A PRA with Minor Modifications
I love this amp. It sounds fantastic, pretty much like a Princeton Reverb and it has it’s own, built-in stomp box circuitry, namely an overdrive (reminds me of a ts-9 tube screamer) and a compressor, which is pretty good, although a bit noisy. The main reason I bought this amp though is the following feature: A built-in power attenuator.
Since discovering the convenience and flexibility of using a power attenuator back in 2002 I regard it as essential equipment in any application. Seeing as I was about to relocate to the other side of the world from the UK to Asia and I didn’t know what the availability of Fender amps was like there (not as easy to get as in the UK), and I didn’t want to ship my beloved 1963 Brown Concert I was attracted to the Princeton Recording Amp due to it’s compact size and heavyweight features. An all in one solution?
After a fault with the power attenuator was fixed under warranty by Fender UK, it has served me well in the recording studio. I recorded my solo album with this amp (plus a few guitar tracks with my trusty little Champion 600). I am also a fan of Tonetubby Speakers and I had a 10″ alnico to hand, which improved the sound of this amp exponentially.
The Tonetubby soaks up a lot of brittle-sounding top end, but retains the sparkle. It also has a very tight, solid bottom end, which makes it sound somewhere in between the sound of a 10″ and a 12″ driver. It’s the perfect guitar speaker in my opinion. I also invested in some decent tubes: JJs. It’s a heavy amp for its size and now it is even heavier because that Tonetubby is about four times the weight of the stock Jensen (but sounds about 1000 times better too!).
In hindsight I probably would have waited until I moved and tried to find something like a Bassman LTD, but the Princeton Recording amp did tick many boxes by itself, including the fact that I already had my ultimate speaker to go in it, so no extra stuff to acquire to experience so much convenience in such a small space.
I haven’t used it live, but I think for a small venue it would probably hold its own with a drum kit and be heard. It’s rated at 15 watts with the attenuator off and it’s a pretty loud 15 watts. However in the studio it really lives up to its name. The attenuator can go really low without the tone becoming disappointing. Of course it doesn’t have the same authority at low levels, but I’ve been recording guitar for a long time and I have come to find that unless you have a very beautiful-sounding room (i.e. an expensive, sound-treated studio) micing up a loud amp sounds pretty crap. In a top-quality studio you can afford to have high sound-pressure levels and move the mic further away to capture more of the amp in context with the room, rather like zooming out with a camera to capture a bigger picture. In the case of most home studios in my opinion however I always find a close mic is the only technique that really works properly and that means you are better off not hammering your microphone with very high sound-pressure levels.
More recently I have been tempted by the “dark side” and have been using an Eleven Rack for recording guitar sounds, which I like, but the Princeton is still a great tool to have in the studio. It may even become a great gigging amp for me as long as it remains reliable. I don’t think there’s much chance of getting this thing serviced out here in Asia.
I do love it’s tone with the volume around 6 or 7 and treble above 6, bass on about 2 or 3. It has a very vintage quality to it, especially with a touch of reverb. At full tilt it sounds like a bit of a monster (in a good way) and to be honest I hardly ever feel the need to use the overdrive circuit. I guess it would be handy for gigging though. The compressor is fun too, but I don’t use it that much because I apply all my effects post recording. Again, it may be very useful live for standing out during solos with a band.