The Fender Hot Rod Deluxe III may very well still be the gold standard for working guitarists who want an inexpensive and reliable amplifier with tube tone that is “pedal friendly.”
The Fender Hot Rod Deluxe occupies a unique place amongst guitar amplifiers. It is without fail one of Fender’s best selling guitar amplifiers and occupies near legendary status as a gigging guitarist’s workhorse. The Hot Rod is also well recognized as one of the most “pedal friendly” amplifiers on the market with its exceptional clean sound and headroom. You would think that Fender would be inclined to sit back and enjoy the ride, given the popularity of the amp, but you’d be wrong. Pretty much any piece of gear can stand to be improved, and Fender actively sought feedback from Hod Rod amplifier owners to see what improvements could be made. The Hot Rod III series is the result. Is it possible to improve on a modern classic? Let’s find out.
I reviewed the Hot Rod Deluxe III, which is a 40W two channel tube amplifier powered by 3 12AX7 preamp tubes and 2 6L6 power tubes into a single 12″ Celestian speaker. Two inputs are available on the top panel which also features shared controls for volume, drive, treble, bass, middle, master volume, reverb, and presence. Selector switches are also available for normal/bright, more drive, and channel select. A real spring reverb is included as is a top panel accessible effects loop and footswitch jack. A higher quality 2-button footswitch is included as is a quality Fender cover. Changes to the series include an easier to read black control panel, improved overdrive circuit, and more consistent volume taper.
I tested the Hot Rod Deluxe with a new Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster HSS and a host of Boss, Fulltone, and Visual Sound effects pedals as well. I was most curious about the overdrive sound, since that’s not something this amp has ever been really known for in the past. I’m very pleased to say that the folks at Fender took reader suggestions seriously. The overdrive channel is no longer the flabby, loose sound you’ve come to expect from the Hot Rod amps in the past. It’s much tighter and suitable for a wide range of blues and rock tones. Metal and shred players will probably want to add a distortion pedal to get the sound they want, but for classic rock, and blues, the overdrive channel can rip with the best of them. Much improved over previous models!
When testing the clean channel, to be honest I wanted to make sure that they didn’t lose any of the great clean tones that I’ve come to expect from this amplifier in the past. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Fortunately, Fender left the pedal-friendly, loud clean tones intact and simply focused on improving the few shortcomings of the amp. If you ever played a previous generation Hot Rod amp, you knew how it could go from whisper quite to painful loud pretty fast. The problem was the taper of the volume pot, which wasn’t consistent. It just got too loud too quickly. Fender listened, and now the amp has a graduate volume control that makes honing in on the perfect sound much easier. Kudos to Fender on this one. It sounded great with a wide range of overdrive and distortion pedals. Few amps can nail a clean sound the way Fender can, and the Hot Rod Deluxe III is no exception. Shimmering highs and deep lows are standard fare here. The tone controls offer a wide array of tonal variety and also feature an even taper across the entire range of adjustment. The included Celestian speaker is much improved as well as is the included footswitch.
Given the low price and weight (<50 lbs), the Fender Hot Rod Deluxe III may very well still be the gold standard for working guitarists who want an inexpensive and reliable amplifier with tube tone that is “pedal friendly.” Fender left everything good in the amp and provided just a few common-sense tweaks. The new Hot Rod series is the real deal, no mistake about it. With its loud, pedal-loving clean channel and much improved overdrive channel, it’s hard to beat in its price range.
Name of Gear: Fender Hot Rod Deluxe III
List Price: $959.99
Manufacturer Info: Fender Musical Instruments; fender.com
Pros: Perfect amp for effects pedals; much improved overdrive sound; good bargain
Cons: None significant