Fender Blues Junior III review

Comparisons……

I’ve owned a fair few amps in my time, a Vox AC30, Marshall DSL401, Orange Rocker 30 and Cornford Roadhouse 30 to name but a few. All amazing amps in their own right, but they all had to go for various reasons.

The Vox AC30 was just too heavy and too old, unreliable and downright stressful to gig with. The Marshall had design flaws, no ventilation for the valves, so it ran too hot. The Orange featured a fuzz-pedal style overdrive channel which didn’t really work in practice, and then along came the Cornford, another 1×12 beast and the best of the lot. I gigged it for 3 solid years and it never let me down once, but it was even heavier than the Orange and I only ever went up to 3 or 4 on the master at a gig.

Utilizing the Cornford Roadhouse 30’s fabulous low/mid gain tone on-stage was getting frustrating, as this necessitated running time based effects through it’s FX Loop, and Wah + extra overdrive through the front end. This caused a mass of cables, power supplies, noise and general faffing about, but I toughed it out as it sounded great.

I’d been contemplating a simpler, smaller amp setup for a while, the idea being I would run it clean and control everything through the front end with pedals. So along came the Fender Blues Junior III

First Impressions.

On first impressions at least, the Fender Blues Junior III is perfect. It’s almost half the weight of the Cornford at 14.06kg (31 lbs), considerably smaller (than just about any other comparable product too), features a built in spring reverb tank and no superflous features whatsoever. Plugging in, the clean tone was exactly what I was looking for. In actual fact I part-ex’d my Cornford Roadhouse 30 for the Blues Junior so I got the chance to compare them back to back. The Fender was much cleaner, clearer and punchier than the Cornford and I knew it would be a great base to add overdrive and effects later.

Build Quality

The Fender Blues Junior III is all about portability and sound, so in typical Fender style, it’s been put together in a business-like manner, from their Mexico factory. The Tolex is crudely applied with no class whatsoever, so you can quite clearly see the folds (and the screws holding it together), which

will be so easily caught and pulled away anytime soon. Compare this to my Cornford (and most of my other past amps) which were smoothly fitted with not a crease or edge in sight.

The new ‘Dogbone’ carry handle functions well but feels cheap as do the plastic pot shafts, which I would have hoped would be metal at this price. Unfortunately it seems these shafts gather dust which has already caused a short and crackling on the pots in the few weeks I’ve owned the Fender. Nothing a spray of electric cleaner won’t fix, but I’ve never had this issue on an amp before. The control labels are now the ‘right’ way around, which is another of Fender’s laughable ‘improvements’ over the Blues Junior II.

As Is often the case these days, the cabinet is constructed with MDF, with no corner protectors, so no brownie points whatsoever here. I’m missing the metal corner protectors and solid pine cabinet of my made in the UK Cornford already.

On the plus side, all the electronics are tidily done, with the leads for the reverb tank neatly tucked away.

Features

15 Watts of power through a 12 inch speaker. Volume (Gain), 3 Band EQ, Master Volume, Reverb, Footswitchable FAT switch and 8ohm Speaker out.

And that’s it!

However, if you are running the amp clean and controlling everything through pedals, do you really need an FX Loop and a second channel?

If the 15 watts can cope with a full band, do you really need more power?

Personally, I don’t even need the volume (Gain) control, the FAT switch, or the reverb, but the volume comes in handy for low level practice when I don’t want to hook up my pedals, the FAT switch would make an ideal boost if I didn’t already have it on my TC Electronic Nova System and the reverb is the real deal Fender spring reverb, so there’s a definite benefit of having these features.

Maybe it’s guitarist OCD, but I hate superfluous features on amps, it’s just something else to go wrong, add to the price, and distract you. The Fender Blues Junior III’s feature set is perfect for my needs, there’s not a single component I wouldn’t use, whilst on the other

hand it provides a couple of features I know I could find a use for further down the road (i.e. foot-switchable boost and experimenting with external cabs).

Access to the valves is a bit easier than most other amps, as, although they’re protected, it’s still possible to remove the preamp valves without unscrewing the back cover. It’s also nice to see the valves have a bit of air around them as that can only be good for reliability.

There’s no standby switch, it’s a simple on/off toggle. Again like everything on the Blues Junior, it’s well designed, simple and to the point. Valve life will be shorter because of this (the valves don’t get a chance to warm up on standby), but nevertheless I prefer the less is more approach.

Fender Blues Junior III feature list

  • New Fender Special Design “lightning bolt” speaker is balanced across the entire frequency range and offers rich and complex harmonic response
  • New “sparkle” circuit modification for crystalline Fender clean tones
  • Rattle-reducing shock absorbers keep the EL84 tubes road-worthy and quiet
  • Heavy-duty set-screw “chicken head” knobs are tough and secure
  • Classic Fender “dog bone” handle
  • Vintage-style Fender jewel light
  • New black non-reflective control panel makes onstage adjustments easier
  • Wattage: 15 Watts
  • Inputs: One
  • Extension Speaker Jack: External Speaker Jack
  • Channels: One Channel
  • Rectifier: Solid State Rectifier
  • Controls: Reverb, Master, Middle, Bass, Treble, “Fat” Switch, Volume
  • Hardware Finish: Chrome
  • Pilot Light Jewel: Red Amp Jewel
  • Handle: “Dog Bone” Handle
  • Front Panel: Black Front Panel
  • Grill Cover Cloth: Black Textured Vinyl Covering with Blackface Style Black/Silver Grille Cloth
  • Input Impedance: 1 M Input Impedance
  • Output Impedance: 8 Ohm
  • Amplifier Length: 9.18″ (23.31 cm)
  • Amplifier Width: 18″ (45.72 cm)
  • Amplifier Height: 16″ (40.6 cm)
  • Amplifier Weight: 31 lbs. (14.06 kg)
  • Effects: Spring Reverb
  • Speaker: 12 inch, 8 ohm 50 Watt Fender “Lightning Bolt” speaker by Eminence
  • Pre Amp Tubes: 3 x 12AX7
  • Power Tubes: 2 x EL84
  • Unique Features: Black control panel, New badge, Rattle reducing shock absorbers for EL84 tubes, Fat Switch
  • FootSwitch: Uses Optional 1-Button Footswitch, p/n 0994054000
  • Knobs: Chicken head-style amp knobs
  • Cover: Optional Amp Cover Available PN – 005-4912-000

Value for money

At £470 for a very basic 15 watt single channel combo build with cheap components in Mexico, the Fender Blues Junior III is expensive, no question. I would have loved to see a quality leather handle and tolex plus metal corner protectors and pot shafts, but even more disappointingly, and quite stingily of Fender, the Blues Junior III doesn’t even come with a cover or the foot-switch.

On the other hand. The Fender Blues Junior III has the features and sounds I want, nothing I wouldn’t use, and performs exactly how I want it to. Time will tell how reliable it is but if I’ve invested £470 in an amp I’m happy with, that gives me no trouble, then that is a fair price to pay………

…….it’s just that the build quality of the Blues Junior doesn’t inspire such confidence.

Fender Blues Junior Tips and Settings.

  • Whenever possible, max the master and use the volume (Gain) to control overall volume. This will open up the amp, give you the loudest clean at gigging volumes and a much clearer tone with time-based effects, (e.g. reverb and delay).
  • For a clean tone, try scooping the mids and experiment with the FAT switch. If you’re planning on using an OD pedal to add a second channel, you can always add the mids back in with it.
  • One easy and inexpensive tone upgrade is to swap out the stock speak. The Eminence Cannabis Rex comes highly recommended and will increase the volume as well as improving bass response and rounding out the high end.

Sounds

First, the bad news, the blues junior does not posses a convincing overdrive tone. It’s far and away the worst of all the amps I’ve possessed in the past (even my old Marshall AVT50 blows it away). It’ll do a fair mild distortion but it gets ragged and buzzy very quickly and onto a flabby and unfocused mess. It’s usable at bedroom levels if you can’t be bothered with pedals, but I’ve been spoiled with Marshall’s, Oranges and Cornfords.

For mine and most other people’s needs though, you can pretty much disregard the above, as all I’m really interested in is the clean tone, and it’s hear that the Blues Junior delivers. Up to about 4 or 5 on the volume knob you’re in pristine Fender clean territory. The treble control above halfway just keeps adding the sparkle, with the bass and middle adding in the required body and bite if required. Dial in a touch of spring reverb (no more than 2 or 3 or you’ll overdo it) and you have all the tools to setup a crystal clear and punchy canvas for all your pedals.

Of course, this is the beauty of the Fender Blues Junior III. Once you’ve tweaked and honed your clean signal, you have complete freedom to add whatever other ingredients you want to further sculpt your tone. In my case it’s a TC Electronic Nova System with analogue overdrive/distortion. Cards on the table, it can’t live with the Cornford’s overdrive, but to implement the Cornford’s overdrive live I needed to run my FX through it’s loop instead of a much simpler clean set up with the Blues Junior.

At stage volume and with pedal gain, the Blues junior does need the high end taming a touch, anything above halfway is too shrill, but with the bass and middle maxed and the treble at 10 o’clock I achieved all the sustain, punch and clarity I needed. Disengaging the Nova gets you back to a core Fender clean tone, or you can push it even further using the TC Nova System boost or another overdrive/distortion patch. I’m still experimenting of course, and may even move onto dedicated overdrive/distortion pedals in the future, but for now this combination just works. For now I’ve left the FAT switch out of the equation, purely because it’s an extra £25 outlay + an extra lead, but from manual operation it appears that the FAT switch offers up a more natural sounding boost than the Nova, which tends to compress the Blues Junior too much.

It’s worth mentioning that that Fender Blues Junior III will always sound smaller than a 1×12 combo with a bigger cab. The Cornford definitely sounds more expansive, but, for me it was always too much. The Blues Junior punches through but doesn’t dominate, maybe it doesn’t fill out the sound of the band as much but it sits in the mix better, it’s focused. Again, this reminds you of how well thought out and versatile the Fender Blues Junior III is, as you can have the best of both worlds by just micing it and/or running it through another cab.

Is the Fender Blues Junior III loud enough to gig with?

This is the big question that’s asked on countless forums. And the simple answer is….. YES!

With the Blues Junior on a clean setting (volume 3-4) with the master on around 4 I can easily be heard at rehearsals with a loud drummer, a bassist and a singer going through a full PA. Spare headroom is also there if another guitarist came into the equation.

How does the Blues Junior III compare with the rest of the Fender Hot Rod Series?

That’s an easy question. Firstly the Pro Junior III is an even smaller/simpler amp than the Blues Junior III. It only has a two controls, volume and master tone. Although still 15w, the Pro Junior III only has an 10inch speaker, so it doesn’t have the headroom or projection of the Blues Junior III and therefore isn’t feasible with a full band unless miced.

Everything else in the Fender Hot Rod series is bigger, louder and more feature packed than the Blues Junior III, and as it copes with gigs well enough as is, these are for players who need a more expansive sound, seek ultimate clean headroom, or prefer channel switching from the amp rather than pedals.

The Competition

Laney VC15-110 – Beats the Fender for price, and has clean/OD channels + an FX loop. Good budget option but the 10″ speaker means less projection.

Egnator Tweaker 112 – Compact and great sounding, with many sound-sculpting options + FX loop and a Celestion G12H speaker. A worthy contender if the simplicity and purity of the Fender isn’t for you.

Vox AC15 C1– A much bulkier proposition, with an old school control layout and 60’s vibe. Classic Vox tone, but not necessarily clean enough when pushed.

Conclusions

For it’s size and weight, the volume and quality of the tones the Fender Blues Junior III produces will make you forgive its shortcomings in build quality and value for money. Carrying all your equipment in one trip to and from gigs is a tangible benefit, as is using the full 15 watts of power to get the power amp valves cooking.

The simplicity of the Blues Junior III is refreshing, with the FAT switch and speaker out providing expansion options for the future. It’s an amp I can grow with as player.

For now though, I have radically reduced the size, weight and complexity of my setup with the Blues Junior. I now have a superior clean tone, and much greater flexibility with gain and FX.

It’s just an expertly designed, great sounding guitar amplifier from the biggest name in the business.

9 Responses

  1. Bo says:

    Thank you – spot on review I do love my Fender Blues Junior for all the same reasons. I prefer to avoid pedals, try to stay on the clean side and I just need a little break up for solos. (I play with a soul band.) The stock amp was absolutely fine, but I wanted just a little more clean and jazzy sparkle. So I did swap out the stock speaker with The Eminence Cannabis Rex. And I too highly recommend it and it does increase the volume a little as well as improve the bass response remarkable and does round out the high end. Also I swapped the speaker cable with a Clear Oval guitar amp jumper cable (http://www.analysis-plus.com). I wanted a little darker reverb with a shorter decay and swapped the original Ruby Tank with The MOD reverb tank (8EB2C1B). I replaced the GT tubes to a matched pair of JJ el84’s and three JJ ecc83s tubes. Was it worth the effort. Certainly. It’s perfect at home, at rehearsals and the small gigs we do. (I like it at: Volume 7, Treble 4, bass 9, Middle 4, Master 12, Reverb 2 or 3 – and yes I use the guitars volume and tone controls, Fender tele JA-90 – and of course my fingers…)

%d bloggers like this: