5 Groundbreaking Fender Amps That Never Caught On

Since the late '40s, Fender has launched many of the world's most revolutionary instruments and amplifiers, earning the California company a well–deserved reputation as a titan of the industry. Fender's legacy has persevered for decades, and judging by its current lineup of guitars and amps, that won’t be changing anytime soon.

Yet for all of Fender's many successes and innovations, there remain plenty of products that simply never caught on with players. Looking at Fender amps specifically, there are all sorts of models that were perhaps too far ahead of their time and remain mostly forgotten and relatively attainable on the used market.

Today, we're looking at five such amp models that offered something different in their day and are deserving of a second look.

The 400 PS

Throughout the mid– to late–20th century, amplifier manufacturers were in an arms race. Companies were constantly pushing for louder and louder amplifiers — a battle which came to a head in December of 1970 with the Fender 400 PS.

Early '70s Fender 400 PS

The 400 PS was a bass amplifier with a total power rating of 435 watts. Because of the raw output produced by the amplifier, Fender recommend using three 18” speaker cabinets simultaneously. The amp also came with reverb and vibrato.

Looking at the Fender 400 PS in the context of its time, it’s clear to see that the amp was intended to be used by professional musicians who needed the power provided by the amplifier.

But, when looking at the amp through the 20/20 lens of hindsight, it’s not hard to see why it didn’t catch on. The volume was unmanageable, as was the weight of the amp’s head along with its three speaker enclosures.

Currently, these amps can be found for prices between $500 and $1,400 depending on the condition they’re in. When properly set up, the amp is on par with any other from the same time period.

Why It Was Cool: What the 400 PS lacked in convenience, it made up for in raw volume. It’s easily the loudest tube amp ever produced, which, while not exactly necessary anymore, is still pretty awesome.

Why It Didn’t Catch On: The 400 PS was just too much of an inconvenience for the average musician. It was too loud for most venues to accommodate, too heavy to lug around, and too expensive to properly maintain.

The Cyber Twin

Before the Fender Mustang, there was the Cyber Twin. As implied by the name, the Fender Cyber Twin was a modeling amplifier. Interestingly, it also has two tubes driving the preamp, making it a hybrid amplifier as well.

While the Mustang emphasizes accessibility, the Cyber Twin was designed around the principle of flexibility. The amp features all of the parameter controls of the Fender Mustang, but paired with the organic tone of Fender’s other hybrid amplifiers.

Fender Cyber Twin Modeling Amp

This combination of tube tone, a modeler’s flexibility, and a solid–state’s reliability led many famous musicians to adopt the Fender Cyber Twin as their main amp (Buddy Guy is a notable example).

But the Cyber Twin’s greatest strength was also its greatest weakness. By utilizing physical controls as opposed to a digital display, many found the amp to be too complicated and unwieldy to use. The Cyber Twin, being an early member of the recent wave of modeling amps, was also subject to derision from many musicians.

Why It Was Cool: The Fender Cyber Twin is arguably Fender’s best–sounding modeling amplifier, though some feel it has been eclipsed by other offerings from the company. It also had motorized knobs to recall presets, and though this technology was occasionally prone to failure, it was mesmerizing to see in person.

Why It Didn’t Catch On: The Cyber Twin is inferior to the Mustang in one key area: usability. The controls are hard to dial in, and in order to really get the most out of the amp, you’re going to need to keep a copy of the manual handy. The amp was also launched before modeling amps were as widely accepted as they are now.

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The Jazz King

The Fender Jazz King was another of Fender’s attempts to appeal to jazz guitar players, something they ironically failed to accomplish with the Jazzmaster. The Jazz King was a 140–watt solid–state amplifier, sporting a 15” Eminence speaker.

Fender Jazz King

The amp, while widely overlooked, is a solid contender for the most affordable professional jazz amplifier. The Jazz King was built from the ground up with all of the features a jazz musician needs, including a dark yet full voicing, a limiter to prevent distortion, and enough headroom to gig with pristine cleans. The amp even came with a genuine long spring reverb.

The Fender Jazz King hit the market for somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 (about $870 in today’s dollars). Considering both the used market — which, at that time, hadn’t quite ballooned to the point it is now — as well as the relatively niche appeal of the amplifier, Fender just didn’t get the sales necessary to keep the amplifier in production.

Why It Was Cool: The Fender Jazz King is an amazing amplifier for jazz. It has a dark and warm voicing, plenty of headroom, and the clarity that you only get with a good solid–state amplifier.

Why It Didn’t Catch On: The Fender Jazz King is an amazing amplifier for jazz… and not much else. The amp’s dark and clear tone makes it really versatile within that genre, but it’s just not a good choice for anything else. It’s also heavy, which tends to somewhat limit its appeal for gigging musicians.

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Stage 185

The red knob Fender amplifiers got a bad reputation because they were such a departure from the quintessential Fender tone.

1990s Fender Stage 185 1x12 Combo

The amps were geared toward higher amounts of gain than your standard Fender, and the clean channel (while serviceable) had a flatter and darker presence than your average Fender. The Fender Stage 185, one of the more commonly found amplifiers from the series, is a great example of this.

While the amp may not be very representative of the “Fender” sound, it’s a really useable piece of equipment. The closest baseline of comparison would be the Peavey Bandit series, a line of solid–state amplifiers that are generally considered to be remarkably lifelike and organic. Even better, the Stage 185 also comes with spring reverb.

Why It Was Cool: Solid–state amps are great if you’re going for a really particular sound. What they lack in organic distortion, they more than make up for in clarity, and they also aren’t difficult to maintain. The Fender Stage 185 is a perfect example of this, and to this day, it remains affordable for most players.

Why It Didn’t Catch On: The downfall of the Fender Stage 185 was that it just didn’t really sound like a Fender amp. While it didn’t sound bad, it wasn’t what most musicians who wanted a Fender amp were looking for. This severely limited its appeal, as Fender purists stayed away from it and non–Fender buyers still weren’t interested because it was branded a Fender.

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Super Six

The Fender Super Six was, like many of the other amps on this list, a bit of an oddity. As implied by the name, the amp sports six speakers, all of which are 10”. Because it was a combo amp, the amount of speaker it possessed made it a bit of a hassle to maneuver.

1972 Fender Super Six Reverb

However, what the amp lacked in maneuverability, it made up for in breadth of tone. The Super Six had a depth that was unrivaled at the time, and arguably still hasn’t been surpassed.

Because of this, the amp was widely adopted by some of the biggest names in the industry, including: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Marr, Freddie King, Derek Trucks, and Alex Lifeson.

These amps, while still expensive, are actually pretty affordable considering the musicians who’ve played them. Expect to be able to find one in good working order for around $1,000.

Why It Was Cool: The Fender Super Six sounds amazing, as evidenced by the musicians who swore by them. The six 10” speakers gave the amp a depth of tone that few others can match, and it had enough headroom to remain clean in large venues.

Why It Didn’t Catch On: The main reason that the average musician didn’t want to use to the Fender Super Six is that they probably didn’t have roadies. It’s a great amp if other people are lifting it, or if you have to choose between an amp and a gym membership, but it just isn’t practical for small bands.

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