Great effects, great clean channel, below average build quality & strange overdrive channel
I'll try to give this as fair a rating as I can:
Feature-wise, this amp is fantastic, and may outclass most if not every other amp in its price range. It comes with an effects loop, 3 high-quality DSP effects (reverb, delay, and chorus), two channels, and EQ on both channels. The effects are great in particular because they are footswitchable and semi-programmable in that the amp will remember your settings for each effect until you change them again (there's no LCD user interface or anything like that, just knobs). It also comes with a slip cover, which was a nice addition.
The sound: The clean channel is fantastic - classic Fender warmth and spank with just the right amount of early break up. The overdrive channel is very bright and clear, and single notes and power chords ring tight and true. The overdrive nearly sounds like some weird lovechild of a Mesa and a Fender. It is very very tight and aggressively voiced like a Mesa, but with the brightness and warmth of a Fender.
However, the overdrive has a major problem - it is too aggressively voiced. On the lowest possible gain settings, using a low-output guitar with the volume knob rolled back, full chords(ie. triads, not power chords) sound harsh, brittle and undefined - to the point that these chords are essentially unplayable. And it's not that the channel is voiced to have a lot of gain - you can tell it's low gain by how clear single notes ring out, only slightly crunchier than the clean channel on slight breakup. The overdrive channel's breakup in practice is very electric-y, lacking in dynamic response, and really, quite un-Fender-like. It might seem to be a metal channel at first glance from this description, except that it is aggressively voiced at low gain, and lacks the saturation at high gain that a real metal amp would have. It seems very oddly, squarely between Fender and Peavey, taking the best characteristics of the former for the clean channel and few of the characteristics of the former with all of the worst of the latter. You wouldn't be able to, if you were a metal player, pull off terribly convincing pinch harmonics except at the highest gain settings, and you can't pull off clean triads at any gain setting. The overdrive is essentially useless for anything but power chord riffs that don't need to be too heavy and single note lines that don't need too much distortion. A weird combination, considering its characterization.
Worse though, is the build quality of this thing. I don't know if Fender's let its Mexican factory's quality slip, but this unit was strikingly poorly made for its pricetag. If build quality is important to you and you really want a Fender, go with anything in the Hot Rod series over this. Seriously. Cables came WOOD STAPLED to the cabinet. I still have yet to get those staples to budge. The metal portions of the amp are already slightly corroded. The feet are uneven, so the amp rocks. The back on this partially open-back cabinet is made of cheap, hardly 1/4" plywood - easily snapped with just enough pressure. It came a bit dirty, as if they forgot to wipe it down before boxing it. There are no metal corners on the amp. All in all it seemed like a shoddy construction job, with frayed edges and loose joints, that clearly were not a result of shipping damage, but from build negligence. Disappointing, to say the least.
Some other notes:
- Though the Fender logo on the grill may seem to be metal, it is plastic. Very cheap feeling plastic at that.
- The power and standby switches are on the back, which is sort of annoying.
- The footswitch is built like a tank and feels like it can take some abuse.
- It uses a UK-made Celestion speaker.
- This may vary, but mine was shipped with Sovtek 6L6GC tubes.
Though I still don't really like the looseness of the Hot Rod series' overdrive channel, my suggestion would be (if you're looking exclusively at Fenders) to take a Hot Rod Deluxe III over this anyday, as its tone is much more neutral and workable than this strange aggressive low-gain amp.