Tone Tips

Packing Heat: Exploring Fender’s Smaller Amps

Fender has made some of the most legendary guitar amplifiers of all time. From the tweed Bassman, to the Princeton, to the venerable Deluxe Reverb, Fender amps have been powering every genre of music since their inception—not least of these is the small but mighty Pro and Blues Junior amps. Many players have taken their favorite axe, pedals, and trusty small Fender combo to gigs the world over. Jeff Beck has notably used Pro Juniors live, and the Blues Junior is one of the most popular stage amps of all time, finding its way into the hands of Noel Gallagher of Oasis fame, among others. Recently, Fender introduced its new line of Bassbreaker amplifiers, including two small combos, so I thought it’d be fun to compare those to some of the classics. Let the games begin!

Pro Junior

The simplest amp of the bunch, this is for the no-nonsense players who want to plug straight in and get down to business. Volume and tone—what else do you need? Pumping out 15 watts of EL84 power through a 10-inch speaker, this is a purist’s amplifier that is at home at the club or a blues jam. Its inherent tone is a classic, bluesy grind, as the dual-12AX7 preamp doesn’t get into high gain territory. Many players, including the aforementioned legend Jeff Beck, plug the PJ into a speaker cabinet of their liking to open it up and let it rip. It takes pedals well, is extremely easy to carry around, and can be had brand new for just over $400. If black and silver doesn’t do it for you, there are some limited edition models in unique color schemes floating around in the used market, and Fender usually does a few of those per year. If you’ve never tried the PJ, try using it with and without your favorite stompboxes, and you may be surprised to find you have a new favorite. Did I mention a pair of them makes a great stereo setup? Instead of lugging your vintage Marshall head to the gig, try plugging the PJ into a 4x12 cab. Dime the volume, set tone to taste, and use your guitar’s volume control to set your overall volume and saturation level. This is a great workingman’s setup, and a ton of fun to boot.

Blues Junior

At some point in your guitar-playing career, you’ve probably plugged into a Blues Junior. Fender takes the classic three-12AX7 preamp and dual EL84 power tube combination and turns it into a little tone machine. Despite the traditionally British power section, the sound is all Fender, and you can shape your tone with treble, middle, and bass controls, as well as a Fat switch to add a little extra girth to your favorite low output pickups. Fifteen watts through a 12-inch speaker is still pretty loud, so the master volume control comes in handy for gigs of all sizes. Part of the fun of the BJ is the ability to swap speakers. Another welcome feature of the Blues Junior is its real spring reverb tank. It isn’t as full or lush as the traditional tube-driven Fender spring units, but it adds depth and dimension to your notes, and is an impressive feature considering the small size of the BJ. Like the PJ, there are lots of cool color combinations available, as Fender has created many limited edition models, and it looks especially handsome in classic Fender tweed. It sounds great on its own, takes pedals well, and like the other amps on this list, is easy to carry around. There are many iterations of this amplifier, including the excellent Humboldt Hot Rod versions made in collaboration with PGS. If you like the sound of the Pro Junior, but need more tonal flexibility and a bigger speaker without hauling an extension cabinet around, the Blues Junior is a great choice.

 

Bassbreaker 007

This is one of Fender’s newest creations, and despite the name, it has no affiliation with James Bond. It does, however, have a direct affiliation with awesome tone. Like the Pro Junior, it comes in a 1x10 combo format, and it is also available in a head. But unlike the Pro Junior, it includes controls for gain, bass, middle, treble, and a built-in treble boost, the latter of which can be activated via a footswitch for even more tonal flexibility. The lowest-powered amp on this list at just seven watts, it isn’t going to provide a mass amount of clean headroom, but it can provide gritty jangle and roaring classic rock tones courtesy of the included treble boost. If you’re a purist, plug in a Telecaster, dime the gain and master volume, hit that treble boost, and play until you’re the last one left in the room. If you opt for the combo version, but want to pump it through a larger speaker, it includes a speaker output jack for matching with your favorite cabinet. It also has a line output, making it friendly for bedroom studio recording. If you’re looking for a traditional Fender sound, this isn’t it, but that’s a good thing. You could create an affordable dual-amplifier setup big on tone by running a Pro Junior and the Bassbreaker 007 side by side. Use an amp switcher to alternate between the two, and you’ll get some nice, classic Fender semi-cleans, as well as blistering British rock and roll.

Bassbreaker 15

This is one killer little combo. Like the Blues Junior, it is powered by a single 12-inch speaker, and uses EL84 power tubes. Unlike the Blues Junior, it is a ripping rock machine, capable of high-gain shred. Fender deserves major credit for their implementation of the Gain Structure switch, which allows users to alternate between low, medium, and high gain settings. Low offers sounds akin to the Juniors we know and love, and with a dash of the included digital hall reverb, you can approximate classic Fender cleans. Medium gain gets into blues and classic rock crunch, with plenty of gain on tap for solos if you use your volume control. With high gain, you can get as heavy as you want, especially if you add your favorite dirt pedals to the mix. An effects loop is included, so you can get the most out of your favorite time-based effects while using the high gain sounds. I’ve played through this combo extensively, and I’m impressed with the tonal versatility coming from such a small combo. The clean sounds are great, but this bad boy was made for rocking. If you need major tonal flexibility, but don’t have a ton of space or cash, this is a terrific option and offers a lot of bang for the buck. It sounds great with single coils and humbuckers, and it looks pretty handsome in the grey and black tweed color scheme.

Which small Fender is right for you? Do you need ripping rock tones, or a simple pedal platform? Do you prefer an enhanced feature set, or simple, straightforward controls? Whatever you’re looking for in a portable combo amplifier, Fender has something that will work for you. If you haven’t tried all the amps on this list, make it a point to, and compare them if possible. Whether you only have one amp, or you’re looking to add something to your rig that has great tone and is easy to carry around, see which one of these hits the spot for you, and give it a loving home. Rock on!

 

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