Little-Bitty Practice Amps: Fender 'Frontman 10G' - UPDATED

This installment of ‘Little Bitty Amps’ tales a look at the Fender ‘Frontman 10G’.

This is indeed a little bitty amp. It’s about 10“ wide, 11“ tall, and 5 1/2“ deep. It retails for about $60 at the major websales outlets.

FEATURES:
2 channels, clean and OD, selected by a pushbutton switch
Master volume control, gain control on OD channel, bass, treble.
CD/line in, headphone out
6” speaker in closed-back cabinet with front vents
10W output

FIT & FINISH:
‘Blackface’ control panel and fluted knobs, vintage Fender grillcloth and chrome Fender logo give it the same aesthetics as its big brothers.
Black Tolex covering, very well applied and smooth.
Very clean appearance in general.

TONE & STUFF:
Supposedly, the closed-back cabinet is to help bolster up the bottom-end of the frequency response. But I tried the amp with the back completely removed and found the overall tone much better, even if less bottomy.
Tone is rather’ boxy’ sounding. I added some 1” thick reticulated foam inside the back of the cabinet, and this helped some, but I think the two approx. 1-1/2” dia. vent holes in the front baffle contribute to this boxy sound. Yet, I’m afraid to block or plug them up for fear of having the power transistor overheat in a long stint of playing at its upper limits of output, since the back is completely closed off, including the amp chassis.
OD sounds a bit ‘spitty’ at anything less than about 2/3…rather as you’d expect a transistor amp to sound if it doesn’t have some sort of ‘tube emulation’. At full-on OD, the distortion sounds pretty decent, though not at all ‘tubey’. But it does retain its high frequency response, unlike some amps with the tube emulation, leaving the distorted tone nice & bright if you desire. Better results are obtained by using a good OD pedal into the clean channel, in my opinion.
Clean channel is nice & crisp….you know…clean.
Tone controls are effective, but the speaker’s apparently limited response seems to negate a lot of what they do.
This tiny amp is LOUD, though! For it’s teeny-weeny size, you really wouldn’t expect the amount of volume you can get from it…and as the volume gets louder, some of that ‘boxy’ tone begins to disappear somewhat. Near-painful sound levels can be achieved in a small bedroom.
I would speculate that a better speaker and a large cutout in the cabinet back would improve this amp’s tone considerably. Like maybe a ‘hi-fi’ ‘full-range’ driver. But hey, it’s just a lil’ ol’ practice amp. Whattaya want from it, anyway?

CONCLUSIONS:
I haven’t finished my quest for littly-bitty amps by any means, but I’d have to suspect that there are some little amps out there of approximately the same price & output that are better than this one. The 15-watt Peavey I have, for instance, beats this one up pretty badly, except for the fact that the OD channel on the Peavey seems to suck much of the upper frequencies out of the tone. Then again, it’s bigger, with a bigger speaker and a midrange tone control…so it’s not a really fair comparison. But strictly for the purpose of having something to output your electric guitar’s signal thru for personal practicing, the Frontman 10G will suffice. After all, it’s designed and marketed as a practice amp.

UPDATE:
I have always thought that the speaker is the weak link in this unit, and as it turns out, my suspicion was spot-on.
I took the speaker completely out of the amp and examined it. The cone suspension is stiffer than what you'd expect to see on a hi-fi midrange driver, indeed as stiff as a tweeter! When I tapped the cone to listen for a resonance, what I heard was probably somewhere in the 300-400Hz range...I'm not kidding.
So, I had a pair of 6 1/2" speakers that came out of a cheapie stereo unit, which were a lot more flexible in their cone suspensions. I installed one of them in the amp and closed it back up. Now, these only rated at 5 watts, so I have to be careful not to turn the Frontman 10G up too much for fear of frying that speaker. But in the little room in which this amp lives, 1/2 volume is quite loud!
The result was nothing short of amazing! The 'boxy' tone that this amp used to have has almost totally vanished, and now there's some real low-end in the sound, and a much-improved high-end as well. The darned amp almost actually sounds like a genuine Fender 'blackface' now...well....sorta. The highs are glassy and shiny, and I actually have to roll back the treble knob a bit to keep it from being TOO trebly. The low end is much improved over the original speaker, but come on, how much real bottom are you going to get out of a cheap 6 1/2" speaker anyway? All this has led me to think that maybe I should try a car-stereo 'dual-cone' speaker in it. Not a coaxial, but one with a 'whizzer cone' on it. That should bring out even more bottom.
Anyway....if you have one of these amps and don't play it much because of the boxy, midrangey tone, you really should play around with a few other 6 1/2" speakers in it. On mine, even a cheapo stereo driver makes it sound 'like a real guitar amplifier' now.

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