Review: Fender Tone Master Deluxe Reverb 1x12 Combo

This is an impressive digital emulation of the original DR that also looks the part, in a package nearly half the weight.
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Few guitar amps are as iconic or omnipresent as the blackface Fender Deluxe Reverb. Originally manufactured between 1963 and 1967, and reissued several years ago in a form that still appears on plenty of pro stages around the world, this 22-watt tube combo is often named by vintage enthusiasts as a favorite “desert island amp." 

Originals are pricey, though, and even new reissues require an investment of more than $1,000. For that matter, some players consider the combo relatively heavy for its size. And if you’re one of those guitarists who worries about tube failure or the necessity of eventual tube replacement, you’ll have to deal with that too.

Enter the Tone Master Deluxe Reverb, a 21st century version that replicates the look and sound of the classic via entirely new means. (The Tone Master range also includes the larger Twin Reverb.) Rather than packing in a virtual amp museum’s worth of different sounds as prominent modeler makers like Fractal, Line 6 and Atomic do, this new Tone Master amp uses modeling capabilities to render the characteristics of just one amp as accurately as possible. (It’s worth noting that the “one sound” concept is akin to what Roland does with its Blues Cube amp, though this is a thin field to date.) 

To that end, the Tone Master Deluxe Reverb has few of the bells and whistles we’ve come to expect from the digital guitar-amp realm, other than the necessities applied to recreate the features of the original tube version. Exceptions include a balanced XLR DI with two types of cabinet emulation (or none), and a six-position output-power switch that drops the amp’s output in five steps, from the maximum 22 watts (the same rating as the original tube amp) to a much more bedroom-friendly 0.2 watts.

The Tone Master Deluxe Reverb also includes digital emulations of the original’s classic spring reverb and tube-driven, opto-cell tremolo effects, both of which can be turned on and off with the included two-button footswitch. The amp is housed in a finger-jointed, solid-pine cabinet of the traditional dimensions. 

The lack of the hefty transformers required to power tubes means a considerable savings in overall weight, while the use of a Jensen speaker with a neodymium magnet knocks the load down even further, resulting in an amp that weighs just 24 pounds, versus the 42 pounds of an original Deluxe Reverb.

Construction appears robust, and the look is very convincing from the front, and should have plenty of players looking around the back to check out what’s really going on under the hood. I did notice that the glides, or feet, on the combo’s underside are a little downgraded from those of old, consisting of smaller tacked-in metal discs only, without the screwed-in fixture and cushioning rubber undersides of the traditional feet.

Fired up and tested with a Les Paul, a Telecaster, a Novo Serus J with P-90s and a selection of overdrive pedals, this digital Deluxe Reverb presented an impressive simulation of the real thing, delivering that classically tight-yet-breathy and slightly scooped clean tone for which the blackface combo of the ’60s is famous, along with the atmosphere-inducing additions of lush reverb and tremolo. 

I did find that the reverb came on a little all-or-nothing around the 2 mark, and got even more all-or-nothing from there, but it has an authentic sproing to it, with plenty of wash.

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The 22-watt setting is loud enough for the amp to compete unmiked with a reasonably loud drummer giving it their best onstage. The 12-watt setting (equivalent to a Princeton Reverb) should even be enough for many smaller club gigs and rehearsals. At the five-watt setting, the amp sounds surprisingly full and throaty, and the 0.2-, 0.5- and one-watt settings will keep the neighbors happy at home. 

And since you’re only reining in the solid-state output stage rather than applying any master volume-like breaks to the amp emulation itself, the thing still sounds realistically like a Deluxe Reverb, only a fair amount quieter - although, of course, nothing sounds quite the same at don’t-wake-the-baby output settings as it does at full whack.

The real beauty of this output flexibility is that you can crank the amp’s volume controls right up to achieve that archetypal stinging, singing, slightly glassy ’60s-era Fender overdrive without rattling the grout from between the tiles in the bathroom next door.

With the front-panel volume control reined back in a little, and hit with either a Wampler Tumnus Deluxe or a JHS Angry Charlie at the front end, the combo transformed into an able pedal platform, revealing another major bonus of this light-yet-powerful package for today’s gigging guitarist.

Does it sound exactly like a tube-fired original? Based on my extensive past and recent hands-on experience, I’d say it’s close enough to be extremely pleasing to play and to deliver the goods in a full band setting, given the gains in versatility and portability made in the trade-off. 

People often talk of tube amps being “warm,” but that’s kind of a misnomer. Tubes can also generate a lot of upper-midrange and high-end sparkle and harmonic complexity too, and I have to say I hear just a tad of that missing here.

While you have to admire the wonderful dedication to the original, it probably wouldn’t have taken much processing power to supply a “modded” Normal channel that offered Vox- and/or Marshall-like tones, on the premise that many owners mod their tube DRs to offer such tones from the “spare” channel. 

Overall, though, the Tone Master Deluxe Reverb 1x12 combo is certainly an impressive amp that delivers confidently on its promise while pioneering a new breed of performance-ready amp in the process. The market should welcome this release with wide open arms.

SPECIFICATIONS

Tone Master Deluxe Reverb
CONTACT
fender.com
PRICE $899 street

CHANNELS Two
CONTROLS Normal channel: volume, treble, bass. Vibrato channel: volume, treble, bass, reverb, tremolo speed and depth
POWER 22 watts max (switchable to 12, 5, 1, 0.5 or 0.2 watts)
PROCESSOR Quad Core simulations of the standard tubes in a Deluxe Reverb circuit
EXTRAS XLR DI with level control and three-position cab sim switch, six-position output power switch, footswitchable reverb and tremolo, USB port for firmware updates
WEIGHT 24 lbs
BUILT China, with final assembly in Mexico

KUDOS An impressive digital emulation of the original blackface DR that also looks the part, in a package nearly half the weight
CONCERNS Although billed as the amp’s strength, its one-trick-pony nature might put off some players

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