It’s no secret that many iconic British amp designs owe much of their inspiration to classic early Fender models such as the legendary Bassman and Tweed Deluxe. With their new Bassbreaker series, Fender decided to return the favor, using many of the traditional ‘60s British amp features as the core of their base. This new series consists of the Bassbreaker 007 and 15 (available in both heads and combos) along with the 45 head and 18/30 2x12 combo. Today, we’re taking a look at latter, the Bassbreaker 18/30 combo. Featuring four EL84 tubes, dual-channel functionality, variable wattage and a pair of 12” Celestion speakers, this is not your typical Fender tube combo.
As mentioned above, Fender decided to imbue the Bassbreaker series with EL84 power tubes and a pair of high-quality 12" Celestion G12V-70s. For the uninitiated, EL84 tubes are typically found in British-voiced amplifiers such as those made by Marshall or Vox, while Fender tends to stick with the more American-flavored 6L6 or 6V6 tubes. The choice of Celestion speakers is also another nod at classic British amps, as Fender tends to use Jensen or their own in-house brand. This makes the Bassbreaker series a departure from their usual offerings. We’ll get to how this combination plays out tonally in the next section.
While the Bassbreaker 18/30 is far from the most feature-rich tube combo out there, it comes with all of the important essentials along with some interesting boutique-inspired tools. Among the most interesting of these features is its ability to work in either 18 watts or 30 watts (which is no doubt how this amp got its name). Channel 1 controls the amp in 30-watt mode, firing up all four EL84 tubes and features controls for volume, bass, mid and treble. Channel 2 meanwhile reduces the power to 18 watts while using two of the four EL84s. The controls are also much simpler, featuring only volume and tone knobs.
Other features include an impedance switch, a post-output-stage line out, a jack for the single-button footswitch that toggles channels along with the ability to disconnect the amp from the internal speakers in order to use the 18/30 with an external cab. While the lack of more modern day features such as effects loops or push-pull knobs might disappoint players that welcome extra bells and whistles, Fender’s choice falls completely in line with vintage amps of that era so it shouldn't come as a big surprise.
Fender is well known for their ability to mesh stylish designs with rock solid build quality and the Bassbreaker 18/30 is no different. Featuring a new design philosophy Fender describes as “parallel evolution,” common to all of the amps in this series, the 18/30 boasts tough birch-ply construction covered in dark gray tweed, a black grille cloth with aluminum trim, oversized pointer knobs, wide leatherette handle and a vintage inspired black control panel with a white jewel pilot light. All in all, the 18/30 is a rock solid and good looking combo that is sure to be a reliable workhorse for today’s working guitarist.
The first thing that stood out about the sound of the 18/30's is that despite having features typical of British amp designs, there were obvious Fender colors in the tone, especially on Channel 1. Yes, it definitely has the characteristics you'd expect of EL84 tubes and Celestion speakers, such as a strong midrange and plenty of punch, but there was also a hint of bright airiness to the top end. When pushed, it oozes a full-bodied sound with harmonically rich tones while the clean tone is warm and smooth. Channel 2, in particular, has an overall warmer, rounded sound, most likely due to the reduced headroom.
Fender themselves boast the 18/30's ability to pair well with effects pedals, and from our own tests, they weren't kidding. While the 18/30 is able to crank out classic tones all on its own, perfect for classic rock, blues, and jazz, pairing it with effects opened up a whole new universe of superb tones. A chorus pedal in particular suited the tone of the 18/30 very well. When combined with modern overdrive and a bit of reverb, the 18/30 yields a big, punchy sound with plenty of dynamics, perfect for classic rock with some extra bite.
While Channel 2 is naturally calmer than Channel 1, both channels sound best when pushed past their midpoint volume levels, which might be hitting the upper limits of acceptable home use if you happen to live near easily bothered neighbors. As far as gigs go, the 18/30 easily has enough power to match a drummer, making it a great combo for mid to small venues that don't require any extra amplification.
While it might not have all of the typical features found in many of today's modern combos, the Bassbreaker 18/30 has quality tube tone in spades. Combining classic early British amp tones with a layer of Fender flavoring, quality construction and the ability to pair very well with a wide range of effects, the 18/30 is a great combo amp for weekend warriors, home musicians, and seasoned pros alike. In fact, we liked it so much we still haven't moved our demo unit from the break room!
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