Princeton Reverb II
Frequently Asked Questions last update Sep 2014 home
email me... stratopastor (at) hotmail (dot) com
What does it sound
like? Despite its blackface
styling, I'm told it doesn't really sound like a classic
blackface-series amp. Since it was designed in the 80s it sounds a
bit more 'modern' than the classic, desirable Fender amps of the
50s and 60s. Some folks say it's Fender's answer to the Mesa
Boogie, which was new at the time. I don't know what one of those
sounds like either. This isn't helping, is it? But it's a very
musical amp - lets the guitar sing through with its own character.
The 'lead' sound is very 1980s; very 'controlled' or 'contained'.
The power-amp distortion comes in gently as the master volume is
increased. Some people describe some amp types as having plenty of
'chime' or 'sparkle' in clean mode. The PRII does some of that,
and can do more with some
How loud is it? Put it this way... when I
was rehearsing with my old band (which could have up to 2 guitars,
keyboards, bass, drums, 2 saxes, trumpet, lead singer) I had the
master volume on 4. When we gigged in club-sized venues it went to
about 7. We used the line-out for feeding a little of my guitar
into the foldback. I have turned it up to 10, just to see what
would happen (this is all with the input volume on 10). The
breaking-up tone at that point is great but it's much louder than
I'm comfortable with. Yes, I have heard the saying "If it's too
loud, you're too old". I AM too old.
Where can I get one? You just have to get lucky!
eBay saw 39 sold in 2007, 30 of those in the US. Craigslist,
Reverb.com, and the FDP and Weber Amps Bulletin Board 'for
sale' pages are also worth a look.
Why doesn't mine work?
That's not really a FAQ because they're reliable. However, if
yours really isn't working this troubleshooting
page might help
How much do they sell
for? June 2015 - the US price seems to have settled at
around $650 for a fully working amp in reasonable condition.
'Reasonable condition' would include a few scuff marks on the
Tolex and some pitting on the plated parts - these amps are all
around 30 years old. In the UK and mainland Europe, so few have
changed hands recently that there's no 'market price'. I
wouldn't take less than £400 for mine unless I was really in
trouble*, but much above that you could buy something like a
*I'm not, and mine is not for sale...
Is one year more
valuable than another? No. The only difference from 1982 to 1986 is
the change of supplier for the Blue Label speaker; the 2
different types of speaker sound pretty much the same and are
probably equally reliable. Apart from that, the quality of the
components and build was the same. One person asked me if
they're all 'Rivera-era'... yes. If it says "Princeton Reverb
II" on the front panel, it's Rivera-era by definition. Before
the Rivera-era there was no "II", and afterward
Princetons were solid-state.
important when buying or selling? No. These are solid
working amps and not generally regarded as collectible, so this
is not an amp where people drool over one in 'museum piece'
condition. Changing the original speaker would probably increase
the value, as almost any good-brand speaker will be
better-regarded than the original. A good appearance will of
course fetch a better price than a heavily road-worn amp but if
the cab's been professionally recovered in different-colour
Tolex and the grille cloth is replaced with a different design,
the value still won't go down. Original valves/tubes don't
matter. Original caps don't matter - in fact these amps are 30
years old and a well-done cap job will increase the value. The
original transformers are excellent - replacements will probably
reduce the value, but this is hardly ever seen. Small
modifications to the circuitry won't make any difference to the
value so long as they are reversible.
Are they a good
Unless you got yours for a steal at what the Americans call a yard
sale, these are not amps to buy purely out of profit motive. They
play well and are very well built. If you buy one for a sensible
market price and look after it, you can have a great playing amp
for as many years as you want it, and if you want to sell you're
unlikely to lose money.
Is it a point-to-point amp?
It's a hand-wired eyelet-board, like all the classic Fenders in
the 50s, 60s, 70s and ending with this range of amps in 1986.
True "point-to-point" is something else. Due to the
eyelet-board, and the mounting of valves and controls OFF the
board, the PRII's construction is the easiest to maintain,
modify and repair, compared to any other method. Plus, the
quality of the cabinet and the chassis are what you'd expect in
a 'boutique' amp today.
Which Famous Guitarists
Jeff Beck used one in
conjunction with a Twin to record his acclaimed "Guitar Shop"
album in 1989.
"Beck chose not to go with his usual Marshalls when recording
Guitar Shop, opting instead for a pair of eighties Fender combos -
a Princeton Reverb II and a Twin. "The Princeton took care of
tonal qualities that the other amp didn't have. It has an overload
channel, so you can get midrange distortion. I tried recording
using just the Twin, but without the Princeton the sound just
vanished. (The engineer) noticed it right away and said "The sound
isn't as good. You've got to put the Princeton back on". " (ed. Jeff
Kitts, Guitar World Presents the 100
Greatest Guitarists of All Time, page 178)
Joe Perry of
Aerosmith, seen here at home in 2005 recording his solo album.
Well, he owns a PRII
And Les Paul, according to a UK
1983 magazine review (see the magazine
There were two, count'em, two, in Eric Clapton's Crossroads Charity Auction in March
2011 - see
here and step through to lot 34 and 35. Did he ever play
them? Unlike some of the other items, we're not told. Some kind
souls put up three grand for one and six grand for the other....
the Hum Balance for, on the back panel? Technical answer - it provides
an adjustable ground reference for the valve heater circuit. It
has nothing to do with the valve bias. Practical answer - If your
PRII isn't humming, leave the
Hum Balance control alone. If your PRII is humming,
take a flat-blade screwdriver and turn the control one way and
then the other. Leave it at the point of minimum hum. If there's
still an irritating level of hum, something else is wrong.
What's the reverb tank part number? Accutronics
The reverb vanishes when I select the
'lead' sound. What's wrong? This is
normal for this amp and I know of no cure. Even if the reverb
level could be kept up (maybe with some component value changes?),
it would be a reverb of the clean sound only. Ideally the reverb
would come after the distortion stage, so you could simulate "an
overdriven amp in a big room", but without a redesign this amp
will not do that. There's more about this on the valves page.
I turn the reverb up above 3 or 4, it doesn't get more reverby,
it just gets mushy. What's wrong? This too is most PRII
owners' experience. Again, see the valvespage, and/or try this.
Where can I get a soft
cover? "Caper" on the Fender
Discussion Page assures us that the Fender cover for the Hot Rod
Deluxe / Prosonic fits the PRII perfectly. (Oct 03). Aug 04 ... I 've got one myself
and Caper is right.
It's just a little bigger than necessary but it still looks
correct. Even the handle lines up with the hole OK. The Fender
part number is 005 - 0696 - 000.
According to Theskyiscrying on the Super Champ site, Fender's cover for the Champ 25SE is a better fit than the Hot Rod cover. He/she emphasises it has to be the Champ 25SE and not the plain Champ 25.
Or you could try Tuki -
(S.Carolina, USA). Mike Wyatt says the fit is perfect and
the delivery (in the US) is within 5 days.
How many PRIIs did they
make? Fender never release this
kind of information on principle. Greg Gagliano guesses "in the
low thousands". Paul Rivera says this range of amps lifted
Fender's amp sales from 10,000 to 125,000 a year (Fender
Amps: The First Fifty Years, John Teagle/John
Sprung (Hal Leonard Books, 1995), p.51).
That includes a load of small Asian-made solid state practice
amps, however. From my own research, I'm confident the figure is around 5500 PRIIs total for the
5 years they were in production. I now have serial number information for more
than one-eleventh of all PRIIs made, which makes a lot of
deduction possible. Here's my page about dates
and quantities for all 14 Rivera-era amps.
What are the good features?
The basic sound! Very musical! You can centre all the tone
controls and still get a listenable sound.
All-valve (tube) signal path
Future-proof; uses only very common valve (tube) types 6V6GT,
12AX7 (=ECC83) and 12AT7 (=ECC81) of which good-quality brands
are in current production and will probably still be widely
available indefinitely. Couple that with the builld quality, and
the truth is we don't really own these amps - we're just
looking after them for the next generation.
Unbelievably low-noise operation (hardly any hiss, except in
'lead' mode), which is why they're popular for recording (I've
found a lot of studios on the web who have one), and you can do
quiet practice without losing too much tone. Also useful in
church, where the atmosphere may go from loud to very quiet -
not the time for the sound of frying eggs coming from the
Extremely strong construction - welded metal chassis and
dovetail joints in a real plywood cabinet. But not too heavy.
"Point-to-point" wiring (better described as handwired with
eyelet board; no printed circuit board), making for ease
of modification, ease of repair and physical reliability. The
'physical reliability' idea is based on the fact that the
controls, audio sockets and valve sockets aren't mechanically
mounted on the wiring board. Therefore if the amp rolls down a
flight of stairs, you may have to replace a few knobs and pots,
but no mechanical shock is passed on to the heart of the amp and
you won't be left with a PCB cracked in two.
Actual reliability. As of April 2011 I've been in touch with
over 300 PRII owners, mostly longterm owners, some over 20
years. One appears to have given up on his but he won't tell me
what the problem was. I've had one other complaint of trouble,
and that's not the nightmare-scenario intermittent fault but a
straightforward 'stopped working' which I hope a tech has fixed
for him by now. One was sold on eBay with a different output
transformer because the original had failed.
Loud for 22W. Brace yourself.
Fixed-bias, the amp design which gets the most power from
output valves. This is probably the loudest 2 x 6V6 amp on the
planet, unless someone's made one with an even higher plate
voltage or used ultra-sensitive speakers. (NB fixed bias is a
misleading name; it can be adjusted.)
Conservatively-rated transformers. They will apparently
deliver enough power and stay within safe temperatures even when
the amp is modified up to 35W. (That's the 6L6 mod - see here.)
so this level of reliability is reassuring....
Solid-state rectifier, so big bass and no "must I?"
hesitant response when you ask for a big chord at high
Depending on the quality of your power (output) valves and the
bias setting, you can get marvellous overdrive tones once you
turn the master volume knob over 6 or 7 (approx) - or earlier
with the mid boost selected.
Big variation in tone; bass, mid, treble, presence, plus mid
boost switch and treble boost switch
Versatility - people are using it for blues, metal, country,
jazz (small combo and big band), even amplifying classical
guitar. There must be better jazz amps, better metal amps, etc
etc, but this amp does them all convincingly. For jazz I plug in
my f-hole guitar, turn the volume (input gain) down to 7,
treble down to 5 and the middle up to 10.... hey presto; instant
Built 1982-86, so this range of amps were the last to pass
through Fullerton. When CBS sold the firm to the management
buyout team, the factory wasn't part of the deal. The subsequent
(hack, spit) Red Knob range was built at the Sunn factory in
Lake Oswego, Oregon; a charming spot, I'm sure, but less
associated with vintage amp mojo, if that's important for you.
Although (Nov 2011) I've just learned in Tom Miller's excellent
book "The Soul of Tone" that the chassis of almost all PRIIs
after the first year were wired up in Fender's Ensenada, Mexico
factory. If you dismantle the amp and find "Princeton Rev II M"
inkstamped on the side of the chassis, that M stands for Mexico.
Sorry if that diminishes the mojo for you....
What are the bad /
The reverb drops away when you select the 'lead' effect.
On a channel-switching amp, you would expect 2 channels
with separate tone and volume knobs, so you had real control
over the clean sound, the overdriven sound, and the difference
in tone and volume between the two. This is not a
channel-switching amp - it's a single-channel amp with a
switchable 'lead' pre-amp distort effect - the effect is
separately adjustable for how much volume but not tone. If you
use the input gain (volume knob) to control the amount of
distortion, it affects the clean volume too. In this range
of amps, 22W and real channel-switching came on the Deluxe
Reverb II (which Paul Rivera regarded as the pick of the range).
No standby switch. With the solid-state rectifier, this means
when you switch on, the valves/tubes get the high voltage supply
before they warm up. Some folks claim this shortens the valve
life. You can reduce this effect on the power valves by turning
the master volume to zero before switching on. A 2-position
power switch could be a solution.
Solid-state rectifier, so (unless you modify it with a B+
resistor) it won't do the 'sag' type of compression/distortion
associated with valve rectifiers at high volume.
Fixed-bias output stage, so you don't get the springy
compression effect which cathode-bias amps give at high volume.
Conservatively-rated output transformer means it's probably
not going to saturate, so you're not going to get the kind of
overdrive distortion associated with that. I'm not experienced
enough to tell the difference between that kind of distortion
and power-amp distortion, and I'm still happy.
Some regard the 'lead' effect as a waste of space, even though
it is achieved with valves; nasty buzzy preamp distortion
- it's intended to simulate warm, welcoming power amp
distortion, but it doesn't really. There is no control knob for
how much distortion you get - only the volume while in lead mode
- and the tone controls only affect the sound before it's
distorted, not after. There are a dozen distortion pedals with
better sound and more control. PS
Sep 03 - since I fitted screen-grid resistors I'm
beginning to like the 'lead' sound more. But the lack of
adjustability means I'll probably stick with overdrive pedals
for gigs. PS Feb 06;
replacing v2 and v3 with used prestige old-brand valves from
eBay has made the lead sound much, much nicer actually useful in
front of people. Keep valve-swapping - you might get lucky. PS Nov 06; made myself a
speaker attenuator so I can max the output power and then
control the volume reaching my ears. 6V6s in overdrive is the
way to go.
Some amps have the knobs recessed within the overall outer
dimensions of the cabinet . This one doesn't, so you have
to be careful not to hit the knobs when loading it into
No effects loop
The 'line out' facility is sterile-sounding and would be
better if it had a separate level control
Some people say this amp is no good until the original
loudspeaker is changed for a Weber, Jensen, Celestion, or
whatever. I now have a Jensen but still loved the amp with its
Built 1982-86, so now due for replacement of the electrolytic
capacitors (a 'cap job'). Weak bass response is a clue to this,
though that might also be caused by elderly valves.
10 Lies About the
Princeton Reverb II
Nigel Tufnell has one which has never been plugged in
All PRII owners know a secret handshake which helps them buy
things on discount
If you hold one up to your ear, you can hear South Pomona
If you pull the mid boost while setting mid to 2, it opens up
a whole secret game level with zero damage and infinite reloads
There is a secret Rivera tone circuit which is only activated
when you connect the footswitch
No-one knows how good they are, so they're cheap
PRII ownership makes you more more intelligent and attractive
Never say "Princeton Reverb Two" in polite company in
Uzbekistan, as it sounds exactly like the local lingo for "I
wish to marry your older, uglier daughter".
At a jam / gig / battle of the bands last week / last
month / last year, my PRII / my friend's PRII / some guy using a
PRII blew away the other guy's Marshall 100W 8x12