I honestly don’t know why I keep getting surprised by the fact that all of these “small” guitar related accessories, whether they be a recording device, a guitar effects pedal, or an amplifier, are capable of packing ridiculous technological advances or insane tone and volume into their compact frames but, colour me surprised again. I was aware of the new series of Bassbreaker tube amps that Fender had recently released and was quite excited to know that I would get to test drive one. The series features a bunch of different models in different configurations from heads and cabinets (or as Fender refers to them in their literature, enclosures). Not sure of which model would be arriving on my doorstep I really hoped it would be the 45 watt head and the 212 enclosure (212 meaning there are 2 12” Celestion speakers inside whereas the 112 only features 1 speaker) so that I could further damage my hearing whilst reminding my neighbours what dirty heavy metal rock ‘n roll sounds like.
Delivery day arrived and by the compact size of the packaging, it was apparent I had likely received the Bassbreaker 007 combo amp. Combo meaning that the head and speaker are all contained in one unit rather than having a head unit that connects to a separate speaker cabinet. Had I not been too metal to cry, I may have let a tear of disappointment escape from the confines of my masculine tear ducts (who am I trying to kid? I wept like a wee baby the other night when my wife and I watched Pixar’s animated movie Inside Out and no, we don’t have any small children. To say I was moved by Bing Bong’s ultimate sacrifice would be an understatement but I digress).
Not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth I carried the package down into the dungeon and started to open it up. On a side note, when I have time later I am going to look that expression up to see exactly what it means and why we use it. As I typed it, I thought about it in the literal sense and now I’m giggly and confused, but that is nothing new. As I pulled it out of the box I was pleasantly shocked by its immediate appearance. Apparently I hadn’t seen any significant picture of it, or wasn’t paying attention if I did, but I was totally expecting to see the Fender light grey tweed either covering the enclosure like on their recent amp offerings or as the grill cloth covering the speaker like on the 007’s design inspiration the original Fender Bassman. Yet, it was not to be. In it’s place is what Fender refers to as “dark grey lacquered tweed” but frankly kind of resembles carbon fiber. The grill cloth is black and save for the polished chrome aesthetic in the Fender and Bassbreaker nameplates on the front, this is one dark and sinister looking little amp.
See, there’s that word again, little. I almost feel bad putting it to screen as it makes it sound like this amp is going to be weak and feeble. Don’t get me wrong, it does only sit approximately 15 inches high, 16 inches across, and 9-ish inches deep so it isn’t exactly foreboding. That is until you turn it on and turn it up. Fueled by 2 12AX7 pre-amp tubes you know this amp is going to have some bite. Capped off with an EL84 power tube, the pedigree is there for some gnarly gain and natural tube infused overdrive and the Bassbreaker 007 doesn’t disappoint. While 12AX7 tubes are generally associated with hi-gain musical stylings further into the rock and metal genre, they also work well for blues, classic rock, and the like. They are nicely offset with the EL84 power tube which slides nicely into a cleaner standard rock/British sound and they compliment each other well providing a broad spectrum of possible tones. The 007 features a 10 inch Celestion Ten 30 speaker which simply adds to the warm lows this amp offers up.
There are 5 large dials on the top of the amp that control gain, bass, middle, treble, and master volume. Also on top just to the left of the dials is the ¼” input jack and to the right are the power light and power toggle switch which further harkens to that traditional tube amp feel and look. The back of the amp sees a ¼” line out so you can connect the 007 to another larger amp or cabinet or run it directly into your recording interface and is a nice little touch that adds to the versatility this amp offers. Not large or loud enough on its own to cut through a drum set in a loud jam session, in addition to mic’ing it and running through the PA system, you can connect it to another amp or speaker cabinet. Why might you want to do this if you have a larger amp already? Perhaps you have dialed in that sweet gritty growl on the Bassbreaker and now you can have that in a situation that requires more volume than the 007 can produce on its own. The more I think about it, I’m disappointed in myself that I never connected it to my 4×12 cabinet as I’m left to only imagine how sweet that may have sounded.
The 007 would also function quite nicely and efficiently in a home studio setup. If you’ve been looking at the picture of the top panel by this point you may be asking “but what is that button that says Treble Boost” to which I would reply “good eyes and thanks for paying attention but it’s kind of weird that you’re talking to your monitor”. The Treble Boost is essentially an overdrive that increases gain/volume by adding some nice harmonic treble while maintaining the chord or notes clarity. It does, to my ears at least, significantly alter the tone when you first depress it and adds to the myriad of sounds you can produce. You can also control this with an optional footswitch would would be essential I think if you were using this amp in a live setting.
Call it odd but as a tube amp lover, there is a certain excitement and anticipation in the ritual of flipping a power switch and waiting for the tubes to warm up. The very first time you do that and are waiting to hear exactly what the amp can do for (or to) you, that excitement is palpable. This was when the shock and surprise hit me. For it’s size, this little monster can move some air but beyond just the volume it could produce, the distortion was unlike anything I had ever heard coming from a Fender amp. Ever. In fact, it sounds strikingly like another famous maker of tube amps and that is not a bad thing at all. While you can play a decent clean sound, there is still detectable grit so keep that in mind as you wouldn’t use this amp to play certain types of music. And like a good tube amp, the louder you get, the warmer and crunchier it becomes. You can find that sweet spot of volume and dirt without absolutely decimating your ear drums and that is also, not a bad thing. I was able to dial in sounds (thanks to a handy included guide that shows how to achieve these tones by using certain settings and values) ranging from AC/DC to Skid Row to Corrosion of Conformity.
I really enjoyed my time with the Fender Bassbreaker 007 and frankly, will be sad to see it go. If I had any qualms about the unit, it would be that there is no reverb and no effects loop. I guess I get the lack of an effects loop as this isn’t designed to be a live performer (but with some ingenuity it certainly could be) but I really think some nice reverb would add another dimension to those bedroom practice and jam sessions. I also did not run any effects through the input as they were all at our jam space and frankly, I was getting great tones without them. Bottom line is that it isn’t what you normaly get from a Fender amp as it is grimier and has a nice British sounding tone so drop by your local Best Buy and hear it for yourself. If you’re looking to rock hard, you may be surprised at how accommodating the Fender Bassbreaker line can be.