Price paid: £ 550
Purchased from: PMT Music
Features: My Fender Blues Junior III (made in Mexico, 2011) is a light-weight 15w amp with a wide range of tones. From shimmering clean sounds to fat blues tones and even hard rock sounds â€“ this will do it. It achieves this through a 12 inch speaker inside a 16" by 18" by 9.18" case. The size is one of the best aspects of this amplifier. Compared to my 100w Marshall combo, this is far easier to store and transport because of its size and weight of just 14kg. Also with the tube setup including a master volume control, this can go from home practice level to volumes suitable for gigging in a small venue.
My Blues Junior is the limited edition Emerald Green version which is loaded with an Eminence-made "Cannabis Rex" speaker and upgraded ECC83 and EL84 tubes. Iâ€™ll detail the sounds you can get in the next section, but these components combined together sound amazing. They closely mirror the classic Fender Blues tone, but with an even warmer tube-driven sound that Iâ€™ve only heard from Vintage amplifiers. This is the result of the "Cannabis Rex" speaker cone which is made from hemp â€“ a great industrial material, but one we might better recognise as the green you put in a bong.
As standard for all Blues Junior III's, the controls include the full complement of treble, mid-range and bass selectors. There is a pre-amp volume control and a master volume which are essential features to a guitarist like me who canâ€™t play at loud volumes, but still wants a good, full tone. Two further features are the classic Fender Spring Reverb and the aptly titled "FAT" switch. The "FAT" switch is controlled by a button on the main control panel, or can also be selected via a footswitch â€“ but this is sold separately from the amp. The controls are straight forward and well laid out. Fender has taken note of common modifications of Blues Juniors in the past and now the control panel is the right way round! They face you while youâ€™re playing so youâ€™re more able to adjust the settings if needed. // 9
Sound: No surprise this amp is great for blues. Iâ€™m a big fan of Mike Bloomfield and I play a Les Paul through this. The result is pretty close to Bloomfieldâ€™s unique tone. Many reviews Iâ€™ve read stress that this amp sings when combined with Fender single-coil guitars, and it does, but I love humbuckers through this. The clarity of the sound is amazing. Higher frequencies are always present even when combined with the cheap, overly-bassy humbuckers in my Epiphone. This brilliant mix of frequencies is retained when the amp is pushed to dirtier tones too â€“ like with the "FAT" switch. I play a lot without it, just using a smudge of reverb and my guitarâ€™s volume knob to get huge variations of blues tones. BB King, Jimmie Vaughn and clean Hendrix are all achievable. But when you need more, the "FAT" switch is there. Just like the name suggests, it beefs up the tone by adding some gain and mid-range. This isnâ€™t a distortion or overdrive â€“ the "FAT" switch provides a more subtle boost that reminds me of the classic Hendrix Bassman tones. And one last thing about blues: the break-up on this amp is gorgeous. This is a result of it being a 15w and that "Cannabis Rex" speaker inside. Blues Juniors are known for that classic break-up associated with blues, but this model seems inclined to break-up a little faster when youâ€™re pushing it.
In terms of other sounds, this amp can easily achieve shimmering clean tones right up to hard rock â€“ but not any further. There is nothing metal about this amp. It would miss a Metallica gig to stay home and listen to Clapton on repeat. This isnâ€™t a bad image to have in mind either. Like Clapton broke free from the blues conventions in Cream, the Blues Junior is more than just a blues amp. It rocks as much as it has the blues. Donâ€™t be fooled by the low wattage, itâ€™s loud and can handle Zeppelin and Pearl Jam. Loud enough to play rock gigs in a small venue, and if I was playing bigger than Iâ€™d use two. Its brilliant combined with fx pedals, so plug your overdrive in and play the solo to "Sunshine Of Your Love". On the other end of the scale, clean sounds have sparkling clarity. All manner of Jazz tones are achievable, funk sounds have that unmistakable trebley spank to them and clean rock tones are food for this amp. Two of my favourite guitarists are John Frusciante and Kurt Cobain and you can easily achieve both of their trademark clean tones. A particular favourite to play is "Under The Bridge" and this amp sounds brilliant with my Boss chorus pedal for the later segments of that song. // 9
Reliability & Durability: Itâ€™s been 6 months since I bought the amp and the only minor complaint I had was a rattling sound when it was pushed to higher volumes. However, this wasnâ€™t anything to do with the tubes and was solved by tightening a screw on the chassis. Indeed the tubes are fitted with shock absorbers to help prevent them rattling, so the only sound you should hear from them will get you laid. The various knobs and buttons on the control panel work flawlessly and have a quality feel about them - particularly the chicken head selectors that control the sound levels. They arenâ€™t flimsy, but feel solid and require the perfect amount of force to move ensuring that nothing is accidentally altered. The power adaptor works perfectly and has never broken (a problem I had on my Vox amp) and gives me plenty of chord to reach a power supply (which was a surprising problem I had on my Marshall combo). It has a beautiful tolex finish and the grill cloth is clearly of a high standard. Finally, the carry handle is a total joy. It is made of leather that feels sturdy but also moulds comfortably to your hand when you carry it. It doesnâ€™t cut into your handle or break â€“ both problems Iâ€™ve had before. I have a feeling this amp will still be around with me when Iâ€™m collecting my pension. // 10
Impression: The tonality of this amp blew me away when I heard it. Itâ€™s been a struggle getting the sound Iâ€™ve had in my head to come out, but this amp has achieved that. From clean tones to blues to rock â€“ this amp will sing it like an angel. No matter what you do with it, it never loses that clarity and tone that adds a definite sense of quality to your sound. That class, however, comes at a fairly expensive price. Iâ€™m a student on a low income - money is tight but I saved up for it in 4 months. When I eventually got the money together, there was no doubt to go for the Blues Junior over other amps around the Â£500 bracket and for this model in particular. The only downside is that the footswitch for the "FAT" mode isnâ€™t included, which radically decreases its playability â€“ unless you buy one separately. However, this is just one minor drawback to what is a brilliant, professional grade amplifier. // 9