Sunday, March 18, 2012

It's Fender Mustang Time!

My laptops are out to get me.
I am not making this up.

Last night I did an update on my laptop and something bad happened.  With linux, you sometimes have to wait before bad things become apparent.  I booted up today after work and POOF - it refused to fully boot.  I knew immediately that this was going to be beyond my already pitiful patience level so I left it alone.  Later on I tried again.  I managed to get to a terminal but could not make the wireless work so that was done for the time being.  Strike one.

No problem, I thought.... I'd just get the backup laptop.  The backup laptop is a PITA that never really got much use because the touchpad doesn't play nicely with linux and the processor is a bit anemic.  So the backup laptop booted just fine, thank you, and flatly refused to connect to wireless.  Since I absolutely refuse to get up off the couch for anything short of guitar shopping, sex, or ice cream, I was not going to be able to connect the laptop to an ethernet cable.  Strike two.

It was obviously time to bring out Old Faithful.   Old Faithful is my old original Dell laptop that Marshall the Wonder Cocker tore a few keys from in a mad dash to get onto my lap.  It just kept chugging along, never letting me down.  The only small issue in booting it was that I could not find it.  How does one lose a laptop?  I certainly don't know.  But I will certainly curse my very being for an hour or three at some point down the road.  Strike three.

Good thing I'm the Anti-Sports.

Strike four may soon be provided by my wife's laptop, upon which I'm laying out this semi-rant.  These laptops are doing their level best to stop me from getting online.  Wife's laptop has thus far required about forty minutes of updates, as she hasn't touched it in a while.  But I want you, dear readers, to know that my wife uses a linux laptop with absolutely no direction at all.  This replaced her Windows laptop when it exploded (not a pretty story).  In any case, she gets all her email and surfing done on this laptop and rarely if ever has a question.  Yes, linux can work for you.

Now, speaking of guitar amps, some of my online friends have been going on and on about the new Fender Mustang modeling amplifiers.  Why yes, I do have friends; thanks for asking.

The Mustangs come in about four or five varieties, mostly differing in wattage and size.  They are modeling amps, which means they use chips and software to emulate popular real-world amplifiers.  Unfortunately, it also means no tubes.  We here at ThermionicEmissions have a very strict NO TUBES, NO TONE policy.  Yes, all of my amplifiers use tubes, from the tiny tweed Champ to the mighty Marshall.

My tube snob friends are starting to buy Mustangs and are really impressed by them.  This is most disconcerting.  You may not believe this but guitarists are extremely conservative types.  We like what we like and new things are treated with suspicion (for good reason).  Ever since solid state amplifiers appeared and were roundly dismissed as sterile and having crappy tone, manufacturers have been putting out amps and boxes claiming to have that `tube tone'.  We're kinda sick of the marketing (for good reason).  You might ask yourself how a two hundred dollar amplifier is going to emulate a vintage tube amp worth what you paid for your last car.

Strangely enough, I have been thinking about getting a tiny amp for the living room, where I do a fair amount of playing.  The Fender Mustang I is about ninety-nine dollars at Guitar Center so I went to check one out.  I figured at that price, if it turned on it was almost worth it.  Two months back I was ready to buy one but Guitar Center had none.  Working really quickly, two months later, they had a stack of them so I went and picked one up.

In addition to emulating amplifiers, the Mustang series will connect to your computer and you can play with the settings via software.  The amp comes with Windows software but there is a third party linux program available.  The amp can also record via USB.

It unpacked quickly and came with the power cord, USB cord, quick start manual (in many languages), and CDROM with software.  You also get other software, which I have not yet examined but is probably Windows-only.

The amp is, as my female friends say, cute.  It does twenty watts through an eight inch speaker, which is more than enough for the living room.   As I attend band practice with a fifteen watt Pro Junior tube amp, the wattage is roughly the same.

There is one input, a jack for a footswitch, and five knobs (GAIN, VOLUME, TREBLE, BASS, MASTER).  Fender goofed here, by printing the knob labels above the knobs, where you can't see them unless you're standing over them.

Following the `normal' knobs is a preset knob, a mod knob, and a dly/rev knob.  They're fairly self-explanatory.  There is a headphone out as well as an aux in, a mini usb port and a rocker power switch.

I cannot stress highly enough the amp's first and most important feature: the tuner.  Before doing anything else, tune your damn guitar please.  There are LEDs that indicate which note as well as RED-GREEN-RED LEDs to indicate tuning.  This is a tremendous extra that should almost be mandatory.

Without software, you use the amp like any other amp.  Use the preset knob to get one of eight basic amps, with two extra presets per-model, for a total of twenty four presets.  Tri-color LEDs indicate which set you're using (RED-GREEN-YELLOW).  If you don't know this, you're likely to miss it (I did).

Using the GAIN knob for crunchiness provides an interesting range of clean to dirty tones.  It's best not to judge anything on presets.  Presets are like blinky lights: there entirely for show and have no real world use.  Presets are the PowerPoint of the audio world.

The MOD knob covers a range of modulation-related effects, like chorus, flanger, tremolo, and phaser, among others.  The DLY/REV knob adds delays and a ton of different reverbs.

This amp line could not have been made ten years ago.  Think about the processing involved....

Software control brings more to the table.  I downloaded PLUG for linux and hooked right in.  There is a MIDDLE knob missing on the real amp, which is accessible through the software.  NOTE: if you're using Ubuntu, make sure to pay attention to the README file regarding the UDEV rule or the software won't connect.

There are some additional presets available in PLUG, as well as Major Tweakage.  You can tweeze to your heart's content, then save to the amp or the computer.

I would assume it's much more fancy in the Windows version (FUSE) but I haven't gotten around to firing it up yet, as the Windows computer is nowhere near the amp (and I hate Windows).

TIP: from my friend who is already deep into his higher-wattage Mustang.  Crank the SAG and BIAS controls (only available via software with the Mustang I) on all patches.

The amp seems to play well with different guitars: I used a G&L Legacy and an Historic Reissue Les Paul.  No idea if it prefers left-handed guitars (but I do).

I will add something to this review or post a new one after I get some time to put it through its paces.  It is an impressive little toy and for $99, I can definitely recommend it.  I will sit it next to some of the amps it emulates soon to see how accurate it is.  Make no mistake: I'm a tube snob and have a few really sweet vintage amps.  I don't expect this to duplicate a tweed Deluxe but we'll see how close it can get.

1 comment:

  1. It's I, Alan the Gear Enabler. Gloating as I add yet another notch to my walking stick.

    You've done well...treat yourself to a furry pink guitar strap!