A supremely versatile two-channel pedal platform.
Players who like pedals will love Fender’s new Hot Rod DeVille ML 212, a 60-watt, 6L6-powered 2x12 combo designed in collaboration with session ace Michael Landau. Design changes to satisfy Landau’s predilections make this a very different DeVille—and a fantastic platform for effects.
Hot Rod DeVille ML is part of Fender’s “Inspired By” series, a product family based on real-world modifications to Fender gear by pro players. Landau, a tone colorist, used a stock DeVille for years as a canvas for his pedals. But to Landau, master volume controls sound “artificial.” He’s also no fan of channel switching, contending that an EQ setting for one channel doesn’t always work for a second channel using the same tone circuit. So instead of switching between two channels, the ML 212 enables switching between two volume settings on a single channel.
2015 vs. 1966
Lacking master volume, the DeVille ML 212 recalls vintage Fender designs. Its dual 6L6 power section has been modified for extra headroom, and with 60 watts on tap, it has enough horsepower for any stage. There’s a bright switch for the first volume control, and a boost setting for the second volume. The included footswitch allows selection of each volume and the boost.. The speakers are 70-watt 12" Celestion V-Types. Meanwhile, the amp’s internal variable bias control means it’s easy to re-bias the amp after swapping tubes.
I auditioned the ML 212 with a humbucker-equipped Fender Esquire reissue, a ’73 Strat, and a ’68 Les Paul Standard. I also set the ML 212 alongside my 1966 blackface Fender Twin Reverb with vintage Celestion speakers. As much as I love my Twin, the newcomer kicked its butt in versatility and tonal purity, though they tie for headroom and fast response. The ML 212 was quieter, too (though after 48 years of service, the Twin is entitled to a little sonic dyspepsia).
I went for Landau-like settings, or at least my perception of them: volume controls at 3.5 and 5, bass at 6, mids at 5, treble at 7, reverb at 3, and presence at 4.5. Here the amp sounded sweet and snappy.
Landau’s signature guitar is a Stratocaster, so no surprise that the ML 212 and my well-worn single-coil critter took to each other. In the first volume mode, individual notes rang with more sustain and definition than on my old Twin. (Sorry, kid—I still love ya!) While the amp is voiced to cater to the bridge pickup in particular, I loved its lush, warm neck-pickup sound. My bridge pickup was bright and cutting, but less piercing than on my Twin at similar levels. The brightness control’s effect seemed miniscule here, though it lent high-end focus and made the output seem slightly less compressed.
The amp’s second volume mode provides a louder, prouder version of the same sound. That’s probably what a lot of us want in a channel-switching amp: more of what we already like. Kudos to Landau and Fender for realizing this simple vision.
The benefits of the boost function were modest to my ears, though I noticed more subtle harmonic bloom on each note. It’s debatable how perceptible this would this we be playing live with a band, but it sounded lovely in my practice room, and probably would in the studio as well.
Fender’s boast that the DeVille ML is a superior pedal platform is justified, especially when single-coils are involved. Whether I threw the crunch of a MW FuzzyTone, the purr of a Tube Screamer, or the roar of a Big Muff into the mix, the DeVille ML’s fundamental character remained intact. Modulation effects were especially articulate, and delay—well, I love delay, and I really loved adding it to the DeVille’s classy voice.
Results with the Les Paul were quite different, and occasionally disappointing. Humbuckers made the amp less smooth and more snarling, probably due in part to the Celestions and the amp’s knack for accentuating sustain. Crunchy neck-pickup rhythms sounded tough, but for most other applications, the Gibson/DeVille tandem was less nuanced. The boost didn’t add the same harmonic special sauce that it did with single-coils, and the Les Paul sounded piercing in the bridge position, though I could partially compensate with the Gibson’s tone knobs. (Interestingly, my Esquire with a late ’60s Gibson humbucker sounded more complex. Maybe the DeVille ML just doesn’t like mahogany.)
The Hot Rod DeVille ML 2x12 is beautifully built, thoughtfully conceived, and voiced perfectly for single-coil pickups. It makes using effects feel like working with paint, providing a transparent backdrop for bold colors. The volume-level switching is a brilliant solution for guitarists who simply want “louder”—not “different”—when they switch channels. If you love vintage-style single-coil tones, the ML 212 may be the modern Fender amp of your dreams. And at $1,099, it’s an absolute bargain compared to boutique alternatives.
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