Written By Julian Williamson, Musician's Friend Staff Writer
Without question, Fender is a legend in the music world. With an artist stable of some of the most influential names to ever pick up an instrument, and a stellar gear catalog that spans more than 50 years, it's easy to see why so many players prefer Fender. That said, the company is most commonly known for its vintage looks and sound, with only a few (admittedly large) footsteps into the digital world. While the original and V2 Mustang modeling lineups now adorn countless studios, bedrooms and backlines around the world, the new Mustang GT series marks a massive technological leap for the series, and Fender as a whole.
After getting to spend about a week with a Mustang GT 200 before anyone else, I can say that these potent combos are great—and you'll be seeing them everywhere. With three sizes available— a practice- and studio-oriented Fender Mustang GT 40 (40W 2x6.5) with plenty of punch, an all-around performer Fender Mustang GT 100 (100W 1x12), and a stage-ready Fender Mustang GT 200 (200W 2x12)—there's something for everyone.
There's a lot to like and to love about the Mustang GT. Each model is impressively lightweight (my 200W 2x12 is just 34 lb.—far lighter than most 2x12 speaker cabs, let alone full combos). The feature set is impressive, including Bluetooth and Wi-Fi integration; an easy-to-use color screen for selecting, creating and editing the huge variety of tones; and the Fender Tone app, which is a mobile extension of the onboard controls.
About those tones? Well, they're quite good.
An Awesome Array of Classic Fender Tones
Fender has largely focused on digging into its history for the Mustang GT's amp and cab models. For example, of the 21 built-in amp models, the first 11 are bare-bones takes on Fender classics, including the '57 Twin, '65 Deluxe and '59 Bassman. The playing response is great, including handling volume roll-off and picking intensity. And there's definitely some classic Fender magic to enjoy.
And, do the classic models sound like the real thing?
The essences of the classic models shine through, and they're closer than ever. But, as with any modeling combo, it's impossible to perfectly recreate an amp, and that’s even before you consider the variation you’ll find in vintage amps of the same series. Aged, weathered or replaced components, variations in hand craftsmanship and other factors explain why two original ’59 Bassman amps set side by side often have noticeable tonal differences.
Then, the amplifier tasked with recreating the essence of that tone has different speaker types and sizes (especially if you use headphones), updated cabinet construction, digital circuitry instead of analog; and one of those vintage amp combos costs more than $1,000, while my top-of-the-line Mustang GT is a little more than half that price.
For those players who don't spend much time in the vintage-Fender end of the tonal spectrum, there are also amp models of some great medium- and high-gain British and American amps from all over rock and metal history. And, of the 109 factory presets, there are a ton of song- and artist-specific sound-alikes. Plus, you can beef up any selection with an impressive array of 46 effects (with more being added later), including fuzzes, distortions, choruses, reverbs, harmony processors and several more. And you can also put your own pedals in front, or in the FX loop of the GT-100 or GT-200.
The system even lets you dictate where in the digital signal chain the effects are located. Plus, you can stack the same effect, or type of effect, in your path to create some otherworldly soundscapes.
The Fantastic Fender Tone App
As far as the app goes—it's awesome. It's easy to pair to the amp, and the features layout is incredibly intuitive, with easy-to-use controls. With just a thumb, I was able to create a set list of some of my favorite presets and recall them with ease. In a cover-band situation, that feature would be invaluable, as it whittles down the massive preset library to just a few options you can select from your mobile device. It also lets players download tones from the Fender community, which will grow as more people share with the app.
I was also able to wholesale edit tones, including changing the amp type, cab type, EQ, effects, effects order, effects settings and effect bypass on/off. And the Mustang GT even panders to the high-level amp nerds with the ability to digitally adjust noise-gate position, power sag and tube bias.
In other words, it's a handheld extension of the amp's built-in controls, which are great. Unlike some other app-integrated modeling combos, the on-board controls are deep and extremely usable.
The Mustang GT-200 features the following physical tone-shaping knobs: gain, channel volume, 3-band EQ, reverb and master volume. However, many of its amp models include controls for presence, resonance and more. To stay true to the original tonal functions, and avoid adding several more physical knobs, the digital ones can be selected and changed with the encoder dial next to the screen. Or, if you're using the app, all parameters can be controlled through your phone's screen.
A heads up, though: Because the amp has such a huge range of sounds from which to choose, it will probably take some time to dial in your exact tone. Don't get frustrated if it takes several different amp, cab and effects combinations to find your sound. It's in there somewhere.
Behold Bluetooth Audio and Wi-Fi
The sound quality of the Bluetooth and hardwired music playback is fantastic. Some similar amps will color aux. playback in bizarre ways, but that's not the case with the Mustang GT. I was able to play along with my favorite tunes from my phone through the speakers and headphones without issue. And that gives these powerful combos great potential as household speaker setups.
The addition of Wi-Fi into the Mustang GT allows players to update firmware on the amp without the burden of downloading to their computers, and then connecting the amp to the computer. It's fast and easy to connect to a router, including entering passwords and such.
A fun side note: I was informed by the Fender Tone app that my Mustang GT was due for a firmware tune-up. However, the Wi-Fi in the office wasn't cooperating. Long story short—I can attest that it's possible to do a firmware update of the Mustang GT by using your smartphone as a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Player-Minded Functional Features
Besides the impressive tech and tonal range of the Mustang GT, I really like some of the little touches that demonstrate this thing was created by people who play. For example, the textured, rubberized material that coats the top and sides will help keep a phone or tablet from vibrating to the floor. The top handle folds down to make for a better place to sit during practice. The master volume changes sensitivity between when playing through the speakers and using headphones, so you don't blow out your eardrums. There's even a pair of Velcro straps inside the backside of the cab to secure the MGT4 footswitch (which is included with the GT-200, and sold separately for the GT-40 and GT-100).
A closer view of GT 200's top panel.
The Fantastic Fender Mustang GT Footswitch
And, speaking of the footswitch—it's very cool. The four-button arrangement is actually three function buttons and one selector, which lets you pick what the other three will be controlling—amp presets, effects or the integrated looper. I was able to cycle through presets and effects with ease, as pulling out my smartphone on stage could be awkward. The 60-second looper really opens up the creativity, letting you sculpt leads over repeating rhythms, figure out harmonies or build the foundations of a song.
The four-button Fender MGT-4 Footswitch for Mustang GT Amps
Areas for Improvement
But, as much as I like the Mustang GT and the Fender Tone app, there are a few areas that I think could be improved. And some of them might be addressed in future software and firmware updates. Ah, the beauty of digital.
Firstly, I would like to see the addition of music control in the Fender Tone app. It was a little cumbersome to switch between my iPhone's music controls and the Fender Tone app when playing along with my own music.
And because the aux audio is handled entirely by the phone, tablet, whatever, the volume controls on the amp itself have no effect on the playback, only the guitar volume. It would be nice to have the master level as a volume control or limiter, as most Bluetooth speakers do.
Also, the Bluetooth music playback is damn loud when playing through the speakers. Going from "mute" to "1" on my iPhone's volume in the office garnered some warranted glares from my fellow musician's friends.
An extremely minor gripe is that the Fender Tone app requires you to reconnect from the app's "Settings" screen every time you want to use it with the amp. Bluetooth audio connects automatically after initial setup, but the app requires that little push to get it rolling. I'd like the app and Mustang GT to start talking automatically when both are on and in range of each other.
Again, these admittedly minor annoyances could all potentially be smoothed out with future updates on both the amp and app. I was initially fiddling with the Mustang GT-200 before the app even launched, so some growing pains are to be expected.
In Summary - Fender Mustang GT 200
Overall, the Mustang GT is one of the best modern examples of an all-in-one modeling lineup. With easy-to-use Bluetooth controls and playback; an intuitive, highly adjustable layout; USB and XLR recording or mixer-direct outputs; plenty of horsepower for any need; a massive range of high-quality amps, cabs and effects right at your fingertips; plus planned updates and expansions in the future—it's a legitimately fantastic option for new players and seasoned veterans alike.