In Review: Fender Tone Master Pro pedalboard and tone modeler

The Fender Tone Master Pro is a strange, powerful tool that can turn your home studio or stage into a (Fender-heavy) paradise. But the power of the Tone Master Pro comes at a cost – both financial and workflow-wise – that might turn off some fans. I did a fairly detailed video review of this amazing product but let’s talk a bit about the pros and cons of this $1,699 modeling device.

Fender’s move into multi-effects pedals surprised many. This product, which is essentially a rugged computer, isn’t what you’d expect from a manufacturer versed in wood and steel. But Fender has been working with amps and pedals for years and this thing is the epitome of that work. In short, it contains hundreds of sounds including cabinets, amps, and pedals. You can loop with it, tune with it, and even keep time with it. And, for the right player, it can completely replace your standard analog/digital pedalboard with something that sounds great and works well.

Expectations vs. Reality

The Tone Master Pro is larger and heavier than expected. However, its size accommodates ten footswitch/control knobs with their ‘scribble strip’ LCD screens and a large screen that shows off the current pedals, mixer settings, and tuner. It weighs in at a hearty 8 pounds and features 100 amps and pedals along with 6,000 “Fender-captured Impulse Responses” which simulate the sound and feel of real Fender gear.

Despite confident build quality, there are large vents along the front and back edges of the unit. These are great for cooling but not ideal for protecting against unintended liquid spills. The backside hosts various ports for hooks and cables, offering users the ultimate flexibility. You can even run your standard pedals through the board which means you can add something a bit more obscure like a Slicer into the mix.

If you’ve used any of these multi-devices you’re familiar with the setup. You can use the Tone Master Pro to chain together sounds. You can start with a pre-made setting – something that sounds like Purple Rain, for example – and turn on and off various pedals in the virtual chain. You can run these pedals through a modeled amp head or cabinet and you have complete control of everything you’d be able to access in a physical setup. You can save and recall various settings and the upgrade chain lets you connect to a computer to drag and drop new sounds into the device.

The expectations for a device like this are fairly simple: you’re getting a lot of digital sounds out of a box that can replace your standard pedalboard. In reality, however, you’re getting a Fender-curated soundscape that can recreate hundreds of tones and sounds. The product is an embarrassment of riches, forcing you to scroll through dozens of potential tones in a process that will be familiar to folks who have used Line 6 amps and the like. That said, the stuff that comes out of the Tone Master Pro is superior. The sound is clean, clear, and usable, and can very easily replace your standard pedalboard. When I look at my current setup I could probably sell all of my pedals save a few favorites, and afford this kit.

Performance Check

Powering on the Tone Master Pro, the impressive 13 screens light up, ready for action. With a guitar plugged in and the first preset loaded, the unit performs remarkably well.

Now, the big question: does it live up to its hefty price tag? Scrolling through the factory presets, it becomes clear that the unit has excellent sound quality, with a wide variety of tones available. It inspires your patches, covering a range from low to high-gain stuff, plus some ambient and unusual sounds.

Working with the amps, which include Marshalls, Friedmans, EVHs, and Voxes, it is clear that Fender has done a superb job with its own combos. Turning up the volume on a virtual ‘65 Deluxe Reverb, one can appreciate the finesse of the overdrive, similar to the real thing. One favorite trick is the reverb tank on the ’65 Deluxe. Fender has simulated this tank perfectly, creating a crackling, clanky sound when you smack the strings on the guitar. This thing sounds like the real thing and that’s great.

Tone Master Pro Features

The interface for creating your patches is quite intuitive. Photorealistic representations of amps, cabs, and pedals appear sharp on the high-res display screen. Each patch allows for a selection of parallel or dual-parallel paths. At this price point, CPU capacity appeared boundless, never hitting a limit, even when challenged with complex setups.

As far as user experience goes, the system is easy to adjust. Footswitches can also act as actual footswitches for other devices. Customization also extends to naming each switch and managing LED color brilliance. A ‘live’ mode displays the preset’s name in a massive font on the main screen, handy for a quick check from across the stage.

Areas for Improvement

While impressive, a key area for improvement lies in updating the software – the firmware’s ‘drag and drop’ feature is a bit tricky to work with. While considering updates, Fender should also look at increasing its offerings for bass players, as the Tone Master Pro seems heavily skewed toward guitarists. It’s also not great for singer-songwriters although you can pass a microphone through the system to amp both your guitar and voice.

That said, this thing is great. It works well out of the box, performs admirably in gigging conditions, and offers some amazing features. In short, I’d buy this over maintaining a pedalboard. Fender has truly put love into the sounds and interface and it’s eminently easy to use and simple to pick up.

The final issue is the price. This is a powerful piece of kit and the price seems to match the amount of work the company put into this. I think this is a product you can easily keep for ten years or so and because it manages to be so self-contained yet upgradable you won’t have trouble reselling down the line. I consider this thing superior to the similar amps and multi-effects gear I’ve tested but the price should give folks on a budget pause. Is it better than 16 $100 pedals (or 8 $200 pedals?) Absolutely. You just have to be ready for the initial outlay.

Fender’s Tone Master Pro is an impressive entry into the world of multi-effects pedals. Covering a wide range of sounds from overdrives to reverbs, it is a modern, high-end digital unit for serious musicians. Nevertheless, as with any new product, evidence suggests a few updates would further enhance the user experience and extend its appeal to a broader community of music makers.

John Biggs

John Biggs is an entrepreneur, consultant, writer, and maker. He spent fifteen years as an editor for Gizmodo, CrunchGear, and TechCrunch and has a deep background in hardware startups, 3D printing, and blockchain. His work has appeared in Men’s Health, Wired, and the New York Times.

View all posts by John Biggs →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *