The Fender Mustang series of guitar amps are popular choices for practicing at home. They are reasonably priced and contain plenty of emulated amp and effects options. The 25-watt Mustang LT25 is quiet enough to play around the house without disturbing your partner or roommate. But it’s probably not a good idea to turn it on at night. It will definitely wake up a fussy baby. Fender’s solution is the Mustang Micro, a headphone amp that has the modeling skills of its bigger brothers.
Now, there are a lot of headphone guitar amps out there. But most of them are quite disappointing. The only one I’ve tried that has managed to capture my attention was the Boss Waza Air, which, while interesting, is a bit fancy and extremely expensive at $ 420. The Mustang Micro splits the difference. At $ 100 it’s more expensive than most headphone amps, but it also has a lot more modeling power under the hood.
Physically, it is not that different from many other popular models like the ones from Vox. It connects directly to your instrument with a swivel connector that fits almost any guitar, regardless of where the connector is or its angle. There is a large volume knob on the front and a series of rockers on the top to control the various functions. The bottom switch turns the device on and off and enables Bluetooth, while you’ll find the headphone jack and USB-C port in front of the jack. The USB port is used to charge the battery, which can last up to six hours depending on the volume and whether you are using Bluetooth or not. But it can also be used as an audio interface to capture audio directly to your computer. However, I couldn’t get that function to work.
Inside the Mustang Micro you couldn’t be further from the $ 50 one-trick ponies that litter Musicians Friend. For starters, there are 12 different amp emulations on board (well, depending on how you count). Aside from the Waza Air, most headphone amps have only one model at their disposal, although some have multiple “channels” with different levels of gain. Similarly, the selection of effects on the Mustang is greater.
It’s worth noting that the Mustang Micro forgoes detailed control to offer a wide selection of tools. For example, the simple equalizer / tone control has five preset voices ranging from darkest to brightest. And each of the effects has only six levels that go from top to top. You will also notice that all the effects are paired with the reverb. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as you need a bit of reverb to leave a bit of space between you and the sound. Otherwise, the raw guitar sound in your ears can be painful. But it does mean that if you want a chorus without a hint of reverb, you’re out of luck.
Unlike any of those other little headphone amps, the Micro also has Bluetooth support. Now, you can’t connect headphones, because the latency would be too much for a satisfying gaming experience. However, you can use it to stream backing tracks and songs for you to play. This may seem minor, but it is actually a big problem. A headphone amp is used primarily for practice purposes and you will most likely at least practice with a metronome.
So feature-wise it definitely defends the $ 50 premium over many of its competitors. But, like any piece of musical equipment, the most important thing is how it sounds. And I have to say, I’m amazed at how good some of the settings are.
Not surprising, but the Fender emulations are the best-sounding of the bunch. They’re definitely not going to fool a seasoned gamer, but they come close enough on overall shots that the ’65 Twin, ’65 Deluxe, and ’57 Twin are relatable if you know what you’re looking for. They do everything from a brilliant clean to a slight breakout, depending on your guitar’s tone and volume settings. Even the Vox AC30 (here called simply 1960s British) is pretty decent.
However, unsurprisingly, the top win stuff is a bit hit and miss. While clearly tonally different, the Uber, Metal 2000, and FBE-100 emulations are similar enough to happily trade one or two of them for a little more middle ground distortion. The sounds here jump pretty quickly from clean to nu-metal. And then basically stay there. In fact, the American amp from the ’90s (a Mesa Dual Rectifier) specifically highlights its nu-metal abilities, and that’s not even one of the “high gain” models here.
Honestly, I don’t have much use for anything beyond that in terms of profit anyway. The 90s American does well with stoner metal and big riff rock like Soundgarden. But everything after that sounds a bit like you’re adjusting the EQ on a Slipknot record in my ears. Well, except for the BassBreaker 15, which might be my least favorite option. It has an ’80s hard rock vibe to it, but I bet it’s great if you really like finger-tapping solos.
I like the effects less than the amps. The spring reverb and both tremolo sounds are solid, as is the slapback delay. But all mod effects are a bit cool. Too … wooshy. They all have a slightly harsh touch that makes it sound like you’re listening to a shell. This is where limited controls and preset levels become a problem. I can’t set the depth and rhythm I want in the chorus, I just have to take whatever Fender gives me. And you only have control over one parameter for each of the 12 effect options. So the chorus and reverb selection gives me five options for the depth of the chorus, but I don’t control anything else.
In short, don’t buy the Mustang Micro for the effects. But consider it if you want a quiet way to practice at night and are really interested in Fender amp tones. Digital tube amp emulations will never be perfect, but Fender continues to prove that when it comes to reputable guitar makers, they are at the forefront.