The Fender Deluxe Reverb is probably the most used of all amplifiers in the history of amplified music… especially in blues and roots rock and roll. It has appeared on thousands of albums over the years and has been played by, not only blues guitarists but rock, country, and funk players of all kinds. The Beatles used it on many albums in the late 60’s.
Fender claims the Deluxe Reverb is the most recorded amp in history. I’m not sure how true or even if anyone can prove it, but I wouldn’t be surprised. And once you hear one you might agree. But beauty is in the ear of the beholder. Here’s one ear’s opinion…
Groove Tube founder and amp expert, Aspen Pittman, said the Deluxe Reverb was “the amp I would choose if I were stranded on a desert island and could only have one…”
Since it was first introduced by Fender in 1946, The Deluxe “model” has been a major part of the Fender amplifier line. It has gone through many iterations and configurations, but even today, it is one of the most popular and best amps Fender has ever produced.
The high-water-mark for the Deluxe was probably during the mid 1960’s during the Blackface era of Fender amplifiers. There had been many other versions before then, but the 22-watt Blackface Deluxe Reverb of 1965 seems to be the one everyone talks about. It’s great sound and point-to-point wiring set the bar for how a great, small combo amp should be built.
Fender reissued the amp in 1993 and it still is a high-demand Fender amp to this day. I bought one of these “reissue” Deluxe’s myself back in 1998 or so. Like a fool I did sell it even though I loved it. I won’t even tell you how much I sold it for… too embarrassing.
Anyway, I bought another one a couple of months ago, and got a pretty good deal. So I’m feeling good again!
What makes the Deluxe Reverb so special?
Well there’s not much to it. It doesn’t have any overdrive channel or special gadgets. It’s just a simple 22-watt, two-channel amp with tube driven reverb and vibrato. It’s not especially loud although it can keep up with the rest of the band at any club or small concert stage without being miked. Of course, when miked it can hold it’s own most anyplace.
The beauty of the Deluxe Reverb is when it’s cranked to about 7 or 8 it has the sweetest overdrive tone you ever heard. Back off on the guitar’s volume and it cleans right up without losing tone.
And when you dig into your guitar the amp responds in a particularly cool way (sometimes called sag) and the sound just gets warmer, fuller and sweeter. And again when you back off on the guitar volume it cleans up nicely.
This feature is what all great guitar players love. It makes the amp feel like putty in their hands. Combined with a good guitar, these amps have great tonal response and can pull the soul right out from within you. And isn’t that where great guitar playing actually comes from. The guitar player becomes one with the amp and the guitar and something special happens.
That’s what a great amp lets you do.
It works well will outboard pedals too, and add an overdrive pedal like a Tube Screamer, and you’ve got quite a range of tones available for just about any kind of music.
Of course if you are into shredding metal then the Deluxe Reverb may not do it for you. It’s really for those who like a nice full clean tone and then a nice edgy overdrive when you need it. It’s perfect for blues and country and roots rock.
I’ve had lots of Fender amps myself over the years. As I mentioned, I even bought a Deluxe Reverb Reissue (DRRI) in about 1999 and another in 2013. But the ones that sound the best seem to be the pure tube ones like the Deluxe Reverb amp. I heard it has a lot to do with the rectifier tube being of a certain type. The Deluxe uses a 5AR4 according to Fender.
Have You Heard?
There are probably many examples of the Deluxe Reverb in recordings. Probably more than we will ever know. Every major recording studio from the 60’s onward had a Deluxe in their arsenal. Even the recorded guitarists themselves might have a hard time remembering if they used a Deluxe on the session. They may have just used what the engineer recommended from the available amps.
But today artists like Mike Zito, Johnny Lang, Train, and many un-sponsored blues guitarist use the Deluxe. See videos below.
The first Fender amp model called The Deluxe came out in 1946. It was part of what was known as the “woodie” amps and came as a 10 watt model with a 10″ speaker. The Deluxe model and nomenclature would remain in the Fender lineup, in some format or other, for over 70 years until the present.
But the Deluxe nomenclature was used in many ways over the years as applied to other models… namely the “Blues Deluxe” that appeared in the 90’s that was really based on the Hot Rod series of amps. But the “real” deluxe model, with the 22 watt 1-12″ configurations remained about the same since it first appeared in 1963 (except for some design changes in the 80’s). This is the “Deluxe” that we talk about here and is still in such demand.
And before this popular model appeared there were other prized versions as well. After the very first “woodie” version there was the various “Tweed” models including the “TV Front” in 1947-53, “Wide Panel” version in 1952-55, and the “Narrow Panel” from 1955-64.
The next Deluxe model came in the 1961-63 timeframe, with the brown/wheat grille amplifier models, as they were called in the Fender catalog. But soon the big change and the high-water mark would be reached.
With the “black-face” models that came out in 1963, Fender and the Deluxe would hit its stride. The 65′ Deluxe Reverb would become the most famous of the Deluxe models. It was the first Deluxe to have built in reverb. Until that point, most Fender amps did not have reverb and the reverb was added via a separate reverb unit. These reverb units are prized vintage pieces in themselves.
The Explosive 60’s
And by this time, Fender was at it’s peak and selling more guitars and amps than ever. The explosion of rock and roll and The Beatles, Stones, etc., helped fuel this explosion. Everyone wanted to play guitar and everyone was buying Fender amps and guitars.
And the Deluxe was there as well. Although the music was getting louder and concert halls were getting bigger, which meant many of the higher wattage amps were in demand. The Super Reverb and The Twin Reverb were very popular, as well as the Bandmaster line (the Bandmaster was the first amp I ever played through).
And of course, Marshall amps and other larger and louder amps became the “sound” of the day, and sold in great numbers, mostly because guitarists saw their heros playing them at the large concerts, where a loud amp was required. The thinking was bigger is better. And many guitarists of the era got caught up in this thinking (myself included). My back still aches when thinking about carrying around those amps back then.
And my ears probably never would be the same. How many bands back then had to buy large PA’s and monitor systems just so vocals and drums could keep up with these loud amps. It was damn silly as I look back.
But these larger amps needed to be turned up so loud to get a great overdriven sound that soon “distortion” boxes and duel-channel amps with “overdrive” channels were needed to get a decent sound at lower volumes. It became an ongoing challenge and competition among amp manufacturers, to create loud amps and good distortion at the same time.
Still the Deluxe Reverb was there all along as a great sounding, overdriven amp when turned up to playable volumes. But it was mainly seen by the masses as a practice amp, or a starter amp for someone just getting into guitar.
Although, at the time, it would not be as popular as many of the other Fender models. It was only much later, when smaller combo amps became popular, that the Deluxe Reverb would be re-appreciated as a great small-club amp. Guitarists realized that great overdriven tone didn’t need to come from “stomp boxes”. You just needed a nice tube amp turned up a bit. Then just turn down your guitar to get a clean tone. This was a big “ahh ha” moment for many blues guitarists in the 80’s and 90’s. Thank God we all came to our senses. But it’s probably too late for our back and our ears.
And the Deluxe Reverb was perfect for this approach. Loud enough for just about any club or bar gig, but big and sweet at the same time. And much lighter to carry around for the aging guitarist. The bigger is better approach was finally over.
Add just a little bit of overdrive with a pedal like a Tube Screamer and you’ve got the best of all world’s. This is pretty much the sound that emerged from the blues bands of the 80’s. Stevie Ray Vaughan being the model for this sound. But just about any good blues band used the same approach at the time… smaller amps that could be turned up for a great sound… and maybe a bit of overdrive from a box.
And I was talking with my friend, and well-known local guitarist, Jimmy Griswold the other night at a jam. He’s selling his Super Reverb because he realizes it’s just too damn loud for most situations these days… and too heavy. The era of the big, heavy, loud amp may be over.
The Deluxe Reverb Today
I see more and more of the great young blues guitarists moving to the Deluxe Reverb. The great young blues guitarist Johnny Lang uses two Deluxe Reverb’s these days on stage. Here’s the setup from a Premier Guitar article…
“Lang’s amp setup consists of two handwired Fender Deluxe Reverb reissues. This one is mic’d with a Shure SM57. He plugged into both the Normal and Vibrato channels simultaneously for extra thickness and texture. Read more here.”
Interesting that he uses the reissue models that are readily available even though he could afford more expensive older models. Older models (1960’s and even 70’s) sell for top dollar. I see them on eBay for well over $2K and even more. That’s if you can find them. I saw a silver-faced Deluxe (1970’s) at a local music store for $1500 recently.
And the 65′ Deluxe Reverb Reissue is at the heart of the current Fender lineup, and still sells extremely well. Used reissues are not easy to find. Once someone gets a hold of one they don’t let go. I know I won’t let go again. You can buy one new for around $1000. Used ones are in the $700 to $800 range. Still a solid value in my opinion.
Although some purists claim the reissues aren’t as good as the originals. The originals used point-to-point wiring and not printed circuit boards like the new ones. Some claim they can hear the difference and maybe they can. I’m not sure I can… but who’s to say. Like I said… beauty is in the ear of the beholder.
Below you’ll see videos of a couple of my favorite young guitarists using the Deluxe in local clubs. And yes even on larger concert stages. Young Damon Fowler doesn’t even use any pedals at all… just the sweet sounding Deluxe Reissue. The great Josh Nelms, another excellent local guitarist, in the other video uses a little overdrive box on occasion but as you can see he doesn’t touch it that often… just the great sound of the amp turned up.
Damon Fowler and J.P. Soars of Southern Hospitality both playing Deluxe Reverbs.
Josh Nelms and The Betty Fox Band at Dunedin Wines The Blues
This is a big-stage situation and you can hear the amp turned up a bit more and breaks up very nicely.