For years, tube-based guitar amps have made up a large component of Fender’s product lineup. But as it seeks to evolve and stay relevant with consumers in 2023, the guitar giant is placing more resources into the research and development of digital amplifiers and effects.
As Executive Vice President Of Fender Products Justin Norvell explains in a new interview with MusicRadar, the company feels that the digital space is “where most of the innovation and the future of a lot of amplification is”.
Citing the lack of availability of tubes as a reason for the company’s change of course, Norvell says, “I think that digital always was, for many years, a compromise where you got a lot of versatility, [and] it was less finicky live.
“It was lightweight, portable, but you lost the tonality. And the Tone Master was a move to say, we’re not going to make this digital amp do 100 things pretty well, we’re gonna make it do basically one thing extremely well, and show that you can get the tone with a digital amp. I think that just blows the doors off and blows everything wide open.”
He continues, “From there, there’s tons of stuff in our R&D, and in our design areas right now that we’re working on to that end. And not just more retro reissues of amplifiers.
“So we see it kind of moving into a more modern space as well, but I think the establishment of the sonic character and the dynamics of when you back off, and turn the volume on your guitar down, and the convolution reverb and all of the things that we did that made those amps work, are great.”
He goes on to say that other companies releasing tube amps with digital technology, including IRs and built-in load boxes, reflects the changing nature of the market.
“Even if you are a tube purist, at some point you still probably have to engage it in a way where you’re not turning it to 10 through a 4x12 everywhere you are, and how do you get what you need out of that?” he says.
“And so even the analog is having a digital bridge. So that’s super-exciting to us and I think that the future is that there’s a lot coming that’s going to be very exciting from us on that front.”
Later in the conversation, Norvell explains that Fender’s “commitment right now is full steam in the digital amplifier and effects space”.
“New sounds drive the industry, so when there was distortion, that changed everything, when there was feedback, it changed everything, the Floyd Rose and the divebomb changed everything,” he says.
“The delay pedal with Edge changed everything. So these sonic advancements can completely bring about new genres and new cultural movements really, to not be so grandiose about a pedal or an amplifier, but that's really the opening of possibilities that exist there.”
He also confirms that there’s more to come on Fender’s Tone Master platform later in the year, but stops short at revealing any further info.
Elsewhere in the interview, Norvell vows that Fender will continue the development of its effects pedal offering, after releasing a string of stompboxes in recent times.
”Pedals are very important to us, and we have some cool stuff coming towards the middle or end of the year that I think will be really, really cool for everybody to check out. And it's the next natural evolution for us as we move forward.”
Fender has already launched its first products of 2023 – a new Blue Marlin-finished H.E.R. Stratocaster and Gold Foil pickup-equipped guitars and basses – but it sounds like there will be plenty more to come on the amp and pedal fronts.
The teaming of analog learnings with digital knowhow is an increasing theme in the amp sphere – this month, Quilter Labs and Neunaber Audio announced they had joined forces to collaborate on future product designs.