Which amp? Tone Master Deluxe Reverb or Aviator Cub combo?

I’ve been researching Fender Tone Master and Quilter Aviator amplifiers and speakers for the past month. Today I made up my mind and purchased the one I thought best, given that no one nearby has one to try and I am basing this on specifications and reviews.

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Fender Tone Master Deluxe Reverb and Quilter Aviator Cub images from Amazon.

Some Background

When my wife and I moved south six years ago I was concerned about space for my amps and guitars in our downsized home. I sold a bunch of guitars and amps. Within a year I was growing my guitar collection again, but when it came to amplifiers I kept things small. My two main amps are a ZT Lunchbox and Quilter mini head paired with a 2×6 cabinet. Small!

However, for years now I’ve been longing for a 12” speaker, either as an extension cabinet for an existing amp, or a new combo amp. Do I need this? No. But I miss the sound of a guitar larger speaker and now that I’ve discovered I have the space, I want one.

It should be noted the best sounding amp I’ve owned, as well as the one I owned the longest was a Fender Princeton Reverb from the mid–70s (not a reissue). I also I am a current Quilter owner.

Princeton Reverbs sound great but there are many reasons I will not return to a tube amp. First, 12 watts of power is too loud for playing in the house. The only way to get it to overdrive levels without disturbing the wife, neighbors, and damaging my hearing was to use an attenuator between the amp and speaker.

The PR is small and lightweight for a tube amp but heavier than I would prefer, as well as more delicate because of the tubes. 

There is also the Vibrato circuit, misnamed by Leo, but also useless for the type of music I prefer (jazz and blues). You can argue it can be ignored, but why do I want an amp that has it? Of course, if you love that sort of thing, go ahead and indulge.

Research

Researching amplifiers for jazz guitar online is frustrating. There are plenty of “Ten Best …” type posts on the subject. But because the authors are trying to get you to click on affiliate links to earn themselves money, the amps reviewed are the ones sold by merchants with affiliate programs. (Yes, I included my own affiliate links in this post but don’t feel obligated). Any amp can be used for jazz and you would do fine choosing something from one of these lists. However, there’s a predictable similarity to the products, and many excellent choices for jazz are omitted.

The ten best list posts on the web tend to emphasize the following: popularity (sales), versatility (useful if you play many genres or are a beginner and don’t know what you want), and price (important but if you can afford what you want, you wouldn’t purchase something cheaper just to save money). I rarely see Quilter or ZT Lunchbox amplifiers on these lists and although Fender generally has one or more spots, they are either the Twin Reverb, Princeton Reverb or Blues Junior. The solid-state modeling amps of the Tone Master series don’t get mentioned.

The best information I can find comes from guitar forums, youtube reviews, and user reviews at merchant sites such as Sweetwater.

Comparing and considerations

I was ready to order the Tone Master Deluxe Reverb after reading user reviews in forums and on merchant sites. The reviews were glowing, all five stars ratings from die-hard tube amp users and former or current Princeton Reverb, Deluxe Reverb, and Twin Reverb owners. All agreed that they couldn’t tell the difference between the TMDR and a tube version of the same. Considering the weights about half the tube version, it seemed going with a Tone Master was an easy choice.

That was until I came upon the reviews of the Quilter Aviator Cub. Quilter currently has an Aviator Mach 3 and the Cub. Both were new for 2021. What got my interest were purchasers of the Aviator Cub who already owned both the Deluxe Reverb Reissue (tubes) and the Tone Master version of the Deluxe Reverb. They preferred the Aviator.

Both the Tone Master and Aviator are solid-state amplifiers with 100 watts of power (or more). One of the secrets to making a solid-state amp sound like a tube is to give it enough power for a lot of clean headroom. Quilter amps differ from Tone Master because they do not use modeling. They emulate the sounds using analog solid-state circuitry.

Both amps have 1×12 speakers in the cabinet, but the Quilter combo is smaller than the Deluxe Reverb, and although the Tone Master is lightweight, the Aviator is lighter.

The Quilter has reverb, a limiter, and an effects loop. The Fender has reverb but no limiter or effects loop. Neither has an extension speaker output jack. Both have a direct line out for recording but comments prefer the Fender for this.

The Tone Master Deluxe Reverb does one thing: model the Deluxe Reverb in both sound and use. The reviews say it does this very well. It is one of the things that attracted me to the Fender Tone Master. Boss Katana, Nextone, Fender Mustang, and others try to model the most popular American and British amps from the past. I once owned a Line 6 Flextone II amp that modeled 16 different amps. I never used any model other than Fender Black Panel (about 75% of the time), Fender Tweed (maybe 15%), Roland Jazz Chorus (5%), and everything else less than 5%. Just give me a Black Panel Fender and I’m good.

Yet, the Aviator Cub has one of three Fender sounds. Rather than having a selector switch, it has 3 different inputs. One is for a Tweed sound based on 50’s 12-inch combo. A second input is for a Blond Fender from the 60s. The third is for a 1965 black panel 12-inch combo. The manual indicates multiple instruments can be connected, one to each input jack. But if only have one guitar and you want to avoid manually moving the cable from one input to the next you will have to use an AB/Y (or ABC) switch.

Another difference between the Fender and Quilter approach is output volume. Fender gives you a selector switch on the rear that goes down to 0.2 watts. Quilter uses a master volume that can vary output continuously from 0 to max.

My Choice

I ordered the Quilter Aviator Cub 50-watt 1×12 combo from Sweetwater and received it within 2 days. It’s small, simple, and does everything I want.

AB/Y pedals on Amazon

Videos of Jazz on Quilter Aviator Cub

Videos of Jazz on Fender Tone Master

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