When you check out an amp like the Fender Mustang II, you may wonder if the term “practice amp” still applies anymore. Once upon a time, a practice amp was a small solid-stater with few EQ controls and perhaps basic reverb and overdrive effects. The Mustang II, however, comes with a full array of amp models and a suite of digital effects that appear to transcend the “practice amp” category.
The Mustang II weighs 26.6 pounds, making it suitable for anyone who wants to toss it in the back seat for a lesson or jam. It has 40 watts of solidstate power going through a 12″ Fender Special Design speaker in a cabinet dressed up with black Tolex and top-mounted controls. The box sports just one-channel, but a footswitch option allows jumping between two settings of the player’s choice.
The joyride starts with presets that combine amp models and effects. Access them with the Preset knob that rolls through three banks marked with red, green, and amber lights. The first eight models are factory presets, including simulations like ’57 Deluxe, ’59 Bassman, ’65 Twin Reverb, British ’60s, British ’80s, American ’90s, Super-Sonic, and Metal 2000s. These algorithms cover the gamut from clean to serious crunch and all colors in between, with various effects added to heighten each model. The remaining 16 green and red banks allow users to add their own variations to these basic models and save them. The tones are all very good and usable – the cleans are particularly full and lush, and the overdrives are convincing and fun. Granted, the Mustang II’s digital crunch tones won’t replace a Marshall half-stack or a good tube combo, but for a portable 1×12, they’re a real kick in the pants.
Fender also provides plenty of tweakable reverb, delay, and modulation effects. The MOD knob accesses a variety of chorus, flanger, tremolo, phaser, octaver, and step-filter effects. When you find a setting you like, push the Exit button and turn the knob again to adjust the wet-to-dry effect mix. Next to it, the DLY/REV knob offers three delays (150/300/1,500 milliseconds) and three reverbs (small room, plate, large hall). You can also push this knob as a “tap” button to set the speed and interval of the delay repeats. Other treats include an internal tuner and an optional footswitch that you can program between two settings, such as a medium overdrive with chorus for rhythm and a hairy crunch with delay for leads.
This being 2016, it wouldn’t be a modern practice amp without a USB output. Plug that into your computer via Fender’s FUSE software and access even more presets and edit them to your heart’s content. You can also swap out patches and download special “artist” presets available only online. Of course, the cool thing is that if you want to rock your amp like a vintage Fender, there are good ol’ fashioned Gain, Volume, Treble, Bass, and Master knobs to get the job done without twiddling the digital buttons and menus.
Ultimately, the great thing about the Mustang II is that it can be as simple or as deep as you want it. Compared to the so-called “practice amps” of decades past, the value and technology in this amp is impressive and, in a pinch, gig-worthy. For the beginner who wants an awesome first amp or the experienced player who wants something versatile to jam with, the Mustang II is a great little box that’s easy to enjoy.
This article originally appeared in VG October 2016 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.