What we bought: My first tube amp…about 20 years late

I got my first guitar in seventh grade. Had a few bands in high school and college. And I still play regularly. But I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’ve only just bought it My first tube amp in April last year. That’s right, I played guitar pretty seriously for about 25 years before I went and bought what is considered by many (mostly obnoxious purists) to be the only type of amp worth playing.

At some point I set myself a goal Fender Blues Jr, a simple 15-watt, 1×12 amp. In particular, I managed to snag a beautiful tweed model for $400. It was too good an offer to pass up (even if I had to drive to New Jersey to pick it up).

Now, before you all freak out, it’s not like I’ve never played a tube amp before. My bands often rented a rehearsal space where I usually played through Marshall half-stack. A JCM800 if I remember correctly, but I’d be lying if I said I cared about anything other than the fact that it was a Marshall half-stack at the age of 18.

Fender Blues Jr
Glowing vacuum tubes not only look great, they look great too.

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

When it came time for me to upgrade my tiny Yamaha practice amp, I just got the loudest thing I could afford at the time: a 2×12 120-watt crate solid-state amp. I needed something that could be heard over a drummer in my basement or small club. It did exactly what I expected: it was delightfully crisp and clean, picked up the pedals well and it was noisy.

This was my only amp for many years. But at 120W it wasn’t really “quiet”. Even with the volume down to one, it was enough to annoy the neighbors. When I had my first child, I knew I had to get something else. Again, budget and volume mattered (it turns out kids are expensive). But instead of being loud, this time I needed something that would sound good at levels that wouldn’t disturb a sleeping baby. So I snagged a Yamaha THR10 on sale.

But in the last few years I had started getting serious about music again. And especially in the last two years I had rekindled my love for the guitar. Between that and what I will chalk up as pandemic anxiety, I began looking for an upgrade to a true tube amp. I ended up choosing the Blues Jr in part because I still needed something that wasn’t coming to noisy. But I didn’t need anything particularly fancy either. I wanted tube warmth and crunch at a reasonable price and without too many frills.

It did take me a while to find the amp’s sweet spots, but I’m a convert. I now mainly use my THR10 late at night or when I need to be mobile – for example to shoot a review in my dining room. But other than that, I always cheer for the Blues Jr. It can produce the jangly, clean tones often associated with Fender at lower volumes, and gets an almost Vox-like crunch when cranked up. I rarely use the “Fat” switch, which boosts the mids, but I might find it handy when you need to rely entirely on the internal drive and take a solo.

Fender Blues Jr

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

The only real amenity you get is a spring reverb, which sounds pretty good. Cranking adds a decent amount of noise to your signal, but it really nails those dripping surf tones.

What’s important to me is that it has a master volume control (which not all amps do). That allows you to push the preamp until you start to get delicious separation while keeping things at a level that doesn’t involve the police. But it will also be loud enough to gig if I ever decide to play music in front of other people again (highly unlikely).

However, its biggest selling point was that it’s also a pretty solid pedaling platform. As a guitarist with more effects than talent, I needed something that wouldn’t get too muddy or loud when I started stacking multiple delays and reverbs with fuzz.

The Fender Blues Jr has been around since around 1995, and while it’s been revised several times during that time, its core character remains largely unchanged. Honestly, I wish I had discovered it sooner. Because although I’ve fallen in love with many instruments and effects over the years, this is the first amp I’ve really fallen in love with.

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https://www.engadget.com/fender-blues-jr-tube-amp-irl-133040915.html?src=rss What we bought: My first tube amp…about 20 years late

Fry Electronics Team

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