Guitar Amp Review – Fender Frontman 212r

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I have a love-hate relationship with the Fender Frontman 212r.  I used to have a small Marshall practice amp that I ran my Boss ME-25 pedal through and mic’d it into the PA.  The church I play electric guitar in seats about 1400, so it’s important to have an amp with good tone that can run through the PA rather than just leaving it out of the mix.  When the Marshall went out on me, I decided that I wanted something that could be an “all things” amp.  When I’ve played at retreats in the past without a mic, the 25w Marshall couldn’t keep up, so my thought was that if I got this 100w powerhouse, that I wouldn’t need anything else.

This was a good idea, but at the end of the day I really need two amps.  Unfortunately, I don’t have an unlimited music minster’s budget, so let’s talk about the good things about this amp and some work-arounds that I’ve discovered.

I once had an outdoor event where we didn’t mic this amp and it roared like a lion!  The tone is great.  I love having two channels and a foot switch because it allows me to use some of the ME-25’s effects and then distort them with the overdrive channel!  I don’t often use the reverb much, but I don’t have any problems with it.  It sounds like reverb to me.  If you want to compete against a band in a volume contest, this amp will win.  It’s loud & proud!  The clean channel has a great Fender clean sound, nice bass.  It’s classic.  With a price point under $350 it’s a tremendous value.

Here’s the downside.  This amp is really heavy!  It doesn’t have the same sound quality when the volume is down to 3 or less.  Why not crank it?  Well, it’s too loud inside a church to go above 3.  The rest of the band can’t hear themselves think!  This isn’t what the amp was made for.  If I had a second amp for playing along with the praise band with a mic into the PA it would probably be the Fender Frontman 25r.  I’ve read good reviews about the Vox AC4TV ($250) especially since it’s a tube, but since I use my effects pedal and am really only looking for a clean and distorted channel, the Frontman seems to fit the bill at around $100 and is easier to carry around than it’s big brother.  Line 6 makes modular style amps which don’t do a lot for me since I prefer to work with pedals, so I haven’t been impressed with them.  I don’t have the budget for tubes, so I’m mainly looking at solid state.  I’m not into the Fender Mustang line or many of the combo Marshall amps because like Line 6 they have a bunch of effects built in which might be cool for studio work, but not playing live where you need to be able to quickly switch your sounds while you’re playing.

Since I haven’t had an extra $100 lying around to pick up a Frontman 25r, I found a solution that’s actually working well with the band (it still hasn’t made the amp easier to lug around though).  I took a Live Wire DI box ($20) with a built in volume attenuator and ran it through the effects loop.  This allows me to crank up my volumes on both channels and get the tone that this amp has the potential to provide, but then reduces the volume down to a level that is much more agreeable to the singers in the band and the parishioners sitting nearby in the congregation.  I tried flipping the switch to -20db but that actually cut the volume down too much and I couldn’t hear myself over the drums.  With the reduction that’s already built in to this box, I can put my volume levels around 6-7 and not blast out everybody in the building.  So far, this has kept me from getting a second amp even though I really am trying to use the Frontman 212r for something that it’s not made for.  It’s worth noting here that the second input is supposedly about -6db compared to input 1, so if you have a more active electric guitar, input 2 might be a better option for you.  That being the case, it wasn’t enough of a difference for me to go without decreasing the volume some other way.

What I have learned is that when it comes to guitar amps and playing live with a band most of the time less is more.  It’s better to have less power so that you can crank up your gains for good tone and then mic the amp than it is to have so much power that you can’t get good tone without being too loud.

How do you control your guitar amps?  Is there something else I should try?  Do you have a favorite guitar amp that’s affordable enough for a music minister to buy?