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Hands-On Review: Fender '65 Princeton Reverb Guitar Amp

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The welcome return of an affordable workhorse

By Dan Day
Musician’s Friend Staff Writer

Fender '65 Princeton Reverb Amp

My silverface 1969 Fender Princeton Reverb amplifier has been a terrific electric guitar amp for practice, recording, and performing at small clubs. It's small enough to easily carry around, yet powerful and sturdy. I'm lucky I still have it and it still works great, producing a variety of tones for every musical genre. Now that Fender has reissued the blackface version, the '65 Princeton Reverb, I have a renewed appreciation for it.

First introduced in 1963, the Princeton Reverb is a single-channel, all-tube amp that pumps out 15 watts RMS power through a 10" speaker. In addition to the legendary analog spring reverb, it offers Fender Vibrato—more accurately called tremolo. The Princeton Reverb became a studio amp of choice for famous session guitarists in the 1970s, used, for example, to record theme songs for TV shows. Today, Ryan Adams; Marty Stuart; Jim Campilongo, guitarist for Norah Jones; and a slew of others still use it. Fender discontinued the Princeton Reverb in 1979.

Small amps go boomer

I spoke with Shane Nicholas, the Senior Marketing Manager for Fender Guitar Amplifiers, about how the Princeton Reverb Reissue came to be. His response: "Why reissue? Popular demand! First, the collector phenomenon has driven up prices. The average musician can't afford an original. Buying a vintage amp can have its own problems—no warranties and no guarantees, whereas a new amp has a warranty and no wear and tear. If your amp does get destroyed, you can buy another. Second, smaller tube amps are really popular. Baby Boomers are no longer interested in playing stacks at Mötley Crüe volume. They want a good-sounding amp that can be miked through a recording or PA system." Nicholas went on to say, "Our goal was to reproduce the '65 Princeton Reverb sound and functionality at a price that average musicians can afford. Musicians want a workhorse amp with good tubes and a good speaker that produces a good vintage sound."

Sound choices

Purists looking for an exact re-creation may scream. Some changes were needed to be able to sell the Reissue in today's market: a three-prong power plug replaced the two-prong plug; the polarity switch and AC outlet in the back were eliminated. These changes were needed to get safety approvals. Reproducing the original hand-wired circuit board would cost about eight times more than the printed circuit board that is used. A few other necessary changes were made to keep the price reasonable. Instead of finger-joined pine, birch ply is used—really not much of a trade-off.

But the important thing is the sound. To ensure the Reissue faithfully recaptured the best sound that the vintage Princeton Reverb offered, the Fender "tone team" of musicians and engineers on the Fender Marketing and R&D staff listened to several '65-era Princeton Reverb amps and picked the one that sounded best as their standard. The hardest choice was the speaker selection. You can't easily replicate a dried-out 40-year-old speaker. Fender decided Jensen was a good choice. Shane says if you play it hard for a long time, the paper will eventually loosen up and you'll get a fuller bass response. He wryly observed that about a third of the people who are interested in this amp will try other speakers anyway, no matter what Fender put in.

Fender '65 Princeton Reverb A/B Switch

A/B comparison

The '65 Princeton Reverb Reissue has the same tube topography as the blackface models from the mid-'60s as well as my silverface: three 12AX7 dual triode preamp tubes, a 12AT7 that powers the reverb, two 6V6 power amp tubes, and a 5AR4 rectifier tube. These are well known and highly regarded by legions of tube sniffers. To sample the sounds this tube complement can produce I ran the guitar output though an A/B switchbox to the silverface and the '65 Reissue. Quickly switching back and forth I found that after I brought up the volume on the silverface by one-and-a-half while backing off the treble on the Reissue, both amps sounded remarkably alike in volume and tone.

With the amp volume set at four for clean sound, the single-coil tones from my Strat were well-balanced and detailed with just the right amount of snap and twang for country or rockabilly. The Reissue's reverb outdid the silverface in producing the deep, resonant "grain elevator" sound for surf tones. The Vibrato circuit also excelled in adding that quivering quality that good swamp rock requires.

Pushing the volume past six began to overdrive the 6V6 tubes into warm tube distortion, producing the crunchy rhythms and steamy singing tones with good separation and rich harmonics that are great for single-coil Texas blues or humbucker London blues. With the addition of a variety of stompboxes I sampled a wonderful rainbow of vintage distortion: '60s fuzz, '70s hard rock, '80s metal, '90s alt rock (with wah-wah), and finally, what I call double-ought rock. The Reissue produced wonderfully authentic searing, sizzling tones that are full and rich without having to resort to tinnitus-inducing sound pressure levels.

Reissue, replace, rejoice

The Fender '65 Princeton Reverb Vintage Reissue has the look and sound of a treasured vintage amp without the vintage price tag. If anything should happen to my Princeton Reverb I know that I can easily replace it with the '65 Reissue and get that great Fender amp sound that I've enjoyed for so many years.

Features & Specs

  • 15W into 8 ohms
  • 3 x 12AX7, 1 x 12AT7, 2 x Groove Tubes 6V6, 1 x 5AR4 rectifier tube
  • 1-10" Jensen Special Design C-10R speaker
  • 1 channel (2 inputs)
  • Volume, Treble, Bass, Reverb, Speed, and Intensity controls
  • Reverb, Vibrato effects
  • Black textured vinyl covering
  • Dimensions: 19-7/8"W x 16"H x 9-1/2"D
  • Weight: 34 lbs.
  • Cover and reverb/vibrato footswitch included

Tags: Amplifiers Fender

Comments  

# Paul Berner 2014-07-18 17:28
I've had mine since 1971. Other than new tube and an EV Black Shadow speaker, it cranks really good. I still have the stock speaker. It was my primary amp until I bought Mesa Boogie. I still use the Princeton for small jams.
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