Little-Bitty Practice Amps: Fender Frontman Reverb

Fender Frontman Reverb

The latest brick in my wall of little-bitty practice amps is the Fender Frontman Reverb. This is not to be confused with the Fender Frontman 15R. This is an older model with an expanded-metal grille instead of the traditional Fender grille cloth. I got this little guy in a Craigslist trade, which is how I usually get such things.

Features:
Two channels, clean and OD, selected by front panel pushbutton.
Gain and level controls for OD channel, level control for clean channel, with bass, mid, treble, and reverb controls.
Headphone out
8-Ohm speaker out
A genuine tiny little reverb tank
8” speaker
15W RMS @ 8 Ohms

General Impressions:
LOUD AS HECK! Seemingly much louder than other 15W amps.
Reverb sounds really great, if a bit long-tailed, but a little knob movement goes a long way. I can’t run it above about 3 or 4 without it sounding like the amp’s in a Chilean coal mine.
Useful tone controls; quite effective. Did I mention LOUD?

Tone:
Leaves a bit to be desired, frankly. The closed-back cabinet has two approx’ 1-1/2” diameter ports in the front panel, and the general tone of the amp is boxy and overly resonant in the low-mid range. Sounds like it’s being played inside a large cardboard carton. I tried adding some foam damping inside the back panel…small improvement. Then I also tried blocking those ‘ports’..no improvement. Then I tried leaving the back panel off…some improvement, but the low-end totally disappeared. That gave me an “A-Ha”, so I took the back panel off and cut as large a rectangular opening as I dared into it, with nice radiused corners on it. Now it sounds like it should!
There’s a good balance of lows/mids/highs with the tone controls at their center positions, and the controls’ travels in either direction from that adds or subtracts enough to be very useful in shaping the amp’s tonal response.
The OD channel is OK if used at its lower gain settings. I get a good dynamic response from it at up to about ‘3’ on the knob. Above that, it begins sounding like a really cheap distortion pedal, kinda ‘spitty’ and ‘fizzy’. But if used sparingly, the gain control lets you dial in a place where softly-played notes & chords stay relatively clean, but harder attacks give a nice breakup. And the OD channel doesn’t seem to start sucking the highs out the more gain you give it, like some other amps in this category tend to do.
Excellent clean channel tone, very crisp and sparkly. Plug a single-coil guitar in, and chime away. This amp seems to like single-coils better…duh…it’s a Fender….