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fender_drriOkay, I lied. I said in my previous article that I’d have a First Impressions article in the next couple of days. But I got to play around with the amp for a couple of hours yesterday and decided that I played it enough to get a good idea of what I like and don’t like, at least a first blush.

What I Liked

The cleans with this amp are just as expected from any Fender tube amp: They’re spectacular. With just a little bit of reverb grease (around 2-3), the cleans sound deep and alluring. Played with my American Deluxe Strat with Kinman HX pickups and my ’59 Les Paul Replica, I just fell in love with the clean tone this amp creates! Old Leo got it right with the cleans on his amps. There’s nothing like a Fender clean sound. I realize that it’s not for everyone, but I’ve always been a fan.

As far as overdrive is concerned, this amp wants to growl. It stays pretty clean up to 4 on the volume knob, then will start breaking up. With the higher-output HX pickups on my Strat, I could get a great gritty tone with the volume knob on my guitar set at about 6-7; then just a little grittier when I dime my volume. It’s a completely different experience with my Les Paul, even with the lower-output Dr. Vintage PAFs. Set at about 5, I could get tons of grit, then cranked, I’d start getting some compression out of the power tubes. Upping the amp’s volume to 6-7 got me into tons of distortion. The cool thing was that the amp cleaned up very well, when I brought the volume down on my guitar, so it’s totally controllable.

What I Didn’t Like

While I liked the nature of the grit coming from the tubes, I didn’t care too much for the actual tone. Cleans were fine, well, as I said, “spectacular.” But I’m playing lead guitar in a classic rock band, and I’m anticipating using the amp to get a great rock sound. To me, that’s not possible with the stock speaker.

While I love Jensen speakers – I’m a huge fanboy of the Jet series – I’m not too keen on Jensen alnico speakers; at least for rock. For blues, they sound great, and when I did play bluesy stuff which didn’t require much grit, I loved the tone. But when I pushed the amp hard, the speaker breakup turned a little flabby for my tastes, and the amp lost a lot of dynamics and touch-sensitivity, and sounded “mushy.” It was a very “meh” experience. I think that’s a factor – at least for me – with Alnico speakers. I’ve only liked them for rock tones when there’s a couple or a few in a cab. But in a 1 X 12, their tone just doesn’t appeal to me.

I originally thought that with a 40 Watt speaker, I could get a great tone as the combination of tube and speaker breakup would produce something nice. But what I found was that particular combination didn’t really do it for me. The amp itself breaks up early, and around 6-7, I get all the breakup I need when I dime my guitar’s volume. Plus, when I bring my guitar volume down to 2 or 3, the amp cleans up. So that’s definitely the sweet spot, amp-wise. Unfortunately, the 40 Watt speaker can’t take that kind of gain.

But it’s a damn good thing that I have a lot of gear!

I pulled my 1 X 12 cabinet loaded with my latest favorite speaker, the Jensen Jet Nighthawk, and everything changed. My disappointment overdriving the stock speaker was complete erased when I when I hooked that cabinet up. The thing about the Nighthawk is that it has a full bottom-end, but not so beefy that it overshadows the tone. At the same time, the mids are tight and understated and the highs are just high enough to cut through a mix. So while you might think that the speaker might be on the warm side, it’s actually not. It’s more of a scooped tone (you’ll see what I mean if you at the frequency response chart on the link I shared above).

What this means for this amp is that it’s the perfect foil for the natural midrange I’ve come to expect from amps equipped with 6V6 power tubes, and totally balances out the tone of the amp. And yes, it is 75 Watts, which means that by using this speaker, the amp got a whole lot more clean headroom, which was why they put a lower wattage speaker in, to get breakup early. But for me, the amp itself produces all the overdrive I need. I don’t need metal crunch because I’m playing classic rock. If I ever need more, I just have to plug in my EWS Little Brute Drive, and I’ll get all the crunch I need.

That said, with the 75 Watt speaker, I could crank up the amp to pretty high levels to really push the tubes, and unlike the stock speaker, the overdrive did not sound flabby, nor did I lose the dynamics and touch-sensitivity as I did with the stock Alnico.

To get to that kind of drive without pissing off my wife who was working in the next room, I did use an attenuator (an Aracom DRX). No, I wasn’t at bedroom levels because that would just sound funky. But it was above conversation levels. At that volume the speaker wasn’t breaking up at all, so what I got was pure amp tone. In a word, the tone is inspiring.

Overall Initial Impression

To be perfectly honest, and  I know that this is purely subjective, in stock configuration, this amp is really meant for the blues. I originally thought otherwise based upon a pretty good demo I saw on YouTube of this very amp that it could be used for rock and softer alt-rock. But the guy doing the demo was playing a standard Strat, so the demo only displayed a fairly narrow set of its capabilities as standard single-coil pups just won’t push the front-end as much as my Kinman HX and humbuckers. Like I said, it’s a totally different story with a Les Paul.

That’s not to say that if you throw a couple of pedals in front of it, you can make it rock as-is. You can do that, but for me, I like my overdrive to come predominantly from my amp, then use an overdrive pedal to help push it over the edge and add only a touch of its own dirt to the signal. So that option is kind of out of the question.

Speaking of clean headroom… considering the configuration, I’m wondering what target market Fender had in mind for the Limited Edition DRRI. It’s certainly pretty to look at with its wheat grille and burgundy tolex. It almost screams “furniture,” which might imply that this is a bedroom or living room piece, as opposed to the more pedestrian standard DRRI, which sports an 80 Watt Jensen C12-K. That’s more headroom, but that kind of volume is more like gig volume to me.

But considering I don’t like the stock speaker, which might be the noose that kills this for me, with the right speaker, this can do rock, and do it quite well. Plus, it’s a combo, which is what I’m looking for with my new band. I don’t really want to lug a head and cab around.

All in all, I like this amp  – a lot – so I think I’ll hold on to it for awhile. Admittedly, I won’t make my final decision until I use it at a gig, but I think it’ll work just fine once I swap out the stock speaker.

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fender_drriI haven’t been this excited about some gear in a long time! Actually, I haven’t done all that much reviewing in awhile. Sure, I’ve done some little things here and there, but haven’t done an amp in a LONG time.

When I picked this up at my buddy Dave’s house yesterday (he was my right-hand man in my previous band), I remarked that I haven’t done any amp reviews in awhile, and that I’ll probably write a review of it since I’m testing it to see if I want to buy it from him. A large part of me not writing is that I haven’t been in a band for a year and a half, so my “need” for gear and subsequently my GAS has been seriously curtailed. He laughed, saying the same thing. Now that he’s in another band, he’s starting to buy gear again (actually, I’m jealous because he’s setting up his living room as a jam center).

He even showed me some pedals that I really need to check out, like the Mad Professor Silver Spring Reverb. OMG! Talk about gooey, wet ‘verb! I played that pedal with a Les Paul Custom, into a custom Aracom VRX18. Could’ve sworn I was playing through a Fender amp! Gorgeous!

What really excites me about this amp is getting it into its breakup zone. Fender amps are known for their clean headroom, so when I hook up my attenuator to this, I’m hoping it’ll be a revelation! We shall see… 🙂

So… GAS is in full flow right now! I’ll probably post a “First Impressions” article in the next couple of days. ROCK ON!

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Last week, after watching the video of George Benson describing the construction of his new Fender Twin Signature, I got that ol’ familiar feelin’ of GAS. I loved the sound of that amp, and as the new band I’m in plays mostly classic rock from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, I figured I’d be playing mostly clean, which just a touch of grit at times. While my Marshall-style amps from Aracom are absolutely awesome, I haven’t had a Fender amp in my lineup for awhile. That Twin Reverb seemed to me something worth checking out.

But then after a gig I did yesterday with members from my old church band, I was mentioning that Twin to my good buddy Dave, and how I just loved that clean sound. He pulled me aside and told me that he was going to be selling his Deluxe Reverb Limited Edition, and I could try it out first. SHIT! Instant GAS attack! I love that amp! Dave had brought it to church a few times in the past, and it’s sound is incredible! I played it with both a Strat and a Les Paul, and I just loved the creamy-smooth cleans that would issue forth from the amp. Such a sweet, sweet sound! I’m going to pick up the amp probably in the middle of the week, and I’m itching to play it; both in my man-cave and at my next band rehearsal.

In anticipation of playing it, I did a bit of research on this particular version of the Deluxe. What I didn’t realize was that as opposed to having a 75 Watt speaker, this amp sports a Jensen C-12K, which is rated at 40 Watt. Effectively, this means that beyond a certain volume setting, the speaker will break up more and not get too loud. For rock and roll, this is ideal, and what gets me excited about this amp.

That doesn’t mean that this amp is quiet by any means. Fender amps are LOUD. But that’s why attenuators exist, right? 🙂 Besides, I’ll probably only have to attenuate my volume for rehearsal, which is in a pretty small room. For gigs, I may even have to use an expansion cab to add more dispersal, but we’ll see. In any case, I’m excited about getting to know this amp. Could it be something I add to my stable? We’ll just have to wait and see…

On another note, looking back on this blog, having created it in January of 2007 – hard to believe that it’s nine years old – I realized that my GAS is directly related to how active I am with a band. The last year and half, I haven’t been in a band at all, having played mostly solo, and the times I’ve sat in on a band, the gear I’ve got totally sufficed. But now that I’m in a new band, with entirely new responsibilities, I’m finding that I’m getting GAS – AGAIN!

BUT, I also realized that my particular form of GAS is more practical in nature – if you can call GAS practical – and has been a response to filling “holes” in my rig or to satisfy a particular need. With this particular GAS attack, I’m looking to get a combo to gig with. With my old church band, lugging my gear to the church wasn’t a problem. We rehearsed and performed on the same day, I live literally 3 minutes from the church, so I’d just bring whatever I need for the set to church, hook it up, and was fine for the 5-6 hours I’d be there.

But with the new band, we rehearse at a band member’s house, then play in different venues, so the fewer pieces I have to carry, the better, and a combo just makes a lot more sense. So we’ll see how this test goes. I’m pretty excited!

Correction:  Oops! My bad! A reader pointed out that I specified the Jensen C-12K as the speaker for this amp. It’s actually a Jensen P12Q, which has an alnico magnet and rated at 40Watts.

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So I got this email from the Fender PR department telling me about their new guitar configurator called “Design Your Own.” So I went down to the Fender site and designed my dream Strat. Pretty cool stuff! I guess Fender figured if car manufacturers could do this (I designed my 2014 C7 Corvette), they could do it too. And why not? It’s totally cool to be able to spec out and also see what you’re going to buy (or at least plan or dream about buying).

You know me, I’m not too much into gimmicks, and on the surface, this might seem like one, but it’s actually pretty cool. Check it out!

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mlb-strat-sfNot sure how I feel about this one. But here’s a press release I got from Fender yesterday.

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FENDER® MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS CREATES UNIQUE MLB-THEMED STRATOCASTER®
GUITARS FOR MUSICIANS AND BASEBALL ENTHUSIASTS

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.  (March 20, 2014) – Fender is proud to announce it will offer fans collectible MLB-themed electric guitars that sound as great as they look. Each Fender Stratocaster® guitar will feature official team logos along with custom designed landmark imagery unique to the team’s market, as well as a “MLB” logo adorning the neck plate.

The initial group of team guitars available in 2014 includes the Arizona Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants. Also available is a Minnesota Twins All-Star Game guitar that features unique Minnesota imagery in honor of the team hosting the Midsummer Classic in 2014.

In addition, each guitar features an alder body, maple neck with a modern “C”-shape and 21 medium jumbo frets, three standard single-coil Strat®pickups, six-saddle vintage-style synchronized tremolo, five-position switch, master volume and tone knobs, and standard gig bag.

“Fender and Major League Baseball are all-American originals,” said Justin Norvell, Fender marketing vice president. “Through this relationship, we’re excited to ‘team up’ to provide one-of-a-kind collectibles for musicians and baseball fans alike. The connections are intrinsic — baseball bats and guitars are both made from maple and ash, and tons of ballplayers are guitar players. We’ve had more casual or informal connections with players and teams for years, so this further solidifies a relationship we’ve long valued and enjoyed.”

Fender and MLB officially launched their relationship during the 2013 MLB All-Star Game at the New York Mets Citi Field by selling limited edition MLB All-Star Game Stratocaster guitars. Now, baseball fans throughout the United States can craft their own rock ‘n’ roll classics while representing their favorite MLB teams.

These instruments will be available to U.S. consumers only beginning March 31 exclusively at http://www.fender.com/mlb and http://www.shop.mlb.com, as well as in team shops at select MLB ballparks.

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Don’t know what price point these will come in at. I guess we’ll see when they get released on March 31. Definitely not something for me. Even though it’s a Strat, to me it’s akin to that leg lamp from the movie “A Christmas Story.” I suppose if you’re a big fan of particular team and a guitar player, you’d want one of these. But for me, as much of a Giants’ fan I am, I don’t ever see myself toting this one on my shoulder.

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Fender and Volkswagen came out with this last year, and Fender’s plugging it again. I dismissed it at first as a gimmick, but it looks like it’s here for another round for this year’s Beetle, Passat, and Jetta, though the premier plug is for the Beetle. As both Fender and Volkwagen put it, “the best seat in the house behind the wheel of a Volkswagen.” This time I watched videos, and sure, it’s a pretty cool system. But despite that, I still have a beef: An American guitar icon in a German vehicle? At least for me, when I think rock and roll and cars, I picture an American muscle, bad-ass, pussy-wagon like a Camaro SS, Shelby, Charger, or a Corvette. But a Beetle? I don’t give a rat’s ass if it has a turbo-charger. It ain’t a bad-ass American muscle car!

Think about it yourself. Think of rock and roll and then picture a car that goes with that rock and roll ideal. It’s quite likely that it’s not a Euro-bred exotic like a Lambo or Ferrari or Mercedes. Or if you’re into bikes, it’s a Harley, not a Gold Wing. Even if you compare drivers and rock and roll, who pops into your mind? It ain’t Michael Schumacher. It’s John Force or Don Garlitz (goin’ old-school here) or Paul Tracy or Dale Earnhardt (Senior and Junior).

Fender and Volkswagen don’t seem to fit to me. The brand targets are so different. Look, I had a New Beetle when they first came out. It was a fun, cruiser-mobile. I even had a daisy that I put in the mini flower vase on the control panel. But in no way would I consider it to be a rock and roll vehicle. I always knew while I had it that the New Beetle was for 20- or 30-something chicks who were into or needed something eclectic in their lives, or techno-geeks like me who didn’t want to buy a beemer with their high-tech winnings (thank gawd the Prius wasn’t out then).

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When I read the press release a couple of weeks ago, my initial reaction was “meh.” But in anticipation of NAMM next week, I decided to give the new series a look. I have to admit that while there are – at least to me – some impressive guitars in the lineup, I’m still a little “meh” about the whole thing. That said, the guitars that did impress me were the Telecaster SH and HH models, and the Strat HSS; in other words, the axes with humbuckers. What about the Jazzmasters? Never really been a big fan of those for some reason. It’s not that they’re bad guitars, but they’ve just never appealed to me.

I think also that I’m actually a bit sick and tired of all the demos that do all those blues runs; especially with the Strats. Okay, there are lots of blues players that use Strats, but I’m pretty tired of hearing the same runs over and over and over again. I know that shouldn’t be a mark against the guitar, but when I hear those blues licks now, I sort of tune out. But that’s just personal preference. I’ll let you make your decisions. Check out the product demo:

As far as the whole “select” thing goes, yeah, I can see how the tone woods and figured tops can make a difference. Cosmetically, these are some of the most beautiful Fenders I’ve seen in awhile. But to me, the Select series is simply a product gap filler between the American Series and the Custom Shop models. The price point on these guitars ($2500 range) is not bad at all. But then again, for my own personal taste, I’d probably look to a Les Paul Standard for that kind of money. That’s just me though… To be fair though, I’ll have to play the guitars to see if I change my mind…

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