Why I use a Fender Princeton Reverb most of the time

Fender Princeton Reverb- blackface - AA1164

Why I use one of the most iconic guitar amps in history, both in the realm of recording as well as live? There are many good reasons why. This amp basically ticks all the boxes a guitarist has. When it comes to a clean, slightly or out of whack overdriven tone. The size, the weight and overall user friendliness. It’s sonic character is easy to shape due to great pedal-response. That’s why it suits so many different players in the industry.

It’s also has some looks, don’t you think? 

basic features

Simple, yet complex enough. It’s a combo, so it houses a 10 inch speaker. It puts out 12w-18w, depending on how it’s biassed. My example has a 12 inch speaker, but we’ll discuss that later. It has the iconic spring reverb as well as the tremolo that you want, being the bias modulation variety. 

There’s a high and a low input. Volume, treble and bass controls, the reverb control and the speed and intensity controls for the tremolo. You’ll find these on any Fender from this era with a tremolo.

tweed/brown/black/silver

The blackface Princeton Reverb sits between the tweed, brown face and silver face era of amps. A tweed style amplifier is known for it’s raw overdrive and has a lot of compression before that. With a Tweed Deluxe, you can actually ‘feel’ the amp compressing the front end of a note. That’s why fast players may dislike it. 

A silver face era amp however, tends to have a lot of headroom from design. That yields a better clean sound, as that’s what the intension was. Also more punch and a less of a move-able low end. Now, I have heard a lot of exceptions, including a Silverface Twin Reverb, breaking up nicely on 3. Not sounding stiff on low volume. But also a Vibro-Champ staying clean all the way to 10 and a tone cold as hell. Hell being the cold version where everything just sucks. Anyway, it usually comes down to bias settings in how clean or driven you amp sounds.

 

Exactly right?

The Princeton Reverb is a bit of an exception, as the Silverface and the Blackface version are identical in design. Read identical in design but the transformers, the components on the board are of a different quality. And if you’re in bad luck, the lead dressing won’t be as tidy as in a blackface era amp. Replacing the capacitors and correcting lead dressing however, will you very, close to blackface specifications!

The current value of an actual Blackface Princeton Reverb sits between 2000-3000 and even 4000 units of cash. That’s for a small guitar amp. Unless you’re a collector, of course, getting a great running Silverface may be the better option as a guitarist. 

Due to today’s power outlet it may sound a little cleaner and less sweet than desired, hence a common and needed black-facing of the bias-circuitry. We’ll discuss that later.

what you probably want, anyway

The blackface Princeton just provides you with a very sweet, warm but balanced tone, just like that! A lot of tube harmonics are audible in chord playing; the character is there, even on low volume. It’s breakup starts around 3-4 and is user friendly. The transition to crunch is smooth it won’t sound too fuzzy either. But even all the way up sounds musical and. It’s definitely not a high gain amp, but rather rock and roll. Working with the guitar’s controls and what the amp can give you is great fun. You can work your way from funk, jazz to blues to rock. It challenges your skills, but frankly, it’s hard to make this amp sound bad. That’s why I still use it almost all of the time, both in a recording and in live situation. It’s quite remarkable that an amp can stand out in both of the realms of a working guitarist.

cons, yes there are, and solutions

transformer crack

WHAT? Yes, the output transformer is tiny, as tiny as in the single-ended champ amps. It runs at it’s limits and when the amp is pushed hard, you can notice high frequency crackling on top of the sound. Some might say it’s part of the Princeton overdrive sound. I agree, but it may concern some players. In a recording situation however, this sound sometimes does interfere with your intended sound. No solution here. Upgrading the output transformer will basically transform the amp too much.

loose ends

The low end in this amp isn’t tight or anything. It is deep and rich. But for anyone that wants a tight oomph this may not be the one. Coverting the 10″ to a 12″ speaker may help the low end somewhat, but only as much as the cabinet can give your. Increasing the 1st filter cap value a little, does a little, but overdoing will kill harmonics, as well as stressing the output transformer. Fresh stock value electrolytic caps in general is a good idea. This amp is not designed for low end tightness but wins the points at musicality. 

vulnerable & expensive

Would you gig an original and highly collectable amp? You only live ones, so does the amp. I would, haha. But needless to say, the original vintage amps may need protective work to make them operate correctly on the road. You don’t want to blow your transformer or speaker because you are a purist who feels the amp should be original and played with broken capacitors it came with 50 years ago. A good running silver face converted to both blackface quality would be my advise to gig a vintage amp and have it sound as good as possible for a reasonable pricetag. 

Wrong bias voltage & tremolo issue

Because of the risen voltage from the wall compared to the days these amps were made… The tremolo operates on the bias modulation of the output tubes. With higher plate voltages, the tremolo may sound weak. Even weaker then it already does with the correct bias. The bias is set at a fixed value , but the stock component values with a higher incoming voltage set the amp at a different bias. Because the bias is slightly hot, it’ll be a little louder, punchier but also cleaner, and have less harmonic distortion. Converting it to adjustable bias can fix that, and make sure to use a proper 5UB rectifier. That’s the correct one, but you can find later ones operating with a GZ34, cleaning up the amp a bit. The problem is that the higher plate voltage may even exceed the 6v6 tube’s limited rating. You might find the tremolo still weak after that. Lowering the 1M value of this resistor by about 50% will help cure that! I went down to 330k, 33% value.

my version

So, mine started it’s life as a 1979. A non-reverb. I got it cheap, but it turned out to be modded out over the top. My friend and amp guru Rogier Kerkhof rebuilt it into a blackface spec Princeton Reverb in 2010. Since, I’ve gained interesting in building and working on amps myself and I’ve maintained it ever since. 

Guess which mods it has…Today it has a 12inch Rola Celestion Greyback speaker. It makes the amp sound quite dark, but I like that in a non-recording situation. The treble can be dialed in quite liberately like that and the tone is deep and warm. Tremolo resistor value to 330k, adjustable bias. 5U4 Rectifier. Mallory 150s for tone caps, F&T for filter caps, Sprague Atom for Bypass caps.

recording it in the modern era

Yes, although this amp sounds good on low volume, to get a really balanced and rich sound from a guitar speaker, the amp needs to able to work. Volume 3-4 for cleans can be loud in a home recording situation. I record this amp using the torpedo captor as a reactive loadbox and use the speaker IR’s from either a greenback, blue alnico, or electro voice type speaker. Mics are usually a SM57 paired with a R121. This setup is yielding a great tone fairly quickly. 

does the blackface reissue sound as good?

No, man.

So here’s the thing. When we talk about the 65′ Blackface Reissue, they got core aspect of what reissue means wrong. I don’t mind any new take, however. But the 65′ has a too cold bias, a harsh sounding speaker, a pcb-board with inferior components. To my ears, it doesn’t sound like a Princeton Reverb, because it doesn’t sound warm, doesn’t breakup nicely.

The 68′ Custom Reissue soundwise already is a much better ‘Blackface’ reissue than the 65′. The 64′ Custom is the best Fender branded reissue of the Princeton Reverb out there. It’s build point-to-point, but it isn’t exactly friendly priced. 

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