Fender Bandmaster VM Head

The Fender Bandmaster VM head is part of Fender’s Vintage Modified (like the Super Champ XD) range of amplifiers and aims to blend elements of vintage and modern amps together, which you can imagine divides opinions. Although some models such as the ‘Super Champ‘ are very popular and actually sound great.

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The head is named after one of Fender’s classic models and is not only finished in the famous black-face style, but has been given two-channel flexibility with digital effects (watch the purists get upset!).

Firstly the ‘VM’ is  a hybrid amp, which means that it combines both tube and solid state circuitry, however it is not the usual ‘solid-state with a token preamp valve‘ type of hybrid (e.g Marshall Valvestate!!) circuit.

In this amp head, there are real tubes, and yes they don’t just glow red but definitely give warmth and tube tone to your signal. The amp combines a dual 6L6 valve power stage with a valve and solid-state preamplifier.

The control panel is easy enough to understand, even without the aid of a manual. Standard controls on the clean channel, such as volume, bass and treble, while the lead channel having gain, volume and a three-band EQ.

After this you get to the modern additions, the effects section, which features reverb, delay and chorus – all digitally generated. This is the bit which makes a lot of the tube purists uneasy. One very respected and renowned local amp builder/repair guy here in Queensland (BJ Amp repairs) told me to avoid amps with digital effects, as they are very hard to fix, and in many cases it’s often cheaper to just replace the amp rather than try to repair them!

As far as how the amp sounded, I really liked it, and for low volume it sounded as ‘tube‘ as I needed. It looked killer (hey looks are important, why else did God invent Boobs for??lol) and had that iconic Fender clean sound. Could I tell that it wasn’t all tube,,, hmmm subjective question but to be honest, not really.

The VM’s lead channel is classic 60s Fender overdrive, with overall smooth gain (not a British voiced Marshall type Rock gain but US voicing which won’t appeal to all). However I will say that Fender amps are not known for amazing Gain channels and with the VM when you crank up the gain it does get a bit mushy and not so great. I would definitely recommend driving the clean channel with pedals.

Personally, although the reverb is pretty decent, I think it gets unusable after level 3 or so. The delay and chorus effects share knobs for rate/time, mix/level and repeats/depth. Once you set up the parameters for Chorus or Delay, the amp remembers your settings until you physically change them again, but never fear there is no programming! The delay and chorus effects are rich and warm enough, with a maximum delay length of around two seconds and plenty of depth on the chorus to cover most needs.

So in summary, what’s my verdict (as if I am the guru!!). I am a bit torn about this one, as I love Fender (well I respect them) and the clean tone is very good, instantly recognizable and works as a great platform for effects. However I do struggle with onboard effects, as I do like dedicated pedals for overdrive, fuzz, chorus and delay. Reverb is fine though and something I like on an amp.

For me, for the $1100 price tag that it retails for new, although I liked it, I think I would invest in all tube amp for that ‘all tube‘ peace of mind (a psychological thing we guitarists have) for resale value and maintenance.

I would feel more comfortable putting my money into an all tube Laney, Peavey Classic 30, Ceriatone or Aussie built Valvetone head (hand wired…) and get the effects as pedals. However, if you have a $1000 to spend on a new amp and are happy for the simple effects and you want no pedals (or just an OD or fuzz etc…) then this amp is great for ‘plug and play‘ but then so is a Super Champ XD 2 (same amp, but lower wattage) at $500 instead of $1100? Sometimes, let’s keep the classics as they were!!

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About strataminor

Born in Brisbane I am a bedroom guitar player, although having played in front of churches (tough crowd!!) for quite a few years so some understanding of band dynamics, timing, gear (private use compared to public use) and melodic structure, instrumental breaks (okay leather pants solos....) and of course amps! Besides from my love of guitar and the G.A.S that goes with it (hey email me I am always offloading gear!! lol) I love languages, and can converse in basic Japanese, and study biblical Greek. I live in Logan with my young family (so not heaps of time at the moment) and will be contributing gear reviews based on a lot of gear I have or still currently have.

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