Fender introduced the Band-Master in 1953 as part of its heralded tweed-covered amp line. The amp’s allure could be found in its circuit design, which allowed the tubes to respond over a wide frequency range, resulting in raw, yet sweet and versatile, tones. Country players in particular loved the early Band-Master’s punchy and even attack. In 1964, the Band-Master received a blackface update, which included a redesigned circuit. Many blues artists count this incarnation of the Band-Master among their favorite amps for its ability to become exceedingly raucous, nasty and percussive when overdriven. And unlike blackface amps like the Deluxe Reverb and Super Reverb, the Band-Master had a pronounced and cutting midrange.
Fender discontinued the Band-Master in 1973, but after a 35-year break the company has resurrected the amp as part of the Vintage Modified (VM) Series. The amp’s touch sensitivity and multifaceted character faithfully recapture the Band-Master’s sinewy tube tones, but Fender has also given the model a modern gain voice and digital effects that should make it appealing to a new generation of multi-genre guitarists.
Fender's new Band-Master VM generates a modest 40 watts from its pair of 6L6 valves, just like the heralded amp of the Sixties. That means it can be turned up far enough to overdrive the power section without busting windows, and still have enough volume to rock a moderately loud club. The Band-Master is designed to pack a wallop from its two 6L6GC power tubes and utilizes a duo of 12AX7 bottles in the preamp circuit.
In typical Fender fashion, the control panel is simple and self-explanatory. The clean channel has control for volume, treble and bass, while the drive channel has independent knobs for gain, volume, treble, middle and bass. The effect section has on/off switches for chorus/vibrato and delay, a reverb level knob, a chorus/vibrato depth control, a time/rate knob for the delay and a mix control knob for adjusting the dry-to-wet levels.
The amp’s back panel has send and return jacks for the effect loop and a pair of four- and eight-ohm speaker jacks. The included four-button foot controller has switches that silently select between channels and individually activate the reverb, delay and chorus/vibrato effects. Fender’s matching birch/maple-ply 2x12 cabinet is loaded with Celestion’s hard-hitting G12P-80 speakers and is somewhat oversized to deliver a highly resonant and airy tone.
Amp engineers will tell you it’s not that hard to create a terrific clean channel or a really hot gain channel; the real challenge is to design an amp that can produce the coveted in-between sounds, where there’s perfect clarity, gobs of sustain and touch-sensitive crunch. This is where the Band-Master VM lives, as I discovered when I plugged in a Tele or a Strat. The dynamic response was remarkable and gave me a tremendous sense of connection between my fingers and the tone that emanated from the 2x12 cabinet. The Band-Master’s clean channel was neither crystalline nor spongy; it was more like a bubbly and woody mix of its Blackface and Silverface elders. The tone stayed absolutely clean well into the clean channel’s upper-volume range.
I discovered the Band-Master’s syrupy gain when I switched into the drive channel. There’s almost enough gain here to play metal, but it lacks the specific equalization and compression for hardcore styles. This is the type of high gain that players spend upward of $4,000 to experience, where notes are always clear, punchy and superbly organic. Depending entirely on how I hit the strings, I could make chords crash through the speakers, as if the amp were on the verge of destruction, or coax out delicate runs of multi-octave and varied-volume arpeggios.
The effects were another pleasant discovery, as Fender has matched the effects’ response and output to the amp’s disposition. Delay sounds ranged from a precise slapback to studio-quality repeats, both of which merged very nicely with the reverb. Some players may want a chorus sound that is stronger in the bass frequencies, but I liked how Fender’s effect layered supplementary detuned notes through the upper mids and highs.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Fender's 40-watt, all-tube Band-Master VM recreates the lean tones of the amp’s previous incarnations and adds a modern gain voice and digital effects, allowing inspiring and organic tones for styles that range from classic blues to contemporary rock.