A Tale of 2 Combos – The Fender Hot Rod Deville and The Vox AC30 C2

Over the past 20 or so years, the 2 most prevalent guitar amp combos in use have been the Fender Hot Rod DeVille and the Vox AC 30. They have graced studios, stages, TV shows, club gigs, among others.

Today I’m going to talk about the merits of both of these, having used them extensively.


The  DeVille was released in 1993,as the Blues Deville. An affordable, versatile and loud amp; in 2 x12, 4×10, and 1×12 configurations, it quickly caught on with all styles of music and players.The Hot Rod Deville came along in 1996. With an added overdrive channel, it is Fender’s biggest selling tube amp, and quite possibly, the biggest selling tube amp of all time. It owes it’s heritage to a certain ‘blackface’ sound that will naturally distort after a certain volume level is reached; there is an overdrive channel with 2 different settings. Along with the famous Fender reverb, an FX loop, 2 6L6 tubes, 3 12 AX7 preamp tubes, a solid state rectifier, and  Celestion 70/80 speakers. These break in really nicely, and offer an affordable, toneful solution to an aftermarket speaker replacement. The HRD takes virtually any kind of pedal beautifully.  A no frills, no nonsense amp that I have used in a variety of situations. I really can’t say enough about it. It has never, I mean never, broken down. The only thing I’ve done(after a year or so of heavy playing) is replace the tubes.

So if you are the type of player that likes the classic Fender clean sound, this is the amp.

There is a new HRD in Fender’s lineup; called the HRD ML, it was designed with input from session guitarist Michael Landau. For those who have not heard of Michael, in my opinion, he is the best of the best. He has been a first call session guitarist since the late 70’s playing on the famous Boz Scaggs recording Silk Degrees; he  has played, recorded and toured with countless others, including Joni Mitchell Miles Davis, James Taylor, etc…..and almost every pop record that came out of LA.

For years, Michael has been able to use whatever type of amp he likes; Rivera, Bogner, Mesa, Badcat, Suhr, Jose Arrendondo- modded Marshalls, etc. But over the past 4-5 years, he has requested HRD’s when touring. He runs them in stereo, and does a speaker swap. So at the 2015 NAMM show, the ML was released to unanimous acclaim. The difference with this one is that there is no overdrive channel, there are 2 clean channels; the 2nd one has a boost switch on it. So one can tailor their sound in accordance with whatever pedal they like. And the HRD loves pedal of all kinds, regardless of configuration. I can attest to this personally. The ML has reverb, an FX loop, and 2 Celestion V70 speakers. Once again, they break in really nicely. It also has a leather handle and a handwired speaker jack.


Onto the venerable Vox AC30. From the Beatles to the Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, and Queen(who could ever forget Brian Mays sound??), the AC is a gorgeous, organic sounding amp. It uses EL84 tubes to produce 30 watts of class A power. Over the years, there have been a number of incarnations of the AC, from all tube tremolo and reverb to a tube rectifier. Over the past few years, they’ve gone to a more player friendly format, in the form of the AC30C2. They still use 4 EL84 tubes, 3 12AX7 preamp tubes, but with a solid state rectifier and a digital reverb and trem. The solid state rectifier produces a punchier, cleaner sound and honestly, is much more reliable than a tube. It also has  normal and top boost channels, each with 2 inputs. These are not foot-switchable, but they are blendable with a jumper cable so that a guitarist can dial in whatever combination they like. It also has a really, really good FX loop. I’ve run a number of delays, etc. thru it and it works flawlessly.

Why do I love an AC30? For me, I’ve used one a lot and it is a  very different amp from the Fender. It has a throatier clean sound; when the amp is turned up, I can get all kinds of gradations of tone by simply varying the volume on the pickup or a volume pedal.  It can go from clean to half-clean to a silky organic OD sound that I can feel in my fingers. I’ve used a Suhr Antique Classic Strat with single-coil pickups, a Tele with humbuckers, a Suhr Modern Satin with juiced up pickups, a Music Man Luke 3; each guitar’s personality shines thru. As far as volume goes, I’ve recorded live with this one a lot and continue to be astounded at how well the AC sits in a mix. The  AC has a certain midrange frequency that matches a guitar’s sonic range. An overlooked aspect to an AC is the ‘jazz guitar sound’. There is nothing that sounds as rich, natural and organic as an archtop through it. I think these 2 were made for each other.

A word about the power tubes.  I’ve found that they need to be replaced every 6 months, if one plays a lot. The reason for this is that an EL84 is a smaller bottled tube with a smaller vacuum; as a result, it reaches it’s range quicker than a big bottle 6L6. That’s the trade off for getting this silky tonality. But one I’m happy to make.

The look of an AC30 is classic. It’s part of our heritage as guitarists. The present AC comes standard with 2 Celestion Greenback 25 watt speakers or for an additional charge , 2 Celestion Alnico Blues. I personally love the Greenbacks.

N Stuff Music is an authorized Vox and Fender dealer. We are proud to carry these 2 lines.

For more info, just log onto www.nstuffmusic.com or call 412.828.1003

-Mark Lucas

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