Fender isn't just the most famous electric guitar manufacturer in the world; they're also one of the largest amplifier manufacturers as well. The company's storied past includes classic amp models like the tweed Champion and Deluxe, blackface Reverb series amps, and later silverface models, like the classic '68 Princeton Reverb.
Throughout Fender's history, their amplifiers have been known for their warm, expressive, clean tones. Fender models tend to offer plenty of headroom with rich breakup at higher volumes. The new Bassbreaker model diverges from that mold.
The Bassbreaker is optimized to break up at lower volumes and provide different flavors of distortion throughout its tonal spectrum. This humble tube combo may only put out 15 watts of power, but its sound and style belie its smaller size. Let’s take a closer look and find out what makes this one of the best amps available under $1,000.
Tube amplifiers often feature much more streamlined control panels than their solid-state and digital counterparts. While the Bassbreaker 15 doesn't offer the full complement of effects you'd find on a less expensive modeling amp, this unit does deliver plenty of tonal variety. More importantly, the control knobs here are thoughtful and sleek, giving you maximum control over your sound without any extraneous features.
As with other tweed Fender amp reissues, the control panel is located on top of the amp (rather than the front-facing control panel you'd find in blackface and silverface amps). The input receptor is the first item in the line. It's followed by a bright switch before the row of dials begins. As the name might imply, this small switch acts as a filter to cut out lower frequencies and contour your signal for a brighter sound when pressed.
After the bright switch comes the Bassbreaker's signature control knobs: the “gain” and “structure” dials. The gain knob is pretty self-explanatory, allowing you to adjust the amount of dirt coming through your signal to your liking. However, most other amps with a gain switch stop at that dial, leaving you to hunt for a sweet spot between breakup and all-out distortion on your own.
The Bassbreaker 15 simplifies the process with the addition of the “structure” dial. This little knob, which can select between three different setups, adjusts the voicing of your distorted sound. Think of this as setting the parameters within which the gain dial operates; specializing the different fields allows you more precision to find your perfect tone within each voicing.
Following the structure dial, the control knobs resemble standard Fender tube amp options. EQ dials for treble, mid, and bass are the primary way for you to shape your tone while playing. The “master” dial controls the master volume of the amp, while the “reverb” knob following it adds some ‘verb to your sound. The reverb here is a digital hall reverb, which is great for using as an always-on effect behind your playing.
As mentioned above, the Bassbreaker 15's biggest feature is the gain structure setup. It's a rare feature in tube amplifiers and marks a significant divergence from the rest of Fender's amplifier lineup. Speaking of tubes, the Bassbreaker features a complement of three 12AX7 tubes in the preamp stage and two EL84 tubes in the power stage.
The 12Ax7 tubes allow for higher gain levels than comparable preamp tubes. The EL84s, meanwhile, are an interesting inclusion in a Fender amp — they first rose to popularity inside the Vox amplifiers that fueled the British Invasion of the 1960s. Their brighter, chiming sounds give the Bassbreaker its distinct tonal palette.
On the mechanical side, the Bassbreaker 15 comes fitted with a Celestion G12V-70 speaker. That is a more balanced speaker, unlike many of Celestion's British-voiced models. There's also an included line out and effects loop, along with a unique silent recording setting. Just mute the speaker, and you can play without needing to crank the volume.
Fender has advertised the Bassbreaker 15 as a “box of tones,” equally adept at traditional “Fender,” “Vox,” and “Marshall” sounds. And while it may not deliver top quality at every tone, this amp largely succeeds in its mission.
The clean stage is mellow and smooth; with the gain set to “low,” you can carve out some darker tones with just a touch of grit. There's not a ton of headroom here before breakup, so it's not an outstanding amp for jazz or other styles that require a pristine, clean sound.
However, the lightly overdriven tones are some of the best you'll find at any setting on this amp. It responds well to your playing dynamics, meaning as you dig in, you can inject some extra dirt into your sound.
The medium and high gain stages create sounds more reminiscent of a Marshall than a Fender. Driving the tubes hard creates a delicious thick, saturated tone that's appropriate for classic rock, hard rock, and even heavier styles. While it may be a stretch to use this for metal, at its highest-gain settings it approximates metal tones.
The bright switch may be easy to miss on the control panel, but it has a massive effect here on tone. Tonally, it sounds similar to the top boost panel found on classic Vox amps like their AC30. On clean stages, it adds some extra sparkle and chime to your sound, while at higher-gain settings, it brightens up darker distorted tones and lends some additional saturated character.
If you're looking for a tube amp that provides outstanding tones with the versatility of a digital model, the Fender Bassbreaker 15 is a good fit for you. With very few exceptions, this amp's tonal signature is a great fit for pretty much any player.