It’s something of a statistical truism: the more popular and wide-spread the item of gear, the longer of lists of pros and cons that cluster around it. Such is the fate of the Fender Blues Deluxe III. Mick hailed it as “probably the most popular professional valve amplifier available. You go into any venue, pretty much, most touring stages, to supply back-lines, it is an absolute staple of the guitar amplifier market.” So the questions is, can this workhorse be improved or tasked with jobs that optimize its hidden features?
Clean Tones, Dirty Drives, and Stacking Up
Now in its third iteration, the Hot Rod Deluxe is a dual-channel, 40w combo loaded with a 12” Celestion boomer, 12AX7 tubes in the preamp, and a pair of 6L6 tubes in the power amp section. This means that straight out of the Fender factory, the amp comes with loads of headroom and that iconic yet delicate balance of warmth and brightness only Fender can engineer. So, what’s to be said about these two sides of the amp?
When the clean channel was hit with the Keeley D&M Drive, the Deluxe’s headroom provided space (and then some!) for letting the complex gain and boost roar. Or, in Mick’s words, “One of the reasons people say it’s a great pedal amp is because it has all that headroom in the first channel.” In short, the amp’s clean channel is an ideal palette for painting with pedal-based gain and overdrive sounds.
As Mick introduced the gain channel on the Deluxe, he noted that this aspect of the amp is at times criticized by users who find it challenging to dial in the right sound. Yet, as Dan & Mick were quick to demonstrate, while the gain was spikey at low volume there is a simple antidote to the ailment: crank it up so the amp can work at its best! While Fender’s don’t typically excel in high gain sounds, by hitting the “More Drive” button on the gain channel the Deluxe paired particularly well with higher output humbucker guitars. As Mick concluded, “I don’t think that’s a bad gain sound at all!”
One of the secret places the dirty channel excelled was when another gain source was stacked on top of it. When it came to fuzz, the Deluxe offered up two distinct textures depending on whether the clean or dirty channel was the foundation. As Mick commented, “into the overdrive channel you get a bit more smoothness. You wouldn’t have guessed that that was a Fender amp, would you?!” In this respect, the Deluxe is an undeniable asset for overdrive architects who achieve their sounds by layering different types of drives.
Building a Custom Tone by Bypassing the Preamp
Feeding the input of your pedal board into the power amp return of the Deluxe will cut the preamp tubes out of the equation and allow you to craft a new tone that is uninterfered as it hits the power amp section. By doing this, all volume and EQ controls—save for reverb and presence—are also deactivated. This means the Deluxe’s default is an inviting wide-open Master volume that can be further shaped by any EQ or tone controls provided by the pedals you pitch at it.
Using a pedal inspired by the gain sounds of a Dumble Overdrive Special—the Kingsley Maiden tube preamp—Dan & Mick showed that the Deluxe has a hidden tier for building custom sounds using pedals. Similar sounds could also be achieved by running other top picks for Dumble-esque pedals into the Deluxe, such as the MXR Shin Juku Drive or Wampler Euphoria. In this way, the Deluxe is an ideal choice for plugging in a range of pedals that are modelled after the tones of other epic amps. Essentially, you optimize the power amp yet bypass any coloring of the sound that would result from the Deluxe’s preamp.
Swapping Speakers to Give Your Deluxe a Custom Vibe
Remember that time back in the day when your car stereo was worth more than the vehicle itself? Those skills you mastered in installing speakers back then are finally coming in handy.
There are essentially two ways to mod the Deluxe. First, fully commit and change the speaker within the cabinet itself. While this mod is relatively simple to conduct, a little research goes a long way. As Mick highlighted, it’s essential to ensure the measurements of your cab will allow for those of the new speaker, particularly on the back end with protruding magnets. This minor surgery is a common mod that makes your Deluxe anything but common and gives a custom feel.
The second way is less invasive and permanent. Simply disconnect the Deluxe’s stock speaker and run the amp through an extension cabinet. In the episode, Dan & Mick took this route and did a compare and contrast between the Deluxe’s native Celestion G12-P 80w speaker with two differently equipped 1x12 cabinets: a Zilla loaded with a Celestion G12-H 75w cream-back speaker and Hamstead equipped with a Celestion Alnico G12 cream 90w speaker. After a play through with all the options, Dan remarked, “Speaker choice is 50% of the sound of the amplifier…it’s amazing the difference it makes.”
In addition to gaining a new dynamic of a different speaker, both Dan & Mick highlighted an often-overlooked asset of the real estate of 1x12 cabinets. Essentially, the space that would be eaten up by the electronic infrastructure in a combo is suddenly opened up for the speaker to breath and bark. So, if an extension cab is what your Deluxe needs for new life, click over to the Riff City guitar extension cabinets isle for options in all shapes, sizes, and makes.
That’s our highlight reel from this week’s TPS episode. If this take on the versatility of the Blues Deluxe piqued your interest, yet the 40W on tap is more than you need, take a look at Dan & Mick’s study of how to get more out of it’s equally popular little brother, the Fender Blues Junior III (https://youtu.be/aTUOvgB3j6c). As always, don’t forget to support the growing empire of TPS over at www.patreon.com/thatpedalshow and www.thatpedalshowstore.com.
Gear Used in This Episode:
Dan: 1963 Closet Classic Fender Telecaster (ca. 2000); 1958 Gibson Custom Les Paul Standard (ca. 2002). Mick: 1962 American Vintage Fender Stratocaster (ca. 2000); Paul Reed Smith DGT (ca. 2008); 1960s Fender Stratocaster, reverse headstock (ca. 2007/08).
Amps: Fender Hot Rod Deluxe III.
Cabinets: Zilla 1x12 cabinet, Celestion G12-H 75w cream-back speaker; Hamstead 1x12 cabinet, Celestion Alnico G12 cream 90w speaker.Pedals: This episode featured Mick’s new pedal board. For a full view of its build process and individual items, check out the recent TPS pedal board building special (https://youtu.be/-wpAnCeHPQs).