The Fender Blues Jr. is easily one of Fender's most popular guitar amplifiers of the past decade. In addition to the classic black tolex model, there have been several limited edition releases over the years as well--often equipped with different speakers or electronic mods to offer a unique spin on the original amp. The original amplifiers were produced in the USA, but production was later moved to Mexico to keep costs down and meet the high demand for this little charmer of an amp. Currently (in 2015) the Blues Jr. sells for about $530 brand new, but they are extremely easy to find secondhand for a good price if you take a little extra time to look around. For settings, the Blues Jr. has it all: input gain, master volume, treble, middle, bass, reverb (from the included spring reverb tank), and finally a "fat" toggle switch that acts as mid-range/gain boost to the overall signal.
The Blues Jr.'s popularity is due, in part, to the fact that it's a solid, affordable tube-powered amplifier, which is often considered a step up from solid state amps (depending on who you ask). As its name suggests, the Blues Jr. has been tailored to suit blues and rock genres, and it definitely does what its supposed to. The Blues Jr. is powered by two EL84 tubes, and driven by three 12ax7 preamp tubes (although this is the stock setting…the 12ax7's may be substituted for other tubes…more on this later). The stock tubes can be easily dialed to produce the "warm, crunchy tone" that many blues and rock guitarists are looking for in a tube amp, which cannot be fully replicated by solid state amplifiers (I say this from experience). Another reason for this amp's popularity is its ability to retain tone and overdrive at low volume levels, making it a great practice amp for apartments, dorms, and houses with napping babies. No wonder this amp appeals to such a wide audience.
Unfortunately, I bought my (Mexican made) Blues Jr. in (very) used condition, and that came with its own set of issues. Luckily, I was able to fix most of the problems myself with a lot of research and a little soldering (with repairs/parts, I paid about $325 total for the amp…still a good deal). My Blues Jr. also came with dying stock tubes, so I later replaced the stock EL84's and 12ax7's for a different set-up, but I will quickly touch on the stock tube sound.
My favorite aspect of the Blues Jr., which I have mentioned above, is that it can sound good at low volumes (as well as high volumes). In my opinion, this amp can be used for practice in the bedroom, recording in the studio, and even live amplification at a gig with a microphone on the cabinet (some would disagree with this, but they're probably thinking of playing in a freakin' huge stadium). The stock tubes can stay bright and clean with the gain rolled back and the master volume cranked. On the other hand, diming the gain and rolling back the master volume creates a powerful tube-driven overdrive that is not too harsh on the ears. The only problem in my case was that my used amp (before I fixed it) would occasionally give out and stop working, or it would start making loud cracking noises. This leads us to the next phase of my Blues Jr…
After making the necessary adjustments and replacements my Blues Jr. was back up and running, but this time I added a new combination of tubes to change things up. I replaced the stock Groove Tube EL84's with two Mullard EL84's, and I replaced the stock 12ax7's with two JJ 12ax7's and one Electro-Harmonix 12ay7 (in the V1 position). The reason I chose these tubes is two-fold: 1) I already had the EL84 tubes on hand and I needed affordable replacements for the preamp tubes, and 2) I wanted a combination of preamp tubes that would make my Blues Jr. less prone to naturally overdriving… this is where the EH 12ay7 comes in.
12ax7's are known for their ability to overdrive easily and create classic tube distortion. The Blues Jr. comes with three of them, but only one really works to create this overdriven sound--the preamp tube in the V1 position (in the image below, the tube on the very right)
Image provided by Billmaudio.com
For my own guitar rig I use a pedal board with several effects, including overdrive, delay, and reverb. When I would play them through my Blues Jr. at high volumes the pedal sounds would be influenced by the overdriving 12ax7 in the V1 position. I did some research and found out that the high gain 12ax7 could be replaced with a lower gain 12ay7, which roughly uses about 70% of the power a 12ax7 uses (in simple layman terms). In other words, I could simply replace one tube and instantly have a "cleaner" amp, less prone to overdriving at higher volumes. The Blues Jr. works on a 'fixed bias,' so swapping out tubes is extra easy--the fixed bias eliminates the need for bias adjustment with a new set of tubes, which is an area of electronics outside of my expertise. Since I have made these changes, I have yet to run into any real problems with my Blues Jr. amp.
A Few Objective Observations
Though my experience with my own Blues Jr. has been complicated at best, I do have a few objective observations to share (I have played several of these amps in different stores and borrowed a few from friends).
First, I have really never been impressed by the EQ and tone settings on the amp. The treble and bass settings have a fair amount of flexibility, but the middle control in particular has never made a difference to my ears. I've tried cranking it up and rolling it back, and it barely produces any variance in sound. As far as I'm concerned, the Blues Jr. would be better off without it.
Second, the stock speaker and cabinet combination could definitely be better. Granted, my Blues Jr. was purchased very used. But even on other stock Blues Jr.'s I have not been impressed by how the cheaply made cabinet projects sound from the stock Eminence speaker. This may be more of a flaw in the cabinet design than the speaker itself, but I have heard the Celestion Vintage 30 is a popular replacement for the stock speaker.
Finally, despite its design flaws, the Blues Jr. does offer a lot of bang for the buck. Though it's only a 15W amplifier, the Blues Jr. can be as loud or quiet as you need it to be. It's definitely a modern Fender amp, but it can still be dialed to capture the classic chimey tone that Fender is so famous for.
The Blues Jr. is a solid tube amp for an affordable price. It does not offer the same world-class tone and flexibility as high-end tube amps, but its a good alternative for the average joe who does not have $1,000 or more to spend.
I acquired this unit from the Guitar Center near SLC for a little under $400.
Theres is only one thing about this amp that I dont like. the reverb seems to be broken, (but that may be thru it bumping in the back of my car), the reverb seems to drown out everything and it doesnt seemt to work at all. But the tone definitley makes up for it. Ive owned a marshall amp before, and this little combo definitely smokes my marshall out of the water. Although its small in size, it can definitely fill a small/medium sized venue.
reverb, as seem above.
As I can see the construction is very good, very durable. From what Ive read, other users of this amp have had the same problem with the reverb unit, but other than that it seems very durable.
The Bottom Line is, this is the best amp you could get for this price range. Its an amazing amp. Sounds amazing with my TS9 Tubescreamer, and amazing just by itself without the pedal. Great great amp, I love.
I recently demo'd a ton of amps. I thought I wanted a Fender Deluxe because of the effects and a lot of power, but that quickly changes the second I plugged into the BJ. I got mine at Sam Ash and paid around 360. It was certainly worth the extra cash.
This amp sounds very warm and full. Its smooth and sound just seems to roll out from it. I play mostly with cd's in my house, but occaisionally jam with some friends. It is plenty loud and sounds better than my buddy's Marshall. It is in my opinion the best amp by far in its price range.
My only complaint is that it only has one channel. (well, kind of, you can actually hook up a foot pedal for a little more pre-amp distortion) However, I hooked up a tube screamer to make up for it and have been in heaven ever since!
Seems pretty durable. I noticed when I opened it fresh from the box that a screw was not in place, and seems to be stripped from its original home.
Far and away the best amp for anyone who wants that fat, warm tone that our favorite classic rockers have had for years! and best of all, it won't cost a fortune.
Purchased: Guitar Center Boston
Cost: $300 used (like new condition)
Purpose: Im a non-professional musician, and about 95% of the playing I do is at home w/o other musicians. I was looking for a lower watt tube amp that would be easy to push to that edge without having the police show up. I also wanted a single speaker unit, as they are easier to mic and generally better for recording.
That really left me with only a few quality choices: Fender Pro Junior; Fender Blues Junior; or a Vox AC-15 (no longer in production?). Vintage amps tend to be high maintenance, high priced, and accompanied by the usual variety of hums and buzzes which I can live without.
This amp really does only one thing, which is to deliver that nice Fender tone. I think the circuitry is derived from that of the Bassman, and the tone isnt too far off. I play with a Tele and a Gibson ES-175 knock off (made by Halifax). Both guitars sound superb through the Blues Junior.
In this price range, you have to make compromises. The Blues Junior simply lacks features. Although you can buy effects laded amplifiers in the sub-$400 range, the effects tend to be on-size-fits-all, and usually not to my liking anyway.
The two built in effects it has (reverb & gain) are tolerable but not outstanding. What this amp really needs is an effects loop and maybe a vibrato.
Construction seems very solid, although I can detect a slight buzz when I play low A at low volume.
The Blues Junior delivers the gamut of Fender amp tones, minus the Fender effects. In my amp shopping I played several mid and high end Fender Tube amps, and almost settled with a used 59 Bassman Reissue, but ultimately settled on the Blues Junior. This amp is serious about tone, and the tone on this amp rivals the very best of Fender tube amps.
If youre looking for a versatile workhorse or if you are a newer player who likes to play with a variety of sounds, check out Line6.