With all of what Line 6 has done to promote amp and effects modeling, it's no surprise that the big guys are taking note. A while back, Fender launched a low-end practice amp called the Fender G-DEC (you don't want to know what it stands for) and followed up with a lower-end G-DEC Junior and a slightly more powerful G-DEC 30.
The standard G-DEC is a 15 watt practice amp with about 50 built-in tones, ranging from Lefty-Haze (Jimi Hendrix) to Hammer-of-the-Gods (quazi-zeppelin). (Aside: Why do the modelled amps and guitars always have these quaint innuendos instead of just coming right out and saying what they are modeling?). There's a nice range of sounds from a slightly overdriven Chicago Blues sound to insanely distorted nu-metal settings with a few oddballs (Reggae-wah?) thrown in to boot.
With each built-in setting you get pre-set amp modeling, effects and so on, as well as an optional backing track of bass and drums. These built-in jam tracks are a great way to improve your playing. You can select the standard Rockin in G-DEC track, for example, and get a distorted rock guitar through a VOX style British amp sound with a steady 4/4 beat at 120 beats per minute in the key of E. There are backing tracks in various Blues, Classic Rock, Pop, Country, Jazz and Heavy Metal styles. While the sounds is good, they are MIDI loops and they do get a bit repetitious after a while. Still, you can easily change the tempo or the key, or change up the amp and effects settings, making practicing Pentatonic scales a whole lot more fun than just using a metronome. Because the tracks are MIDI, they play perfectly in any key or at any tempo; there's no distorted sounds from speeding up or slowing down. Best of all you can wail away doing solos for hours without anyone else in the band missing a beat or drinking your beer!
If you want to lay down a short rhythm guitar looop, you can record that and then play it back with the backing track and then improvise your heart out playing lead guitar. The G-DEC makes it as easy as its gonna be to try out different musical styles without having to spend hours futzing to get the exact tone you want. In fact the manual is barely a dozen pages and the controls are all easy to use.
Of course, you can futz around for hours if you want to customize any of the built-in presets. You can change the effects, the amp model parameters, the drum track and save it as one of your own 50 custom settings. The user interface is quite easy once you learn it. Just press a button (Amp, Fx, Drums) and rotate the big knob known as the "Data Wheel". (Ok, I must admit, I had to read the manual before I totally figured this out.)
You can also plug in directly to a midi-based PC or pull in tracks directly from a CD player or MP3 player. In fact the amp has a flat top making it convenient to put a CD Player (or beer) on top. Instead of the traditional built-in handle, there's a carrying strap.
As a practice amp, its got a decent sound, but you're never gonna mistake it for a tube amp. The G-DEC puts more emphasis on heavily distorted metal tones than on clean ones and while its unlikely you're going to be thrilled with all of the tones, there's still plenty to choose from. For the price and size, it's quite a good value, especially if you estimate the cost of a typical practice amp and one or two effects pedals or a Line 6 Pocket Pod, KORG Pandora PX5D or similar amp modeling device. Since it's all built-in, its very easy to use and there's no weird distortion of the backing track when you apply guitar effects. It's also got a great one-button electronic tuner that makes tuning up a snap.
However, at 15 watts, the G-DEC is definitely underpowered. It sounds like and feels like a beginner's amp, which of course it is. If you're looking for an amp that will get you practicing more, the G-DEC series is worth investigating. The G-DEC 30 gives you a bit more power with 30 watts, a bigger speaker, and more jam tracks. The G-DEC Junior (shown to the right) cuts out some of the bells and whistles in favor of simpler user interface with fewer tones and backing tracks.
Street price for the G-DEC is around $260 in the US, slightly higher elsewhere. The G-DEC 30 costs around $310 and the G-DEC Junior around $160, providing a range of choices depending on your budget and needs. One other thing to keep in mind, there is a big community of G-DEC users out there with all kinds of resources ranging from forums, mods, more backing tracks, etc. Below is a short video showing some of the features, tones and backing tracks of the Fender G-DEC.
Line 6 is the only other company offering a modeling amp with built-in backing tracks with their Spider Jam amp. That definitely goes far beyond the G-DEC with more tracks, more customization (and more complexity). But its only available in a 75 watt model with a price of around $500.