Purchased from: Inherited
Features — 10
Alright, this review is for my '64 Blackface Fender Bandmaster head. I inherited it from my father, so I'm not exactly sure what the going price is these days. It's a pre-CBS Blackface amp, and the circuit is almost identical to the Blackface Bassman (I think the only difference is the tone stack). It's 40 watts, from two 6L6 tubes. The amp has two channels, regular and vibrato - each channel has bass, treble, volume, and a bright switch, and the vibrato channel has speed and intensity knobs, as well. The vibrato is controlled via a footswith, but the footswitch input is an RCA (like your TV's A/V input) so unless you have the original it has to be custom made. The vibrato is a little weak, and has the "ticking" associated with these old Fender trem circuits, but it's not loud enough to matter much on stage. The back of the head has the "on" and "standby" switches, as well as the fuse, the footswitch input, and speaker and ext. speaker outputs. I believe the speaker output is 4 ohms. I do not have the original cabinet, which was a "lowboy" 2x12 with Oxford speakers in it. The amp head has piggyback clips on the bottom, that would have attached it to the top of the original cabinet so it could be angled and moved without knocking off the head. No reverb on this amp, but I add it in front anyways. I'm not sure what other features you'd expect from a vintage Fender amp, and while the trem is disappointing, I'll deduct those points in the "sound" section, so 10 out of 10 here.
Sound — 9
This amp is a fantastic clean amp. I'm running it through an 8-ohm, 4x12 Carvin cab with Eminence speakers in it - the ohmage mismatch is not recommended, but these old Fenders were seriously overbuilt and can usually take it. It's got the classic Blackface Fender tone, but a little bit smoother than a Twin, probably due to the lower wattage. It pairs really nicely with both single coil and humbucker equipped guitars, but you have to be careful of the tone controls - I usually keep the bright switch off and the bass and treble somewhere below noon, or it can get too biting or boomy - or both. When completely cranked, it's not terribly loud (enough to play over a drummer, unless he's crash happy, but I seriously prefer mic'ing this amp live, even in a smaller club). It's also pretty clean all the way up, but when hit with a clean boost you get a great, bluesy distortion. If you boost the mids with an EQ pedal and add a little compression you can nail a Marshall tone, but that's not really my thing. As for the vibrato channel... It's weak. But there's no way of knowing that some components have been replaced/modified/damaged over the years, so this may not be the same across the board. It's got an awesome classic Fender tone, but with the vibrato channel I'll give it a 9.
Reliability & Durability — 8
Okay, so this amp was built in 1964. And after 50 years, it does have some issues- the power transformer is a little funny (there's a sub-octave note from the D string and below if you turn the amp up, which actually is a very cool effect, but not always desirable), and the handle broke clean in half. Some of the knobs were also lost, and one of the pot shafts is cracked pretty badly - it turns fine, but it'll never hold a knob again. The black tolex is also starting to peel in the back and on one corner, but all of the corner pieces are there, the light works, the switches all work, the knobs turn smoothly and quietly, the trem works, and of course it still SOUNDS good. I'm going to call the issues it has par for the course for an amp that's been heavily gigged with for 50 years, but with the output transformer issues I have to give it an 8.
Overall Impression — 9
This is a great amp. It might not have quite the reputation of a Super Reverb or a Twin, and it's not a Tweed Bassman, but it's a pre-CBS Blackface Fender, and it sounds like one. I love this amp, and if you're using pedals or playing primarily clean, it's a great one. It has that vintage mojo, smooth clean tones, bluesy breakup, and is a great platform for pedals. I think the Bandmaster deserves more recognition than it gets - it's a classic Fender.