Parent article: Best Guitar Amps
Best FEnder Amp Overall: Our Top Pick
Fender Blues JR Combo Amp
The best Fender amp, based on a convergence of quality and affordability, would be the Fender Blues Junior series. While it lacks some of the versatility of the higher-priced options, it gives you the high-end clean tone we look for in a Fender tube amp. For those in need of more functionality, we'd recommend bumping up to the Blues Deluxe.
Almost all Fender amps - especially of the tube variety - are worthy of mention.
For decades, their combo amps have stood on their own without riding the coat tails of Fender's popular electric guitars (Stratocasters and Telecasters). In this article we're going to look at the best convergences of quality and price in the Fender amp lineup, focusing on their tube-driven combo amps.
Fender amps are valued especially for their clean tone and warm EQ profiles, which has made the tube combo amp one of Fender's strongest plays over the years.
They're popular for any style where you play a lot of clean electric guitar, particularly blues, jazz, soft rock, Christian worship, and other styles that rely on having a clean base tone without heavy distortion. They're also great for when you want a blank canvas for a pedalboard and a range of effects.
Read more: How to use a guitar amp
What We're Looking for in a Fender Amp
While we're trying to narrow down the best quality options, we're also trying to get you a decent price. The goal is to meet that sweet spot between not paying too much, but still getting an amplifier that's going to do the job you need it to do.
And getting that price point to fit is an important step, because Fender tube amps are not cheap.
In fact, many of them reach beyond the $1000 mark:
In this roundup, we'll stay at or below $1200, hovering around the $500 - $1200 range. Note that we've based our pricing estimations on Sweetwater's inventory in the United States.
We're also a partner with Sweetwater, which helps to support Guitar Chalk but doesn't cost you anything extra if you shop with them through our links.
Now, aside from brand, what other factors are important when buying a guitar amp?
Other Quality Factors to Consider
There are a few quality factors we consider that are particularly relevant to the Fender brand.
For example, tubes are a big part of what makes Fender amps so appealing. They've always done a great job with that aspect of their amplifier manufacturing, so we can look at tube circuits in particular (in the preamp and power amp) and other features that Fender is known for.
Here's a list that we'd recommend keeping an eye on:
- Tubes: Look for Fender brand tubes (Groove tubes), generic 12AX7s, 12AT7s, or 6L6s
- Reverb control: Fender amps are known for their onboard reverb. Make sure you get an amp that has it
- Number of channels: The more the better, but it also depends on your situation
- Wattage: Not the most important factor, but good to keep an eye on, especially if you plan to gig with the amp in question
Based on the Fender brand, our own experience, and the factors listed above, here are the four Fender amps we'll highlight:
Best Fender Amps: Our Top Four Picks
Fender Blues Junior
Fender Blues Deluxe
Fender '68 Custom Vibrolux
Fender Super Sonic 22
1. Fender Blues Junior
What attracts most people to the Blues Junior series is the price tag. It usually retails under $600 and is one of the only Fender tube amps that you can get at that price point. It's smaller than most Fender combos, but also easier to move and lug around if you have to.
I've used the large amps in the Blues series, like the Deluxe and Deville, and they are heavy. Even just hauling it around while letting all the weight hang off your should is difficult.
At about 31 pounds, it's still not what I'd consider light, be definitely easier to transport, if that's a consideration for you.
Here's a look at the entry in the Fender shop. Note the $600 price tag:
For playing live, it needs to be mic'd
One thing that's important to note - if you're planning to play live - is that the Blues Junior will need to be mic'd if you want to run it to a PA system or mixer. It has no output or line out of any kind, so you'll need to put a mic on the front of the amp facing the speaker cab to pick up the signal.
Alternatively you could invest in a guitar amp attenuator, though the mic option is going to be much cheaper.
The following picture is a more complex setup, but illustrates how you could really be thorough, even with a mic'd amplifier that doesn't have a direct output. This means you get the tone and natural sound of your combo amp while still sending a signal to your house mains.
If you want to capture the signal with a mic on stage - and you don't have a setup like the above photo - consider turning the Fender Blues Junior amp to face backwards and then mic it going in that direction. This will cut down on the direct volume you're getting on stage from the amp itself.
Clean Tone: The Fender Blues Junior's Main Attraction
The Blues Junior only has one channel and it does not have a dedicated drive channel or distortion control. This assumes a couple of things about your situation:
- Distortion is not a huge priority for you
- You're going to get any kind of distortion effect from a pedal
- You're primarily concerned with a clean tone
If this describes you, the Blues Junior is going to have a lot of appeal. Because you're not paying for distortion, multiple channels, or any of the manufacturing effort that goes into creating an amplifier with those features. In this case, all of the investment is going straight to a purely Fender, tube-driven clean tone.
Those of you looking for a tube amp primarily to serve as a provider of clean tone are going to be pretty happy with the Blues Junior.
On the other hand:
Someone who is after more flexibility, heavier distortion, or a more versatile amplifier should probably keep looking.
Fender cuts costs by limiting the size and feature set of the Juniors.
As I mentioned in the previous section, there's only one channel and one speaker, which makes the unit less flexible. However, Fender does include the FAT switch and coveted spring reverb.
You can get some subtle breakup by pushing the VOLUME knob up while simultaneously cutting down the MASTER, but it's not what I would call a thorough or aggressive distortion.
Otherwise the amp runs a three-band EQ in the preamp (treble, bass, and middle) and onboard reverb at the power amp level:
You can read more about the difference between the preamp and power amp here.
The Amp's EQ and "Voicing"
All Fender amps tend to be a little heavier on the lower end of the EQ spectrum, and the Blues Junior is no different. You'll get a natural warmth from the tubes, but the bass control is pretty touchy, allowing you to dial in a lot of "bottom" that even comes through on your clean tones.
Power chords and lower fret progressions are especially thicker and boomy, making the Junior good for even heavier playing styles, assuming you get a distortion source that can accommodate.
At the same time, pushing treble and mids higher can also give you a distinct "chime-like" effect with higher-register notes.
Slow-picking high-register arpeggios creates an especially satisfying sound.
Overall, it's a deceptively simple control scheme with a surprising amount of flexibility. We'd like to have the presence control on the power amp (it's in most other Fender amps), but that's a small complaint given the tone quality we get from the Junior without it.
The Ideal User
If you're just looking for that warm, clean base tone that these amps are known for, the Blues Junior gives you the most quality for what you're paying. Based on that value, it's our best Fender amp recommendation.
IDEAL FOR: Small gigs, clean tones
BLUES JR PROS
BLUES JR CONS
2. Fender Blues Deluxe Combo Amp
The Blues Deluxe adds back some of the flexibility we lost in the Junior, while maintaining a similar tone profile.
You get two channels (footswitchable), an effects loop, presence knob, and drive knob. Tubes power the preamp and power amp, while the reverb is still included and can be turned on or off via an included footswitch.
There are also two inputs on the top control panel, which you can see easily in the following photo:
An included footswitch is an extremely underrated part of any amp purchase. For the Blues Deluxe, you get a two-button Fender footswitch that allows you to select your channel and turn your reverb on or off.
If you're buying used on a site like Reverb or eBay, make sure the footswitch is included. Having two channels in an amplifier doesn't do you much good if you have to switch them up by hand.
Some Details from the User Manual
From the user manual, you can also see the power amp input (bypass the preamp), preamp output (bypass the power amp), and a footswitch input. Also note the PRESENCE knob positioned next to the REVERB control, which we missed having in the Blues Junior.
This model also has a drive control letting you run one of the two channels as a dirty or distorted signal. The drive on the Blues Deluxe definitely isn't heavy or saturating, which means we can't really recommend it as a modern distortion replacement.
In the Deluxe, you can definitely get some warm, vintage-sounding overdrive tones, which are especially useful with the footswitch. Yet, the most appealing aspect of this amplifier is still going to be (you guessed it) the natural clean tone.
Per the user manual, here's the rest of the control scheme:
The three-band EQ (bass, mids, and treble) sit next to the DRIVE knob, which controls your heavier gain, and then the channel's volume control. A drive selector and bright switch are on either side of the volume knob.
Scope of Onboard Distortion
In our experience this amplifier's distortion isn't tremendously flexible, limited to basic blues or classic rock tones. For heavier or more modern distortion needs, we'd recommend another source, like a high-end distortion pedal to use in conjunction with the clean channel of the Blues Deluxe.
Clean Tone Quality
As I've already mentioned the clean tone of the Blues Deluxe is similar to the Blues Junior, and a good marker of the quality that people expect from this long-standing series.
The combination of the 12AX7 preamp tubes and the 6L6s at the power amp stage create a smooth, warm clean tone that isn't really replicated anywhere else.
Again, if you buy a Fender amp, that clean tube tone has got to be the primary reason.
Pick Response, EQ Tweaking, and Tone Characteristics
Your right hand movement - picking, muting, and vertical pick scrapes - are going to be a little more pronounced in the deluxe compared to the Junior. It also gives off a little more accent with a wah pedal, which I'd describe as a deeper cut into the tone swell.
Open chords are warm and full, while even higher register barre chords seem to emphasize the root notes and come out clear.
Obviously the exact response you get will depend on the rest of your rig.
The few guys we chatted with who owned/tested this amp were primarily using the following:
- Fender Strats/Telecasters/Epiphone SGs
- Elixir strings
- Seymour Duncan pickups
- Dunlop picks
In other words, we looked for examples of people who owned this amp and surrounded it with a fairly common setup. Something we tried to avoid would be an $800 amplifier with a $3000 guitar or a $300 guitar. If we couldn't test these amps ourselves, we got information from people who had invested in their amp about as much as the rest of their rig.
All that to say:
The Blues Deluxe will give you a great sound, provided you balance your rig investment and surround it with decent gear.
The Ideal Blues Deluxe User
The Deluxe is a larger amp with some higher-end functionality, almost certainly better for the more serious guitar player.
It's a lot to carry around, but the volume and drive of this amplifier are truly incredible. You can fill a decent sized room without even putting it on a mic. But again, there's no output, so you'll have to go back to the attenuator solution or just use a microphone on the speaker cab.
If you're not gigging, the Blues Deluxe might be a little too much for just living room jamming.
You'll want to decide how much the additional versatility is worth to you, particularly in regards to how it compares to the Blues Junior.
Intermediate to advanced performers who are into blues, jazz, or classic rock are going to enjoy it the most.
IDEAL FOR: Flexibility, clean tones
BLUES DELUXE PROS
BLUES DELUXE CONS
3. Fender '68 Custom Vibrolux
The '68 series is one of my personal favorites, and also one of the more expensive Fender tube amps on the market.
An upgraded tube circuit with Fender Groove tubes - two different kinds at the preamp (12AX7s and 12AT7s) - and a lush clean tone with two channels and onboard reverb/tremolo controls gives you a significant upgrade over the Blues series we've been focusing on.
Tone Features of the Vintage and Custom Channels
The '68s - and the Vibrolux in particular - are a bit brighter and snappier from a tone perspective, though still with a lot of heavy low-end and bass in the clean channel, especially with the modified Bassman tone on the second custom channel.
Two channels on the '68 Vibrolux include:
- Vintage, Silverface channel
- Custom, Bassman channel
If you want to get really technical, you can use an A/B box to set each channel by itself or blend both together.
In Fender's main '68 Vibrolux demo, that's what they're doing here to show you the two different sounds you can get from each channel. Notice the mics on either side of the speaker cab:
Bright Switches and Higher Frequencies
The bright switches give you a ton of chime and brightness on the higher register, almost creating a sparkling effect. It definitely sounds brighter to us than the Blues Junior and Blues Deluxe and gets a lot out of those higher notes.
In that respect, we'd argue it's best suited when paired with single coil pickups or some kind of Telecaster electric.
Not that it would sound bad with humbuckers, but it's definitely a good companion for a vintage Stratocaster.
Heavier Tones and Distortion
Again, the built in gain channel isn't my favorite for fans of heavier distortion. It's certainly not what I'd consider "metal" or highly saturating.
It does sound better and thicker than the Blues Deluxe drive control, and seems to give you a little more sustain than the cheaper Fender amps. While the brightness and shimmer of the higher EQ settings are a big part of the appeal, we were surprised at how quickly the amp adapts to lower EQs with more bass dialed in.
Like the Junior and Deluxe, open chords and barre chords sound big and heavy with a lot of warmth coming out of the six tubes at the preamp level.
Distorted chord progressions have some chunk that was easier to dial in with the '68. It seems to take a little more work to get that heavy "thud" in the Fender Blues series
As expected, you can get a ton of volume out of the power amp.
The Ideal Fender '68 Vibrolux User
Because of the price, I'd hesitate to recommend this amp outside of a fairly committed, even semi-professional situation. At $1200, it's a significant investment. I also wouldn't recommend pairing it with an overly cheap guitar, as you'll want the quality of your rig to be at least somewhat matched up.
Anyone who plays live regularly and doesn't mind lugging around the 42 pounds worth of amplifier will enjoy the two channels, the footswitch and the superb tone quality.
Again, you'll need to consider mic'ing the amp or adding an attenuator.
Recording is a little harder, unless you can really keep the area around the amp quiet, perhaps in an isolation box.
But if you don't mind the expense, it's hands-down one of the best Fender amps we can recommend to anyone.
IDEAL FOR: Semi-professional, gigging, advanced players, tube-tone fans, and just about everything else
'68 VIBROLUX PROS
'68 VIBROLUX CONS
4. Fender Super Sonic 22
Fender's smaller Super-Sonic 22 combo is named for 22 watts and the two gain controls you have on the dirty channel.
Despite having some additional flexibility when it comes to distortion, this is still an amp we'd firmly place in the vintage category, as even the higher gain settings don't feel tremendously different from the lower ones.
In addition to the wattage, you have seven total tubes powering the preamp and power amp between 6V6s, 12AX7s, and 12AT7s. This gives you the warm tone combined with a distinct crispness that is extremely difficult to replicate in solid state combos.
Though the response is edgier than in the other Fender amps we've listed, you can still get a warm voicing, especially with Gain 2 turned up.
More About the Super-Sonic 22's Tone
While the Super-Sonic was built to be a sort of "high-gain" or more intense amp offering from Fender, it's still not overly aggressive and better-suited for vintage styles if you're buying it for the distortion.
You can hear in the above Sweetwater video that it's both warm and very crisp, without a ton of sustain on the higher register, which can be adjusted some with the normal/fat switch.
On the higher gain levels it can get really noisy, which we've heard other users complain about too. Though I can't honestly say that's an issue for me, since I probably wouldn't use an amp like this as my primary distortion source.
It's also worth mentioning that noise wasn't really an issue unless we turned both gain 1 and 2 up higher.
The difference between the two gain knobs wasn't particularly significant, though we would say gain 2 was a little softer and smoother than gain 1.
The back panel houses an effects loop and a MIDI connection for the included four-button footswitch.
Here's a look at the footswitch and the controls thereof:
Ideal Use and Situation for the Super-Sonic 22
While the 22 is certainly heavier than the other Fender amps we've covered, it's not as versatile or as heavy as (again) the Mesa Amps or any of the Diezel offerings. As a result, we'd recommend it for those that like the Fender amp sound and want some flexibility on lower, vintage-voiced gain settings.
In other words, don't go with the Super-Sonic 22 if you think you're getting an aggressive, modern amp that can handle a wide range of distortion.
As usual with Fender combos, buy for the clean tone first.
The added flexibility of the gain controls, the normal/fat switch and the reverb will all serve as bonus material.
IDEAL FOR: Low-gain settings, clean tones, vintage/classic rock and channel switching
SUPER-SONIC 22 PROS
SUPER-SONIC 22 CONS
Are Fender tube amps flexible enough?
One of our only complaints about Fender tube amps is that they aren't very flexible.
Distortion is limited and some of these amps - notably the Blues Junior - only have one channel.
Where do they "work" best?
Many of them also go without any kind of effects loop or line out, which makes recording and going direct to PA systems more difficult. This makes them a bad fit for the studio or situations where you need to play really quiet, perhaps in a bedroom or living room.
Rooms that are larger, like a garage, a small bar, or even small theaters will do fine with the wattage levels of most Fender tube amps.
This means they're best-suited for small to mid-sized gigging where you don't mind mic'ing your amplifier.
In that context, the flexibility isn't as much of an issue.
Here are some of the flexibility-related controls and features that you'll typically (though not always) find on a Fender combo amp:
Flexibility-Related Controls and Features
- Three-band EQ
- Reverb control
- Footswitch control
- Gain controls for separate channels
- Vibrato control
What are the biggest strengths of Fender combo amps?
Though flexibility isn't their strong-suit, here are some areas where Fender combo amps typically excel and give you a lot of value for what you pay:
- Clean tones
- Onboard reverb
- Including a footswitch with your purchase
- Vintage playing styles
- Overdrive or low-gain distortion settings
In other words, these should be your primary motivators from a buying perspective. The money that you spend on a Fender amp should be viewed as an investment in these particular functions and qualities.
Will these amps need to be mic'd?
For live gigging or recording, you will need to mic your amp or use a guitar amp attenuator.
While mic'ing an amp is fairly straightforward, we'd recommend the attenuator instead because it will get you a better sound, give you more flexibility, and will be a truer representation of your amp's tone.
The mic route is cheaper, and simpler since you have the speaker cab built into your Fender amp combo.
Here are couple of examples:
You can also move the mic around depending on the position of the speaker:
This Musician's Friend article gives you some helpful tips on amp mic'ing: How to Mic a Guitar Amp/Cab
Both attenuators and microphones can be effective in a recording or live performance situation with a Fender combo amp.
It's not what I'd call ideal, but a lot of people do it just because the base tone of the Fender amps are so good.
As we've seen, for a decent Fender amp - especially of the tube variety - you're looking at roughly a $500 to $1200 price tag.
On the lower end of that, it's really only the Blues Junior series that has brough the price spectrum down that low.
In that range, you should be firmly in the intermediate to advanced guitar player category.
A nice Fender tube amp is probably overkill for beginners or those who aren't totally sold on the electric guitar as their main instrument. For what you're paying, it should be expected this will be your primary guitar amp for a long time to come.
Despite the stripped down specs of the Fender Blues Junior, it's our top Fender amp pick for its price and tone quality.
You get a fantastic clean tone for a mid-level price range, which is the primary concern for most people buying a Fender amp. If you'd rather have the extra channel and the additional flexibility, go a bit higher and get the Vibrolux or the Blues Deluxe.
For those that want to use their Fender amp as a clean and distorted signal source, grab the Super Sonic 22.
Questions about These Amps?
Do you have questions about these recommendations or other Fender amps? If so, feel free to leave them in the comments section below.