Monday, March 21, 2011

2011 - Fender Princeton Reverb

The year is 2011.

Things have changed.
Gone are the days when a Fender Amp would command a few months wages. Thanks to the GFC and the peculiarities of the stock market, the Australian dollar became strong against the greenback, and the price of owning a new Fender amp dropped to something achievable to mortal men and women. I've owned many nice amps over the years, but for some reason, I've never been 100% satisfied in my sound. The amps I've owned have generally been very nice bits of gear. OK, maybe with the exception of that valvestate I had way back when. By and large, they've had their merits. The Marshall's had the the classic rock crunch, Peavey produced many good amps, similar to Marshall in tone, but generally way more power than I could ever need. My Epiphone's are sweet and simple low power amps, but still loud enough to make the windows rattle in my house.

The Peavey Delta Blues came really close to nailing the sound that I wanted.
A killer amp for a clean tone at high volume with a nice, but somewhat tame reverb.
There's only so much saturation an integrated circuit can provide an inductor.
The Tremolo is a bonus for the Delta Blues too. So from the control panel it would appear that I'v traded down in features, since the Princeton doesn't have a second channel, middle EQ and a boost switch. Also it's rated at half the power.

I'd originally thought about getting an external tank to add to the Delta Blues in order to gain that super drippy surf sound. The Delta is more than up to delivering the goods on the clean channel with this supplement. It performed superbly with the Line 6 Verbzilla pedal. So why not stick with what I had?

Any rational person would have been happy with that setup, and indeed I was. Until the day I was bored on my lunch break and decided to go an harass the guitar stores in town. First I tried the Fender '63 Reverb Reissue through an Orange Tiny Terror. It was nice and I would have bought one on the spot, if it wasn't for the asking price of $1400 in Australia. After that I sought out a Fender Deluxe Reverb at another store. Boy oh boy was that thing nice. Super long drippy dark reverb and the clean tone which had a bottom end that seemed to ring out, threatening to break up if the strings were struck just that little bit harder. I was happy as could be, playing in an isolation booth. I even turned it up as far as it would go. The overdrive was beautiful. And the price was pretty tempting. If I had the cash, I probably would have bought it on the spot.

A week or so went by, I'd been reading up on my amps and thought I'd give the Princeton Reverb a try.
Finding one was easy. At first it seemed just all right. Nice, but not the killer tone that I'd heard from the Deluxe at another store. I went on a mission to try and find a store with both in stock. There isn't much between them in regard to pricing, but I'd read so much about the Princeton being a favourite for recording. Since I do more recording than I do playing with a band, it was definitely an appealing idea.

I finally managed to try them out side by side. And this time I was torn between the amps.
The Deluxe has a slightly bigger sounding reverb and larger speaker, but the Pricneton was pretty nice.
I left the store leaning toward the Deluxe. I still had that magic sound in my head, from the store where I played in the iso-booth. The place I was trying to A/B test the amps was noisy and I am very self conscious about my arthritic playing style.  I left empty handed. But I'd decided to sell some of my gear to purchase an all in one, wonder box.

Mostly I play clean with verb and occasionally tremolo.

A week later, I had raised 2/3 of the cash required to make a purchase. With my lovely ladies' approval I made my way back to the store with a fist full of dollars and a gold card.

This was a tough choice. I walked in there with a 70% leaning toward the Deluxe Reverb.
I A/B'd them back and forth, feature for feature, for an hour or so. Even to the point of plugging the Princeton Reverb into a 12" cabinet. The cabinet wasn't impedance balanced for use with the Fender, and was a little quieter than the on board speaker. In the noisy store, it was hard to tell much more in the bottom end.

I felt that the Deluxe Reverb was stronger in the Bass and Reverb area, but the Princeton Reverb had a nicer tremolo. Both amps have Valve Rectifiers and Tube driven reverb tanks, but the Deluxe uses an opto-coupler on it's tremolo circuit, where the Princeton has a valve biased tremolo. And that was the deciding factor.
The Fender Deluxe Reverb has a Tremolo(Vibrato) that is more of a Square wave and the Fender Princeton Reverb has a smoother more Triangle shaped Tremolo.

It was the throbbing Tremolo, rather than the chopp chop chop that won me over.
The reverb sound was so close that I'd be happy with either. Just to be sure I cranked them both up. The deluxe is slightly louder, but the difference between 15 and 22 watts is pretty negligible when it comes down to measuring output by decibels. All it really means is that the Deluxe would stay cleaner, longer.

I'd brought a little trolley with me, and as it turned out, my choice of the Princeton was a better choice for carting it home, as my octopus straps were barely adequate to keep the thing upright. Anyway I walked home with it rather than get on a packed tram. It wasn't too bad actually. The amp is only 12kg and I walk to and from work every day anyway. Getting it through our non standard doorways was a little tricky. But I managed it. The night I got it home I was only able to play for a short time. But the amp did sound very nice. Actually it exceeded my expectations with the Mosrite. Lots and lots of bottom end, with far more volume than could be used in my home.

Today I've had the house to myself and managed to turn the amp up to the mighty level of two on the dial.
At this level, everything in the lounge room vibrated heavily, actually it was as if the house was having a guitar quake (My Epiphone Valve Jr gets half way before that happens).

My doubts on the quality of the tone were completely unfounded. The Fender Princeton Reverb has the same resonant clean tone as I experienced with it's bigger brother. Either amp would be an excellent choice, but for me the Princeton Reverb is the perfect choice.

I know this reissue has a PCB and isn't strictly to vintage spec, but I don't think that really matters. Fender has made an excellent product and it's supported by a generous warranty. Hopefully I'll never need it, but if I do, I've kept the receipt in a safe place (unlike my Dremel, which died today while making an isolation cabinet).

I don't even see the need to get it biased, change the speaker, or valves. The stock amp, or at least my stock amp sounds warm and recording ready.

Man I wish I was getting a kickback from Fender for the above review.....

1 comment:

  1. I had the same experience using a new princeton reverb as a tone control while checking other fender amps - Superchamp XD2 and blues junior 111 with a greenback. The princeton was just great and blew the others away. Next time i will check it against a blues junior 111 with a C-rex.
    The princeton to my ears is a beautiful sounding amp - well done Fender!