavy distortion, while the Notch control allows you to fine-tune your tone. Unfortunately, the amp’s street price of around $1,900 is quite high. Quality has a price, and if you like it, you’ll pay for it…

Advantages: 
  • The sound!
  • Both channels
  • Notch control
  • Reverb
  • FX loop
  • Damping control
  • Footswitch provided
Drawbacks:
  • Price
  • Weight

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Machete Review

April 16, 2012

Fender Modern Player Marauder & Jaguar Review

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Modern Player Marauder & Jaguar Review

This time, Fender comes from an unexpected direction! The Fender Modern Player series includes four different guitars (Marauder, Jaguar, Telecaster Plus, Thinline Deluxe) and three different bass guitars (Jazz Bass, Telecaster, Jaguar), while trying to distinguish itself from the countless Standard Stratocaster and Telecasters variations available either as reissue or special versions (with different neck width, wood type or pickups combination).

The Modern Player is Fender’s entry series. Manufactured in China, these guitars can be considered Super Squier models: for instance, we noticed that Fender was not as thrifty with the lacquer layers… Today, we will review the Gibson-inspired Jaguar and the Marauder, a wink to the instrument that never saw the light of day back in 1966, but equipped with the brand new Fender Triple Bucker. We won’t review the Telecaster Plus (three pickups) nor the Thinline (P-90) nor the bass guitars. All instruments are available at the same price $400 (except for the Jazz Bass that sells for $500).

Marauder, the stillborn baby

Fender Modern Player Marauder

After launching many products in the early 60’s (Jazzmaster, Jaguar, Mustang, …), Fender assembled two different guitar prototypes to create the Marauder, a new instrument based on a Jaguar and a Stratocaster that never hit the stores. The first prototype was equipped with a tremolo bridge, three pickups and nine switches for tone variations! The second prototype had a hardtail bridge and the pickups were hidden behind the pickguard! The Marauder had already been announced, photographed and included in Fender’s product catalog. It had even been ordered… Like the ’57 Gibson Modern, the Marauder remained a mystery due to its high manufacturing costs. The legend says that there were eight Marauders actually manufactured, making it Fender’s rarest guitar…

Let’s go back to our Marauder Modern Player! You’ll immediately notice that the guitar didn’t inherit the myriad of switches from the original instrument. You get two pickups: a Jazzmaster-type single-coil in bridge position plus a triple-coil on the bridge controlled by a Strat-type five-way toggle switch. Yes, you read well: you get a real triple-coil pickup, not a single-coil+humbucker combination — it’s almost like having a volume control going up to 11 on your amp. Here is an overview of the different pickup combinations provided by the toggle switch. A, B and C refer to the three coils of the Triplebucker (A next to the bridge), while N refers to the neck pickup:

  • Position I: A + B
  • Position II: A + B + C
  • Position III: C
  • Position IV: C + N
  • Position V: N
Fender Modern Player Marauder

The other features are less original… The maple C-shape neck has a rosewood fretboard, 22 Medium Jumbo frets and a 25.5″ scale length. The headstock is equipped with vintage-type machine heads requiring you to cut the extremity of each string and insert it into a hole before winding the string up. Two controls (Tone and Volume) and a Strat-type tremolo bridge…and that’s it! There is another unusual detail caught our eye: the body is made out of Koto, an African wood rarely used for guitar manufacturing, at least not often enough to have fans or detractors. Certainly Fender used this wood for cost reduction reasons. However, I noticed nothing unusual when playing the guitar. As a summary, you face a guitar based on two legends: the body recalls the Jaguar, while the electronics and tremolo bridge are inspired in the Stratocaster.

Fender Modern Player Marauder

I had no problems except for the tuning stability of the tremolo bridge. But with a new guitar this is rarely a problem: don’t forget that a classic and simple tremolo bridge can work perfectly if you pay attention to the friction points on the bridge and the nut. Consider carving them a bit so that they match the thickness of your strings (this also applies to very expensive instruments) and rubbing a pencil on the friction points (graphite helps the strings to slide better through). Apart from that, nothing seems to be fragile or improperly made on this Marauder. The neck feels very pleasant and inspiring, although the combination of a long-scale neck and a Jaguar body is pretty surprising. All five pickup combinations are pleasant, appealing and special. The sound ranges from very thin and twangy (position 3 is the least twangy) to full and rich (especially with position 4 combining all three coils of the Triplebucker). To wrap it up, this pickup combination recalls a HSS Strat with the center pickup next to the bridge pickup and the bridge pickup of a Jazzmaster to produce a rather low-level output and a very contoured sound.

Now let’s take a listen…

Conclusion

Both guitars are definitely modern instruments conceived for Brit rock and pop: the different pickup combinations aren’t suited for high distortion because they turn too noisy. The Marauder has something special to it — an extra that will please beginners, experienced players and even pros looking for a “small” guitar with a real sound personality both for live and studio applications. As a summary, the Marauder has something “Asterix”-like to it… What’s that you say? It reacts fast and bravely, and the electronics are really clever! Plus, owning a guitar with a triple-coil pickup can be lots of fun! The Jaguar is also a good guitar but it seems to have less personality compared to the Marauder. Considering the price ($400), there’s no risk in buying a Modern Player guitar, but you’ll have to decide which one. Don’t forget to give the Modern Player Telecasters a try, especially the Tele Plus and its three pickups. The Tele Thinline equipped with P-90 pickups can be an excellent alternative to the Jaguar.

Technical note:

The sound samples were recoded using an Egnater Tweaker amplifier head and a Two Notes Torpedo VB-101 speaker simulation.

Advantages: 
  • Value for money
  • The Marauder is amazing: a real breath of fresh air!
  • Nice finish
  • Triplebucker on the Marauder
Drawbacks:
  • Marauder: for this price, nothing! …Except maybe for the unusual look of the pickguard
  • The Jaguar is not inspiring
  • Volume control position on the Jaguar

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Modern Player Marauder & Jaguar Review

April 2, 2012

Fender Bronco Bass Combo Review

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Bronco Bass Combo Review

Do you feel like a cowboy? Do you like the smell of ponies and old leather? Do you like riding on a weird mount and sweltering under an old stinking hat?

Me neither! Personally, I’m more of a take-the-law-into-my-own-hands kind of bass player, a guy who isn’t put off by anything except effort, and who has enough respect for stallions and bulls to avoid them. Even on an early Sunday morning after having spent a full night playing a drunk upright piano in a saloon. My Bronco is a Fender. It eats no oat but it surely spits 40 watts of power when you give it a bass guitar to chew on. Let’s go — or as they used to say in the old west: Yeehaw!

Small Pony

Fender Bronco

It’s so gray and small… And after all, it isn’t so tiny: it’s the size of a 20-liter bourbon barrel (11.25″x18″x15.25″) and weights 30 lbs. It looks pretty sleek: dark gray vinyl covering, black metal grill, only eight controls and three flashing buttons. You could almost walk past the amp without noticing it, like if it were a marmot crossing a valley. In short, it’s one more combo in a product range that already includes a dozen. Fender’s range even includes a 75 watt amp at almost the same price: the Rumble 75.

So, why should I buy an amp with less output power and a 10″ instead of a 12″ speaker? Do they think we bass players from the west are all dumb deadbeats?

“Now, hold ya horses,” says the sheriff, “yuh’re wrong, kid! The Bronco ain’t one of ‘em combos like all others. Ptooie!” (that was the sheriff spitting…)

- Really? What’s in for me then? If I wanted to give my money away, I’d rather play poker in the saloon…

- Why, son, with this Bronco, yuh can ride through th’ F-key Prairies while whistling “Down th’ Mountain” in 80 different variations. An’ that ain’t nothin’! If yuh plug it into yuhr computer via th’ USB port, yuh can use it as an audio interface, edit as many presets as yuh want an’ share ‘em on the web using th’ Fuse software. Yuh get ’bout 10 effects, eight amp models, an integrated tuner, an’ a free Ableton Lite version.

- Why, Sheriff you sure know a lot of things!

- Wal, kid, I jest read AudioFanzine when I ain’t have nobody t’ track down…

So, this small combo makes all these things for only $250. I’ll have to track it down to see if it’s true. Just give me a mule and my rifle, no French Cancan for me tonight…

Let’s take a closer look …

And for a few bucks less…

Like the Mustang, its counterpart for guitar players, the Bronco 40 is an appealing alternative to many products currently available on the market for about $250. The amp doesn’t have enough output power for rehearsals with a drummer, but it can be the perfect practice amp. We can also imagine ourselves in a home studio recording some bass grooves with it and taking the best out of its wide sound range. Add to that the unique, easy-to-use and intuitive software tool Fuse, the possibility to use the amp as an audio interface, the good manufacturing quality, and the value for money, and you end up with a very attractive combo for people looking for a higher-class practice bass amp.

Advantages: 
  • Good manufacturing quality
  • Ease-of-use
  • Simple control panel
  • Fuse software
  • Can be used as a (backup) audio interface
  • Value for money
Drawbacks:
  • Output power: almost too much power to play at home, but not enough for rehearsals with a drummer
  • Modulation algorithms from the same modulation stage can’t be used simultaneously
  • Some effects seem useless to me
  • Fender offers four different Mustang combos but only one Bronco

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Bronco Bass Combo Review

February 7, 2012

Fender Modern Player Jazz Bass & Telecaster Bass Review

When I went to pick up these beauties at AudioFanzine’s editorial office, I asked myself how many Jazz and Precision basses I had already reviewed in my life as an editor. From Standard to Deluxe, Vintage, Special and Classic versions, from US to Mexican and Japanese, not to mention the Korean Series and Squier — Fender’s offer is very wide and almost confusing.

I actually decided to count them for you (and a little bit for me too) and here is the result: Fender’s catalog includes not less than 50 JB and PB versions (without taking the different finishes available for each model into account), but only two Jaguar and one single Mustang basses. Imagine going to a car dealer to buy a new car and having to choose from four dozen variations of the same car, a tricycle and a golf cart! Fender’s fidelity to its bass guitar classics is obvious. However, this review does reveal something new: first of all, although both basses feature the Fender label, their country of origin is China. Moreover, they don’t use their standard pickup combinations, which certainly is a very important point considering that both instruments got their name from their respective pickup sets. So let’s put our hands on this new Chinese girls!

A Bit of History…

In former reviews dedicated to Fender (60th Anniversary and American Specials series), I told you about Leo Fender’s story.

Fender Modern Player Jazz Bass

Let’s pick up from where we left off: we were in 1951, a very important year for us since it saw the consolidation of the Precision Bass as a successful instrument in the bass guitar market. Leo Fender had already understood that the success of an electric instrument relied on amplification, so he launched a bass combo in 1952 that was able to withstand the signal of the Precision Bass. This 35-watt amp was called Bassman. The success was almost immediate, especially among jazz musicians (Lionel Hampton’s orchestra was the first to include this instrument). In the meantime, pop and rock musicians would still prefer rockabilly-style double bass for several years. It’s interesting to mention that guitar players also loved the Bassman, mainly for its high output power.

And when it came to six-string guitar, Leo would listen to the needs of musicians for more sound versatility (the bright Telecaster sound isn’t for everyone) and improved ergonomics (the angular Telecaster body is not the most comfortable), and was about to present a new legend in 1954: theStratocaster. For this project, he worked with Freddy Tavares and Bill Carson starting in 1953. The shape of the Stratocaster was based on the ’53 Precision Bass whose roundness was in turn inspired by the design concept used by theautomobile industry in the 1950’s. The top of the body included a new bevel edge for the right arm, three pickups and a tremolo bar to compete with the Bigsby system introduced in 1952.

Fender Modern Player Precision Bass

Right away, the Stratocaster became a standard and still remains the most copied electric guitar to date. In 1957 came the turn for the Precision Bass to take the Stratocaster as a model: its shape was improved and the single coil replaced by the famous split-coil pickup still used today. In 1960, that is to say nine years after the launch of its first bass guitar, the manufacturer presented its last legendary instrument, the Deluxe Model which would be quickly renamed Jazz Bass. The neck is thinner at the nut than the Precision Bass, the shape of its body is inspired by the Jaguar and Jazzmaster developed a bit earlier. But it was mainly the pickup combination that made the personality of the Jazz Bass stand out: a pair of parallel single-coils using two coils for each string. The sound was tighter than that of the Precision, because the main asset in those days was to avoid damaging the low-quality speakers of bass amps. This particular sound would become later a real signature thanks to great musicians like Jaco Pastorius and, of course, Larry Graham. By the way, while doing my research for this review, I found a classified ad that could be of interest for rich fans of Jaco. After all, even bass players can win the lottery!

China is The Place To Be

Until now, Chinese manufacturing was limited to Fender’s main sub-brand Squier. With the Modern Player series, and following the success of the recent Squier Vintage Modified series, the “Made in China” label enters Fender’s catalog. A new production line is born — a new challenge for the brand, because Chinese manufacturing of musical instruments isn’t well received by demanding musicians. And to fight this prejudice, Fender will have to be convincing…

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Personally, I find these new Fender bass guitars under $600 really appealing, especially the blonde one. If I had the money, I would buy and upgrade it with a pair of Darkstar pickups and a Badass bridge, just for fun. That’s the reason why I assert that Chinese people are beautiful (easy for me to say since part of my family comes from Guandong) and that they always make everything better! And this is proven by the intrinsic value of the two bass guitars we reviewed today! The value for money is amazing and you get more than only standard features. In short, a fresh concept showing respect for tradition.

Advantages: 
  • Finish
  • Original and powerful pickup sets
  • Neck playability
  • We like new things
Drawbacks:
  • Gig bag = Cardboard box. Every time a bass guitar is sold in a cardboard box, a fairy disappears…
  • Slight level difference between both Telecaster pickups

To read the full detailed article see:  Fender Modern Player Jazz Bass & Telecaster Bass Review

December 8, 2011

Fender Kurt Cobain Jaguar Review

Come on people now! Smile on your brother. Everybody get together. Try to love on another right now! To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the launch of Nirvana’s Nevermind, Fender presents a reissue version of the guitar bought by Kurt Cobain a short time before the recording of this album.

A collector lent the original guitar to Fender, who then decided to manufacture it in Mexico. Before its launch, Kurt Cobain’s Jaguar got a lot of people talking, especially due to the possible incompatibility between the “grunge spirit” and the signature and relic guitars trend. So… is this guitar a real instrument or a shameful business idea using the name of one of the most popular lefty rock icons.

Some History…

Fender Jaguar Kurt Cobain

Originally designed for surf musicians, the Fender Jaguar was introduced as the leading product of Fender’s electric guitar range in the 60’s. The guitar had two independent electrical circuits: a lead stage with volume and tone controls plus three switches (two switches for pickup on/off plus a low-cut filter to create a very sharp sound). Accessible via a switch on the left part of the guitar body, the Rhythm stage offered additional control for the neck pickup through the volume and tone knobs. But the Jaguar had little success and disappeared from Fender’s catalog in the 70’s. Even though this guitar had a vintage touch already in the 90’s, the Jaguar (as well as the Jazzmaster and Mustang) was still rather inexpensive then. But after the grunge wave, and especially due to Kurt Cobain, its price went up and Fender relaunched production. The famous Jagstang — an hybrid between the Jaguar and a Mustang (Cobain loved it), that was actually developed by Fender and Kurt himself — also comes to mind. But the musician wouldn’t have too much time to enjoy this honor and decided to take his life some time after receiving the first prototypes.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Rate Me

Without having the same magic as an original ’62 Jaguar (which would cost about $3,000 with custom pickups/electronics…), this Kurt Cobain signature is a very good guitar. Reliable, strong personality, beautiful, noisy, wild. The guitar is rather versatile but it is not made for guitar heroes regardless of music genre (jazz, blues, metal). This guitar will be the ideal partner for sound destroyers in music genres like pop, alternative, rock, post rock, etc. And of course, a lefty version is also available!

Advantages:

  • Nirvana’s spirit (if you like it)
  • Sturdy, almost indestructible neck
  • Right weight
  • Two independent pickup stages

Drawbacks:

 

  • A bit expensive for a Mexican guitar
  • Not easy to get used to the electronics
  • Access to the controls not easy

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Kurt Cobain Jaguar Review

 

November 8, 2011

Fender Pawn Shop ’51, ’72 & Mustang Review

In the USA, pawn shops will exchange money for anything having more or less value, either a watch or a hi-fi system or the ukulele your grandpa brought home from his holidays in Hawaii back in ’53. These pawn shops are the modern version of Ali Baba’s cave. They are packed with all sorts of things — especially musical instruments, like guitars. You’ll find more or less famous brands, as well as all kinds of instruments repaired with spare parts by their former owners. Fender imagined a product range with this pawn shop spirit in mind. It includes instruments made up of parts from different products in Fender’s catalog from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and even later, e.g. for the Pawn Shop Fender ’51.

This new range was first presented at the Musikmesse in Frankfurt (Germany) back in April 2011. All three instruments in the range (Pawn Shop Fender ’51, Pawn Shop Fender ’72 and Pawn Shop Fender Mustang Special) are manufactured in Japan and sold in a deluxe gig bag.

Pawn Shop Fender ’51: Squier ’51 Revisited

Pawn Shop Fender ’51

In 2004, Fender’s small cousin Squier was already offering a guitar that was very similar to the Pawn Shop ’51: the Squier ’51. Both instruments have basically the same features, except for the hardware and electronics. Both guitars combine a Telecaster neck with a Stratocaster body. The latter is made out of lime and is rather thin on the Squier. On the contrary, on the Pawn Shop it is made out of alder and is rather thick.

Innovations on the Pawn Shop Version

Pawn Shop Fender ’51

The C-shape neck and fretboard are made out of one single piece of massive maple. The polyurethane-type finish feels comfortable right away. The cutaway of the Stratocaster body gives very easy access to very high notes. The neck has a 25.5″ scale length and a modern 9.5″ radius. It features 21 medium-jumbo frets, Kluson Vintage machine heads and the same strap pins as on 50’s and 60’s Telecasters. The string-through-body gives more sustain to the instrument. The hard-tail Stratocaster bridge clearly recalls the spirit of the 70’s. The single-ply pickguard has a very smooth and round shape and is made out of white plastic. It certainly contributes to the very sleek look of the instrument. However, the plastic quality of the pickguard is a bit cheap.

Pawn Shop Fender ’51

All the hardware is chromed. The control plate with two controls comes from a Precision Bass. You get a push-pull master volume knob and a three-way rotary pickup selector. Position 1 = bridge pickup; Position 2 = neck + bridge pickups; Position 3: neck pickup. There is no tone control, but hardly anybody uses this knob today, right? For my taste, the position of the volume setting is a bit “off axis” regarding the position of the right hand, especially if you use volumes swells.

May the Tone Be With You!

Pawn Shop Fender ’51

The Pawn Shop Fender ’51 is equipped with a Texas Special single-coil pickup on the bridge and a Fender Enforcer humbucker on the neck. You can split the coils of the humbucker using the push-pull function of the volume control. The combination of both pickups produces an original and very interesting tone. The humbucker sounds quite fat. It is useful for big Tom Delonge (from Blink 182) rhythm parts and the like . On the other hand, the Texas Special single-coil pickup in neck position brings more delicacy to your sound range. The split function of the humbucker pickup is very useful: the tone moves away from the “sound-wall” style and gets a clear and transparent character recalling the first position of a Stratocaster or a Telecaster.

Now let’s take a look at the other models…

A wide palette of sound colors

Fender Pawn Shop Mustang Special

The range of sounds provided by the Mustang Special is extremely rich and versatile. In clean mode, the sound of the Enforcer “Wide Range” pickups is amazing. The bridge pickup provides you with twangy and very colored sound options. With the reverb of a Fender Deluxe amp, you have everything you need for surf music. Add an overdrive pedal (without any other effects) and you’ll get very thick rhythm sounds. From jazz to rock to country and very fat sounds, everything is easily possible. The differences in sound color between positions is obvious. If you’re looking for a guitar capable of matching almost any music genre, I strongly recommend this Mustang Special. The street price (about $800) is perfectly justified by the high-quality finish. The beauty of the body’s lacquer is dangerous. If at all, we could reproach the intuitiveness of the guitar in comparison to the other Pawn Shop guitars, which are really “plug ‘n’ play”. You will indeed have to try all combinations provided by the toggle switch and the three-way selectors if you want to enjoy all sound possibilities offered by this Mustang Special.

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Pawn Shop 51, 72 and Mustang Guitar Reviews

August 16, 2011

Fender 60th Anniversary Precision Bass Limited Edition Review

Filed under: Bass — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 4:23 pm

We don’t turn 60 everyday, and we don’t always have the opportunity to celebrate the advent of our species to this planet: the “Homo Sapiens Bassistus-Electricus.” Although Leo Fender was not the inventor of the electric bass, he found out how to make a great success out of the forgotten concept developed by Audiovox 14 years earlier. And this allowed our favorite instrument to conquer the international music scene to end up in your hands — you lucky, spoiled kids who have been pampered for 60 years.

Forgotten Fatherhood

 

bass fiddle model 736

Yes, the bass guitar was born in 1937 — not 1951 — from the hands of the man who had already conceived the fist electromagnetic pickup for a musical instrument (launched in 1932 and originally used to amplify zithers, pianos and Spanish guitars). A forgotten genius, a good Samaritan took pity on double-bass players who always had to travel alone because of their bulky instrument: in those days, once the double-bass was in the car there was no space left except for the driver. The poor bass player had to drive by himself and “enjoy the road” alone, unlike the other members of the band who generally traveled together in the same vehicle. The name of the great inventor was Paul Tutmarc and even though he was more than one decade ahead of his competitors in the electric-music market, his business was a failure. He could never apply for a patent for his electromagnetic pickup at the end of the 30’s because Bell had been controlling the exploitation of induction since 1875, when Alexander Graham Bell applied for his telephone patent. And the instruments Paul Tutmarc developed were only locally successful (his company was based in Seattle) and quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, he developed the first electric double-bass: the 1933 Bass Fiddle in cello format; and its little sister, the Bass Fiddle “Model 736″ (1936), which had a more compact size (about 1 meter long) and was the first bass to be held horizontally.

As a consequence, Leo Fender was the inventor neither of the electric bass nor the electric guitar. The first amplified guitar is officially attributed to Georges Beauchamp in 1931, just before he founded the Ro-Pat-In Corporation with Adolph Rickenbacker. Called “Electro Spanish Guitar,” the instrument had a hollow body and featured a piezoelectric system.

 

Les Paul The Log

The first solid body guitar was “The Log,” a prototype designed in 1940 by Les Paul that was never marketed.  So, give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s!

However, this doesn’t reduce the genius of the man from Fullerton who understood better than no one how to convert technological innovations developed by others into successful businesses — thus paving the way for electric music genres.

 

Leo Fender literally created the electric guitar market and was the first entrepreneur to venture a mass production strategy in a very small industry. His success is well deserved considering that he succeeded where most of his predecessors failed. Without the success of the 1950 Broadcaster guitar (quickly renamed “Nocaster” and later “Telecaster”), Gibson’s bigwigs would have never recalled Les Paul who gave his name to the first solid-body guitar of the manufacturer (1952). The same thing applies to bass guitar: without the success of the Precision Bass, launched in 1951, Gibson would not have developed the EB-1 (1952) and Rickenbacker its Model 4000 (their first bass guitar) whose design was motivated by the success of the ’57 Precision Bass.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

As a summary, my personal opinion about the timbre of this lady is that it sounds like an excellent Precision Bass. I hope the simplicity of my judgment will be understood among fans of this classic: you can run to your dealer and try it out. Players who don’t especially like Leo Fender’s standard or who prefer a Jazz Bass, won’t be converted to a new religion. But give it a try anyway, trying it out is free! Personally, I had a lot of fun playing this bass, which will nevertheless make you a bit nostalgic: how many technological improvements in 60 years! Intelligently upgraded old recipes will always succeed. With the same philosophy in mind, Fender also offers a 50th Anniversary Jazz Bass that makes me curious. The price of this lovely Precision Bass is somewhere between 1,350 and 1,500 euros with the case, a strap and all accessories you need to adjust the instrument. I wish a beautiful summer to all readers!

Advantages: 

  • Original finish
  • Simple and effective
  • Overall weight and ergonomics
  • Good value for money
  • Sold with case
  • Isolation of the electronics and dual pickup
Drawbacks:
  • Lack of some accessories I really like
  • Lefties are punished…
To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender 60th Anniversary Precision Bass

July 19, 2011

Fender Super-Sonic 100 Review

We reviewed the Fender Super-Sonic 22 combo in September 2010, and it seduced us with its numerous positive features. A few months later, the American manufacturer decided to complete its range and launched the 100 Series including a 100-watt amp head, two speaker cabinets and a combo amp. Today, we want to examine the head closely…

The new 100 Series brings not only more output power, but also some very welcomed changes like an additional clean channel and a Notch Tune control in the lead channel. But let’s start at the beginning…

Unpacking

Fender Super-Sonic 100

Unpacking is rather painful because of its weight: 53 lbs. are no joke! Later on you’ll understand why the Super-Sonic 100 head is so heavy… The design is very nice and the head is available in two different finishes: Black/silver or Blond. We received the Blond version, which is a good thing because we like it better. However, the finish presented a minor problem: on one of the corners of the birch plywood cabinet, a small piece of vinyl covering was not perfectly glued. It’s a small detail but it’s a pity for an amp in this price range. The amp isn’t what you’d call compact (10.53″ x 26.25″ x 10.5″) but it includes many accessories: a nylon protection cover, a very rugged 4-button footswitch and a comprehensive user’s manual with diagrams.

Under the hood we discovered seven 12AX7 tubes for the preamp stage (the Super-Sonic 22 had only five preamp tubes), four 6L6 power tubes (twice as much as in the 22), and a pair of 12AT7 tubes for the reverb. This makes a total of 13 tubes — hopefully this won’t bring any bad luck! In short, this head is fully packed with valves, and also with a solid-state rectifier and a big transformer! Now you know why it is so heavy…

Now, let’s have a look at the front and rear panels.

Front

Fender Super-Sonic 100

The front panel provides controls for the two clean channels (yes, there are two, didn’t I mention that before?), for the lead channel and for the reverb. The controls of the clean channels are very simple: 3-band EQ (bass, mid, treble), gain and volume controls. A switch to the right of the gain allows you to select either the Showman circuitry (Twin Reverb Blackface) or the Bassman circuitry (Tweed Vintage). Note that if you crank up the volume of the clean channel, the gain acts as a single volume control like old vintage Fender amps did. Another switch turns the lead channel on. The latter offers more settings than the clean channel… First of all, it has two gain controls — primary and secondary gain — allowing you to set respectively the distortion amount and sustain. In fact, the second one allows you to thicken the sound and make everything sound fatter. You also get a 3-band EQ and a volume control. But the main new feature in this channel is the Notch Tune setting, which gives you the possibility to choose the frequency affected by the mid band of the EQ. This allows you to go from a typical American sound to a more “British” response and everything in between. As you can hear in the sound samples, this control changes the tone radically and allows you to freely shape your sound. We had already seen similar features in competitor products (Blackstar) and we are happy to find it again on Fender’s Super-Sonic! Let’s close this front panel overview with the reverb, a spring Accutronics system like on the small 22-watt combo we already reviewed: Why change a winning team?

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

There is no doubt that this amp will make many 6-string addicts green with envy after they read this review. This amp head is very close to being perfect: it provides a wide range of clean tones, it can deliver a good crunch sound and offers a very versatile lead channel thanks to its Notch Tune control. Add the spring reverb, the effect loop, the auto-bias facility, the damping control, the 25-watt mode, and the 4-button footswitch and you get a perfect amp… if you can afford it! In case you like Fender’s clean tone (but not only) and have the money, don’t hesitate and go for it!

Advantages:

  • Look and reliability
  • Available in black or blond finish
  • Two complementary clean channels
  • Crunch sound
  • Very effective lead channel
  • Notch Tune control that increases the possibilities greatly
  • Accutronics spring reverb
  • 100 or 25 watt selection
  • Perfect 4-button footswitch
  • Auto-bias
  • Damping control
  • FX loop

Drawbacks:

  • Rather expensive
  • Rather heavy

To read the full detailed review see:  Fender Super-sonic 100

February 28, 2011

Fender Blacktop Series Review

Instead of launching the umpteenth reissue of a catalog instrument, Fender decided to innovate by mounting high-output passive humbuckers on a new series called Black Top. This new product range includes a Telecaster, a Jaguar and a Stratocaster equipped with the same pickup combination based on two humbuckers. The Jazzmaster gets a more original pickup combination with one humbucker (Hot Vintage Alnico Bridge Humbucking Pickup) and one P-90 in the neck position.

The Sonic Boom!

Originally, the humbucker pickup was invented by Gibson’s engineers to suppress unwanted noise by electrically and magnetically linking two single-coil pickups in series and out of phase. From the “practical” standpoint, guitar players know the properties of such pickups: a powerful, round and warm sound. As a consequence, humbucker pickups are the best solution for distortion sounds. Fender has a strong personality due to its single-coil pickups that provide a crystal-clear sound (they can be heard on many legendary rock albums). However, they could never really take the lead in the humbucker market — controlled by Gibson since the 1950’s.

Design

 

Fender Blacktop Series

The series is entirely produced in Fender’s factory in Mexico. All bodies are made out of alder with bolt-on maple necks with 9.5″ fingerboards and 22 medium-jumbo frets (except for the Jazzmaster). By standardizing the design and finish Fender can actually lower the price to a MSRP of $450! Most models are available with two different fretboards: maple or rosewood. The latter gives a warmer, rounder and more precise tone. Considering the price, we guess that the bodies are not made out of premium-quality wood but rather out of two or three glued pieces of wood. Just being realistic: with such prices, you cannot expect to get the same resonance as from a massive-wood, one-piece body. All guitars have a perfect skin: a polyurethane varnish with a faultless glossy finish. The neck finish is the same as on the Classic Reissue Series. It is very thick and protects the wood perfectly, providing excellent grip and optimal playing comfort while allowing to quickly access every point of the neck. The truss rod adjustment is accessible on the top of the neck, which is a modern and very convenient feature. The nickel/chrome hardware and the tone and volume knobs on all models recall the look of Fender amps. We must admit that this is a very original idea but it won’t be everybody’s taste.

 

You’re In the Army Now!

Let’s take a look at all new recruits of the Black Top Series.

 

Fender Blacktop Series

The look and sound of the Stratocaster is pretty well accomplished. The combination of the Candy Apple Red finish and the three-ply Mind Green pickguard looks wonderful and make the guitar a real eye-catcher. Two other finishes are available: Sonic Blue or Black with rosewood or maple fingerboard. The guitar has two Hot Vintage Alnico Humbucking pickups with chrome covers, a volume control, a tone control, a vintage-style tremolo, and a five-way toggle switch.

Position 1: full bridge pickup The sound is powerful and rich. It’s perfect for aggressive but precise rhythm parts.

Position 2: inside coils of the the two humbuckers. The response is hollow in the mid frequencies, the sound is lusty but not too wide.

Position 3: bridge and neck pickups in series. The low-frequency band is softened so that the mid range seems to be boosted, resulting in a flat and massive character.

Position 4: outer neck pickup. The most interesting sound among the five available. You get that unique Stratocaster sound without the sharpness.

Position 5: full neck pickup This setting produces too many lows, which results in a very heavy timbre. The tone is too heavy for rhythm parts but interesting for lead guitar.

Now let’s have a closer listen…

Conclusion

 

With the Black Top Series, Fender offers a very wide range of sound variations and finishes. The four different guitars use surprising pickup combinations! And their playability is almost perfect! The jewel of the family is the Jazzmaster, which is a really nice guitar aesthetically speaking but also provides a spicy expressive sound. The price in stores ($450) is very appealing and will surely attract guitar players who want a Fender without going broke.

Advantages:

  • Finish quality
  • Originality
  • Unbeatable value for money!
  • The Jazzmaster is especially appealing
  • Versatility of the Stratocaster

Drawbacks:

  • No gig bag
  • The Telecaster is a bit disappointing
  • Jaguar without a tremolo bridge

To read the full detailed article of the series with all sound samples see:  Fender Blacktop Series Review

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