In an age when you can walk into a music store almost anywhere in the country and, for less than $100, walk out with a digital processor that produces two dozen classic amp tones and eleven effects on command, the modeling amp is no longer quite the miracle that it once was. But Fender’s new Mustang III aims to be a serious choice for working players—a combo powerful enough to cut it on gigs that also doubles as a one-stop tone shop for digital recording. If you’re perusing this market at all, chances are you are all about the features—and the truth is there’s barely enough space here to list everything this amp can do.
The core of the Mustang’s sounds reside in 12 amp models that are utilized in 100 preset tone settings—which are also laced with variations of the 37 different effects models (7 stomp pedals, 11 modulation effects, 9 delays and 10 reverbs). An included two-button footswitch allows selection of preset up/down, as well as other programmable functions.
In addition to a bevy of traditional amp controls, the Mustang III sports a data wheel and several “soft key” buttons for selecting, tweaking, and saving user-edited presets, all of which is easy enough to do with a brief reference to the manual and the easy-to-follow cues on the onboard screen.
Going beyond the hardware, Fender also seeks to make this amp a portal to digital recording by including a USB out for connecting to a DAW, along with a disc loaded with Fender’s FUSE software. You also get a preset editing and online swapping package, Ableton Live Lite Fender Edition recording software, AmpliTube Fender LE modeling software, and other extras.
Plugged in and cranked up, the factory presets reward the player with an instant collection of classic and custom tones. I wasn’t inclined to make any hard-nosed comparisons with the blackface 1965 Fender Deluxe Reverb or Marshall JCM800 that were in my studio, but the Mustang III certainly delivers a wide range of commendable sounds. I found the high-gain tones most immediately pleasing, and presets such as “Wylde”—a cranked ’80s Brit stack with overdrive and lush delay—and “Liquid Solo”—a big ’90s American amp with hall reverb—are bundles of fun from the first wailing note. Plenty of the Mustang III’s clean tones are useable too, and the “Juicy Clean” preset, based on a ’65 Deluxe Reverb with tape delay, might even have you sniffing for the telltale essence of warming tubes.
Players often talk of “tube watts” versus “solid-state watts”, and without going into all of that, suffice to say the Mustang III doesn’t give quite the same impression of volume as a 1x12 tube combo of similar wattage. Still, it’s plenty loud enough to keep up with a heavy fisted drummer, or to cut it unmiked at a club gig. All in all, the Mustang III is an impressive box of tricks for a very reasonable price.
CONTACT Fender Musical Instruments, (480) 596-9690; fender.com
MUSTANG III 1X12 COMBO
PRICE $399 retail/$299 street
CHANNELS 1 (with 100 selectable presets)
CONTROLS Gain, Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass, Reverb, Master, Data Wheel; “soft key” buttons for Amp Select, Stomp Edit, Modulation Edit, Delay Edit, Reverb Edit, Utility, Save, Exit, and Tap/Tuner
POWER 100 watts
EXTRAS 12 amp models, 37 effects models, 1/8" stereo headphone out (doubles as a DI), 1/8" auxiliary in, USB port, series effects loop
SPEAKER One 12" Celestion G12T-100
WEIGHT 36 lbs
KUDOS Impressive selection of sounds and features. Easy to edit and store user-customized presets. Great price.