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The classic Princeton
The original and classic Princeton amp was the studio amp of choice for many famous
session guitarists in the '70s and '80s as it offered the Fender "Blackface"
tone at a reasonable volume levels. The Blackface amps feature some of the best ever clean
and gritty guitar tones, with a natural midrange scoop that allowed a rhythm part to
compliment a singer without getting in the way.
The new '65 Princeton is not an exact replica of the original, but features a few updates
- the power supply has been changed slightly to comply with modern safety regulations and
a modern printed circuit board construction is used, rather than the original hand-wired
board to keep costs down. Otherwise, it is the same all-tube, single-channel amp with
reverb and tremolo (or vibrato, as Fender always call it), which puts out 15 watts into a
The valve compliment is three 12AX7 preamp valves, a 12AT7
for the reverb, a 5AR4 rectifier and two 6V6 power valves, which is a fairly typical valve
line-up for a Fender-style amplifier. The speaker is a 10" Jensen C-10R, which is
also a typical Fender choice and the amp comes complete with a dust cover and
reverb/vibrato footswitch, which is a nice touch. So all-in-all, Fender have managed to
get what on paper looks like a good reissue of the classic Princeton.
Once warmed up, the Princeton sounded - as expected - like a typical Blackface Fender,
with the scooped midrange, sparkly highs and surprisingly big bass that made these amps
famous. It is a little bright and clangy out of the box, but I would expect that to mellow
out a little as the speaker breaks in, as well as the bass getting bigger and a little
looser. In fact, after pounding the amp for a few days, I found that was already beginning
The simple treble and bass tone controls work very well. I started with all sixes on the
dials (a good starting point for Fender amps) and the amp immediately sounded very good.
With a little experimentation I found I preferred the controls set high - round eight or
nine - which made the amp break up a little earlier, but gave it more of an open tone.
With the volume set on five or six and the tones set on
eight, the amp responded very well to playing dynamics and the guitar's volume control,
ranging from sparkly clean to a bluesy overdrive - all at small room volume. Cranking the
amp higher let me get a more overdriven and compressed sound with only a small gain in
volume. At nine or ten on the volume control, the low end started to get a little flabby
and the cabinet developed a rattle that would be a nightmare in the studio - probably easy
to track down and stop, but annoying in an amplifier in this price range.
One other problem that surfaced was a noisy valve adding in
more hiss than was acceptable, but popping in a new valve fixed that immediately. The
stock valves are new production and while they work well enough and the amp sounds good
stock, the tone could likely be improved even further by going for a good set of NOS
The reverb is gorgeous and pure Fender, with everything from
a subtle ambience to surf music excess. The tremolo/vibrato is of the better bias type and
gives authentic and tuneful swamp rock sounds. Trying a number of stomp boxes in front of
the Princeton I found it accepted them all very well and sounded very good with most.
While this amp is "only" 15 watts, it's still
surprisingly loud when turned up and isn't for late night cranked playing at home unless
you have very understanding neighbours. Unfortunately it's not quite loud enough to stay
clean at gig volumes or hang with a loud drummer by itself - for that, the Princeton's
bigger brother the Deluxe Reverb is ideal. But if you want to keep stage volumes down and
mic up for the extra coverage, the Princeton will do the job admirably.
The '65 Princeton Reverb is a very tuneful amp, ideal for those looking for the tone of a
good Fender amp at manageable volume levels (such as home studio owners or gigging
guitarists who want to keep stage levels down and mic up). The quality built in reverb and
tremolo also make it a cinch if that's what you are looking for in a smaller amp. The one
downside to the Princeton is the price - at R19,995 retail, it is a fairly expensive amp
and only R5,000 cheaper than the Deluxe Reverb.
Thanks to Paul Bothner Music Plumstead for the loan of the review Princeton.