S’NAMM 2019: Fender Tonemaster?

Fender TONE MASTER TWIN REVERB 200W 2-Channel 2x12Fender Tone Master Deluxe Reverb 100-watt 1x12

Edit: they’re finally available! Click the images below to be whisked away to amazon:

Like any jerk on the internet, I’m going to give my thoughts on Fender’s new amp release of the Tonemaster range at Summer NAMM 2019 without having actually played the gear.  That’s what the internet is here for: uniformed ranting.  This is based on literature I’ve read as well as the few videos I’ve seen on these amps.  I also recognize all videos I’ve seen on these are on youtube channels that either trying to sell these amps or advertisements from Fender.

Those of you who have been following me for a while know that I’m a big fan of technology.  I’m always perplexed by guitarists who refuse to evolve from old tube amps, then complain about new technology on their smartphones to beam that stream of thought into the sky for the world to see.  This is something you would have been locked into a mental asylum for suggesting the possibility of in the days when Leo Fender and Jim Marshall were tinkering with the only technology they had at the time (tubes) to bring a voice to the electric guitar.

So that brings me to Fender’s release of the Tonemaster series at this year’s Summer NAMM.  Here is a quick rundown of the specs:

Tone Master Deluxe Reverb:
-100 Watts
-12″ Jensen N-12K Neo Speaker
-XLR with Impulse Response
-23lbs
-Street Price $899.99

Tone Master Twin Reverb:
-200 Watts
-Two 12″ Jensen N-12K Neo Speaker
-XLR with Impulse Response
-33lbs
-Street Price $999.99

What I Don’t Like About These

This is a short list, so I’ll knock it out first: The Price.  I have not played one of these amps to know if the “feel” is there.  but I cannot justify buying one of these over the real deal yet.  You can find a used 65 DRRI or Twin Reverb for the same price as these amps.  Although you could make the argument that the money you’ll save on tubes and maintenance might work out in your favor in the long run.  If the price was in the $500-$600 range, I probably would have already preordered one.  Maybe they’ll incorporate this technology into cheaper amps in the future.

What Excites Me About These

These aren’t modeling amps, per se, but they are a digital/solid state recreation of a single amp, meant to function just as a Deluxe Reverb or Twin Reverb would.   In all the videos coming out of NAMM with the Fender representatives, they mention these have the processing power equal to those of Kempers and Helix’s, but they use all that processing power is dedicated to that one sound.   And in all honesty, when it comes to a recorded sound, I doubt most people can even tell the difference.

What I think they’re trying to do with this is appeal to someone who has been reluctant to try new technology.  Typical digital amps pack a gazillion options, so much that most users get option paralysis and wind up spending more time twisting knobs than actually playing.

Let me provide an analogy to a real life situation.  My parents rented a brand new car over the weekend, a Nissan of some sort.  My dad had to call me and tell me all about it.  It was the top trim package with all of the technology packed into it.  My parents’ cars are 20+ years old and barely running.  The concept of push-to-start is foreign to them.  It took him 5 minutes and walking back into the rental car office to realize he had to push the brake pedal down while pushing the button to start the car.  They were just completely overwhelmed with all the options on the touch screen in the dash, almost wrecked it a few times when it started beeping at them for drifting out of the lane.

I think this is the same phenomenon when more traditional players trying to jump into digital modeling.  These Tone Master amps have control layouts just like the original amps.  They designed to look and sound just like the original, but without tubes.  Compared to these, a Kemper Profiler behind a guitarist seems like a NASA mission master computer.

As I posted about after the Winter NAMM this year,  I think the future of amplifiers is full of IR loaded amps.  This has two IRs built in, as well as a flat DI out for you to use your own IRs if you want.  This needs to be on more amps.  If the tone and feel are there, this will be an amazing tool to have both on stage and in studio.

There also seems to be a good speaker in there.  The speaker is where most “modeling” and solid state amps fall short.  It’s also a very lightweight “neo” magnet speaker.  I honestly think my 65 DRRI is a fairly lightweight amp as it is, but a Fender Twin is notoriously heavy.  These speaker magnets are a big part of weight reduction.

They also seemed to provide ample power.  I’m not smart enough to understand the science behind this, but tube power amps are just louder on a per watt basis.  Maybe I’ll dive into this on another blog.  If they just put a 22 watt solid state amp in the Deluxe Reverb, it would be nowhere near as loud.  100 watts solid state will be in the ballpark.  I know Andertons did a comparison video of the Tone Masters vs the “traditional” amps, but I don’t think they had a decibel meter to see if there was a difference in volume.

In Conclusion

I’d say don’t knock it until you try it.  I do want to try these amps, just not at this price point.  Maybe if they’re a complete flop, I’ll grab one when they go on clearance.  If this catches on, maybe Fender will incorporate this approach into a more affordable package once they recoup the investment they put into these amps.  Until then, I won’t be selling my 65 DRRI just yet.  Even though I hardly play my 65 DRRI because there is a lot of glass in there, it costs a small fortune to retube.

Cheers,
Chuck

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