Taming a Fender Hot Rod DeVille with a signal pad

Gear

Fender’s popular Hot Rod range of valve combo amps are loud. Great fun for guitarists but potentially annoying to bandmates and sound engineers. Nobody needs that bassy woof thrapping your trousers and smashing your ribs as you focus on nailing that tricky flute solo.

The challenge with the DeVille is in how to set a reasonable volume for rehearsal, stage or recording. (Forget about home practice.) The clean channel’s 12-point volume knob is non-linear. All the action happens between 1 and 2. Hitting that sweet spot between 1.5 and 1.6 can be a royal pain-in-the-butt. Once you’ve set the volume, a slight knock of the knob can send the volume from a shout to a roar.

This annoying feature of the DeVille is by design. By setting 2 so loud, Fender envisaged buyers in guitar shops would think ‘cor, if this is how loud the amp is at 2, imagine it on 5 or 10!’

To work around this, many DeVille owners replace the original volume knob with a linear pot, which increases in volume consistently through the 0-12 range.

Another method is to place a power attenuator between the power amp’s output and speakers, such as a THD Hot Plate or Dr. Z Air Brake. You can open up the preamp section to push the valves yet soak the output level into the speaker. Hence why a power attenuator is sometimes referred to as ‘power soak’.)

Both methods are expensive. Typically, the first requires an amp technician to carry out the mod. A power attenuator can be £300 or more.

Instead, I’ve tested taming my DeVille with an Electro Harmonix Signal Pad. It’s a basic attenuator – a volume pot in a box – and sits in the amp’s effects loop. The signal chain is:

Guitar > clean channel input > preamp out > Electro Harmonix Signal Pad > power amp in > power amp > speaker.

You can turn the clean channel volume far past 2 to open the amp and push the preamp valves hard. Then, use the Signal Pad to reduce the level into the power amp section. The Signal Pad acts as a master volume for an amp (or channel) that doesn’t have a master volume.

Opening the amp up with the volume at, say, 4-5 pushes the preamp section well. This is what creates much of the signature Fender tone. It’s so satisfying to hear the amp as you want and expect it to be. Singing cleans with vibrancy, depth and that defining glassy chime. If you use pedals for grit or effects, the open preamp section takes them so much better than when choked in that tricky 1.5 area. The Signal Pad keeps the volume in check at a sensible yet satisfying on-stage or rehearsal level.

[Updated 19 December 2015: I used this setup at a gig last night at the Hare & Hounds. With the clean channel volume on 6 and the Signal Pad around 9 o’clock, it was the best tone I’ve got yet from my DeVille.]

 

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