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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It’s amazing how unusual circumstances can connect players with great guitar equipment.
At that point, I didn’t think too much about my first encounter with the mysterious gentleman who’d been standing next to me. I figured he was an amplifier technician. Well, sort of . . . as I later found out. Fast-forward a decade: I was talking on the phone with one Bjorn Juhl, when he suddenly exclaimed, “You know what? I think we’ve met before.” When I asked him to describe where and when, he told me that he remembered a floor-length submarine jacket and a unique pair of red-on-black Spanish lace boots I wore that day. Those outrageously colorful boots ultimately hooked me up with a new amplifier: The Mad Professor CS-40. Fate you say? Definitely! Because it wasn’t long before Bjorn was making a serious attempt to get a Mad Professor CS-40 amp head to me to get an opinion on it.
At the time, a circle of close gearhead friends and I were getting ready to host our third annual “Tone Fest,” an event we’d started to showcase vintage or boutique amplifiers. The idea was to provide an opportunity for guitarists to get hands-on experience with equipment they might be curious about. And this was precisely where the Mad Professor made its debut— Tone Fest 2004. This particular amplifier has become one of my all-time favorites. Let’s take a look at some of its unique features and see why savvy players love it so much.
The CS-40 is, first of all, in the same category as other fast-response amps we’ve discussed in recent columns (Dumble in July 2010, Vox AC30 in August and December 2010, and Hiwatt in September 2010).
Several controls on the CS-40 are very cleverly designed for maximum versatility. The 4-position Focus control helps you “match” speaker cabinets to the CS-40 head. This control affects the amp’s feel and the sonic textures it produces. In position 1, the CS-40 delivers American-style sounds (think classic Fender tones). Position 2 yields some really amazing, early British sounds (yep, think Vox AC30 here as a reference). At position 3, you’ll easily cop some later British-style tones (thinking classic Marshall isn’t a bad idea). Finally, in position 4, the CS-40 enters the realm of modern British sounds enhanced with top boost. These tones are grittier sounding, but very defined.
The CS-40’s Tonal Balance knob is another deviously designed audio manipulator. Turning it counterclockwise from noon offers a really fat midrange sound that gets close to Dumble territory. Turning it clockwise from noon makes the sound brighter and thinner. However, in this scenario, turning up the Master volume or Channel volume fills things out very, very nicely. It’s clear the CS-40 was designed from the ground up to deliver well-defined, heavy distortion.
Next to the input jack is a 2-position switch labeled Tube and F.E.T. In the latter position, this switch can take weak pickups (such as Danelectro lipsticks) and make them sound much stronger. It’s uncanny! The Tube setting is voiced for hotter pickups, such as humbuckers on a Les Paul. P-90s produce gnarly tones in any of these settings, and this marriage of amp and pickups is one of my favorite—it’s so beautifully rude.
Want more volume, even if you’re already cranked wide open? No problem. Just dial in some boost using the front-panel control, hit the CS-40’s Boost switch, and prepare to be thrown against the nearest wall. Most other amps have nowhere left to go when they’re already cranked, but this is where the Mad Professor really shines. Believe me, it was a big surprise the first time I heard this.
In my experience, this amplifier has no bad sounds in it, and I really like the fact that it can be mean or clean or any shade in-between. Little touches, like having Normal and Abnormal channels, reveal Bjorn’s dry sense of humor. You can also plug your guitar directly into the effects loop and bypass the amplifier’s preamp. This delivers what Bjorn describes as “the secret sound”— where you get more of the power section doing its job. And what a cool sound it is! If you get the opportunity and are inclined toward fast-response amps, I highly recommend you try out the CS-40 designs.
In 1953, Fender launched an amp that would become the industry standard for decades to come: the Twin.
By 1960, most Fender amps were upgraded to a new style of brown Tolex covering with the control panel located in the front. Initially, the Twin was abandoned while Fender focused on the new Vibrasonic, which contained a single 15" speaker. A brown Tolex Twin was shown in a June 1960 Down Beat magazine insert, but actual examples in this color are extremely rare.
By 1961, the white Tolex Twin was released. It shared the color scheme of the new “piggyback” series (amp heads paired with separate matching cabinets). This Twin had four 5881 power tubes putting out 80 watts like the ’50s version, but added the vibrato channel used by most Fender amps at the time. The amp’s grille cloth had a dark maroon color from ’61 to ’62, and a wheat color from ’62 to ’63. Blonde Tolex Twins like the one shown here were discontinued in 1963, when the black Tolex Twin Reverb became the most ubiquitous combo amp of all time. (Also pictured this month are a 1965 Olympic White Fender Jaguar and a 1964 Fender Reverb unit.)
More detailed information on Fender amps can be found in Fender Amps: The First Fifty Years by John Teagle and John Sprung, and in The Soul of Tone by Tom Wheeler.
Daves Rogers’ collection is tended to by Laun Braithwaite and Tim Mullally
Photos and words by Tim Mullally
Dave’s collection is on display at:
Dave's Guitar Shop
1227 Third Street South
La Crosse, WI 54601