Fender’s latest Tone Master series is a love letter to some of their most treasured amplifiers from their extensive catalogue. While Fender have experimented with digital modelling in the past, none have come close to rivalling both the sound and response of an all-tube amplifier. That is, of course, up till now.
In an unprecedented first for the company, Fender have selected two of their most famous tube amps to undergo the fully digital treatment: the classic Fender Twin Reverb, and the ever-popular Deluxe Reverb.
Aesthetically, the pair of amps bear identical façades, apart from a small Tone Master logo embedded on the bottom corner of the grille. The classy combination of black tolex with a speckled silver grille cloth is as handsome as ever, and unmistakably screams out Fender from a distance. Front panel controls for both amplifiers remain identical to their vintage counterparts: two sets of high/low inputs are available over two channels – purely dry, and a vintage channel which enables both reverb and tremolo effects. Only the red jewel light has been modified – it now flickers between amber and red to indicate operation status. Super nifty.
The very first and most noticeable difference that separates these iterations from their older selves is their physical weight. The Twin Reverb is abnormally light – weighing in at an extremely manageable 15kg – less than half the weight of an all-original model. The Deluxe Reverb is even lighter still, at a mere 10.4kg. This is mainly thanks to the absence of the sizeable tube preamp and power stages, in addition to the amps’ material construction. Both are now housed in a lightweight pine cabinet, and rock 12” Jensen N-12K neodymium speakers – a single for the Deluxe Reverb, and obviously a double for the Twin. These speakers harken back to the traditional C12K speakers of old but rely on lighter neodymium magnets to alleviate as much bulk as possible. After close inspection, the build quality is about what you’d expect from Fender these days: sheer excellence. Quality control has been outstanding in recent days from the company, and it’s a trend we hope to see continue.
But let’s get one thing straight for all the tube snobs out there: these amps both feel and play like a genuine tube amp. Both amps run a highly efficient class-D power system that simulate their original wattages. The Twin runs at 200W into 4 ohms, simulating a vintage 85W output, while the Deluxe Reverb runs 100W into 8 ohms, imitating a true-to-spec 22W output. The increased wattage also allows incredible output flexibility – both amps feature a five-stage attenuator switch on the rear panel that goes all the way down to 1W for the Twin, and a mere 0.2W for the Deluxe Reverb. You’d never see the original versions of these amps in use for casual bedroom practice, but now, that scenario is entirely plausible.
In terms of sound, these amps sound incredible. Fender claim that the Tone Master series is “virtually indistinguishable” compared to the all-tube original, and this dynamic duo certainly attests to that bold statement. The Twin’s clean tones are punchy and crystal-clear, and effortlessly generate the tight yet booming low end characteristics of a classic Twin Reverb. As you would expect, there is an incredible amount of clean headroom on tap here. On the other hand, the Deluxe Reverb offers slightly more of a smooth and creamy tone with a slightly scooped midrange. Turning the volume up past six or seven even generates tube-like breakup, with a threshold that can be lowered at decreased wattage settings.
The reverb in particular is eerily convincing; most digital amp modellers fall short in achieving the luscious tones of an authentic Fender spring reverb, but the high-quality DSP of the pair easily produces spacey, bouncy trails without breaking a sweat. The same goes for the tremolo – everything sounds incredibly accurate across the board. And for the pedal fiends, don’t sweat. I was genuinely surprised at how well it took stompboxes – while not having the best dynamic response out there, the sounds produced were entirely applicable in a live setting. Thankfully, dirt pedals handle smoothly without overwhelming fizz, while modulation effects like choruses, phasers and delays all perform with no complaint through this amplifier.
Apart from the handy power attenuator function, the pair of amps bear more hidden features perfect for both stage and studio. A balanced XLR line output coupled with a level control and ground switch is perfect for going straight into your favourite DAW or a live mix situation, in addition to an impulse response (IR) switch that toggles between three cabinet simulation settings: no emulation, a dynamic microphone, and a ribbon mic. The dynamic microphone setting is great for dynamically cutting through the mix when playing live, while the ribbon simulation setting excels at recording with its extended low end. And as an additional bonus, both amps come with a hardy amp cover and a modernised Fender two-button footswitch, which controls the onboard reverb and tremolo effects. What more could you ask for?
The Tone Master series is more than a simple tribute to its roots. It’s proof that Fender are still hard at work, constantly innovating and changing the game one brilliant step at a time. Don’t forget – with no tubes present, you’re not just cutting weight out from the equation. You’re saving both time and money for inevitable maintenance, multiple tube replacements, and trips to the amp doctor. Pat yourself on the back Fender, you’ve absolutely smashed it with this one.
Hits and Misses
Authentic, era-accurate tones
Some might not dig the pine enclosure