Gear talk for the GAS-afflicted.

Review: Fender Super Sonic 22 – Blackface + BURN!

Review: Fender Super Sonic 22 – Blackface + BURN!

Jan 8, 2014

Happy New Year!

Hope you all had a great break – I know I did! Now let’s get cracking with our first review of 2014…

So.. I’ve spent the last 8 months or so without a band – new city, slowly getting to know the scene and figuring out where I might fit myself into the big picture. There’s a slight problem with that, though… when I’m in a band (or two), I have a fairly good idea of what gear I need to suit the music, and end up tailoring the gear collection with that in mind.

When I’m NOT in a band, though… the “aimless GAS” kicks in, and I buy stuff just because I’m interested in it and it sounds awesome.

However, recently I started jamming with a pop rock band, and my small collection of amps (consisting of a 100W monster Marshall, an AC-style non-master 20W head, and a Mini Rectifier!) seemed like drastic overkill for what this band needed.

So, ever ready to jump head first into new gear, I thought I’d look for a little grab n go Fender combo – something good enough for practices but also loud enough to gig.

Time to go Super Sonic

Talking to some friends who have much more experience with Fender amps than me (I’ve always been a Marshall kid), the first recommendation was the ’65 Deluxe Reverb Reissue (or DRRI) for short – a reissue of possibly the most recorded Fender amp of all time, used by artists “from Memphis to Abbey Road”, as the website proclaims.

Being me, though, I never want to take the beaten path (even though often it ends up being the beaten path for a bloody good reason, haha!), and I didn’t just want a clean platform amp – preferably, I wanted something that I could take to a gig, plug straight into, and get great cleans AND great drive from, without necessarily needing to lug my pedalboard along.

And so, the Super Sonic 22 combo caught my eye.

Here are some interesting facts about the SS22:

  • The clean channel is meant to be close or almost identical to the DDRI, so it should deliver the same kind of Blackface awesomeness as the DRRI.
  • The “fat” switch gives you a mid pushed sound that will drive your tone to clip just that little faster. It’s feels louder and more in your face – and it’s footswitchable, so you could almost use it as a clean solo tone.
  • Hop over to the “Burn” channel, and you’re confronted by two Gain controls. Gain 1 increases crunch/distortion, while Gain 2 increases thickness and sustain – combine to taste for infinite possibilities.
  • Spring reverb.
  • Eminence/Fender “Lightning Bolt” 12″ speaker, housed in a very awesome looking old school box.
  • Effects loop also included!

That sounds like a really kick ass combination of features already! I wasn’t too intimidated by the dual gain controls – I figured it’d be similar to the dual gain setup of the Marshall Vintage Modern that I used to own.

Strat in hand, it was time to…

Power up!

What really hits you when you first power up the SS22 is… the noise floor. I’ve done a bit of research on the ol’ interweb, and it seems like this is, unfortunately, par for the Super Sonic course – something implicit in the circuit design that makes it hiss in the background, even when you’re just sitting on the clean channel. At first it didn’t really bother me that much, but as time went on… it was all I could notice.

That’s not a very good sign. However, it is somewhat redeemed by the fact that the clean tones are AWESOME. The SS22 nails the feel of the quintessential Blackface clean – tight, sparkly and pristine. Fat mode adds a bit more mids and bottom end, giving off a bolder feel. Check it out:

If you’re wondering why it’s such a “roomy” recorded tone – well, good job ears! I actually made a very silly screw-up when recording these clips – instead of plugging in the XLR cable for my Audix i5 (which was right in front of the amp), I plugged in the cable for my CAD Trion 7000 which was on a stand next to my desk! I didn’t realise for ages, and was wondering why the recorded tone had so much room feel to it! When I finally figured it out, I felt so stupid, hahaha. However, I decided to keep the clips and experiment with a mic placed just around ear height where I was sitting. What do you think of the results?

Now… there’s something magical about a Blackface Fender that’s pushed to the point where it just starts to overdrive – and in typical BF style, that takes the form of just that extra little bit of fatness and compression. Amazing stuff for finger picked blues and other dynamic styles. Push the SS22 above 4 on the master and you start getting into that territory – and you start getting LOUD, of course. Again, we start with the normal clean mode, and move to Fat:

Get your drive on

Let’s head over to the drive channel.

I’m going to take a slightly different approach here – rather than just showcasing arbitrary combinations of Gain 1 and Gain 2, I’m going to keep one constant, while slowly increasing the other, so that you can hear just what effect each Gain control has on the tone. It may not end up giving the best combination of Gain 1 and Gain 2 for you, but hopefully you’ll be able to imagine what those two controls working together would do for you.

First up, I kept Gain 2 at around noon, and moved through Gain 1 from low settings up to pretty much max burn:

 

Next, I kept Gain 1 at noon this time, and moved through Gain 2. I switch to the close-miked i5 from now on because I felt that the increased fat low end was getting a little muddy with the ribbon mic.

I’m sure you can hear how Gain 1 increases the crunchy, edge drive, while Gain 2 brings thickness and depth to the lower mids. Used wisely, you can get a ridiculous range of tones from these two controls – probably the most impressive high gain channel to ever grace a little Fender combo!

Maximum Burn!

Now for something more high octane – and who told you Fenders can’t do high gain? This one sure can.

I switched from the Strat to my PRS Singlecut, and pretty much maxed out every control on the SS22, to get thick, crunchy, high gain goodness – check it out!

I really really dig that – it’s fat, pinch harmonics just jump out at you, and it just adds that extra crazy dimension of versatility to this amp. The combination of truly impressive Blackface cleans, and the possibility of uber-gain, should you need it, makes this a really intriguing proposition for someone like me.

Reverb

Don’t use it.

There’s no point.

This seems to be another strange design flaw in the SS22. Even though it has a nice enough sounding true spring reverb in the combo, for some reason, the reverb level knob is more akin to a “more noise please” knob. I was pretty disappointed that I couldn’t use the reverb without making the background noise even worse.

 

Verdict

I really really dig a number of things about the SS22 – it’s portable, it’s probably one of the most versatile Fender tube combos ever made, it has GREAT cleans and a really great overdrive concept that can take you all the way from SRV to hair metal. HOWEVER, it pains me to say that depending on your application, its issues may outweigh its awesomeness. The noise floor problems wouldn’t be a problem if you were, say, just using it as an amp for live gigs (once you get to stage volume, the noise floor issue isn’t noticeable) – but if you wanted something for recording, it might be a bit more trouble than it’s worth – personally, I found the SS22 a little difficult to record, which probably shows in my clips :( Sucky reverb is another thing on the cons list which could be a deal breaker if you don’t want to have to carry around another pedal for reverb.

It all depends, I guess. This is still a kick ass amp – but it comes with some quirks that may or may not work for everyone, so just make sure you try one first if you can!

Let’s call this one 3.5 F*ck Yeahs. As always, thanks for reading and commenting – you guys rock!

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