Fender’s original Musicmaster Bass amplifier was an odd concoction. The Musicmaster Amp was meant as a practice amplifier for beginning bassists – and sometimes even sold in a pack with the starter bass guitar of the same name – but it fell strangely flat of expectaions. The amp was underpowered and sounded flabby and uninspiring as a bass amp.
More recently, though, guitarists on the hunt for good bargains have come to realise that the Musicmaster Amp is a relatively inexpensive way to buy a genuine ”silverface” Fender. It’s a stripped-down valve amp for sure, but it still deliveres a lot of character, when used with an electric guitar. And because it isn’t a collectable Fender model, people feel free to modify the original for their own purposes.
This is where it starts to get interesting:
Finnish boutique amp maker Bluetone has released its own handcrafted and improved version of the Fender Musicmaster a few weeks ago, meant expressly for guitarists. This new guitar combo is called the Bluetone Bluesmaster, and it will set you back between 960 to 1,190 euros, depending on your chosen options and finish.
The signal path closely follows that of the original, but the Bluetone Bluesmaster adds such handy features as a Low Cut switch and the company’s own three-way rotary OPC-switch. The OPC-circuit (Output Power Control) enables you to drop the Bluesmaster’s output power from its full 10-12 watts down to something like 2 watts, virtually without any negative impact on the amplifier’s tone.
The original Musicmaster amp had been designed to reflect its low price tag. Fender’s engineers got rid of any components that weren’t strictly necessary to get the audio signal from the input to the speaker. Their most interesting – and quite unique, as it turns out – decision was to use an audio transformer for phase inverter-duties, instead of the much more common option of using a valve.
As you can see in the photo above, Bluetone has used the same basic design for the new Bluesmaster combo. Next to the three tubes – a single 12AX7 for the preamp, and a pair of 6V6GTs for the power amp – there are three (!) transformers. Two small ones for phase inversion and signal output, respectively, as well as a larger toroidal transformer for the combo’s power requirements.
The favourite modification on old Musicmasters is swapping the weedy-sounding original Fender for a beefier speaker.
The Bluetone Bluesmaster does this for you and comes workshop-equipped with a 10-inch Warehouse Guitar Speaker G10C/S. The G10C/S is part of WGS’s American Vintage range and is known for its clear, but round top end, as well as for its pedal-friendliness and smooth breakup. Other speakers are available as an option, too (see Bluetone’s website).
Apart from the power switch, the back panel offers a trio of speaker outputs.
Although the Bluetone Bluesmaster seems very straightforward and upfront at the beginning, there really is some sort of magic tone thing going on with this all-valve combo.
The sound may seem a bit dryish at first, but you will quickly notice a very enticing dose of juicy compression, even on very clean tones. This compression isn’t the ducking type, well known from many master volume amps and distortion pedals, which ducks the note attack and squashes the whole signal. Here we have a Country- and clean Blues-friendly type of compression that seems to lift the sustain phase of each ringing note.
Because this is a relatively low-powered tube combo without separate gain and master volume controls, it really makes sense to experiment with the Bluesmaster’s High- and Low-inputs and the combo’s volume control, to get the full picture of what sounds you can glean from which combination of guitar and settings.
The Bluetone Bluesmaster doesn’t offer tons of clean headroom, instead it has that magic clean-but-breaking-up tone zone down to a tee. The combo also works well with effect pedals.
There are also some chunky overdrive and distortion voicings available in the higher reaches of the Bluesmaster’s Volume-control. You should be aware, though, that, this being a non-master volume combo, running this amp at full tilt even at only 2 watts of output might get you into trouble with your neighbours in a block of flats.
All of the demo song’s guitar parts were played through the Bluetone Bluesmaster without any effect pedals. The guitar tracks were recorded with a Shure 545SD going into a Cranborne Audio Camden preamp.
• Rhythm guitars: Gibson Les Paul Junior (left), Fender Stratocaster (middle), Fender Telecaster (right)
• Lead guitar: Hamer USA Studio Custom
The Bluetone Bluesmaster does what it says on the proverbial tin. In my opinion, this is a very nice and straightforward silverface-inspired Blues amp for guitar. The excellent build quality and very sensible modifications and improvements result in a quality tube combo that will surely give you a lifetime of aural pleasure.
Prices starting from € 960.
• Based on a Fender Musicmaster Bass Amp
• 10-12 W of all-valve power
• 1 x 12AX7; 2 x 6V6GT
• Volume, Tone, Low Cut-switch, and three-stage OPC rotary switch
• 1 x 10″ Warehouse Guitar Speakers model G10C/S