Are the Fender Tone Master amps still worth it, or has something "better" come along?

TwangerWannabe

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I really, really like the concept and execution of the Tone Master amps. My only problem is that coming from a 35 year Electrical Engineering and IT background, I worry that after the warranty period, these amplifiers are basically not serviceable. Sort of like a TV, nowadays TV's are rarely repaired, but often replaced.
Yeah, but how often do TVs stop working? Mine is 15 years old and works perfectly.
It is interesting how many comment about the (lack of) serviceability of digital amps and use this as a reason to stick with a traditional tube amp. Point taken, but also, how many times have you had a tube amp go down on you at the most importune time?! It's happened to me several times over the years from when I was a kid and has smoke spontaneously start pouring out of my JCM800 50 watt head in my bedroom and a couple random times over the last 25 years. Also, whenever I did buy a vintage Fender amp, the first thing I did with it was take it to my local tech and have them go through it and if it needed something have them take care of it. In some instances someone may have gone in and modded the circuit, mucked around and done something they shouldn't have, and I'll pay the tech to bring it back to original spec or whatever. Kind of like owning an old car. It's going to need more work to keep it up and running, but in many cases the repairs are fairly easy and straightforward, but you still have to pay to maintain the amp(s). Time will tell on the reliability but overall, I doubt the Tone Masters will be any less reliable than their tube predecessors. I'm willing to take the chance and pick one up and not worried too much about reliability. In another thread a poster brought up the fact that there are still plenty of keyboards that have been around for decades (non-analog) and digital appliances that are proving to be reliable. I'm not touring with the thing and 99% of the time the amp is going to sit next to my desk and be used to play/practice at home or record into my UP Apollo/Mac set up.
 

CCK1

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It is interesting how many comment about the (lack of) serviceability of digital amps and use this as a reason to stick with a traditional tube amp. Point taken, but also, how many times have you had a tube amp go down on you at the most importune time?! It's happened to me several times over the years from when I was a kid and has smoke spontaneously start pouring out of my JCM800 50 watt head in my bedroom and a couple random times over the last 25 years. Also, whenever I did buy a vintage Fender amp, the first thing I did with it was take it to my local tech and have them go through it and if it needed something have them take care of it. In some instances someone may have gone in and modded the circuit, mucked around and done something they shouldn't have, and I'll pay the tech to bring it back to original spec or whatever. Kind of like owning an old car. It's going to need more work to keep it up and running, but in many cases the repairs are fairly easy and straightforward, but you still have to pay to maintain the amp(s). Time will tell on the reliability but overall, I doubt the Tone Masters will be any less reliable than their tube predecessors. I'm willing to take the chance and pick one up and not worried too much about reliability. In another thread a poster brought up the fact that there are still plenty of keyboards that have been around for decades (non-analog) and digital appliances that are proving to be reliable. I'm not touring with the thing and 99% of the time the amp is going to sit next to my desk and be used to play/practice at home or record into my UP Apollo/Mac set up.
In over 25 years of regular gigs with several different tube amps, I’ve only had one occasion when an amp failed on me. I’m quite hopeful that the TM reliability is there, because I’m probably going to buy one.
 

Blrfl

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My only problem is that coming from a 35 year Electrical Engineering and IT background, I worry that after the warranty period, these amplifiers are basically not serviceable.

If you've been at this for 35 years, you probably have the same good idea about what tends to fail that I do: it's the mechanical stuff like connectors and the high-voltage parts like the power supplies and power amps. The rest of it isn't subjected to a lot of stress and will last as long as it's not mechanically-compromised. Fender bolted a pretty large heat sink onto the processor in the TM, so I suspect thermal stress isn't going to be an issue there, either.

More often than not, bringing something old, dead and digital back to life doesn't involve replacing parts. Last winter, I came across a half-dozen handheld electronic games from my childhood. None of it worked 100% out of the box, but all of it was brought back to full service with little difficulty. One had a solder joint that failed, one needed a new battery snap and another had dropped some of its switch domes because the adhesive in the tape holding them on gave out. Most of it had a common problem encountered in servicing tube amps: the contacts in the switches or where the boards interconnected had become cruddy, which was nothing a can of contact cleaner didn't handle. 40+ years later, the electronics are just fine and I'm enjoying them all over again.

My money is on TM failures being the power supply / power amp module. I'll throw an extra ten bucks on long-term failures being the electrolytic caps. I don't anticipate that failures will be vibration-induced; the engineering world has plenty of accelerated tests for that kind of stuff that get done before products hit the streets. At any rate, the PS/PA is an off-the-shelf part from another manufacturer that can be swapped out in half an hour. If the part is no longer available, the specs are published and someone with the right know-how could bolt in a suitable replacement power supply and power amp from whatever parts are available. It's just not going to be the guy with boxes of old tubes and caps in his basement.
 
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TwangerWannabe

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U
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Why?! Used prices these days are insane. peopel are asking the same for a used amp or guitar for as much or more than you can get a new one for if you know how to shop properly. It's not hard to get 10%-15% off retail for most amps and guitars.

There's a used Tone Master Twin in my area for sale for $800 and seller states price is firm. It's been up for sale for nearly a month. Why would I do that when I can get a new TM Deluxe for $800 and a TM Twin for close to $100 more and have the warranty and return policy?
 

Frodebro

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I really, really like the concept and execution of the Tone Master amps. My only problem is that coming from a 35 year Electrical Engineering and IT background, I worry that after the warranty period, these amplifiers are basically not serviceable. Sort of like a TV, nowadays TV's are rarely repaired, but often replaced.

I bought a Digitech GSP21 Legend in 1994. Still have it, and it still works.
 

Milspec

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I have to disagree. Even for at home the Princeton's can get a bit loud. And the XLR out/cabinet simulation of the Tonemasters is a fantastic feature for those of us who record at home. And the attenuator on the Tonemasters is exactly what. home player can benefit from, and the bonus is if you end up taking it out to jam with buddies you still ahve an amp loud enough to keep up. I don't think these amps are the one trick pony many are claiming they are. They seem to be more versatile than many give them credit for. Perfect for the hobbyist or musician on a budget that can only own or only wants to own one amp to essentially do everything with.
All of the benefits of the TM you mention are true, I didn't find myself bowled over by them at home. The power attenuator I do find useful, but I still record with live mics (I think they sound better that way, the emulation isn't bad, but not as good). After 7 months of ownership, I am selling mine as I rarely play it at home and haven't been playing out all year.

Just didn't impress me enough to keep
 

Milspec

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Why?! Used prices these days are insane. peopel are asking the same for a used amp or guitar for as much or more than you can get a new one for if you know how to shop properly. It's not hard to get 10%-15% off retail for most amps and guitars.

There's a used Tone Master Twin in my area for sale for $800 and seller states price is firm. It's been up for sale for nearly a month. Why would I do that when I can get a new TM Deluxe for $800 and a TM Twin for close to $100 more and have the warranty and return policy?
If you "can" get them for that price, then you would be justified in not being interested. The problem is that buying it new includes sales tax, travel to pick it up, or worse....costs to ship it. That can easily add another $150. Then there is also the supply issue which affects some regions more than others.

I am selling a TM Deluxe right now for about $250 under new. It is mint and barely used. That might not seem like a bargain, but there is no sales tax, no shipping, and no waiting. Those aspects add some value.

I agree though, prices remain high due to the costs of vacuum tubes right now in the same way that muscle car prices are way down due to cost of gas. Digital amps are the solar powered cars of today, so they don't drop in prices.
 

fender4life

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Why?! Used prices these days are insane. peopel are asking the same for a used amp or guitar for as much or more than you can get a new one for if you know how to shop properly. It's not hard to get 10%-15% off retail for most amps and guitars.

There's a used Tone Master Twin in my area for sale for $800 and seller states price is firm. It's been up for sale for nearly a month. Why would I do that when I can get a new TM Deluxe for $800 and a TM Twin for close to $100 more and have the warranty and return policy?
I've noticed the same thing for a couple years now and I've never seen anything like it in my life. Not just guitars, but i was looking at possibly buying this little honda dirt bike to ride some trails around here and the thing sells new for $5300 at every dealer. But i keep seeing used ones at literally 1 or 2 thousang more. And it;'s NOT the rally model that IS more. Its the exact same model and i look for mods and addons that could make it worth that much more but nopoe....eo=ither none or things that cost a few hundred. I have seen people asking 7 grand ! And like guitars you see these ads and they are in there for months and even years. There are a number of insanely priced guitars i have been seeing listed in CL for 3-5 years ! It's so puzzling i can't even speculate what goes on in these sellers heads.
 

loopfinding

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Yeah, for me the iridium.

I live in an apartment. I don’t need a cab, I just go direct into my soundcard and play through monitors, or sometimes at night with open back headphones straight from the unit. I just plug my pedal board into it since you can slam the front end like a real amp. I’ve even taken it on trips and have been able to practice without any tonal compromise wherever I’ve crashed.

I have a 15 watt tube amp for quiet gigs. If I had to play an unmic’ed loud gig (which I haven’t in like 5 years) I’d buy a cheap 100W power amp and borrow a cheap 4x12. But if the place had a PA I’d just go into that and have them more or less hard pan me mono to the side of the stage I’m on.

If it’s not going to be a tube amp, I don’t need to pretend that it’s a tube amp, give me as compact and light as possible, and options to choose the delivery system or use anywhere without being married to lugging a big cab and heavy speaker.
 
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IrishBread69

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These are the future in my opinion.

The downsides to tube amps are myriad relative to the slight gains in outright tone.

I'm not worried about mine failing any time soon. It requires zero maintenance and I don't have to worry about replacement tubes if they continue to be difficult to obtain. Plus they aren't exactly expensive either. I've yet to have a phone/computer/TV/games console/major electronic appliance fail in my lifetime. Perhaps I'm just lucky but mostly I replace things because they're obsolete or I want something newer or better. I expect the TMDR to be with me for a long time.

The benefits for recording and having a quiet or silent rig are huge.

It also sounds fantastic.
 

tfarny

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The TM series are kind of interesting but not for me. I like Vox sounds just as much as Fender sounds, so I will always be drawn to more flexible tools even though I'm basically after a pretty simple classic tone. When I Abed the Quilter Aviator Cub against the TM I liked the cub just a little more, the price and weight were much better too.

The price of a TM bought me a used HX stomp and Headrush FRFR cab. It sounds really very good and can do a whole variety of things in addition to sounding like a nice BF Fender (acoustic amp and effects; giggable bass amp with DI out; just a pedalboard; on and on). The PITA of programming it is to me worth the hassle (although I wrestled a bit with that question).
 

DanielK

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I was almost going to start a separate thread on this topic, my question relates to when Fender might be releasing version 2 of the TM. The current TM offerings seem rather conflicted in how they would benefit from a lot more editing options: simple stuff like swapping out IRs, having more than two IR options, being able to turn on/off the bright cap, editing reverb parameters, stuff that could be accomplished with a simple software editor, but that would go against the plug and play aspect of things.

My vision of the TM would be a 1x12 and 2x12 offering with deep editing functions - essentially being able to swap in and out emulations of various Fender circuits (princeton, deluxe, vibrolux, pro, twin, super, bandmaster, bassman, vibroverb, etc). Essentially what the Mustang is but without the pitfalls of Mustang modelling (which in my own very subjective opinion isn't great) and in proper blackface style cabinets. And yeah, an fx loop would be nice.

Realistically, what I'm describing is probably what you get with a kemper but with efforts made to get the acoustic properties of a real blackface cabinet. I know it's probably not going to happen. But TLDR, the TM does seem like it has conflicting design priorities. Granted this is coming from someone who grew up on modelling.
 

Bob M

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I went the Quilter route. 101 Reverb. 2 x 10 open back cab. Very Fender like. I sold off my ‘65 DRRI and ‘68 PRRI. I also have a 1 x 10 cab. Very portable, takes pedals well and is a legit 50 watts. I don’t miss the Fender amps at all.
 

Chicago Slim

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I've had a Tone Master Deluxe Reverb for over a year. I like it for what it is. I use the Vibrato channel for Fender sounds. But most of the time I use the Normal channel with a Zoom MFX pedal for Vox sounds, with Tape Echo.

The amp that I use more than the TMDR is a Boss NexTone Stage. It has Tube Modeling, Delay and I can get good Vox and Tweed sounds out of it. Plus it costs half the price of the TMDR.

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Marc Morfei

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Why?! Used prices these days are insane. peopel are asking the same for a used amp or guitar for as much or more than you can get a new one for if you know how to shop properly. It's not hard to get 10%-15% off retail for most amps and guitars.

There's a used Tone Master Twin in my area for sale for $800 and seller states price is firm. It's been up for sale for nearly a month. Why would I do that when I can get a new TM Deluxe for $800 and a TM Twin for close to $100 more and have the warranty and return policy?
Obviously nobody is going to pay new price for a used item. If a used one is not available for a fair price, then that is not an option. But sometimes they are. I got my TMDR used in mint condition for $700 and I am perfectly happy.
 

Blrfl

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The current TM offerings seem rather conflicted in how they would benefit from a lot more editing options: simple stuff like swapping out IRs, having more than two IR options, being able to turn on/off the bright cap, editing reverb parameters, stuff that could be accomplished with a simple software editor, but that would go against the plug and play aspect of things.

There's no conflict. This product isn't aimed at the deep editing crowd or, come to think of it, the shallow editing crowd. More-complex controls aren't on the radar internally or externally, full stop. The software platform that underpins it has the potential do do a lot of things and might be used that way in the future, but it's not going to be on an amp with a TM badge pinned to the front.

Fender is also careful to differentiate its deeply-editable products because they're trying to cultivate an image for the TM. If the amp says "Twin Reverb" on the front, making things deeply-editable would violate the principle of least astonishment by adding invisible state. Invisible state would make the amp behave like something other than a Twin Reverb with the knobs set however they appear. Allowing that means somebody's going to buy a used one and start a thread on TDPRI about how awful it sounds, only to discover that the previous owner left it in a really-bad state and a factory reset will make it sound good again. (That's a true story, but the amp was a Katana.)

Making the hidden state visible changes the user interface and it's no longer a digital Twin Reverb.


Realistically, what I'm describing is probably what you get with a kemper but with efforts made to get the acoustic properties of a real blackface cabinet.

You can get most of the way there now. Start with a real blackface cabinet, drive it with a flat amplifier and drive that with a modeler that isn't running a cabinet model.

The thing right now is that Fender has a lot of compute horsepower it can devote to making the TM work well, in part because it's not loaded down with anything other than what's in the box. There's nothing else on the market that has as much headroom to do that; the Quad Cortex and Axe-FX III are the next two most-powerful units and neither comes close in terms of raw cycles.
 




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