Fender Hot Rod Deluxe Review
Review: Fender Hot Rod Deluxe
A workhorse amp, and a great investment!
A Brief History
Leo Fender, founder of the Fender Electrical Instrument Company, created some of the most sonically and visually iconic instruments and amplifiers the world has ever seen. His creations have gained legendary status and have become some of the most sought after among musicians and enthusiasts alike. Most gigging musicians, while in love with the classic Fender tube-amp tone, could not really afford the price tag of the early Fender amps. Understanding musician's desire to achieve the tone of those classic amps, Fender released the affordable Hot Rod Deluxe Amp in 1996 and have been making them ever since. Based on designs that date well back to the early 50's, The Hot Rod Deluxe has become, "the best-selling tube amplifier of all time", according to Shane Nicholas, Marketing Manager for Fender amplifiers.
The Hot Rod Deluxe is equipped with a series of three 12AX7 tubes for the pre-amp section, and two 6L6 tubes for the power section. All of this equates to 40 watts of pure tube tone. The amp is outfitted with a 12", 50 watt Special Design Eminence speaker.
The controls are top mounted and include: "Volume", (for the "Clean" channel), "Drive" and "Master", (which controls the amount of overdrive and volume for the "Drive" and "More Drive" channels respectively), "Treble", "Bass", "Middle" and "Presence", (which all help to shape the overall tone of your sound), and finally, "Reverb", (which controls the amount of Reverb from the on-board spring reverb unit). On the same control plate are also two input jacks, a "Pre Amp Out" and "Power Amp In", (which can be used as an effects loop), the "Normal/Bright" button, (which when engaged boosts the treble and upper mids), the "Channel Select" button, (used for toggling between the "Clean" and "Drive channels), the "More Drive" switch, (used to boost the normal "Drive" channel to give it more gain), the pilot light, (to show when it's "on"), and the "On/Off" and "On/Standby" switches. On the backside of the amp you'll find two output speaker jacks, (one is used for the onboard speaker, and the other allows you to route signal out to another speaker cabinet). The amp also comes with a vinyl cover and a footswitch, which controls the "Channel Select" and "More Drive".
This amp, just like most Fender amps, has a 5-year, non-transferable warranty, but is eligible for an exclusive, extended warranty through George's Music! [see your sales associate]
Some players would argue that an amp is only as good as how it looks - if it doesn't have the "vibe" factor, then it doesn't matter all that much how it sounds. Well if you fall into that category, the fine folks at Fender have you covered! Aesthetically, this amp has all of the gorgeous looks of the classic black-faced Fender amps from the late 50's to mid to late 60's, (Black Tolex covering, Silver "Sparkle" grille clothe and black "Chicken Head" control knobs, the whole 9-yards). This amp looks like it means business.
The "Clean" Channel
Once plugged in, I set the amp to the "clean" channel and set all of the tone settings to about 12 o'clock. The sound was great with this setting and provided a very mellow, clean tone. Turning the knobs in either direction yielded pretty noticeable results and it wasn't long before I had dialed in a very sweet and usable tone that brought to mind that classic Fender sound.
It was very easy to get any sound necessary to play multiple styles of music by simply turning the knobs. Everything from the warm, fat sound of jazz and bebop, to the bright twang of old country favorites and classic blues riffs, were easy to dial up. I kept the Volume knob right around 8 o' clock, or "2" on the dial, because it seemed like anywhere past that might induce ear bleeding levels!
The reverb on this amp provides a great sound. The reverb dial is very responsive and I was able to achieve anything from light reverb, which added some extra warmth and fatness to my tone, all the way to super saturated reverb that was reminiscent of classic hall style reverbs.
The "Drive" Channels
Once depressed, the "Channel Select" button makes an evident change in the sound. Playing around with the "Drive" knob in this setting yielded everything from a clean boost when turned all the way down, to a smoky blues sound when pushed more aggressively. Incorporating some slight reverb while keeping the "Drive" knob at about 11 o' clock, or somewhere around "5" on the dial, provided the best sound on this channel. It was a very useable sound that harkened to the tones of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" or "Layla".
Engaging the "More Drive" button seemed to thicken the sound up tremendously, but teetered on the brink of making it sound muddy and undefined. It was difficult to get a usable tone with this button engaged unless you are looking for the late 80's-early 90's punk sound (think Sonic Youth or Dinosaur Jr.). Similar to the clean channel, turning the "Master" volume knob anywhere past the "2" position was more than enough for a small practice space.
While playing, I tried using a few of the standard -issue effect stomp boxes, (i.e. wah, delay, overdrive, fuzz, phaser, tremolo) to see how they worked with the Hot Rod Deluxe's tone. I first plugged the effects to run in front of the amp - that is to say that I plugged my guitar into the first pedal in the chain and then from the output of the last pedal in the chain into the amp. This setup is pretty standard for most players using effects with combo amplifiers, however, this amp also comes with a built-in effects loop via the "Preamp Out"/"Power Amp In" jacks that I mentioned before which offers an alternative setup.
To properly utilize this feature, you'll want to plug your guitar directly into the first input jack on the amp. Next, take a small patch cable and plug it into the "Preamp Out" jack directly into the first effect in your chain. From the output jack of the last pedal in your chain, take another small patch cable and plug directly in to the "Power Amp In" jack.
Once plugged in to the effects loop, I tested the sound of the effects in the effects loop versus the sound of the effects when in the standard configuration. I was not able to hear a drastic difference, although when other effects were plugged in through the effects loop they had a warmer tone and boosted slightly boosted levels.
The "Clean" channel is really where this amp shines. If you are looking for an amp that can dial in that perfect clean tone best suited for jazz, country, rockabilly, pop, and rock, this amp is it.
Its 40 watts of power is another great feature. Forty watts may not sound like a lot, but just keep in mind that 40 watts of tube power is much more powerful than the equivalent in a solid-state amp. From the coffee shop to the arena, this amp is perfectly suited to provide you with ample volume for any gig.
The plug-in-and-play, no-nonsense set up of this amp is another benefit. It is simple to see that it can really be used and enjoyed by virtually anyone due to how simple it is to dial in luscious tone.
While the volume produced by the 40 watts of all tube can be a huge benefit to most, it can also be a slight downfall to this amp. If you are living in an apartment or in close quarters, your neighbors may not be thrilled with hearing you rip on "Smoke On the Water", and you may want to re-think this amp or at least pick up an attenuator (like the THD HotPlate) to get that tube overdrive without all the volume. While it can be turned down, I've found anywhere below "2" on the amp produces a "choked" tone and doesn't allow for the full tube tone to ring out.
While the "Drive" channels are unique sounding on this amp, and with a little experimenting you will undoubtedly find a great sound, I would caution anyone looking for the high-gain sound of hard rock and/or metal to look elsewhere. This amp just doesn't cut it if you're looking to play along with "Enter Sandman" or "Walk", nor is it designed to.
Another potential downside to this amp is the weight. This puppy weighs in at right around 45 lbs. So while it may not be as heavy as a Marshall full stack, it does get a little loathsome having to lug around town on gigs… especially if stairs are involved!
Who Is It For?
Overall this amp is incredible! Its versatility and ease of use make it a great buy for anyone from the hobbyist to the gigging musician. Beginners will love its plug-and-play features while the professional player will love its ruggedness and classic tube tone. This model sells for less than $850, which, when it comes to buying an all-tube amp, is a pretty light load on the pocket book as well. Even if you're just starting out, this amp will grow with you and provide years of amazing playing and tone.
The Fender Hot Rod Deluxe amp is a great buy for virtually any player. Everyone from the fledgling novice down to the seasoned pro will love its classic vibe, iconic sound, and ease of use. With all of the features, low price, and excellent tone, the Hot Rod Deluxe is a workhorse amp that is a great investment! Check one out at your nearest George's Music location or on the web at www.georgesmusic.com.