Coupled with a good multi-effects pedal, the Fender Frontman is a good, loud amplifier for a price that can’t be beat.
Upon first glance, the Fender Frontman 212R might not appear like anything special. It’s not a digital modeling amp that claims to emulate everything from a Pignose to a 59 Bassmann, and it doesn’t have 1001 built-in effects. In fact, amp purists might look at the specs (and the price) of the Frontman and question whether it’s got anything worthwhile under the hood. Is this a valid concern? Is a $300 solid state amp a good investment or a waste of funds? Let’s check it out and see.
The Frontman 212 is a two channel 100W amplifier with two 12″ Special Design 75W speakers. The clean channel has controls for volume, treble, mid, and bass, whereas the overdrive channel has controls for drive, volume, treble, mid, and bass as well as switches to engage more overdrive and a mid contour switch that radically alters the midrange for a scooped mid effect. A master spring reverb is also included as is a front-facing effects loop.
I tested the Frontman with a Fender American Standard Telecaster and Gibson Les Paul Standard, just to see if it could handle an array of sounds. I have to be honest from the outset and say that I was skeptical about the sounds that I could coax from a 100W solid state amp, especially since there was no digital modeling involved at all. However, I’ve heard more than one player I respect recommend the amp, so I gave it a fair hearing.
Giving the overdrive channel my first test, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. For classic rock and metal, I was able to get some very usable tones with excellent sustain that could work in a variety of contexts. Personally, I was always aware that I was playing a solid state amplifier as the overdrive channel lacked the feel and character of a good tube amp, especially when I tried to get a blues tone that would reflect the different nuances of my playing; however, that’s not to say there aren’t some good overdrive sounds in the Frontman. There are. But it behaves like a solid state amp in its sensitivity to playing dynamics. Still, the EQ was responsive and the contour switch helped me get some very nice rock and metal tones from the amp without the need for pedals.
I tested the clean channel last since I had heard good things about the “pedal friendly” nature of the channel. I have to say that I agree with this basic assessment. I tried an array of individual effects pedals as well as multi-effects units, and I thought the loud, clean sound of the Frontman was well suited for a variety of pedals. The best combination I found was a Boss ME-70 going directly into the front end of the Frontman, and I imagine a lot of different multi-effects units would sound similarly good. The clean channel is capable of some nice headroom, which is one of the reasons why it’s a good choice for those who use multi-effects processors. Again, it lacks the complexity or sensitivity of an expensive tube amp’s clean channel, but it’s excelellent for what it is.
You get a lot of amplifier for only $300 with the Fender Frontman 212R. The overdrive channel offers some solid classic rock tones, but the clean channel is perhaps the most compelling reason to give the amp a try. Coupled with a good multi-effects pedal, the Fender Frontman is a good, loud amplifier for a price that can’t be beat.
Name of Gear: Fender Frontman 212R
List Price: $409.99
Manufacturer Info: Fender Musical Instruments; fender.com
Pros: Inexpensive; loud; good clean tone
Cons: Overdrive sound a bit sterile