The sweet-toned, low-powered Princeton Reverb always gets vintage Fender amp fans scrabbling for their wallets.
Fender’s reissue of the legendary Princeton Reverb has been just as eagerly awaited as their ’57 Deluxe. Small valve amps are back in vogue, as most guitarists have twigged that they can’t really crank 50W or 100W amps at pub gigs… and anyway, bigger venues have PA systems. As for recording, the secret is out: small amps can sound huge in the studio. So despite the fact that the basic design dates back to 1961, 15W of Princeton power actually captures the spirit of our times very well.
Fender’s amp ranges of the 1950s and 1960s followed a logical pattern: you had Champs for beginners, Princetons for practising and first gigs, Deluxes and Supers for bigger gigs, and Twins and Bassmans when you needed to take people’s heads off. Originally the Princeton Reverb slotted right in between the Vibro Champ and the Deluxe Reverb, but its convenient size also made it a popular choice for amp modders – one reason why so there are comparatively few untouched examples out there. Common tweaks included reconfiguring the phase inverter, adding extra gain stages and fitting a 12" speaker (even Mesa/Boogie started out hot-rodding Princeton Reverbs for the likes of Carlos Santana). If modifying appeals to you, then you’re probably better off buying an old one because the point-to-point wiring makes it easier to swap components – and any warranty will be long expired.
Like the Vibro Champ, the Princeton is a single-channel amp with a tremolo circuit that relies on bias modulation rather than an optical coupler. However, like the Deluxe, the Princeton has reverb and a push-pull output stage with a pair of 6V6 valves. Even the 10" speaker is bang in-between, and the reissue has a more or less vintage-correct ceramic Jensen
C-10R. Original Princetons had 5U4 rectifier tubes; this one has a 5AR4, presumably to provide a little extra headroom and tighten the low end. Fender doesn’t recommend a 5U4 in the reissue because the current draw would be too high for the mains transformer.
The control panel is simple, with two inputs, Volume, Bass, Treble, Reverb and the usual Speed and Intensity controls for the tremolo. A footswitch is provided for activating ‘Rev’ and ‘Vib’, and there’s an extra socket to connect an extension cabinet.
Inside, Fender employs the same construction as the bigger Deluxe Reverb reissue, with a printed circuit board rather than point-to-point wiring. This might annoy some purists, but it makes this amp far more affordable than the ’57 Deluxe reissue. The cabinet is plywood, and the speaker baffle is screwed in place just like the originals. Replacement 12" speaker baffles are readily available, so swapping over would be a quick and easily-reversible modification.
Specs: 15W 1×10" single-channel vintage reissue guitar combo. Made in the US
Controls: Volume, Treble, Bass, Reverb, Speed, Intensity. Rev/Vib footswitch (supplied)
Valves: 3 x 12AX7, 1 x 12AT7, 2 x 6V6, 1 x 5AR4
Speaker: 8 ohm 10" Jensen C-10R with ceramic magnet
Dimensions: 40.6cm/16" high, 50.5cm/19.8" wide and 24.1cm/9.5" deep
Contact: Fender UK
Despite using modern construction techniques Fender has made a fairly faithful reissue, warts and all. If you cherish Princetons for what they were rather that what you might have preferred them to be, this is an exciting and surprisingly affordable amplifier. Best of all, its utterly mesmerising to play. It wont give you metal sounds, it wont do loud and clean, and it wont make your guitar into something its not but for jazz, country, blues and rootsy rock, its amazing.