Pros: Combines Fender Vibrolux and Bassman with a High Gain Option
Cons: Expensive. Maybe not enough gain for true metalheads
Over the past several years there has been a raft of excellent tube amps that provide excellent sonic versatility in one package by combining clean and high-gain sounds. Mesa Boogie, for example, has released the excellent Lone Star, Road House, and Stiletto products which use different tube, channel and mode combinations to produce some terrific noise. Similarly, Marshalls Mode Four offers a varied palette of tones in a single package. The recent Hughes & Kettner Switchblade is a great amp that combines tube tones and some excellent effects. (Ive reviewed all these but the Mode Four for the curious.)
That leaves Fender holding the bag. Fender is a great amp manufacturer but has been reluctant to enter the high-gain sweepstakes until of late with its new Super Sonic 1x12 Combo (also available as a head). I cant help but think that this is a deliberate response to modern players need for both clean and hi-gain sounds that they would rather have via tube than an effects pedal. And Fender has done an excellent job with this amp which does yeoman work in mimicking two great Fender amps with hi-gain options to boot for somewhere between $1100 and $1200 new at the big box stores.
The Super Sonic is a 60 watt amp that packs a single 1x12 Celestion Vintage 30 powered by two 6L6s in the power amp, six 12AX7s for the pre amp, and two 12AT7s for the spring reverb (combo only, with a single control knob). The amp comes in two colors, a cool black Tolex and a vintage-looking blonde Tolex in a birch-ply cabinet.. In keeping with the retro look, the front of the amp has a sparse ten knobs and a couple of switches that will control the two channels. The amp is easily loud enough for small and maybe medium size clubs: 60 watts of tube power is a lot of power, even from a 1x12.
The first channel is Vintage. The two modes recreate a 1965 Vibrolux and a 1966 Bassman, using a selector switch and volume, treble and bass controls. Simplicity itself. A player who is unfamiliar with the two amps will observe very different sounds depending on the mode quite bright. The Bassman, on the other hand, is guess what, great bottom end with nice bluesy warmth that is still ideal for rock rhythm and lead and even jazz but will break up nicely when overdriven. In short, these are both great clean channels for your typical rock and blues man. Note that the Bassman, at least to my ears, seems a little louder than the Vibrolux so be advised when youre switching modes.
Flick another switch and you move from the Vintage to the high gain Burn channel and you get quite a surprise as we move into uncharted seas of high gain creamy goo, piercing clarity, and sometimes quite interesting crunch with plenty of sustain. This isnt your fathers Fender. There isnt enough here for true metal heads, I fear, but your average-Joe headbanger will like what he hears (an true metal heads shouldn't be buying a Fender, anyway). You alter your tone with volume, treble, bass, and mid controls plus two very important gain knobs that control separate stages with Gain 2 being secondary and more focused on mids. Using these controls judiciously is absolutely critical to obtaining the desired sound.
The reverse of the amp has the usual input and output plugs: effects loop with send and return, preamp out, power amp in, jacks for the internal and an external cabinet, and the included three-button foot switch. The amp has very high construction quality with hand-wired components.
I think this amps closet competitors are probably the Mesa Express 5:25 (25 watts with EL84s) and 5:50 (50 watts with 6L6s), all in the $1100 to $1400 price range. All of these amps are capable of a wide range of clean, overdriven and high gain tones suitable for most blues and rock players, including all but the most demanding metal players. Prog shredders will like all of them, too.
The Fenders major advantage over the Mesa amps is that it does a very good job at replicating its two older brothers, the Vibrolux and Bassman, and would therefore be preferred by players who want specific Fender vintage sounds plus the advantage of the high-gain options offered by the Burn channel. The 5:25, on the other hand offers Brit sounds while the 5:50 does a better job on the high gain end while offering 6L6 tone in the clean channel.
Whatever your preferences, the Super Sonic is an important, very high quality amp from Fender. It provides tonal versatility not really seen in a Fender amp, and its great to finally see a high gain option from this vintage amp manufacturer. I dont think its quite as strong as the higher-end Lone Star and Road Kings, but it doesnt have their price tags, either, and it offers true Fender tones. For players who need that Fender sound plus high gain sustain, theyve found the right place. I'm a little surprised this isn't available in a 100-watt edition, but that's just speculative grousing on what is a very high quality, great sounding guitar amplifier.
Type Tube Guitar Amplifier
Output 60 Watts
Ohms 8 Ohms (4 Ohms with Extension Speaker)
Speakers: One 12 inch, 8 Ohm Celestion? Vintage 30 Speaker
Channels: Two--Vintage & Burn (Vintage Channel has Two Switchable Voices)
Dual Cascading-Gain Preamp Overdrive,
Effects Loop with Send Level & Return Level,
Pre-Amp Out Jack,
Power Amp In Jack,
Two Speaker Output Jacks (for Internal + Extension Speaker),
Standby Switch,3/4" Birch/Maple Plywood Cabinet,
Tilt Back Legs
VINTAGE CHANNEL:Volume; Treble; Bass,Voicing switch (Vibrolux?/Bassman?),
BURN CHANNEL:Gain 1; Gain 2; Treble; Bass; Middle; Volume,Master Reverb,Rear-Panel Effects Send Level Control,Rear-Panel Effects Return Level Control
Covering: Black Textured Vinyl Covering with Pepper Grill Cloth
Weight 54 lbs. (24.5 kg)
Height: 17.3 (44.1 cm)Width: 25.3 (64.5 cm)Depth: 10.2 (25.9 cm)
6 X 12AX7
2 X 12AT7
2 X 6L6GC
Cover Black Cover included
Accessories Black Cover Included
Footswitch Uses 3-Button Footswitch (Included)
Here are my other amplifier reviews:
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