Fender Tone Master FR-12 review – the FRFR cab your amp modeler has been waiting for

Intended to partner the Tone Master Pro, the relatively affordable FR-12 performs its purpose flawlessly – but its practical applications stretch beyond serving Fender's flagship modeler

Fender Tone Master FR-12
(Image: © Phil Barker/Future)

Guitar World Verdict

Fender’s FR-12 is a great solution to modeler amplification, combining classic good looks with prodigious power and clarity

Pros

  • +

    Compact, good-looking, portable

  • +

    Familiar hot rod-era cosmetics

  • +

    Massive headroom from 1,000-watt Class D output stage

  • +

    Good value for money

Cons

  • -

    Hard to find fault – it's a disarmingly simple solution that just works

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Fender’s Tone Master Pro amp modeling floorboard is a significant new product from the company that practically invented the guitar amp, underlining the steadily increasing dominance of digital technology in the amplification market. The arrival of digital modelling floorboards brought with it another conundrum – how to amplify them?

At the upper end of the market, where many bands are using in-ear monitors with dedicated monitor mixes and the front-of-house PA system takes care of the rest, there’s no real need for conventional backline any more. 

However, many players still prefer the convenience of an onstage loudspeaker that they have some measure of control over, while at grassroots level it’s still common for many bands to use a vocal PA and rely on backline to amplify their instruments.

With all of that in mind, Fender has introduced two new full range flat response (FRFR) powered speaker cabinets, primarily to partner the Tone Master Pro but more than capable of handling any input that needs a small self-contained PA. We’re taking a look at the larger one of the pair here, the FR-12.

Fender Tone Master FR-12

The FR-12’s simple controls make it easy to do on-the-fly adjustments of tone and volume, with an active three-band EQ and a simple Cut control (Image credit: Phil Barker/Future)

At first glance, the FR-12 could easily be mistaken for Fender’s Hot Rod Deluxe, with similar dimensions and cosmetics. The silver sparkle grille and black Tolex combine for a classic look that’s instantly recognizable around the world. Move a little closer, though, and the differences become more obvious. 

There’s a top-facing control panel with knobs for Volume, Treble, Middle and Bass, together with a Cut knob that reduces high frequencies as you turn it up. The other three EQ controls are active, providing up to 6dB of cut and boost at their center frequencies.

On the rear panel is a combi jack/XLR input socket and a balanced XLR output with its own ground lift switch for onward connection to PA consoles. The speaker grille is secured by industrial Velcro; removing it gives access to the 12-inch loudspeaker and compression driver, which sit on a ply baffle with two circular ports to project and smooth out the lows. 

The rear baffle is completely sealed, while Fender’s traditional tilt-back legs help optimize projection. The FR-12 looks substantial – and it is – but special lightweight plywood and clever loudspeaker design have helped to keep the weight down to just 12.5kg. There’s nothing lightweight about the FR-12’s sonic capabilities, though, with a Class D power stage delivering a whopping 1,000 watts of power and a maximum SPL of 130dB.

Fender Tone Master FR-12

The FR-12 features tilt- back legs for optimum sound projection, as well as looking very cool (Image credit: Phil Barker/Future)

In Use & Sounds

Thanks to its portability, the FR-12 is easy to deploy and set up, with its tilt-back legs neatly taking the place of cumbersome amp stands. It’s very easy to dial in, too, working from a flat response starting point with the tone controls in the centre detent position and the Cut control at zero. From here, you can quickly dial in EQ changes to suit any room, large or small.

As for volume, the FR-12’s 1,000-watt power stage ensures everything is heard with exceptional clarity, right down to the subtlest nuance. It’s this huge power reserve that lends weight and authority to the Tone Master Pro’s modeled amp dynamics, providing uncanny valve-like feel and ensuring everything is heard clearly, all the way to full-on powerchords and wailing solos. 

The rear-panel XLR output is a useful extra that neatly side steps the problem of mic’ing up a multi-speaker cabinet, perfect for connection to front-of-house or recording consoles.

Fender Tone Master FR-12

The simple rear-panel features include a combi jack/XLR input and an XLR output for onward connection to front-of-house consoles, with a handy ground lift button switch (Image credit: Phil Barker/Future)

Verdict

There’s no doubt that if you own a modelling floorboard and you want to amplify it, then FRFR is where it’s at – and Fender’s FR-12 is a great solution, combining classic good looks with prodigious power and clarity. It’s relatively affordable, and if you need it there’s a more compact FR-10 cabinet with a 10-inch driver, which shaves a few inches off and loses a little weight, while retaining the same output power.

Like the Tone Master Pro modeling floorboard that it’s intended to partner, the FR-12 is aimed at professional and serious amateur players, so we like the simple yet effective tone controls as they make it quick and easy to dial in for any environment. And since the price is quite affordable, we can also see lots of these being sold as multi-purpose PA speakers for grassroots bands and performers.

Specs

Fender Tone Master FR-12

(Image credit: Phil Barker/Future)
  • PRICE: £519/$549
  • ORIGIN: Designed in USA, made in China
  • OUTPUT: 1,000W
  • TYPE: Powered full-range cabinet 
  • DIMENSIONS: 597 (w) x 250 (d) x 460mm (h)
  • WEIGHT (kg/lb): 11.5/28 
  • CABINET: Lightweight plywood 
  • CONTROLS: Volume, bass, middle, treble, cut
  • CONNECTIONS: Combi jack/XLR input, XLR output 
  • ADDITIONAL FEATURES: Tilt-back legs
  • OPTIONS: None
  • RANGE OPTIONS: FR-10 (£469) features a 10-inch driver and slightly smaller dimensions with identical controls and output power
  • CONTACT: Fender

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Nick Guppy

Nick Guppy has been a regular contributor to Guitarist magazine for over 20 years, mostly writing reviews on guitar amps and related products. He built his first valve amplifier at the age of 12 and has since bought, sold and restored many more, with a particular interest in Vox, Selmer, Orange and tweed-era Fenders, alongside Riveras and Mark Series Boogies. When wielding a guitar instead of soldering iron, he’s enjoyed a diverse musical career playing all over the UK, including occasional stints with theatre groups, orchestras and big bands as well as power trios and tributes. His favourite musical genres are ‘anything that’s good’.