Pros: This is a great sounding amp.
FENDER STEEL-KING COMBO GUITAR AMPLIFIER
Finding the right amp to play a pedal steel guitar with is not as easy as it might sound. If you are not familiar with the specific requirements and subtleties of playing a pedal steel guitar, you might mistakenly think that all you need to do to get a good sound is simply plug your pedal steel in and crank up the treble. If it were only that simple.
A good amp for playing pedal steel has to have as close to a full range sound spectrum as possible. It needs to be able to reproduce the highest of notes, as well as the lowest of notes, with clarity and distinction. It also needs to be able to reproduce the myriad of subtle harmonic overtones of the notes and chords that are being played as well. A good amp for playing pedal steel guitar also has to be powerful enough to cut through a mix of instruments and vocals, and be able to do so with sweetness, clarity, and power, while at the same time it needs to accomplish this without distortion. This is no small task, and it is not one that the average amp which would typically sound good for playing Blues or Rock guitar would do very well. Ideally, the right amp for a pedal steel guitar has to somehow permit the sound of the pedal steel to be able to cut through the mix, to be clear and distinct, but without being brassy, sharp, or harsh sounding. To do that, one needs an amp that is designed to handle the specialized requirements of a modern pedal steel guitarist.
Just about every musician knows that there are a lot of different Fender amps out there, and that with so many amps to choose from, the folks at Fender have been able to come up with amps that sound great for many different venues of music, such as Jazz, Country, Blues, and Rock. Of course a really great amp should be able to cut just about any type of music. However, in this world of modern specialization, the engineers at Fender have produced an amp that is specially designed to sound great for playing Pedal Steel guitar. This was no easy task. The challenge was to be able to design an amplifier that would project the sound of a pedal steel guitar with clarity and definition, while at the same time maintaining a rich, full bodied, sweet, and pure tone. Fenders answer to this challenge was to create the Fender Steel-King Guitar Combo Amplifier.
The Fender Steel-King Combo Guitar Amplifier is a solid state amp that puts out an amazing 200 Watts RMS of clear power. Before I get into the specifications of this amp, I would like to discuss in detail some of the specifics of the preamp section, which were specifically designed with the pedal steel guitar in mind.
Starting on the left of the front panel of the Fender Steel-King we first come to the one and only jack, which is labeled INPUT. This is a standard quarter in input jack, and it is where one would plug their pedal steel guitar into. Adjacent to this is a small push in/push out button labeled INPUT PAD. When this button is in the out position, the sensitivity of the aforementioned guitar INPUT is normal. However, when it is pushed in, the overall sensitivity of the guitar input is reduced by 10dB. In the pushed in position the INPUT sensitivity is reduced so as to permit a crystal clear response even with the use of high output guitars, such as those with active electronics, and thus the response of the amp will remain clean and undistorted. Next in line is a dial labeled GAIN. This is used to adjust the preamp signal level, and when it is used with the MASTER CONTROL, which I will describe in a moment, they both control the overall volume of the Steel-King. Next to the GAIN control is a small LED labeled PRE AMP CLIP. If this LED turns on, it means that the amp is clipping or distorting, and one can reduce any distortion that may be coming from the Steel-King by turning down or reducing the GAIN control.
Next we come to a dial that is labeled EQ TILT. This is a very useful control. In one respect it can function as a tone control, but it is much more than that. One can actually compensate for the acoustics of a room with the proper use of this control. For example, in normal settings this dial would be set to 12 Oclock. However, if one is playing in a crowded room with a rug on the floor, an acoustic ceiling, and drapes on the wall, the room would be what is referred to as dull. In order to compensate for this, one would turn the dial to the right (clockwise), and the sound of the amp would become brighter, and thus the sound of the guitar would more effectively be heard, without having to crank the volume. The opposite would be true for a room that is too live, such as in a room that has cement or hardwood floors, and wood paneled walls. In this case, one would turn the EQ TILT to the left (counter clockwise), and the low end or bass frequencies of the amp would be boosted, making the pedal steel guitar sound more mellow, but not dull or muffled. This is a great feature, as the acoustics of a room can dramatically change as the people in the room either thin out or become greater in density, and a guitarist can readily accommodate the changing acoustics of the room with a simple twist of the EQ TILT control.
Next we come to a knob labeled TREBLE, and this is used to adjust the level of the upper frequencies. Adjacent to this we come to two dials that work together. This first is labeled MID LEVEL and next to it is one labeled MID FREQUENCY. Simply put, the MID FREQUENCY dial selects the range of mid-frequencies that will be subject to modification by the MID LEVEL dial. Keep in mind that fiddling with the MID FREQUENCY dial will have no effect on the sound when the MID LEVEL dial is in the 12 Oclock or ־ position. To the right of these dials is the BASS control, which is used to adjust the lower frequencies. Next in line we come to the REVERB control, which adjusts the amount of Reverb.
Next we come to a push in/push out button that is labeled MUTE. When this button is pushed in, all of the outputs on the Jazz King are disengaged, with the exception of the TUNER OUT. This makes tuning ones pedal steel guitar an easy chore, even when one is on stage. Adjacent to this is the MASTER VOLUME, which adjusts the volume of the power amp section. This control is designed to be used in tandem with the previously described GAIN control, and together they can be used to set the overall volume of the amp. Lastly we come to a push in/push out button that is labeled LIMITER. When this button is pushed in, the built in limiter is engaged. A small LED (labeled POWER AMP CLIP) next to this button will stay lit if the power amp is distorting. It is normal to have an occasional flash if one is playing aggressively, but it is advisable to lower the MASTER VOLUME or engage the LIMITER if this LED remains on or flashes too frequently. The last thing one wants when playing a pedal steel guitar in a Country band is to have a muffled or distorted sound on the pedal steel guitar.
Now that we have discussed the functions located on the front panel, it is time to discuss the functions located on the back panel of the Jazz King. First in line is a jack labeled TUNER. This is where one would connect their outboard guitar tuner to via a standard guitar jack. As discussed earlier in this review, the MUTE button can be used to cut the output to the rest of the amp, and thus one can tune silently using the output from this jack to a guitar tuner. Next to this jack is a balanced XLR jack labeled LINE OUT, and this can be used to send a signal to a recording device or to a sound system or PA board. Adjacent to this is a push in/push out button that is labeled GROUND LIFT. In the out position the previously described LINE OUT remains grounded, and when this button is pushed in the ground circuit is lifted, and the ground connection (pin #1) is disconnected. This comes in handy in those unusual cases where the LINE OUT from the amp may pick up less hum when it is ungrounded.
We now come to another push in/push out button labeled PRE/POST EQ. When this button is in the out position, the signal sent to the LINE OUT is a signal that is before the amplifiers EQ and tone circuits. When this button is pushed in, then the signal that is being sent to the LINE OUT is the same as was sent to the EQ and tone circuits, and thus it is a signal that comes after it has been modified or effected by the EQ and tone modifications. Next we come to a dial labeled LINE OUT LEVEL, and this is used to increase or decrease the signal emanating from the previously described LINE OUT jack.
Just beneath and slightly to the right of the TUNER output jack is a jack labeled FOOTSWITCH, which is where the included footswitch is plugged in. This footswitch is a very useful and functional device as it permits the guitarist to switch on or off the REVERB, TUNER MUTE, and EFFECTS LOOP. Next to the FOOTSWITCH jack we come to two more jacks. The first is labeled FX SEND and the second is labeled FX RETURN. These make up the effects loop for the amp. For optimal use, one should connect one end of a guitar jack to the FX SEND and the other end to the input of whatever outboard effect you may want to use, and then connect another jack to the output of the outboard effect and connect the other end of this jack to the FX RETURN on the Steel-King. These same jacks can be used to control multiple amps as well. This can be easily achieved by connecting a jack from the FX SEND of the Steel-King to the FX RETURN of an auxiliary or slave amp. In just about every case, the controls of the Steel-King will be used to control the sound of the salve amp.
Now that I have discussed the functions and controls of the Steel-King, it is proper to spend some time in discussing the specifications of this wonderful amp. The height of the Steel-King is 21 inches, and it is 20 inches wide, and 12.5 inches deep. The Steel-King also weighs in at 65 pounds. The Steel-King is remarkably compact in size and weight for an amp that puts out 200 Watts RMS of clean power into 4 Ohms. Unlike most amps that sport 10 or 12 inch speakers, the Steel-King sports one 15 inch Fender Custom Cast Frame Speaker with a powerful Ceramic Magnet and aluminum center cap, which is based on the design of the old JBL D130F speaker that was originally used by Fender in the 1960s and early 1970s. The Steel-King is covered in a very durable black textured vinyl, and it has a silver grill cloth.
And now how does the Steel-King sound? It is a remarkably clean and powerful amp, and this makes it ideally suited for situations were a clean, but powerful sounding amp is required. If the truth be known, I am a poor to pathetic pedal steel guitarist. But my son is quite good at playing pedal steel as well as Jazz, and it is with his help that we put this amp through its paces.
The Fender Steel-King is one incredibly clean sounding amp. When I say clean, I mean clean. This is not the type of amp that one would want to use to play Blues or Rock guitar with. It is actually difficult to get a distorted sound out of this amp, and when the Limiter is engaged, it is very difficult to get any noticeable distortion, even when one is picking very hard. This amp is made to be smooth, clean, clear, and distortion free, and it does the job quite well. If you are looking for an amp that sounds good for Heavy Metal, Rock, or Blues, especially one that distorts and can sound grungy, then you must look elsewhere, because you will be sure to be disappointed here.
The preamp section of the Steel-King was especially designed with pedal steel guitarists in mind, and it permits the shaping of your pedal steels sound to suit whatever type of sound you could want for just about any type of song that could feature a pedal steel guitar. The Steel-King gives a rich, full-bodied, crystal, clear sound, and it is appears to be made to sound at its best when using a pedal steel guitar. My son was able to get very pure, clean, and remarkably rich tone out of the Fender Steel-King when he played his pedal steel guitar through it. It sounded absolutely great for this purpose.
Because the Steel King is such a clean sounding amp, I decided to also try playing some Jazz guitar through it as well. I tried this out with a Gibson ES 345, and I was very impressed with the way it was able to reproduce the rich, full bodied sound of the guitar. The custom designed 15 each speaker, and the cleanliness of the preamp and amp sections of the Steel-King, makes getting the right sound and tone for playing Jazz guitar quite easy. When strumming chords on the Gibson ES 345, each individual note had a distinct separation and fullness, and the sound and tone are uncluttered. Of course, I could not stop there, and I had to try the Steel-King out with a Fender Telecaster. Once again, the clean, twang of the guitar rang true, and the overtones and fullness of the sound was amazing. Because of the power and design of the 15 inch speaker, the richness of the low notes was exceptionally full and meaty, without sacrificing the clarity and distinctness of the guitar.
Because of its crystal clear sound reproduction, exceptionally broad and full range tonal response, and virtually distortion free sound, the Steel-King is an amp that should also be considered for by keyboard players. The full frequency response of the Steel-King makes this an ideal choice for a modern keyboard player. Even though the Steel-King is not advertised by Fender as being a Keyboard amp, it has all of the traits and characteristics that a keyboard player would be looking for in an amp. Because of its excellent tonal response and crystal clear sound, this amp would be very suitable for someone who was playing electric piano, such as a classic Fender Rhodes Electric Piano, and it would especially sound great for Jazz when using a Fender Rhodes.
The bottom line for me is that the Fender Steel-King is an excellent amp for playing a number of different instruments. Although it is specifically designed for reproducing the full range of sounds that a pedal steel guitarist would be interested in, I found that it was also great for Jazz guitar, Country guitar, and also quite good for keyboards as well. I was very impressed with it, and I highly recommend it for these types of uses, in addition to using it as an amp for pedal steel guitar. Conversely, I would not recommend it for someone who is a lead guitarist who is looking for an amp that would sound good for Heavy Metal, Blues, or Rock.
Well, I would like to thank you kindly for taking the time to read my review, but now if you will excuse me, I must get back to my practicing.