This Digital Modeler ’Sound Exactly Like Tube Amps,’ Says Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready

According to Pearl Jam axeman Mike McCready, there’s one digital modeling amp that, when compared “back-to-back” with a tube-driven amp, you simply can’t tell any difference. Of course, it’s the one he uses for live shows — Fender’s Tone Master.

Questioned about it during a recent chat with Guitar World, McCready admitted that he’s still in the tube-driven camp but that he couldn’t resist using “phenomenal” Tone Master digital amps. He explained:

“My inclination is to always go tube amps, but these Fender digital amps, back to back against tube amps, sound exactly like tube amps. They’re phenomenal. They’re some of the best amps I’ve ever played. And they’re consistent in that, and maybe that’s the digital part of it.”

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“Again, I’m all about ‘not digital’; I love tube stuff. But our crew and everyone and myself, we’d A/B’d them back and forth with regular Fenders and Twins and things like that, and they were identical.”

Obviously, it made sense to McCready to use the new cheaper stuff when he’s on the road. He continued:

“So it made sense to play the newer ones, just in terms of going on the road and making sure they don’t fall apart or whatever.”

Pearl Jam - RELEASE- 4K - Live Chicago IL @ United Center 9.5.23

As Mike also added, they “break up” easily, meaning that they get that organic-like saturated tone and dynamic response. Additionally, Mike says that they’re incredibly versatile:

“They’re fantastic. They break up really well, I can get a great punk sound out of them if I need to or I can get a good clean sound. It seems to be able to handle whatever I throw it in terms of wah pedal or a delay or whatever I use in there – octaver or something, they work cool. And Phase 90s work cool through them, so I love ’em. I’m sold.”

Fender’s Tone Master line has a few interesting models and they all utilize digital modeling technology to shape the tone, making them sound fairly realistic in terms of tube saturation. They also come with a lighter design, which is definitely something a touring band would find use for. Apart from that, it also has an XLR output with a cab simulator for going directly into a PA.

Exploring the Mike McCready Stratocaster | Artist Signature Series | Fender

Elsewhere in the interview, McCready was also asked about Pearl Jam’s new album. This upcoming record is done in collaboration with young producer Andrew Watt, known for his work with Ozzy Osbourne, as well as Pearl Jam’s frontman Eddie Vedder on his 2022 record “Earthling.” Commenting on the new album and what Watt is adding to its sonic equation, McCready said:

“It’s just about finished. I think there’s a few tweaks here and there that have to happen and we’re probably not going to have anything out this year. But Andrew Watt brought an energy and a youthfulness and a great ear to us that I think we needed.”

As McCready adds, Watt provides a much-needed burst of energy. He continued:

“He kicked us in our asses a little bit. Like, ’Okay, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go go go!’ He’s the most hyper guy I’ve ever met besides myself. But he’s a giant fan of our band, and he’s a really great guitar player himself. He’s more known for the pop world in terms of his stuff. But he’s a really smoking guitar player in his own right.”

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“Andrew Watt got us into a room and just pushed us as hard as we could be pushed. You know, it’s hard for a quote-unquote outsider to come into our world because we’ve done things a certain way.”

“We’re open to new things, but we are also in our own world. We’ve done things for 30 years, so we know the dynamics of our band very well. But sometimes we need to get pushed and questioned, and Andrew did a great job of that.”

What’s also exciting about Watt is that he has a pretty impressive collection of guitars and gear. When asked about whether he and other band members used any of Watt’s gear, McCready replied:

“He had a ’59 Strat that I played while we were in the studio. We used all of his equipment, which is different for us, too. I think Matt used his own drums, but I just went, ’Hey man, this guy’s got great equipment, and I’m just gonna play on whatever he says.’”

Mike McCready Limited Edition 1960 Stratocaster | Fender Custom Shop | Fender

The follow-up to Pearl Jam’s 2020 record “Gigaton” is still in the works and the band is yet to share more details on what’s to be their 12th full-length studio release. When asked if the music compares to any of their previous works, McCready said that it’s not something that he could easily answer:

“It’s hard to do that. I hate trying to describe music. But there’s elements of the first three records in the energy that is there, but not things derivative of it.”

Is the Mike McCready Stratocaster worth it?

On the other hand, he did say that drummer Matt Cameron is doing a pretty impressive job on it:

“Also, Matt Cameron’s playing better than I’ve ever heard him in a long time. I mean, of course I’ve heard him with Soundgarden, and of course he’s incredible and always has been. But he’s playing more like that now – he’s kinda loose. Andrew pushed him to play however he wanted to play. How Matt’s playing on this record has made it amazing in my mind.”

Photo: David Lee (McCready)


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.