These were American made, valve/tube guitar amplifiers which hit the shops in the mid 1990s. This tweed-finish model was first reviewed in Guitarist magazine in the May 1994 issue, which went on sale in mid April. The Tweed Pro Junior was laso featured in a 1993-dated UK ad for the Fender Tweed Series amps, so I assume it was first introduced in the latter part of that year. I’ve seen talk online that the tweed version of this amp was a ‘limited edition’ release, but this was not stated either in the review, or in any official or dealer adverts I’ve managed to find. So as far as I’m aware the ‘limited edition’ designation has only arisen because Fender stopped producing the tweed model in favour of a plain black finish, most probably to keep down the cost. I’ve found nothing relating to a pre-allotted, restricted total of tweed units upon introduction, and as I recall the market at the time, there was certainly no initial stampede to buy these amps before they ran out.
The tweed Fender Pro Junior’s full retail price in spring 1994 was £389. By spring 2000, the plain black version was listed at just £279 – albeit still USA-built. Discounting was a separate matter entirely and was, I seem to recall, pretty enthusiastic. I'm sure I paid less than £250 for my tweed model, brand new.
The Fender Pro Junior is incredibly simple, its controls comprising nothing more than an on/off switch, a volume knob, and a tone knob. In addition to the set of bottles providing a remarkable amount of poke for a small amp, there’s a dark blue, 10 inch Fender vintage-style speaker imparting its character on the sound.
The tweed covering was prompted by the major blues resurgence of the early 1990s, which saw many original blues guitarists such as John Lee Hooker, Albert Collins, BB King, Buddy Guy and Otis Rush becoming icons of cool. More modern artists such as Gary Moore had dropped their contemporary slant to focus on blues, and were keen to invite the old American greats onto their albums and live tours. Meanwhile, people like Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt and Robert Cray – always popular blues guitarists – gained additional exposure, and the whole thing developed into a buzzing movement. Once wider commerce began to associate its products with authentic blues in TV ad campaigns, it was clear the blues movement had considerable earning potential. The association between Fender’s tweed-covered amps (in particular the Bassman – originally a bass amp but adopted by lead guitarists) and authentic blues was very strong. Evidently Fender could see that tweed finishes could equate to seriously big sales at that point in time.
The tweed Pro Junior is actually a much sought after piece of gear these days. This one’s in near-mint, all-original condition, and that includes the valves. But this is not ebay. The stuff under scrutiny on Planet Botch is not for sale, and it always gets a completely unbiased appraisal. So, is the tweed Fender Pro Junior the wonder it’s cracked up to be? Let’s find out…
Starting with the bad news, the volume control is not well graduated. Ideally, between levels 1 and around 4, there’d be a range of ‘practice’ volumes, afterwhich the louder outputs would kick in, and between 8 and 10 you’d get the overdrive. It doesn’t work like that. There’s no zero, incidentally, so 1 is the minimum. And even before you reach 2, there’s been an abrupt increase in volume which renders things too loud for some practice environments. The only way you can properly control the level for low-volume practice purposes is to route the guitar through an effect or volume pedal before feeding into the amp, and use the Master Volume control on the effect to reduce the wellington, so to speak. I use a Marshall Bluesbreaker pedal for this purpose and it sorts out the problem very nicely. But you shouldn’t really need to be relying on an external device to properly control something as simple as volume. That said, if you were to get hold of an original blue on black Bluesbreaker pedal for use with this model of amp, the two do make an ideal combination.
The physical size of the cabinet creates concerns. It’s difficult to find an amp this small which doesn’t sound a bit boxy – particularly if you’re used to 2x12 or 4x12 cabs. However, the Pro Junior provides a much rounder and more balanced tone than its size would suggest - remarkably so. With volume very low the amp is loud but middly and light on bass. You have to back off the tone to around 4 to get rid of the rather nasal quality. However, once you get up above 3 on the Volume control, the tone fills out nicely and you can afford to restore the Tone to higher settings. Remember though, volumes above 3 are pretty loud and unsuitable for some practice scenarios. This is where an outboard volume control helps enormously for practice at home. You can keep the attractive tone of setting the amp’s Volume above 3, but reduce the level prior to input and therefore avoid neighbourly disputes.
If you don’t have constraints with volume, you’ll find a lot of scope at higher settings on the Volume dial for playing some hot overdriven blues. The Pro Junior does distort pretty aggressively if you use a guitar with high powered pickups, but just to reiterate, if you want natural tube amp distortion from a Pro Junior you have to take the volume right up near its maximum, and unless you have either very good soundproofing or exceptional neighbours, you won’t be able to do that at home. Not at whim, anyway.
You could say that the Pro Junior is quite a marvel, for its size. But it’s a shame the “for its size” qualifier has to be used. If this amp was bigger, with an output higher than 15W, it would sound better. Physically bigger amps with better fidelity are available, and for that reason the Pro Junior probably wouldn’t be a first choice for rehearsals or gigs, where larger amps can be used without concern. Equally though, the Pro Junior is not a perfect practice amp, because frankly, it’s not quiet enough. Does it have a niche, or does it just fall between the stools?…
Well, I think the Pro Junior would be a good amp to close-mic and record, because the acoustic limitations of a small cabinet don’t really figure when the speaker is close-miked. So that’s where I feel the Pro Junior would be most effectively employed – as a studio recording amp which can be cranked high, miked, and then treated with EQ from the control room. Again, I can’t envisage it being that high on studio owners’ gear lists, because there are countless other options. I really want to stress that this is a great amp with a tone which belies its size. With the controls set right and a nice Strat or Telecaster, the tone is sweet yet well-defined. But the Pro Junior was aimed at a particular type of guitarist, and wouldn't suit those who want a range of sounds (including distortion) with full control over volume.
Contrarily this is fairly close to being a 'one-volume' amp. The level does increase as you rotate the Volume knob, but it's more the character of the sound that changes. I feel that today's typical guitarist will want a control marked 'Character' to change the character, and will want the Volume to control the volume - which it doesn't, to the extent that it should.
There’s no denying that the tweed Pro Junior is a looker, and I believe that’s a prime factor, alongside the model’s more select availability compared to the black version, in people’s quest to get hold of one. Being completely pragmatic, there are hundreds of amps which will do a hell of a lot more than this one, and in many cases do it better. But it’s the way of the world. We don’t necessarily want the one with the most ability – we want the one that looks the prettiest and is being chased by lots and lots of our peers. In both of those respects, the tweed Fender Pro Junior scores very highly indeed.
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