Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Review: Fender Super-Sonic amp

My amp is still in the shop waiting to be retubed so I'm ampless. Kind of like being homeless. Wow, I sound really spoiled saying that! Anyway, so far I haven't needed an amp since I played acoustic in a wedding and at church last weekend and I have a tiny little solid state amp in my room for practicing. I had a rehearsal tonight so it was time to borrow an amp. My friend works at a music store and agreed to grab me something. I knew their selection, and the Fender Super-Sonic was what I was hoping to try, but I didn't want to be choosey so I didn't ask for anything specific. With that said, I was pretty excited when he said he had brought over the super-sonic!

The Super-sonic is a newer amp from Fender and it's designed to be super versatile. It's all tube amp with two basic modes: Vintage and burn (modern) with two overarching tones - Bassman and Vibrolux. It puts out 60 watts into a single 12" Celestion Vintage 30.

There's a distinct tonal difference between the bassman and vibrolux, the bassman has a more full bottom end and is darker sounding (kind of bluesy) while the vibrolux has the classic fender "clean" sparkle. I haven't done much digging but I don't think they use a different analog circuit to get the different tones, I suspect there's some digital modeling going on. It's neither a true bassman or a vibrolux circuit (again just assuming for now) but both modes sounded convincing.

The vintage and burn modes control the way the preamp behaves. The vintage mode uses a non-master volume control meaning as you turn up the volume the gain increases (like vintage amps did). That means to get a lot of overdrive the amp has to be very loud. I found it started breaking up between 2 and 3 which was too loud for bedroom playing, and just slightly loud for playing with a drumset. The burn mode uses a master volume and two stages of gain. That means you can turn the gain (overdrive) way up and still keep the volume lower. For distorted tones you would use the burn mode, for clean and light overdrive you would use the vintage mode... or do it like me and use the vintage mode and use pedals to get your overdrive.

The super-sonic also has analog spring reverb that can be use on any mode. There's also an FX loop with output and input volumes. The output/input volume could be used for effects in the loop, or you can plug a cable strait from the out to the in and use the input volume as a gain boost - especially nice since you can turn the FX loop on and off from the footswitch that comes with the amp. Instant clean boost! There's a regular speaker output (8 ohms) connected to the Vintage 30 and an extension speaker out (also 8 ohms) that can be used along with the built in speaker. There's also a head-only version that's shorter and doesn't have the speaker built in. The preamp tubes are six 12AX7 and two 12AT7 and the power amp tubes are two 6L6GC.

My Thoughts
I've had my eye out for a "fender tone" amp ever since I got my G&L. I don't think a fender will ever be my main amp so I'm looking for one that can give a range of tones. So far, the Super-Sonic has the most fender tones in one amp while still being a true tube amp. I was surprised to find the Vintage 30 inside... I expected a 12" Jenson or maybe 2x10s inside. I can't be fair to the Vintage 30 since it wasn't broken in, but when I ran the amp through my 2x12 of Scumback M75s it was no comparison, my 2x12 sounded way better (I had my friend listen too, just to make sure it wasn't my bias!). I wish the vintage mode broke up just a little bit sooner since I had to set the volume to mix with the other guitar/bass/drums and it was just a little too low for the amp. After practice my friend (bless his heart) let me play around for a few more minutes and with the volume bumped a little it sounded significantly better. I could get good tone out of both the bassman and vibrolux modes. My favorite sound was my G&L bridge pickup through a keeley blues driver to the super-sonic in bassman/vintage mode with a little reverb. SUPER good blues tone. I didn't play with the "burn" mode much, I didn't really understand with two gains (didn't read the manual!) and I was more concerned with the clean and light OD tones of the vintage mode. My biggest complaint was the grill cloth and faceplate look. I went online to check prices and found out they make the combo and amp in blonde/oxblood which looks better IMO.

If you're looking for superb bassman or vibrolux tone, get a vintage bassman or vibrolux. If you're looking for solid Fender Tone with a lot of options, this is it! It would also make a great first tube amp with lots of options, especially if you're playing blues, country, or clean sounds. If you're looking for a rock amp, there are probably better ones out there for you. I liked it enough to consider getting one eventually.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice review.
Yeah, Fender is getting a touch into the digital modeling. But most of them sound really good going through tubes. I know my amp has about 3 different tones of Overdrive, then about 15 other amp models. About 8-10 are good enough that I have considered using them if I can ever tear away from the OD that I love.

I remember when digital meant 'bad'. (like my first DigiTech do-it-all monstrosity of a tone eater pedal). Some of these guys are coming along quite nicely.