Posts Tagged ‘Hot Rod Deluxe’

2231200000_amp_frt_001_nrI haven’t had much time to devote to GuitarGear.org in the last couple of years, so when I do post something, it has to be meaningful to me. And surprise, surprise… I got an email in my inbox this morning that kind of intrigued me. It was an announcement from Fender that they were releasing version IV of their popular Hot Rod Series of amps.

Normally, I’d be like “whoop-dee-doo,” but after reading what they’ve done with the amps, I got really intrigued. I’ve had a Hot Rod Deluxe for years; it was my very first tube amp. So I’ve kept tabs on the various changes the lineup has gone through. I haven’t been all that impressed with the previous releases, but the new features in the new version – at least in the Hot Rod Deluxe and Deville – are pretty significant; significant enough for me to plug it. So here’s what Fender has listed on their site for major features:

  • 40 watts; Normal, Drive, and More Drive channels
  • Celestion 12″ A-Type speaker
  • Modified preamp circuitry for increased overdriven note definition
  • Spring reverb modified for improved smoothness
  • Lightweight pine cabinet
  • Includes 2-button footswitch and cover

To me, the two features that stick out are the pine cabinet and the preamp circuitry for better overdrive. In particular, the overdrive on the Hot Rod has been pretty weak in previous versions. In fact, I would rarely use the drive channel on my own amp, and just use the amp as a pedal platform. But if they’ve improved the overdrive channel, that’s intriguing enough for me to check out.

I almost bought a Series III amp from my buddy a few years ago. It was much lighter in weight than my Series II, but the overdrive of the amp was simply, well, uninspiring, and way too open and choppy for my tastes. I even tried running the amp through a different speaker, and it still didn’t improve the sound. But if they’ve tightened it up with more note definition, this really gets me excited.

What about the change to a pine cabinet? Damn! Not only would that significantly lighten the weight of the amp, it would make it much more resonant. I absolutely love pine cabinets. They just resonate so, so beautifully! Combine that with the silky smooth Fender cleans or even with some tight overdrive, damn! Yet again! Interestingly enough, with the Pro Junior IV and the Blues Junior IV, Fender has replaced the birch/plywood cabinet with MDF. Maybe it made more sense sonically to them; hard to know what a manufacturer is thinking.

I can’t wait until that amp is available in stores so I can test it. But in the meantime, if you’re curious, you can check out the product page on the Fender site.

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20161017_102120First, a little history…

My very first tube amp was a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. I got it based on a conversation I’d had with Noel at Tone Merchants in Orange, CA back in 2007; soon after I created this blog. In fact, my Hot Rod Deluxe was the reason I created this blog in the first place! It started making me think about gear combinations, and thus GuitarGear.org was born in January of 2007.

I remember the conversation. It was sometime around November 2006. At the time, I was playing an earlier model Line 6 and a Roland Cube 60. Both amps served me well for playing with my church band, and from 2001 through 2006, I just played those two amps (also, I’d occasionally use a Roland JC120).

But as I started getting the gear bug (I had already started to acquire a few guitars and a bunch of pedals), I realized that where I was lacking was in the amp department. So I started going on the gear boards, and I saw a reference to Tone Merchants and gave them a call. Noel answered the phone, and we must’ve chatted for at least a half-hour. He explained how tube amps worked and how they respond to various inputs and how different types of tube configurations produce different sounds. I remember telling him that my head was spinning.

He laughed and said that the trick with tube amps is that you have to play a bunch until you find the right sound for you. This is where he made the distinction between Marshall and Fender tones, and until I knew what I liked, he recommended I don’t buy a boutique amp right away. Instead, he said that I should get a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. It was a great platform with which to start out. I could learn about swapping tubes and replacing speakers. And then once I’d gotten the hang of a tube amp, I could start looking at other amps. So I got a Hot Rod Deluxe II. Then over the next few years acquired a bunch more amps, all in search of that elusive unicorn of tone.

Now I’ve come full circle. I’m back in a band that plays mostly 60’s – 70’s classic rock, but I’ve also made a foray into writing and playing reggae. Clean is the name of the game with almost everything I’m playing right now, and if I need some dirt, I just switch on an overdrive or distortion pedal. And since I’m gigging with the band, I’ve been wanting to use a simpler combo as opposed to my separate heads and cabs. Those give me a lot of versatility, but the fewer pieces to lug, the better.

Fixing my amp

With respect to the Hot Rod, it worked for a long time and though I didn’t use as much, I still played it. But about a year ago, I was recording a new reggae song, and it just started cutting out after a few minutes. And being in a rush to lay down a track, I just switched amps, not wanting to deal with my failed amp. So I covered up the Hot Rod and put it back on its shelf, where it stayed until this morning.

I recently wrote a blog post about the Fender Ultra Chorus and said I wanted to get one. But I thought to myself this morning that rather than getting yet another amp, let me see if all that was wrong with the Hot Rod was a bad power tube. Luckily I had a matched set of spare JJ 6L6GCs in my tube drawer.

So I pulled my amp off the shelf, I plugged the power tubes in, and let the amp run for several minutes in standby mode. Then I started playing and found absolutely nothing wrong. Damn! There was that Fender clean tone! And with the scooped tone of the Eminence Red Coat “The Governor” speaker that I installed years ago, it was simply audio honey!

I love it when a fix goes this easy! Especially for me, deathly afraid of electronics, swapping out tubes is about the most I will do. But more importantly, I now my gigging amp! I never thought I’d use my Hot Rod Deluxe again, but as they say, needs must.

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I broke the guide post on one of the 6L6 tubes in my trust Fender Hot Rod Deluxe awhile back, and even though the tube still worked just fine, I used it as an excuse to get a new set of power tubes. So after doing a search around the Internet for a new set of 6L6’s, I found myself on Brent Jesse Recording’s (audiotubes.com) site, looking for some NOS replacements for the JJ’s I had in there.

Not knowing what to purchase, I called Brent up, and asked for his recommendation. Surprisingly enough, he recommended a set of Groove Tubes. I said, “Groove Tubes? I can’t stand ’em.” But Brent explained that these particular Groove Tubes were not the imported, relabeled stuff from Russia or China. They’re re-issues of RCA and GE black plates made from NOS materials and constructed here in the US. Intriguing. I’ve purchase a few sets of tubes from Brent in the past, and he has never steered me wrong, so I decided to take a chance and get a pair.

The tubes arrived yesterday so of course, I just had to install them. What’s the verdict? They sound absolutely KILLER! The big test for me – especially with NOS tubes – is to run them full out to see how they break up. The problem I’ve had with late model power tubes in general (but especially with 6L6’s) is that they feel stiff and the breakup can be a bit harsh.

To me, NOS tubes have always felt much more smooth and dynamic. These Groove Tubes tubes are a huge exception to late model tubes. I can’t believe just how nicely these re-issues break up! The distortion is creamy smooth and slightly compressed with nice bloom and sustain without being too squishy – just how I like it! Caveat: They’re not cheap. These tubes are $80 for a matched pair, but they’re worth every penny! I just ordered a second set for spares since these tubes are limited quantity. They may not necessarily be NOS tubes, but as they’re made with NOS materials, there is definitely a limit. So if you’re looking for new production tubes that sound absolutely fantastic, you gotta check these out!

A word on the Fender Hot Rod Deluxe

It’s my contention that the Fender Hot Rod Deluxe is one of the most underrated amps on the market. Okay, I admit it: Stock it doesn’t sound all that good. But with the right tubes and the right speaker, it can sound incredible! Granted, a year or two ago, I wouldn’t have even considered buying this amp because of the huge price hike. I got mine on special for something like $550 in a blowout sale a few years ago. But the prices aren’t all that bad now. They’ve come down significantly from their nearly $900 price tag, and you can find them for around $649. Admittedly, it’ll probably cost $300-$400 more in tubes and replacement speaker, but what you get is an AWESOME amp. I’ll have clips in a few days.

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Ever been in one of those situations where you have to face up to something you’d said or done, but avoid it all costs because it gives you this feeling of impending doom? I was recently in a situation like this, and it wasn’t at all comfortable going through the emotional and psychic turmoil leading up to the conversation the ultimately resulted in – nothing. No slap on the wrist, no punishment. Just a good conversation where everyone involved learned from the experience.

Anyway, last night I was noodling on my guitar; my eyes were closed, letting my emotions drive my playing. Then I remembered that situation, and came up with the rhythm track for the song. It’s all instrumental – it’s not something I would ever want to put to words, but I did want to convey the emotions. Give it a listen let me know what you think:

Gear Used:

Rhythm Guitars: Strat and Prestige Heritage Elite
Lead: Prestige Heritage Elite
Amps: Hot Rod Deluxe (Strat); Aracom VRX22 (Heritage)

For the rhythm parts, the Strat/Hot Rod is panned to the left of the mix, and the Heritage/VRX22 (clean channel) is panned to the right. The lead part sits dead center.

I’m particularly pleased with the Hot Rod’s tone. The clean tone with that awesome spring reverb is to die for (though I had the reverb down pretty low on it to give the Strat more presence). I’m also diggin’ the Prestige Heritage Elite; especially after I set it up. In particular, I adjusted the pickup heights to smooth out the treble pickup, and to get less boom from the rhythm pickup. It’s now very balanced; and played through the VRX22, it sounds just awesome. I played the lead part through the drive channel of the amp, and set the volume so that it was just on the edge of breakup, so if I dug in a bit, I’d get just a touch of overdrive. I wanted to create an effect of subdued aggression, and the VRX22 is so dynamic, I can achieve that easily.

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Over the weekend, and after a few years of owning it, I finally replaced the original speaker on my Hot Rod Deluxe with an Eminence Red Coat “The Governor.” I had already replaced the original tubes and had some other mods done to the amp to smooth out the drive channel, but there was always something missing, and that turned out to be the speaker. What a difference that has made! I feel like my Hot Rod is now no longer a Padawan but a true Jedi. 🙂

The Hot Rod was my very first tube amp, and when I bought it, I just loved the sound, but as time wore on and as I played some really great amps, my love for the amp faded, and while I’d use it for some applications, it just didn’t have a sound that I considered to be first class. With the new speaker, it is now – in my opinion – a first class sounding amp. The cleans are gorgeous and the overdrive tone is nice and open, but well-defined, with no flabby bottom end. I’m in love again! Now with my Aracom VRX22, I’ve got two great amps!

Here’s a clip I put together while playing around this evening that demonstrates how gorgeous the clean tones are:

I used my Strat for the rhythm part – amazingly in the middle pickup, which I’m really starting to love – and did the simple solo with my Prestige Guitars Heritage Elite with both pickups with about 60/40 mix of bridge and neck, respectively. The reverb you hear in the solo is the spring reverb in the Hot Rod. I have to say that Fender does reverb right. 🙂

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Fender Hot Rod DeluxeAfter having my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe for a few years now, I finally decided to swap the stock speaker for an Eminence Red Coat “The Governor,” which is a moderately-priced ceramic speaker. What’s difference now? The Hot Rod Deluxe is a very mid-rangy amp in the first place, but at higher gain, the tone became a little flabby. In fact, when I knew I was going to play at gig volumes I had to dial down the bass to about 9 or 10 o’clock, and set the mid and high around 3pm to get a more crisp sound. I was able to alleviate a bit of that flabbiness with better tubes than the stock Groove Tubes, but I always suspected that the speaker had a lot to do with the flabby bottom end. I don’t know why I waited to do this simple, simple modification. It literally took 10 minutes to swap it out.

So why the Eminence Governor? Mainly because I wanted a nice mid-range focused speaker that had a smooth bottom end, and slightly sparkly highs. I had also played the Governor in a couple of different amps, and was really impressed with its brighter voicing. Here’s a frequency response chart for the Governor:

The Governor Frequency Response Chart

As you can see from the chart, the bottom end portion of the curve is a nice, smooth line. In the mid-range, the frequency response is fairly complex, then in the highs, you get some nice peaks in the 2-3 kHz range, finished off with some subtle motes above 10 kHz. The tone in the amp reflects this well. The bottom end is there, and very tame, and the mid- and high-freq response creates a gorgeous, and spacious tone. I’ll probably have some clips in the next few days, but here are clips directly off the Eminence site:


Heavy Distortion


All in all, this has got to be the most significant improvement to my Hot Rod’s tone!

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Fender Hot Rod Deluxe
If you’ve had your ear to the ground about the oncoming Fender price hike well, it’s real, and it’s here. I was in a shop today, and a brand new Fender Hot Rod Deluxe – the exact same amp I own that I got for $599, for a whopping $839, with a list of $1200! For cryin’ out loud! This amp is NOT a boutique amp. While a tube amp, it has a solid state well, everything. All the electronics are on PCB boards, and the damn thing’s not even assembled in the USA!

If I was looking for my first tube amp, at these prices, I’d ignore Fender, and get something like an Orange Tiny Terror, or an Aracom RoxBox. The Tiny Terror costs $550 new, and RoxBox head is $895. I’ve played both, and they both sound way better (at least to my ears) right out of the box than the Hot Rod, which I had to spend even more money on mods and better tubes than the stock GrooveTubes that come with it.

Make no bones about it: Fender amps at this level ain’t boutique, not in the slightest, but they’re approaching boutique amp prices. Well, I guess it’s the sign of the economic times.

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