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September 2014
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Fender Pawn Shop Special Excelsior and Greta Amp Reviews

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Fender Pawn Shop Special Excelsior and Greta Amp Reviews

Greta

Dressed up more like a mid-century Japanese radio than a guitar amplifier, the 2-watt Greta looks like it was designed to live in disguise. And indeed, the primary mission of Greta is to be the amplifier you can tuck away next to the reading lamp or on your work desk without offending the sensibilities of those who don’t see beauty in a tattered Champ quite like you do. Life as a double agent isn’t all that Greta does, however.

With a 12AT7 power tube and a 12AX7-driven preamp, Greta can be a little more responsive than your average desktop practice amp. And with line and speaker outputs, you can actually use it to drive an external cabinet or run it out to a larger amplifier. It also has a 1/8" auxiliary input for plugging in your mp3 player.

The Greta is most comfortable delivering clean, subdued tones that wont wake the family or neighbors. And it’s in these lowest reaches of the amps volume range that you also hear the most tube character.

In many ways, Greta is a pretty cool piece of retro design and an imaginative way to package an unobtrusive practice amp. Its radio-like lines are attractive and will likely prompt a double take among those who aren’t in on the visual subterfuge. The coolest visual element is the backlit, test-instrument-like needle readout, which provides a visual indication of where you are in the clean-to-overdriven range of the amp. However, a few design touches may strike some as less than appealing, even given the pawnshop inspiration: The sum total of the garish, lipstick-red wooden front panel, the unsubstantial-feeling, gold-colored plastic knobs, and the stamped-plastic name badge is a look you might expect from a novelty item more than a pawnshop prize. That said, overall build quality is sturdy enough.

Ratings

Pros:
Imaginative package for a practice amp.

Cons:
Few useful tones for anyone but lo-fi junkies. Some low-quality materials. Expensive.

Tones:

Playability/Ease of Use:

Build:

Value:

Street:
$199

Fender
fender.com

Little Mr. Bojangles
Once you plug in, the Greta is most comfortable delivering clean, subdued tones that won’t wake the family or neighbors. And it’s in these lowest reaches of the amp’s volume range that you also hear the most tube character. Lowering the tone control also helps enormously on this front, and a Stratocaster or Telecaster at these levels will sound great and surprisingly rich for jangling arpeggios and Mark Knopfler- or Richard Thompson-style leads that benefit from middle or out-of-phase pickup positions and a roll off of the guitar’s tone. Set up this way, the Greta is perfect for recording demos or deliberately lo-fi applications.

Despite its tube circuit, the Greta runs up against its biggest shortcomings at more aggressive volume and tone settings. When pushed, the 4" speaker tends to break up in a manner that most players probably won’t find appealing, and it gets downright harsh with both volume and tone controls wide open and a bridge pickup selected. If you move to your neck pickup and roll back the tone, it’s possible to get some pretty cool Randy California-like, super-compressed and muffled lead tones that will actually record pretty well. However, chording at these settings tends to yield a less-than-pleasant sludge unless you’re working at very slow tempos with more open jazz voicings. The amp definitely sounds better through an external cabinet, and it will drive any 8-ohm cab—though the tones will still be of the very lo-fi variety.

The Verdict
Most players do not expect a practice amp to sound like a Princeton, but even with the lower expectations this product category instills, many players are likely to see Greta’s nearly $200 street price as rather steep. Like any practice amp, she does have tones that will reward adventurous players—especially in studio situations. But she also never quite realizes the potential implied by her tube circuitry. Which is a shame, because there are other small amps on the market that will do the job for significantly less cash—even if they’re a lot less fun to look at.

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