Fender introduced its new Pawn Shop Special amplifiers at this years NAMM show, which present a coolly unconventional take on amp design by evoking the enjoyably esoteric finds you might find in a pawnshop or second-hand store. They have the air of the early days of electrified sound, when musicians grabbed whatever amp they could get—be it for guitar, harmonica, lap steel, accordion, vocal mic, etc. Those amps produced sounds that were wonderfully distinctive precisely because they were so primitive, and it was exactly their oddball nature that made them so much fun.
The two new Pawn Shop Special models—the diminutive Greta™ and the elegant Excelsior™—deliver that offbeat no-school-like-old-school spirit in spades. Neither is intended as your everyday main amp (in fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find the name “Fender” anywhere on them), but you’re nonetheless in for a delightful sonic experience that just might spark some magic creative impulse, spur a great idea or lend a certain never-heard-that-before sound to your recording. Plug in, and you’ll find new voices, new sounds and new songs hiding in these unruly little boxes—all just waiting for you to let them out.
In the playful form of a vintage tabletop radio, the Pawn Shop Special Greta model is quite possibly the most unusual Fender tube amp ever. In fact, nobody would blame you if you saw a Greta and, not yet realizing its true identity, tried to tune in the local weather on it.
But an amp is exactly what it is—a two-watt tabletop beauty with a 4” Special Design speaker, old-school VU meter with “clean to overload” indicator display and simple volume and tone controls. Its charmingly vintage-style enclosure has front and rear wood panels finished in bright red, gold-finished metal top and sides for increased shielding, “Greta” script badge on the front panel and tabletop feet. Under the hood and on the back panel, the Greta features a single 12AT7 output tube and 12AX7 preamp tube, with a ¼” instrument jack and ¼” line out jack (for preamp use with another amplifier). Greta produces a variety of low-volume clean and overdriven guitar tones, but even if you never plug a guitar into it, the 1/8” back-panel auxiliary input is perfect for iPod or other media player use, with great mono tube playback sound that’ll have you rocking right there at your desk.
Alluringly refined yet harboring tones from polite to raw to raucous, the Pawn Shop Special Excelsior model is undoubtedly one of the most distinctive tube combo amps in Fender history. Its brown textured vinyl covering, smartly stylish “E” grille design and bold crossed-swords front-panel badge convey a decidedly stately vibe with a marked air of cold-war cool.
To say nothing of its admirable tone and power. The 13-watt Excelsior elegantly encloses a single 15” Special Design speaker, with a bottom-loaded primary chassis and top-loaded control chassis for operating convenience and low noise (powered by two 6V6 output tubes and two 12AX7 preamp tubes). Distinctive features include “instrument,” “microphone” and “accordion” inputs that each have individually optimized circuitry; tremolo circuit with speed control, bright/dark tone switch (for treble or bass emphasis), volume control and ¼” internal speaker disconnect that lets the amp drive an external speaker enclosure. For playing at home, smaller gigs and studio sessions, the Excelsior is a class act that brings a fresh and unconventional new vibe to your playing.