Fender Bassman TV Ten and TV Fifteen Combo Amps
Fender Musical Instruments, fender.com
TV Ten, $1,199.00; TV Fifteen, $1,499.00
Originally published in Guitar World, Holiday 2009
The Fender Bassman TV Series amps deliver good old-fashioned tone with modern dependability.
When Leo Fender introduced the Precision Bass in 1951, he also offered an amplifier designed with the rigors of four-string playing in mind: the Fender Bassman. The original Bassman had a single 15-inch speaker in a tweed cabinet, and as it pumped out a mere 26 watts, it didn’t do so well at amplifying the new instrument. Blown speakers were a common problem, and in 1954 Fender switched to the Bassman’s familiar 4x10 configuration. Changes to the design of the Precision Bass pickup in 1957 greatly helped the Bassman (by then a 50-watter) achieve an acceptable level of performance. While not raging monsters by modern standards, these amps are legendary for their warm, full, tube tone and musical distortion.
Since those early days, Fender has been a driving force in the improvement of bass amplification. The company’s new Bassman TV series combos (named for the amp’s resemblance to a Fifties-era television) have the styling and tone of yesteryear with a modern infrastructure that can deliver the goods.
The TV series comprises the TV Ten, Twelve, Fifteen and Duo Ten, all of which feature a Class D switching amplifier and single 12AX7-driven preamp. Celestion Green Label Ferrite speakers are used in all of the amps except the Duo Ten, which has two Fender Special Design 10-inchers built by Eminence.
The 150-watt TV Ten has a 200-watt single 10-inch speaker, and the 350-watt TV Fifteen has a 400-watt 15-inch speaker. Shaping the sound is the legendary Fender Tone Stack, a passive, interactive circuit that works quite differently from the semi-parametric and graphic EQs found on modern rigs. While no bass amp gives truly flat response, the TV Bassman’s circuit has been slightly modified from the original Tone Stack to be “flat” with the bass on 2, mids on 10 and treble on 2. Although in my tests the bass and treble controls seemed to boost the frequencies in their range, the circuit is passive, and the perception of boost was actually the absence of cut.
The TV Ten has volume, bass, mid and treble controls, while the Fifteen (as well as the Twelve and Duo Ten) adds a gain knob at the front of the circuit, and deep and bright switches for more control. The chicken-head knobs sweep from zero to 12, a numbering system that goes back to the earliest Fender amps. Another classic touch is the glowing red jewel light that tells you the TV is on.
Each TV amp has two input jacks—input 1 works with passive or active instruments, and input 2 has a -6dB pad for high output basses. A direct output (with ground lift) on the back panel provides easy access for pumping the combo through the house PA, but alas there’s no tuner output. You’ll also find no speaker extension jack on any of the combos, as each amp delivers its designated power rating without additional cabinets. The rear-ported tweed cabinet is sturdy and stable, while the oxblood cloth grille has rounded corners like the 1948–’53 Princeton and Champion 600/800 amps. For easier transport, the larger Fifteen and Duo Ten have pop-out casters.
True to its roots and esthetics, the TV combo tone is decidedly old school—the lack of a tweeter means no glassy high end. What you do get is a fat, creamy bottom with plenty of mid definition. The amp certainly does not lack in the high end, but the edge is sweeter, more rounded. These amps have a distinct personality—and their styling is your first clue that they may not be the best suited for modern metal. But if you dig the round lows, mid-punch and warm top end of vintage amps, the TV series will give you that, with a reliable, modern infrastructure.
Taking the TV Ten out for some low-volume traditional country gigs in medium-sized rooms, I was happily surprised at how well it filled out the stage. With my passive Fender ’51 Precision reissue, the lows were deep and wide, with just a hint of tube burr on the top. The TV Fifteen has considerably more clout, which came in handy on a much louder blues gig with two guitar players. The single 15-inch speaker could be driven hard with the gain control, but it handled the heat with ease. It has a nicely spread low end, but also a distinct, clear mid focus that keeps the tone from getting mushy.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Fender Bassman TV Series amps deliver good old-fashioned tone with modern dependability. While they’re an ideal way to get vintage tones in your practice and rehearsal space, within the boundaries of their power/size class, these combos perform exceptionally well onstage.
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