Way before lunchbox amps were ‘a thing’, there was another small 15w amp which many players looked to for practice. The Fender Blues Junior, launched in 1995, offered users a perfect combination of portability, size and – most importantly – tone.
Since then, the Blues Junior has undergone some minimal changes, but largely remains the same attractive proposition it always has been. What’s so special about it though? Let’s take a look at the history of the Fender Blues Junior.
Fender Blues Junior History
It could be argued that, by and large, Fender’s amp customers fall into one of two brackets. The first group concerns players looking for that signature Fender clean tone. You’ll know the one. Made famous by amps like the Fender Deluxe Reverb and the flagship Fender Twin, the ‘silverface’ sound – named on account of the amps silver control panel – is iconic in its own right.
It’s a sound which chimes like a bell. It’s aural purity right that cuts right through any mix. It is also, it must be said, extremely unforgiving to sloppy playing. The tone’s attack, ie. how quickly the sound goes from quiet to loud, is extremely uncompromising to inaccurate fingerwork, and in the wrong hands can be a problem.
Hence why there’s a second camp. Players for whom absolute clarity isn’t as important as feel. Players in this second category want something with a bit of hair on it, a tone which can light up blues playing. This kind of tone typically has a gentle smattering of overdrive, inherent from driving the EL84 power valves a touch harder.
Fender has solid form in this camp. Amplifiers like the Fender Blues Deluxe, and the Fender Hot Rod Deville, are veteran campaigners and have been providing players with glorious creamy overdriven sounds for decades. The only issue – if you can call it that – is that these are big amps, no two ways about it. Both are meant to reside on a stage, where you can take full advantage of the power valve goodness.
There’s one small problem though; what if you aren’t in a stage environment, and you still want to access that amazing blues tone – enter the Fender Blues Junior.
Rated at a mere 15 watts, the Fender Blues Junior immediately found favour in the rehearsal rooms and studios of blues players everywhere.
They’re a lesson in simplicity. The controls feature a simple bass/mid/treble tone stack, an input volume control, master volume and a reverb. The master volume setup enables users to drive the pre-amp valves so the tone is hotter by the time it reaches the master volume out. There’s also a ‘fat’ switch, which thickens out the sound slightly. That, folks, is it. No multitude of pre-amp voicings, or in-built effects. The goal here is to provide a pure signal path, and rely on the valves doing the work to make that signal sound wonderful.
With such a simple approach to tone, you might think of it as quite a mundane amp. It does one thing, and it does it very well. The fact is though that it wouldn’t have been such a mainstay in Fender’s line-up if it wasn’t popular, and part of that popularity comes from the various limited edition models Fender has released over the years.
With a couple of exceptions, this generally means a change in the colour of the amp’s tolex (it’s outer ‘skin’) and, on some models, the speaker. These changes vary from the interesting to the downright glorious. The reissued Fender Blues Junior with tweed has that 1960s Eric Clapton vibe in spades. It’s a seriously attractive amplifier.
Internally though, not much changes. The only major revision came in 2001, when production moved from the USA to Mexico. The internal PCB (printed circuit board) also underwent some changes, resulting in a slightly different sounding amp. The previously green PCBs where changed to cream coloured, and the amp’s wirings were changed to focus slightly more on a treble heavier sound, as opposed the darker sound achieved from the green board’s signal path. Fender also changed the order at which the signal went through the internal reverb, which also contributed to a cleaner signal.
Other than that though, the Fender Blues Junior is, and always will be, out on its own in terms of bang for buck. For the money it costs, the Blues Junior is a proper, grown up amp which will provide you with a lifetime of wonderful, blues tone. If you’ve never tried one, come and give it a go. You might be surprised and how much amp you get for your hard-earned.
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