Price paid: £ 900
Purchased from: eBay
Features — 9
I bought the Blonde/Oxblood twin which is a gorgeous look for the amp. I believe it's USA made. This is a monster all-tube powered twin, which is designed to give both a Twin Reverb and Bassman modes as well as a very controllable hot channel, which offers substantially more gain than most Fender amps have ever done before. The amp contains an absolute forest of tubes (13 in total) including 6L6 power section, 7 12AX7 pre-amp tubes and 2 x 12At7 drivers for the reverb unit.
The unit comes on 4 castors, obviously has Twin speakers and a lot of features. You get used to seeing Fender amps as pretty straightforward but the newer Super-Sonic range was a bit different, chock full of gadgets and setting switches. The "vintage" channel can be switched between the Twin Reverb setting or the Bassman setting (confusingly the footswitch uses different names for these? Not sure why since Fender own the trademarks to their own products!) This has Gain, Treble, Mids, Bass, volume. The "burn" channel has gain 1 and gain 2, treble, mids, bass and a notch tune function. The two gains work differently - one offering up actual "roar," the other adding more compression and fatness, so you can dial in a lot more sounds than usual. The notch tune is essentially a mids-shelving EQ, so you can make the amp slightly more "Marhsall or Mesa" in terms of it's distortion character (it still sounds like a Fender of course, although it is a useful addition if you want to really fine-tune your distorted focus). Then there's the reverb control on the front, next to the jeweled power light.
Turning to the back panel, you have the normal power and standby switches (I'm used to amps with these on the front, and I found this position to be a bit annoying on stage when trying to turn from standby to power-on - but I guess Fender users are used to it, so YMMV). You have a send and return level switch for the fx loop (this can also be used as a volume boost channel if you employ the loop without any pedals/racks involved.)There's a speaker dampening control - able to switch from normal to tight or loose. I didn't know how noticeable this would be but that's probably my lack of experience with different speakers. In fact the loose is very vintage and old-school and the entire amp reacts differently. Normal is still quite vintage sounding but it lacks that electric-static feel of build-up and drop-off you get with the loose setting. The tight is very metallic and reacts instantly, giving a much more modern sound.
As this is an extremely loud 100W amp (turned up it will batter my Engl bizarrely) there is a very welcome Arena/Club switch which let's you drop down to a more modest 25W power section for overdriven sounds at less ear-bleeding volume. Then there's the whole Fender automatic bias circuit - which I'll cover elsewhere. Sufficed to say - great idea, horrible execution. The Twin weighs an absolute ton but oddly still only has one handle on top which isn't the best. It has the traditional Fender side stands to angle the amp for playing in monitor style.
It comes with the footswitch, which is useful if ugly and oversized for what it does, a crap cable that breaks in about a week (just buy a decent one off eBay for a few quid) and a nice Fender dust cover. Overall, just for the wealth of features, they haven't skimped.
Sound — 8
My main band is a sort of rock/electronic outfit. I mainly use Engl and Marshall amps live for their MIDI control and multiple channels and settings. For recording though I tend to prefer simpler valve amps with a definite sound, like Vox, Orange and now Fender. This is only my second Fender amp. The first I had when I started out on guitar at about age 10. It was some really old valve model given to me by a family friend. I didn't appreciate it at the time as I was mostly into metal/hard rock and didn't get the Fender appeal. Now I've worked in bands and got some minor success and broader tastes - I bought this Super-Sonic with the idea that it's a lot less money than a proper vintage Twin and while still having a genuine Fender cleans and reverb sounds, it could be tuned/tailored a lot more.
I won't list all the guitars and FX I use as nobody really cares reading that stuff. Sufficed to say, I bought this amp off eBay for a lot less than brand new from eBay (in the UK, so Fender tends to be more expensive than US). It was only a couple of months old and in perfect condition. I normally play through a vast array of FX and rackmounts and MIDI controllers, but the day I got it I just plugged in a Grestch Falcon and an old Fender Jazzmaster and it sounded lush. Easily on par with many botique handwired amps I've tried.
The Twin Reverb has all the glassy, rich harmonic cleans of it's name sake, the Bassman version has the mid-thick bark but without some of the wool you get on many Bassman's. The burn channel is probably an acquired taste. I've gotten used to Engl's and Marshall's - but it's very tweakable to get a lot of different sounds. I think I'd have to disagree with Fender's description of the amp handling ultra-modern metal sounds. Yes with the tight speaker setting and the two gains dialled in correctly, you can manage to get some metallic tones, but I think most die-hard metallers wouldn't be too impressed. But for blues/rock/harder rock it's no slouch and offers a very warm and harmonically rich distortion that sustains for a good hour or so with the right pickups.
OK - the downsides - the amp started squealing and throwing out a lot of random noise on day two. First problem was the footswitch, the cheap cable that comes with it seems to act like a radio antenna and the sound with the footswitch unplugged is utterly changed to with it hooked up. So in the bin with the old cable, got a new one, sound improved. About an hour later, noticed that base-level hum/whistle/futz is much higher than any of my other amps. A bit of reading up on the net and this seems to be a feature/flaw of the Super-Sonics. Discover that the big reverb tank in the bottom of the amp is wired so the cabling passes right against the transformer. A few amp techs on forums suggest pulling the whole thing out and re-wiring it with the cable end away from the transformer. This did cut the reverb squeal and some electro-magnetic hum - also used better shielded cable just in case.
If it worked all the time how it did at first, this would be a 9 or 10, but the flaws really bring it down. But just to say when it does sound good, it sounds almighty good.
Reliability & Durability — 5
OK - here's the problem. The amp is very clever. And mostly well built. The chassis is very sturdy, the finish is excellent, no badly cut cloth or hastily tucked corner vinyl. It all looks like a high quality hand-finished amp should. The tubes are encased in a tough steel cage for protection, the switches and knobs are chunky and smooth to operate. It feels very nice. The internal wiring looks extremely neat and tidied away considering how much of it there is.
OK minor downsides - the top handle is flimsy and there's only one - given the amp is transformer side heavy and weighs over 83lbs, picking it up is a pretty quick way of splitting your shins open. Next the castor wheels on the bottom are placed so that unless they are all pointing out at 45" - the amp will tip over. Just seems they were badly positioned, but try wheeling this monster around for a minute and then one corner dips for the floor and your amp trips up. Just a bit of an oversight (and this may be common to Fender Twins I don't know - but compared to say my Marshall combos you can hardly knock them over if you land on them and they weigh about half of this).
A slight flaw (or perhaps more of a cheap move) is that the rear panel, despite covered in the same gorgeous blonde vinyl, is just flimsy board material. If you press it, it will snap. Why they didn't just finish it off in the same material as the main chassis wood seems a bit odd. But hey, maybe that would have put the price and weight up a lot more, it's a minor thing, but do be careful of it when transporting, it's the sort of thing I'd flightcase up if you use this on the road.
Now the big flaws. The amp blows fuses a lot. And no, I know everyone says, check your tubes, it's their fault. Well it's not - after going through several hundred pounds worth of replaced tubes, it comes down to the faulty auto-bias circuit and temperature. The fancy auto-bias setup seemed like a great idea to me. I'm not a tech, I just like to play and when my amps need major servicing I employ a tech who actually has the brains and tools to mess with live biasing. So the idea that you just plug your tubes in, this gizmo warms them up, checks them and constantly provides a visual diagnostic of any tube that is failing or failed - as well as offering a touch button control for hotter or cooler biasing options sounded brilliant.
Day 3 - the little cycle of lights just keeps going. Supposed to take 20 seconds or so. After about 30 minutes I'm like - yeah that's not working. So you read the manual and it says turn off the amp, give it a minute and try again. You do this and 'zzz' main fuse fries and amp dies on you. Luckily I keep a batch of fuses with me. Replace and try again, unfortunately the thermosistor in there says 'uh-oh the tubes are hot and you want me to warm them up, sorry, must blow the fuse'. So you basically have to leave the tubes to cool completely before you can try again.
So you try again and then by about day 14 you get red lights saying all the tubes are dead. So you replace everything (all 13 just in case) and the autobias says all the new tubes are failed. So you try another matched quad of 6L6's, better ones, all failed. So you test all these on a proper valve check set-up - they're all great, burnt in just right. Check the internet and although Fender says nothing at all about this, you read a ton of forums with everyone saying 'the auto-bias has gone insane'. Luckily Fender's UK support guys are really friendly and helpful. Even though I bought the amp second hand from eBay (which voids the warranty in the UK), they sent out the autobias board free of charge for my tech to refit. So far, so good. But it's taken a few months of carting the amp back and forth, testing everything, pulling stuff out, replacing bits by which time I've spent MORE than the cost of the amp on replacement tubes and tech fees.
Now I always planned to keep this amp at my studio and it won't be going on tours, so I'm less concerned. But given the sheer number of QC failures on it, I wouldn't take it to a gig without multiple backups. Such a shame as it's clearly designed to be an all-round workhorse but it's too fragile. Lots of the features are great and the sound is amazing - but Fender really should keep all that but throw that auto-bias board out. It'd solve 90% of all the online complaints about this range.
Overall Impression — 7
The amp looks great in Blonde and Oxblood - yeah I know looks shouldn't sway you but it just looks like an awesome boutique amp and makes me want to play it. When it's working well, the sound is luxurious and rich and everything a good Fender Twin Reverb and Bassman can be. It takes pedals very well and the EQ/Notch/low-power options make it very versatile even on the non-standard Fender ground of high gain distortion. Personally it's staying in it's studio space, microphone on the grille and giving me some awesome tones.
But realistically, it's not a cheap amp. And the whole reason to buy a modern amp is to avoid all the nasty reliability issues with vintage stuff, since this has needed more servicing and repairs than some of my friends amps which are twice or three times the age we are - you have to wonder if it's worth it. If Fender improve their QC and stop putting out the flawed Auto-Bias board and the hairline trigger fuses, and if you keep it in a flight case that has it's own castor wheels and handles - you could tour with it. But frankly I've got Marshalls and ENGL's to do that and they have never broken once.
I'd say this Fender is beautiful, flexible but fragile and frustrating. Great if you have other amps and want a lot of Fender genuine tones to add in, but if you rely on one amp night after night, I wouldn't trust it.