Switching/Upgrading to a Fender Amp

My current stable of guitars, amps & effects gear are as follows:

Fender American Professional II Stratocaster HS (recently purchased)
Epiphone Les Paul Modern
Squier Affinity Stratocaster (my 1st guitar, completely modded)

Fender Mustang Micro
Marshall Code 25
Fender 15G Frontman Amplifier (came with my Squier starter pack)

Zoom G1X Four Guitar Multi-effects Processor

Here’s a background on my tone preferences and amp purchases:

When I started out a few months ago, I didn’t know much of anything about guitars and amps and there weren’t many choices where I’m from so I got the Fender 15G Frontman amp with my Squier Affinity Strat Starter pack. I got the Zoom G1X Four as a Multi-FX just to start exploring different effects on a budget. I loved the included drum beats, and setup a handful of preset effects as my go-tos (4 or 5 at the most).

My first amp upgrade was the Marshall Code 25 as that was the only available modeling amp locally. No regrets there, the sound overall was a great upgrade from the Frontman, and the added functionality of built-in effects, mobile app, bluetooth audio streaming, and online preset downloads opened up a world of different amps and effects for me to explore. I’ve come to realize that it’s both a blessing and a curse as I’ve spent many a night just fiddling with preset settings for hours instead of practicing my guitar playing. Luckily I’ve reigned that in (mostly), and as with the Zoom, after fiddling around with the gajillion presets, ended up with 6 presets that I customized and used in my daily practice and for the few songs I can play (most of these presets are based on “American” amps which I’m guessing might be Fender amps but I can’t be sure).

Recently I bought the Fender Mustang Micro as my headphone practice amp since I’m currently traveling to go along with my newly purchased Fender AMP2 Strat. As simple as it is, I love the tones on it (White: Fender 65 Twin Reverb, Red: Fender 65 Deluxe, Blue: Vox AC30, and Yellow: Fender 65 Deluxe + Greenbox OD). So I noticed a pattern there, that I generally prefer Fender amp models with the occasional exception, but generally speaking I like cleaner tones and overdrive crunch tones.

My current thinking & amp upgrade considerations:

So being me with a major case of GAS and having settled on my current stable of guitars (for now) I started researching my next amp purchase for when I return home next month. I initially was considering a Marshall Origin 20C as that was the only available tube amp I could purchase locally back home in Kuwait, the reviews were positive about it being a good sounding amp with cleans/crunch that does well with pedals, and has great features built-in at an affordable mid-range price:

  • Power attenuation
  • FX loop, DI output
  • Footswitch
  • Relatively light weight for a tube amp at 14KG

However, noticing that I tended to favor Fender amp model sounds, and my music tastes lean to clean sounds, blues and classic rock I started looking into Fender amps more. Initially I looked at Fender tube amps, but quickly ruled that out since in Kuwait, tube amps (Marshall or Fender) are not serviced/supported by their respective dealers and no spare parts are available for them (Fender tube amps aren’t even available for sale there). Ordering one online and shipping it internationally is a big gamble, and if it somehow survived the trip, I couldn’t maintain it long term.

So I started looking at the Fender Mustang GTX 100 modeling amp which looked promising. It has a lot of positive reviews of the simulated Fender amp models, and great included features such as:

  • Stereo XLR outputs
  • FX loop
  • Included foot-switch
  • Headphone output
  • Bluetooth audio
  • Mobile app
  • Online community presets through Fender Tone
  • Lightweight (under 10 KG)
  • Extra power if needed in the future (jamming/gigs are in my distant future)
  • Minimal price and weight difference between the GTX50 and GTX100.

It ticks a lot of boxes but I thought “I already have a modeling amp with the Marshall Code 25, won’t I just be doubling up on these?” (there’s not much of a used market for guitar gear in Kuwait). Plus I’m starting to lean towards less choices in terms of fiddling (I tend to do way too much of that) and nicer sounds.

So while trying hard not to stray into tube territory again (I did go down that rabbit hole for a few days), I came across the Fender Tone Master series. A hybrid of tube sounds, but with solid state internals and lightweight. The reviews have been great about the whole series and I narrowed it down to the Fender Tone Master Princeton Reverb.

Features I like about it:

  • Great reviews about how close it sounds to the tube amp it models.
  • XLR line-out for direct input to my audio interface for recording with simulated cabs and mics.
  • Built-in reverb (started to appreciate this with the Mustang Micro).
  • Various output power levels (low enough for home practice, loud enough for jamming with others in the future).
  • 50W max power output equivalent to 12W max power on a tube amp.
  • Lightweight (9 KG!), lighter than the GTX100 and about the same as the GTX50.
  • Great pedal amp, to open up exploration with multi-fx or dedicated pedals in the future (can start with the Zoom G1X Four that I already have and possibly upgrade to a Boss GX-100 in the future).
  • Same budget and price as the Marshall Origin 20C that I was thinking of buying locally (not including shipping).

Possible concerns:

  • Lack of headphone jack is a minor concern, but I play my Code 25 without one which is fine. If I do need headphones, it’s when I’m recording through my audio interface which this amp can directly connect to anyways.

  • Lack of FX loop. Am I right in assuming that this shouldn’t be an issue if most of the FX will be coming from an external multi-fx unit? Only possible issue would be using the built-in reverb/tremolo FX, but I guess I would have to switch to those on the external FX unit.

  • Anything else that I’ve missed or should be aware of with this amp for my use case?

So I’m leaning more towards the Tone Master Princeton (although I was considering the Tone Master Deluxe Reverb at first) as that would be a considerable upgrade in sound that’s as close to a Fender tube amp as possible without the maintenance issues/shipping risks, that would be great standalone and that can grow with future multi-fx/pedal additions. Should I need to occasionally tinker with sounds not available on the TM Princeton/Zoom, the Code 25 is always there for that but I doubt I’ll need it much in the future if I focus on clean/classic rock/blues songs that I favor now.

So that’s my thought process with the upcoming amp upgrade. I’d appreciate people’s feedback that have experience with either the Fender GTX or the Tone Master series or generally that have gone through a similar amp upgrade journey as I’m on even with different amps but have considered or tried modeling amps, solid state amps and tube amps (especially with their maintenance and servicing).

I’m certain you’ll be given advice heavily weighted toward tube amps. But things I’ve read recently say that the digital amps have really closed the gap, and the Fender Tone Master series has been praised in a lot of reviews as the best of the digital options available.

If I needed an amp of that quality, the Tone Master Princeton is what I’d be looking at. But since I only play for myself, in my den, with headphones on so as not to annoy my wife, I really don’t have the need. I’ll be interested in following your experience if you get one.

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Only by me, as far as I know, and only if you have other solid state amps. I have two of the Monoprice amps, the 5W and the 15W, and I’m really happy with them. They did not break the bank either. Equivalent amps can be purchased at Thomann as well.

It’s good to have gear choices in your music room.

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Hey Mark. Yeah I’ve seen a lot of review where much more experienced players, builders, etc. couldn’t tell the difference. At the end of the day, if the sound is good, I’m not too fussed how it was made (analog or digital components).

Thanks for the feedback Clint, and glad you’re happy with your tube amps. This was my initial thinking, since I have a modeling amp it would be a natural upgrade to be for a small & affordable tube amp just have to have that analog sound option. It’s why I really liked the idea of the Marshall Origin 20C, decent price (mid-priced not too high/low), lots of great features, and good clean & crunch tones. However, from what I understood, tube amps do require servicing/replacement of the tubs and other components, and the dealer here is doesn’t offer that here (they don’t even have the spare parts for it) and I wouldn’t want to risk shipping such delicate parts. That’s the main concern I have, which led me to the Tone Masters (plus the only available Origin 20C piece they have back home is the Cream version which I honestly don’t like, so I’d have to order the original black version from Thomann anyways if wanted the Marshall).

I would love to hear from anyone that’s had a tube amp ordered by international mail (not local to the US or within the same country in Europe) and how resilient spare parts are in the mail as well. For those already owning tube amps, how often are such replacements/maintenance required?


I’ve had a couple of tube amps (I still own one, for the moment), and have used at least a couple of others.

When they are loud, they are great.

But I’ve also owned and used several solid state and modelling amps. And they also sound great.

Use what inspires YOU, not what other people tell you that you should be inspired by.




I appreciate the reminder and straight to the point advice as always Keith, thanks :blush:

Since you’ve owned a few tube amps, do you think the lack of an FX loop to be an issue? Most of them don’t have one, but they seem to be a feature of higher model solid state amps. Is running FX through the loop just a tone preference or does it have a functional benefit? It’s not a pressing need for me now at my early stage of playing, just wondering if it’s a must have feature for future use.

I don’t even know what an FX loop is! :grin:

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Warning, you’re only a few months in and already deep into GAS, with a few guitars and amps now! Just know that the most important thing to focus on is your practice and playing, and basic gear can take you a REALLY long way. But I certainly know what it’s like to want better gear, I’ve done the same thing and now less than 2 years in I’ve had 5 guitars (sold 1, so 4 now), and 2 amps. 3 if you count my mustang micro…

I have a Fender GTX 50 - basically the same as the 100, but I got a deal on it with a foot switch. And a curious thing with amps is the part on the volume between “no sound” and “quiet sound”, which I reckon I wanted to be as quiet as possible, so a smaller amp.

I rate the Mustang GTX series really highly. If you want to know what it sounds like when played, all of my AVOYPs for the last 18 months or so since I got it have been run through it. I even run my acoustics through it. Very flexible, sound awesome. So go have a listen to any of those (maybe my rock songbook thread) if you want to know what the GTX amps can do. I always get compliments on my tone.

Knowing where you’re at in your learning journey, and that you’re not performing, I’d say you’d be best off with a home practice-amp style amp rather than a performance style one. Practice ones - e.g. the Mustang GTX, Boss Katana, Yamaha THR or Spark. They are designed to sound good at home volumes and with headphones, and the ones with XLR outs hook in nicely to a PC audio interface for recording (which no doubt you will end up with an AI soon with your GAS). You can perform with a Mustang GTX or Boss Katana but probably not a THR or Spark.

Personally, if I was to buy a big bad performance amp, I’d look into the Tone Master Deluxe Reverb more than the Princeton. I just like the amp tone better (the GTX has both), and they’re more universally used. Amp choice is personal though


I’m seven years into this journey. I have three guitars (Dean Zelinsky Tagliare Standard, Taylor 114e, and an Inya Nova Go travel guitar,) two amps (Fender Champion 20 for the electric, Fender Acoustasonic 40 for the Taylor).

No pedals at all, and I never mess with the settings on either amp. I found a tone that I like, and only occasionally change which pickups I select for a given song. Probably if I was going to perform, I’d start experimenting with this stuff, but I only play for myself to fill some hours in retirement, so there’s really no reason to spend time fiddling with equipment settings when I can use that time playing songs.


Hey Firas!
I have/use the Boss Katana 50 MK II & like it a lot. I don’t use their online Tone service, just the knobs/ controls on the amp & it’s cool!
I feel that I’m missing out though, so I ordered a Harmony H605 tube amp which is supposed to ship in early October!

It’s a 5w amp with a built in attenuator, spring reverb & effects loop… I haven’t seen a negative review on it & am pretty excited to get it & try it out next month! They have two bigger ones, a 20w & a 50w… I just needed a practice amp though!
I’ll let you know what I think….



I really do appreciate the warning and reminder JK. I’m under no illusion that better/more gear will make my playing any better, only time learning and practicing will do that. I’ve been practicing daily for the past 3 months (averaging around an hour a day not counting the time spent on the lessons). That’s not much time for more experienced players, but for me with a full-time job, family, and kids, it’s the consistency that lets me know whether I’m really into something and will stick with it long term or not, and therefore don’t mind investing in and experimenting with the related tools of my hobbies (or man toys as my wife calls them :rofl:). In terms of needs, the Marshall Code 25 covers those well enough for now. It’s the wants that are the problem :rofl:

That being said, a friendly reminder is always welcome and appreciated to make sure my expectations and priorities are aligned.

I’ll be sure to check out your AVOYPs & songbook, to hear your GTX tones. I appreciate you pointing me to those. It’s especially good to see and hear how a piece of gear performs from someone that’s used it over a long period of time and not just a one off review.

Too late, I already have one (Universal Audio Volt 2) :rofl: I’m quite happy with it, and I’ve recorded most of my AVOYPs with it, so it more than meets my needs for now.

Thanks for all the tips and pointers. I’ll take them all into consideration. This one especially is a good reminder. I’ll try to get my hands on some amps to test out while I’m in London probably at PMT London (they don’t have the TM Princeton but they do have the TM Deluxe Reverb, GTX 50/100 and Marshall Origin 20C) to get a better feel for each, and narrow down my preferences for if/when I decide to order something later from back home.

I salute you Mark (and slightly envy you) for your commitment to simplicity and more importantly long term dedication to your guitar playing. I hope I can say the same a few years from now (I’ll just probably have more gear though :rofl:). I’m really happy that you’ve found what works for you, and wish you many more years of continued enjoyment of your guitar playing :blush:

Hey Tod!
A lot of the reviewers I’ve watched love that about the Boss Katana (the ability to get great sounds out of it with just the knobs, without having to delve into the software and preset downloads). It’s makes it quite versatile.

That Harmony amp looks both visibly beautiful and has great features in the specs too! That’s quite a lot packed into such a compact and reasonably priced practice amp. I really hope that you enjoy it when it arrives :blush: I’ll look forward to hearing your experience with it. Are those custom made or just back-ordered hence the wait time?

A lack of an FX loop is, really, only a big issue on a modelling amp if you want to use a looper with it and utilise those effects and channel switching.

For any case where you are looking to have your effects separate from the amp, either a multifx system, or individual pedals (or a combo) it’s generally not an issue.

There are those that say that certain types of effect sound better when connected via an effect loop, particularly time based effects, but this is by no means a universal opinion.

Most people, including the guys on That Pedal Show, put everything in front of the amp.




The Harmony amps have been backordered for quite some time… apparently there was an issue getting tubes… I noticed that most of the Supro amps (which I was considering) were
backordered for almost a year as well… I purchased mine through Musician’s Friend here in the US… I love their customer service and support!


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From what I’ve read, getting tubes is becoming more of a problem, and it’s only going to get worse.

An FX loop is a way to patch pedals in between the pre-amp and power amp sections of your guitar amp.

If you weren’t aware, guitar amplifiers (and most other audio amplifiers) have two amplifiers within them which are chained together:

input —> pre-amp —> power amp —> speaker

The pre-amp takes the tiny signal from the guitar pickups (or microphone, or turntable, depending on type of amp) and boosts it to a higher level. On a conventional guitar amp, most of the overdriven/distorted tone of the amp comes from over-driving the pre-amp.

This signal is then fed into the power amp whose job it is to create the high electrical power needed to physically move the speaker cone. Generally, the power amp is designed to be fairly neutral and doesn’t add much tone, but there are some exceptions to this.

An effects loop (or FX loop) breaks the connection between the pre-amp and the power amp so that you can insert one or more effect pedals:

input —> pre-amp —> (FX loop send) → Effects → (FX loop return) → power amp —> speaker

The reason for this on conventional guitar amps is that some effects are felt (by some people) to sound better when placed after the pre-amp. Typically, these are time-based effects like delay and reverb.

FX loops can be useful for loopers too, if you like to use the overdrive of your amp. Placing the looper in the FX loop after the pre-amp lets you (as a typical example) record the sound of your amp with a clean tone, and then play back that loop whilst soloing over it with an overdriven tone. If you try this with the looper into the amp input, then when you turn up the gain to get the overdriven tone, it will effect the recorded loop too.

With looper pedals, the general rule is the loop should record the effects (including the overdrive effect of your amplifier if you are using it). If you are using a modelling amp with built-in effects, the only practical way to use an external looper with the onboard effects is by putting the looper into some sort of FX loop.

Note there are some workarounds on some amps to support loopers on amps without specific FX loop capability. These workarounds are, effectively, still doing the same thing as an FX loop.




Very interesting and informative, Keith! Thanks for the explanation!
One other question though… if there’s no headphone jack but there’s a second speaker output or line out, can headphones be safely plugged into either of those jacks?
That’s the setup on the Harmony H605. No dedicated headphones jack.


Speaker out is completely different from line out and, if you plug anything into it other than a speaker cabinet (or load box) of the correct impedance (usually 4 Ω to 16 Ω) then you are likely to damage something. If you plug headphones into this, you’ll probably damage the headphones.

You certainly won’t damage anything by connecting headphones to a line out and it may be worth a try. However, it’s probably not going to be useful for you. Line out is normally a fairly low-level signal designed to be amplified, so it is likely to be very low volume and a fixed level. Also, unlike a dedicated headphone output, plugging in the headphones probably won’t mute the speaker

Your best option for headphone use is to use the line-out with a dedicated headphone amplifier, which will amplify the sound as well as giving you volume control. Of course, that won’t mute the amp speaker, but you should be able to turn down the amp volume (or maybe put it into standby) and still get a signal on line-out into your headphone amp.

Bear in mind that the line-out on almost every guitar amp, including all-tube amps like the H605, have some degree of emulation. This is because this signal is bypassing the power amp and the speaker and cabinet. The power amp (as I described above) probably won’t make much difference to the tone, especially if it’s not fully cranked, but the speaker and cabinet are a HUGE part of the sound of the amplifier.

The bottom line is: the sound you get through line-out is not going to be the lovely tones you get from the amp speaker. They might sound OK (if the speaker and cab emulation is decent) but they won’t sound the same.

It’s entirely likely that you find using the Harmony with headphones isn’t any better or, possibly, is actually worse, than using the Katana on headphones.




@Majik Thanks for the clarification and great explanation of what an FX loop is and what it does. That’s probably the clearest explanation I’ve read about it so far!


We’ve been down this FX loop path a few times:

Don’t rule out how cool it can be to put a preamp pedal in the FX loop.

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Thanks for the topic link Clint. I’ve browsed through it, and while most of it is a bit advanced for me currently, I’ve saved it for future reference, especially now that I’m considering the Mustang GTX instead which does have built-in effects and an FX loop.

As a general update, I managed to find a guitar store in Camden (guitar guitar if anyone’s curious) that had the Fender Tone Master Princeton Reverb in the store to try. They were kind enough to setup me up with a Fender Strat and the amp in a demo room to fiddle with it at my own luxury. My limited experience with it is as follows:

  • The amp is really light for the size!
  • The attenuator option is great! Playing at 0.75W was plenty loud for home practice levels.
  • The amp sound is really Fender clean but the reverb didn’t sound as good as the effects on my Mustang Micro (probably because that has a combination of FX not just reverb).
  • I couldn’t get a crunch tone out of it even with turning it down to 0.3W (lowest setting) and cranking both the amp and guitar volumes up.


I’m really glad that I found the amp in-store to try, but I wasn’t wowed by the sound I could produce from it as I thought I would be. Keep in mind, that’s not a judgement of the amp sound/capability itself, but rather an issue of my own expectations, currently limited playing abilities and lack of pedals plugged into it (the first two being the major factors).

So I’m shelving the Tone Master idea for now, until my playing is better and I have more experience and specific need with pedals/multi-fx units.

That being said, I still love the Fender tones so I’m reconsidering the Mustang GTX amps since:

  1. I love the amp and FX simulations on my Mustang Micro (especially the Fender and Vox amps). So it makes sense to go for the regular amp version of the same modeling technology.

  2. It has a lot of great features, some that I can use now: bluetooth audio streaming, wifi connectivity for updates, community presets, mobile app for editing presets, preset set lists, footswitch, AUX-in, headphone jack, XLR line-out if I can use it for direct input into my audio interface).

  3. It has some features I can use in the future as I progress: FX loop, editing FX pedals and the order in which they’re placed, enough power to jam with others (both the 50/100W models).

Some questions to any current Fender Mustang GTX users (@jkahn or others):

  • Is the lack of an attenuation option an issue for home practice? Can you still get good sounds out of it at low master volume? There’s always the headphone option, but I prefer to practice without them when I can and I’m lucky enough to have an office on the other side of the house so I don’t bother my wife or kids while I’m practicing at night).

  • Have you used the XLR line-out (just one of them, not both stereo outputs) to plug-it in directly to an audio interface for recording? Or is only intended for connecting to a PA system? Is the quality of the sound as good as what you hear from the speaker or of noticeably lower quality?

  • PS @jkahn I’ve been watching your rock songbook AVOYPs and I’m loving your tones with the GTX (not to mention great playing skill) :smiley:

So, now my next mission is to find a place that has one of these in-store to try (guitar guitar didn’t), so I’m planning on checking PMT London in the next few days.