Fender Princeton Recording-Amp

Powered by a pair of 6V6s, the Princeton has long been an essential tool for many studio players. Fender recently decided to bring the Princeton back with new features that make it even better suited for studio use. The Princeton Recording-Amp ($1,428 retail/$999 street) looks like a standard blackface reverb model that has been customized with a rack unit housed below its front panel. It’s here that we find the new goodies, which include controls for the footswitchable compressor and overdrive, and a large level knob for the Trans-Impedance Power Attenuator—a variable reactive speaker load that allows you to play with full output-tube overdrive at any volume, without compromising dynamic response. A convenient XLR line out with speaker emulation also makes the new amp ideal for late-night sessions in your home studio.
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The built-in compressor and overdrive add to the Recording-Amp’s flexibility, and both can be activated using the included footswitch or front-panel buttons (which include LEDs to indicate on/off status). These solid-state effects function much like their stompbox equivalents, so it’s like having a MXR Dyna Comp compressor and a Boss DS-1 distortion built right in.

After playing the Recording-Amp with a variety of guitars, it was apparent that this is no standard Princeton. The classic sonic signature is there, but the Recording-Amp is considerably tighter and louder than a late-’60s Princeton Reverb that we used for comparison. Part of this is due to the new amp having a solid-state rectifier, instead of the tube rectifier found in the older model. For gigs, I found it easy to obtain just the right loudness by cranking the Recording-Amp’s volume up to 6 with the TIPA control wide open (which bypasses its circuitry). As a result, I didn’t need the built-in overdrive—there was more than enough fat grind on tap when I turned up my Les Paul.

For practice sessions, the TIPA control can deliver the feeling of playing the amp full bore. Even when raging at a level quiet enough to talk over, the touch sensitivity and ability to go from clean to scream by adjusting your guitar volume remains essentially unchanged. It still feels like you’re working the amp hard, and being able to get that abundance of rich harmonics from the overdriven output tubes is so cool. This amp is hard to beat for super-sustaining slide work—especially with some added gain from the overdrive section and a little compression.

During testing, however, the overdrive function developed an annoying hum after a few weeks, and the huge Power Attenuator knob was severed by a door jamb as I carried the amp to a gig. Those annoyances aside, the Recording-Amp absolutely fills the bill for those who want a small tube combo with excellent reverb that’s ideal for recording and small gigs. Princeton fans might be weirded out by the modded look of the Recording-Amp, but from a performance standpoint, this amp rules.