Pros: Versatile sounds and volume for the price
Cons: No preset ability
Modeling amps are here to stay and the questions for manufacturers are what products and features do they deliver at what price point and for which market niche. Line 6, for example, has done a good job of blanketing the purchaser spectrum with products ranging from its starter Spider series to the pricier Flextones to the top-of-the-line Vetta II(which I own and is a terrific amp). On the other hand, Fender has long been leading tube amp manufacturer, and, given that history, its first serioud modeling amp was the tube based Cybertwin, a very fine amp. (Shameless Plug Department: Links to my reviews of those amps are below.)
But the pricey Cybertwin is beyond the reach of the entry-level amplifier purchaser, the guy who has just spent maybe $400 on his second intermediate guitar and is looking for an effects-based amp that will deliver some volume and not kill his pocketbook. Say, something for around $300 that models maybe sixteen different amps, has enough effects to keep his girlfriend and assorted hangers-on in the local garage or opium den amused, and won't have his mother screaming "Turn that down! Don't you boys know any nice songs?" because it's loud but not that loud.*
That guy may want to look at the new Fender FM 65 DSP. I ran into it this week when I was mucking about the local Guitar Center and was feeling a little daffy.**
The FM 65 DSP is a 65-watt solid state amp designed specifically for the entry level amp market. Packing a 1x12 Fender "Special Design" speaker (whatever that means), the amp's volume is perfect for practicing, jamming, and maybe small gigs. Operation on the easy-to-use front panel is intuitive. You'll barely need the manual, which is a good thing, because the manual is barely informative.***
Starting from left to right, once you get past the input jack you run into the volume, bass and treble controls for Channel 1 (which delivers a clean traditional Blackface sound). Channel 2 is the modeling channel. It has controls for gain, volume, amp type, treble, mids and bass. The amp type control provides the guts of the amp. You can select one of sixteen different amp simulators, including 1) two very clean acoustics 2) a clean Jazz King 3) two Tweeds (Champ and Bassman) 4) three Blackfaces, including vintage and overdriven tones 5) four British (sounds like Vox and gainier Marshall to me) 6) two Hot Rods and 7) two Metals, including a Metal Head. These models all meet the 80/20 good-enough-for-government work standard****. In other words, even if you had no idea what was being modeled, you're getting a nice range of clean, jazzy, vintage, and overdriven tones that you should be able to have a lot of fun with.
Moving on ***** to the right are the controls for the on-board effects and the effects level. While Fender advertises the amp as having sixteen effects, that's rather bogus****** because it's really a mixture of six effects: 1) a Vibratone (rotating speaker baffle) 2) three different delay timings 3) four reverbs 5) four chorus, reverb and delay combinations 6) two flangers 7) two tremelos. The effects are OK but nothing to write home about. There are two aux in jacks (for MP3 players, etc.), headphones and footswitch jacks (for switching channels and effects bypass), and a power LED indicator.
The reverse panel has the power switch and chord socket.
This amp does a good job for what it purports to do. The beginning and intermediate player can have a lot of fun with this machine, even though it creates sounds instead of being a machine in the traditional sense of putting things on top of other things.******* You can play country, jazz, acoustic, hard rock and metal and have a good time doing it. It's a pretty good value for the money and its reasonably loud.
One thing, though, that the amp sorely needs is a user preset save button. You can't automatically save and dial up your presets. I think that's a real problem, given that this amp should be marketed at guys who play a lot of different songs because the amp and effects options let them play those songs.
All in all, I give this amp three stars. It's got nice versatility in sounds along with good volume and a decent price point. I think the closest competitor is the Line Six Spider III series, available in a couple of models. It's a good buy for the budget-conscious or intermediate guitarist. While the Fender has more amp models and (arguably) effects selections, the Spider has four hundred artist and song presets as well as 36 user programmable presets. I think those preset features add a whole lot of value, so I strongly suggest that any one who is considering a Fender 65 DSP take a look at the Line 6 product as well.
Spider III Review: http://www.epinions.com/content_334561316484
Flextone III Review: http://www.epinions.com/content_152789290628
Vetta II Review: http://www.epinions.com/content_148710395524
Cybertwin Review: http://www.epinions.com/content_149744160388
*That's a couple of lines from the title track to Frank Zappa's classic Joe's Garage.
**That's an allusion to the classic Coen Brothers movie Miller's Crossing.
***I made that line up.
****A common cliche used by business-school wonks.
*****That's the name of a song from the first Bad Company album. You remember that, don't you?
******From Bob and Ted's Bogus Journey
*******An obscure Monty Python allusion. OK, I'm reaching.
Series FM Series
Type Solid State
Output 65 watts into 8 ohms
Speakers 1-12" Special Design 8 ohm, 75 watt Speaker
Channels Dual Selectable Channels (Normal and Drive)
Normal Channel with Blackface amp tone
Second channel with 16 Amp Types including classic Fender Tweed, Blackface, Hot Rod, & Metalhead British Stack and Combo; and Acoustic-Electric simulator
16 DSP effects including Reverb, Delay, Chorus, Tremolo, Vibratone, Flange, and combinations (Reverb Delay, Chorus Delay, Chorus Reverb)
Included 2-button footswitch accesses channel selection and effects on-off
AUX input for CD or MP3 play-along capability
Channel Select Switch
Power Amp In
Weight 33 lbs. (15 kg) Dimensions Height: 18.5" (47 cm),
Width: 18.5" (47 cm)
Depth: 9" (22.9 cm)
Accessories Includes 2-Button Footswitch Footswitch Uses 2-Button Footswitch for Channel Select, Effects On/Off
Other amp reviews from buffoonery:
Marshall Super 100 JH
Peavey Classic 30 Combo
Crate Power Block
Roland Micro Cube
Mesa 5:25 Express
Mesa Stiletto Ace
Fender Cyber Twin
Line 6 Vetta II Combo
Mesa 5:50 Express
Line 6 Spider III 75
Mesa Lone Star Combo
Vox Valvetronix AD60VT
Mesa Stiletto Deuce
Mesa Triple Rectifier Head
Fender DSP 65
Peavey Triple XXX Head
Fender Super Sonic 1x12 Combo
Hughes and Kettner Switchblade 50 Combo
Fender MH 500 Metalhead
64 Fender Vibroverb Custom Blackface
Mesa Dual Rectifier Roadster
Peavey Penta Head
Peavey JSX Joe Satriani Signature Head
Line 6 Spider II Head
Crate Acoustic CA30
Line 6 Flextone III Plus
And you may also be interested in a few books such as:
Hugo Pinksterboer Tipbook Amplifiers and Effects
Ritchie Fliegler Amps: The Other Half of Rock and Roll
Michael Ross Getting Great Guitar Sounds: A Non-Technical Approach to Shaping Your Personal Sound