Why do I think I love Fender distortion?

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs' started by dlwalke, May 24, 2020.

  1. dlwalke

    dlwalke Member

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    I couldn't think of a good short title that captured what I want to ask. Basically though, I don't have an amp yet. I understand that Fender's, at least Fender valve amps, have a reputation for lots of headroom and a very nice clean sound. That's my understanding anyway. I know that Neil Young loves late 50's Fender Tweed Deluxe amps and has amassed a collection of several hundred. I absolutely love his distortion overdriven feedback killer sound, often associated with his work with Crazy Horse, and nicely represented by the last few minutes of his live versions of Rockin' in the Free World, which I linked to the other day in a different post. So I am surprised or curious or something as to how I should think about this (assuming that he is playing through a Fender here). To me it seems like a bit of a conundrum insofar as clean and distortion are like polar opposites. Do "clean" amps have a unique quality of distortion? If I like this sound and want to get in the ballpark, should I avoid an amp like a Marshall that I think of as more as a hard-rock low-headroom amp? Is the sound represented on the above track more of a foot pedal influenced sound that doesn't really have that much to do with the amp? Is this the kind of sound you can only get with lots of volume and tubes or can it be approximated at low volumes with a modeling amp? I'm guessing that feedback is more of a volume thing that therefore can't be emulated at low volumes with a modeling amp or even with a cranked tube amp with an attenuator to bring it down to bedroom volumes. Thanks for any input.
     
  2. El Rey

    El Rey Silver Supporting Member

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  3. Axe-Man

    Axe-Man Member

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    ;)

    Don’t fall into the ‘low/high’ headroom trap.

    Tweeds and Marshalls and Vox amps break up ‘earlier’ than some, but they’re still loud when it comes to their cleans. They’re not like a preamp distortion amp for example.

    People have played blues and rock and indie and what have you on Blackface and Tweed Fenders, Marshalls and Voxes.

    BF amps are scooped in the midrange and have a less pleasing distortion than say a mid focused amp.

    Pick something that you can afford, that sounds good at the volume levels you require and doesn’t break your back if you need to move it.
     
  4. HotBluePlates

    HotBluePlates Member

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    You're reading too much and playing too little.

    Fender made a lot of different amp models. Some of them were clean, some were not. People talk about "tweed amps" like there's one "tweed sound" except the people who have actually played tweed Fender amps know that there were tons of models and they all sounded radically different (plus there tended to be 4-6 circuit versions of most models).

    Marshall amps sometimes sound great clean. Vox amps sometimes sound amazing distorted. Some Fender amps sound great distorted, others should stay clean or venture into a "little bit of hair."

    Some songs that you think are Marshalls on the album turn out to be a small Fender amp you probably never played (look at the corner of the drum riser):

     
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  5. Rumble5

    Rumble5 Member

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    As the years went by Fender's goal was to make amps that had more power and could stay cleaner longer. Marshall tended to go in the opposite direction. But that's a generality.

    A 100-watt Marshall 1959 is going to stay clean until your ears bleed. (My 50-watt 1987 needs the help of an added master volume to distort because it's simply too loud by the time it starts breaking up.)

    Neil's amp, a 12-watt Deluxe doesn't need anything more than the signal from his LP to break up and he doesn't use a pedal for distortion, just volume.

    And both companies made so many different models through the decades, many of which diverged from the stereotype they were known for.

    I've always been more of a Marshall "type" of player in that I mostly play dirty, but my main amp is a Fender, a 1966 Pro Reverb that I play cranked into distortion through Marshall style speakers. I love Social Distortion, which many would associate with a Marshall type of sound, but their main guy, Mike Ness, plays BF Bassman amps through Marshall cabs.

    A lot of choosing the best amp for you is not necessarily about the brand but what your playing situation is. Few people ever play in an environment where they can crank a 100-watter (or Fender Twin) into distortion. It's pretty easy to crank a 12-watt Deluxe into distortion in most situations.

    Then you've got the speakers which have a huge influence on the sound and can give a Fender a more mid-focused sound or a Marshall a more scooped one.

    But I don't think a modeling amp can capture the dynamics of an overdriven tube amp with its saturation and feedback. I personally don't think pedals can fully capture it either. But if you can't achieve that volume anyway then the point is moot.

    So I'd start with smaller tube amps, test them out cranked, see which sounds suit your style, and if need be you can always attenuate them a bit if you have to.
     
  6. zenas

    zenas Member

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    How loud can you play in your current situation? There was a time when I was married with children, my amps were a DR504 Hiwatt and a Twin Reverb. Cranking those into any sort of distortion only happened when the wife took the kids somewhere, that didn't happen very often. One day I found a Vibro Champ sitting in the weeds at a hillbilly junkyard. I thought once I got it working I'd be able to crank it without pissing off the wife, after all a VC is only like 5 watts!
    That divorce cost me several hundred thousand dollars. . . . . . .

    You know your situation, go try some amps and try to play them at the volume you'll be using. If you like master volume distortion life will be easy and you'll be happy. I hate master volume anything and I'm generally pissed off all the time. :)
     
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  7. Dead Astronaut

    Dead Astronaut Member

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    Trying to consolidate a few basic points that other people have made and that I think will help clarify things for you:

    • The perceived cleanness of a clean sound doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the perceived dirtiness of the same amp's gain sound, and plenty of "high-headroom" amps also get crazy overdriven when you run out of that headroom.

    • Tweed Fenders like Neil Young uses are the oldest and, I think most would agree, most easily overdriven Fenders (manufactured 1948-1960 and periodically reissued since); they're very different beasts from any number of other Fenders. A silverface Fender (made from 1968 into the ’70s) is about as far from Tweeds as you can get. And, as @HotBluePlates notes, you can only generalize so far about any brand or line of amps, especially as they get older and quality control/consistency drops. Every vintage Marshall is, famously, different from every other vintage Marshall, even two amps of the same model made in the same factory in the same month.

    • It might help you figure out what you want to find out the amps used for, say, 5 of your favorite sounds, and then figure out whether they're a) vintage-style amps with no separate gain and volume controls, or b) post-Mesa/Boogie amps with preamp gain controls separate from the volume. An amp like Neil Young's distorts based on how hard you push the volume and how much output is coming out of your guitar, because it's overdriving the power amp; the modernity of "modern" amps is partly defined by the fact that they overdrive their preamps, which means that you can adjust gain and volume separately.

    • If you find out you like vintage-style power amp gain, as @zenas says, you've either got to play loud as hell or buy an attenuator, which lets you crank your amp up into distortion and then separately reduce the overall output. There are literally thousands of pedals designed to imitate the sound of overdriven vintage amps at variable volumes; I'm not a pedal guy, so I can't really recommend you anything in that direction.

    • I've played a lot of digital amps and modelers, and I don't think you'd have a lot of luck getting that kind of tone from a modeler. Generally, modelers are best at either very clean sounds or very modern, compressed, high-gain sounds; they struggle terribly with sounds based on power-amp overdrive, and perhaps most importantly, they don't feel or react anything like an overdriven amp, especially not the very unique feel of a small amp cranked within an inch of its life.
    When you play like Neil Young, you're playing the amp almost as much as the guitar, dealing with the properties of resonance, sustain, and feedback that a particular guitar will generate in tandem with a particular amp; most modelers feel flat and unrealistically consistent, and even good-feeling modelers (the Atomic Amplifire comes to mind) pretty much feel good in the same way on every patch.

    • There are a number of modern amps that try to imitate various iterations of the Fender Deluxe (and be careful to note that a tweed Deluxe, a brownface Deluxe, a blackface Deluxe Reverb, et al, are all very different amps) with more modern techniques like preamp gain. I'm not an expert there, but if you search the amp forum for "5E3" – the name of the original tweed Deluxe circuit, often used synonymously – I'm sure you'll find something like "Best modern versions of 5E3" or whatever.

    Hope some of that's useful. And by the way, if you're comparing tube and solid state/digital amps, bear in mind that a tube is going to be massively louder than an SS/modeling amp of the same wattage. Either of my 25-watt tube amps could blow my 100-watt solid state amp through a concrete wall.
     
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  8. HotBluePlates

    HotBluePlates Member

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    The bolded parts reflect the very generalization you're arguing against.

    - To say tweed is the most easily overdriven shows you've never played a late-tweed Bassman, which is clean up to stupid-loud volume.

    - I have a tweed Super that sounded louder (clean) than a 50w buzz-bomb through a 4x12; I had to use a tubescreamer-type pedal during that jam to get any dirt.

    - But tweeds also included the smaller amps, some without negative feedback that distorted very readily. But then there were smallish amps with negative feedback and fixed-bias, that tended to stay cleaner longer & were a middle ground between the Deluxe and the mid-power Pro/Super/Bandmaster amps.
    The inclusion of Neil Young in every discussion of tweed Fender amps kinda reveals the fact the post is written by someone who read too many guitar magazines.

    I'm not a boomer, but my parents are. They had Neil Young records when I was growing up. And basically none of them had distorted guitars. By the time Keep on Rockin came out in '89, neither I nor my folks listened to Neil Young. And the song was everywhere for a while, but wasn't much beyond a cover tune for most kids I knew (and even then they used their Marshall or a Peavey or a Crate or an 80's Fender plus a pedal to get the sound).

    Anyway, having lived through it (and played a bunch of tweed Fender amps), when I think "tweed Fender" Neil Young doesn't even come to mind.

    (And then we have to feel sorry for the guys who buy their tweed Deluxe clone, play it, and find out it's clean unless it's really freakin' loud!!! But they thought it "distorted so easily"...).
     
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  9. HeavyCream

    HeavyCream Member

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    OP, you’re over-generalizing amp companies. Yes, Fender has become known for cleans but lots of players enjoy the way certain models breakup. The 50’s Tweed amps you mentioned are very popular for rock crunch. Especially the Deluxe, Bassman and Champ, just to name a few.

    If you dig that sound, that doesn’t mean you should “avoid” Marshall. The first Marshalls were based on the Tweed Bassman. Marshall might be known for distortion but their early NMV 4 Hole circuits have amazing cleans. The JTM45 is a killer blues amp with great cleans, loads of character and turns into a rock machine when pushed hard enough, just like some Tweed amps, but with its own thing going on.
     
    Last edited: May 25, 2020
  10. Ray175

    Ray175 Member

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    As others have said, each amp has its own characteristics when it comes to clean, distortion and headroom. Equally, they will respond differently to the guitar (and pickups) driving it. If I want a Neil Young “crunchy” distortion from my Deluxe I will always reach for my Gretsch and never the CS 1962 strat or the 1961 ES-175D.
    If you want different “flavours” of distortion from what the amp delivers, then pedals will get you there - that’s why I have a Big Muff Pi (Ramshead) for creamy, rich sustain, and a Wampler Tumnus for Stones rhythm on my board.
    Distortion is a fun rabbit hole to dive into, but don’t get so obsessive that you neglect playing.... :)
     
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  11. LPMojoGL

    LPMojoGL Music Room Superstar Supporting Member

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    You can get crazy feedback at low volumes with a hi gain amp.
    Different amps have different headroom and sound different when pushed into distortion.
    Some of the best pro guitar tones I've ever heard were through a cranked Deluxe Reverb.
    Bassman, too.
     
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  12. ballynally

    ballynally Member

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    all good points and pointers.
    Apart from valve preamps like the Kingsleys most OD/distortion pedals are much more linear than valve amps in as much as the distortion is more evenly and controllable.
    Take a mid to late 50s 5E3 Tweed, crank it up and you get some wild stuff happening, certain notes fly out and the distortion levels depend on which position on the fretboard you are.
    The fun in controlling the wildness of those amps is hard to beat. Combine it with a spring reverb and you are riding high, Neil Young style. Compared to that Marshalls are actually much more steady, despite what Hendrix et al did with them, dive bombing and bending stuff.
    I guess people went back to Tweeds after trying multiple OD pedals into relatively clean amps.
    It's not everybody's cup of T though.
     
    Last edited: May 25, 2020
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  13. SimAlex

    SimAlex Member

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    I own a tweed 59 bassman (“5f6”) clone, in a head form. Spectacular, glistening cleans thru vol 4, and at that point... it’s kind of shockingly loud. I think guitarists reallt underrate the power of maximum clean headroom. Distortion after that is fat and syrupy and awesome. It’s hardly a low headroom amp tho. Lol...... no it’s incredibly powerful.
     
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  14. ballynally

    ballynally Member

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    c that be a brownface Deluxe?
     
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  15. HotBluePlates

    HotBluePlates Member

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    Yes, it's a brown 6G3 Deluxe.

    I played a guy's Bassman (1958, I think) in a small airplane hangar. We wound up the Volumes about 2/3, and it was still clean (-ish; it wasn't pristine, but also wasn't the grinding distortion I might have expected).

    A healthy tweed Bassman is louder & cleaner than most player expect.
     
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  16. SimAlex

    SimAlex Member

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    that must have been so much fun. i also use mine as a bass amp. the grind it adds... it's neat. it might be a little underpowered for bass, but it just sounds so much more alive than solid-state stuff. /shrugs

    the other thing i have to say about my bassman is how good it sounds at vol 1. even w the vol "near off," the clean was still rich. it's just sort of a perfect circuit.
     
  17. HotBluePlates

    HotBluePlates Member

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    In a way it was a let-down, in the form of "fantasy vs reality." Though I've had a non-master volume 50w Marshall in the past, this Bassman stayed cleaner up to what seemed a much higher volume than I'd expected. But I didn't want to touch the owner's EQ settings, and I suspect he put a lot more mid-scoop in it than would have been my preference.

    Now the time I played a 1959 Les Paul... yeah, that was fun!!
     
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  18. dlwalke

    dlwalke Member

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    Thanks for the "feedback"
     
  19. ballynally

    ballynally Member

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    The difference between a cooking 5E3 and a 59 Bassman is quite large. There is a very different feel to the overdriven sound. Noted that Marshall went for the latter to copy.
    Well, to be exact, they never tried to copy the 5E3 as the Bassman was already the prototype, or base level to try and get more output out of it (Pete T etc).
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2020
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  20. Ry@n

    Ry@n Member

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    They must have had a very limited Neil Young record selection if you do not associate his electric playing from ‘69 through the ‘70s with distorted sounds. There’s cranked tweed Deluxe all over his work from that era...
     
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