#TweedTalk 2: First Impressions: Universal Audio Fender 55 Tweed Deluxe Amplifier Plugin

#TweedTalk is my occasional Tuesday column, where I talk about all things related to tweed amps and tweed-tone pedals.

In the recent Black Friday sales, I finally picked up Universal Audio’s Fender 55 Tweed Deluxe amp plugin to add to my collection of tweed tone options.

Is it going to get much use, or am I going straight back to the real amp? Here are my First Impressions.

What Did You Buy?

I bought the Fender 55 Tweed Deluxe Amplifier plugin for the Universal Audio Apollo system.

This plugin was designed by UAD themselves, and is endorsed by Fender Musical Instruments. According to the marketing, the plugin “captures every nuance of this historically unrivalled tone machine by emulating every last ingredient of the hallowed 5e3 Deluxe circuit.”

That’s a big claim to live up to. Despite the simplicity of the circuit, these amps have highly-interactive controls, and they produce deliciously complex overtones. If the plugin gets even close, they’ll have done an outstanding job.

Why Did You Buy It?

I was already taking advantage of UAD’s Black Friday sale in 2021, when I realised that I could pick this plugin up too pretty much for free (thanks to their custom bundles and discount coupons). That’s even cheaper than (say) a Tone City Sweet Cream, if you’re already a UAD user.

And – it’s another tweed tone option. Sure, it’s not a tweed tone pedal or actual amp, but if I can get hassle-free recordable tweed tone out of it, I’ll be happy enough. Sometimes, the best tone is simply the one that’s within easy reach.

Besides, I’m curious. Now that I’ve got a real Tweed Deluxe amp, how do the two compare? (This is probably the only UAD plugin that I’ll ever be able to compare to the real thing.)

Why Didn’t You Buy It Sooner?

This isn’t a new plugin; it’s been around for a few years now. So why haven’t I picked it up before now?

Honest truth is: when I’ve demoed other UAD amp sim plugins in the past, I haven’t liked the results. None of them ever convinced me to part with my cash. I’ve only bought this one because it worked out as practically free, thanks to the recent sale.

I could have just demoed this amp sim plugin too (you can demo any plugin for 14 days). If this blog post gets you interested in this plugin, I recommend that you demo it first to see if you like it too.

What Is Your Signal Chain?

My signal chain is:

  • Deadnote (my PRS McCarty 594) or my Les Paul R9,
  • directly into my UAD Apollo X6
  • into the Tweed Deluxe plugin (set as a Unison preamp)
  • into EP-34 tape delay plugin
  • into the Precision Reflection Engine plugin set for spring reverb
  • out into a pair of Focal Shape Twin studio monitors

The plugins are all hosted in UAD’s LUNA DAW. Both the EP-34 and Precision Reflection Engine are on a separate bus for parallel mixing (which emulates how my Neunaber Slate pedals work).

I’ve also got a real Fender 57 Custom Deluxe amp here. My signal chain for that is:

  • Deadnote (my PRS McCarty 594) or my Les Paul R9,
  • directly into the 57 Custom Deluxe
  • speaker out into the Fryette PS-100 Power Station for volume attenuation
  • with a pair of Neunaber Slate pedals in the PS-100’s FX loop, providing digital tape delay and spring reverb
  • back into the stock Eminence speaker in the 57 Custom Deluxe

I’m not mic’ing up the 57 Custom Deluxe at all; I’m listening to the amp’s speaker here in the room. I’ll talk more about that – and how that limits what I can cover in this blog post – shortly.

How Have You Setup The Tweed Deluxe Plugin?

I’ve gone for a classic setup:

  • Normal input level,
  • Jensen P-12 speaker,
  • virtually wired into INST 1

I’m using two virtual microphones:

  • MIC 1 is the Dyn-57, set off-axis with the Level control two marks below 0.
  • MIC 2 is the Rib-121, with the Level control two marks below 0.

The 57 is (largely) responsible for mid-range bite, while the 121 is making sure all the low-mid tweedy goodness gets captured.

I did audition other microphones and speakers, but for me, this is the setup that got me closest to the tweed tone that I know and love.

My Kind Of Rhythm Tone Is There

This is probably what matters most. With this setup, I’m getting the kind of rhythm tone that I dial in whenever I use tweed tone pedals like my beloved Mad Professor Sweet Honey Overdrive (SHOD for short).

I’m especially pleased that this plugin is recreating that solid low-mid foundation that I love so much. For me, that’s a critical component of the tweed tone. Take that away, and you kill all the joy of tweed tone for me.

It does the growly mids thing very nicely too, while the top-end has a very similar bite to the real Tweed Deluxe sat next to me here. The top-end doesn’t stop there, though; it also delivers plenty of presence too. There’s no danger whatsoever of this plugin sounding like someone has thrown a blanket over it, thank goodness.

For reference:

  • Tone is around 11
  • INST VOL is between 3 and 4
  • MIC VOL is just under 11
  • and I’m virtually plugged into the INST 1 input

Here’s the corresponding screenshot.

Comparing The Plugin Against The Real Amp Has Its Limits

Seeing as I have a real Tweed Deluxe amp sat next to me, I want to know how the UAD plugin compares. As I do, there’s some important things for you (and me!) to keep in mind.

First off, the UAD plugin is providing the sound of a recorded amp. So, in terms of tone, it’s never going to sound the same as listening to the real amp here in the room. Microphones are not transparent: they do colour the sound, normally in ways that we fall in love with.

Secondly, my Tweed Deluxe amp is attenuated. I’m running it through my Fryette Power Station PS-100, both for the sake of my hearing and good relationships with my neighbours. While it’s an awesome piece of kit, the Power Station isn’t transparent either, and I’m probably running it far too quietly to get the best sound out of it.

Thirdly, my Tweed Deluxe is factory-made for 230 / 240 volt power, instead of the US 110 / 120 volt standard. I don’t know for certain that it has a bearing on how my Tweed Deluxe sounds, but I’m mentioning it just in case.

Fourthly, my Tweed Deluxe is based on a 1957 model, while the UAD plugin emulates a 1955 model. I’ve no idea if there’s a meaningful difference between the two years. If you do, let me know in the comments below.

Fifthly, my Tweed Deluxe doesn’t have the classic Jensen P12 speaker – this 2021 reissue came with a specially-designed Eminence speaker instead. Speakers have a huge impact on the final tone. Even if everything else was equal (and it clearly isn’t), this difference alone would make a like-for-like comparison between the two almost impossible.

Sixthly, I’ve absolutely no idea how my made-in-2021 Tweed Deluxe reissue compares to one made back in 1955. It’s the only one I’ve ever played. There’s simply no way that I can say whether or not the plugin is accurate; it’s entirely possible that my Tweed Deluxe is the one that isn’t accurate.

And, finally, my Tweed Deluxe is sat on the floor, whereas my studio monitors are at ear height. What I’m hearing from the real amp is decidedly off-axis, which will have a bearing on things too.

These things make a like-for-like tone comparison unfair and unreasonable. They’re never going to sound the same, so there’s little point in looking at how well the plugin emulates the sound of my real amp. [That kind of comparison is best left for when we try to record the real amp too – Ed]

What I can do, though, is compare how the two behave when I set them up the way you’d setup the real amp. At similar settings, how does the amount of dirt compare? Can the plugin do things that the real amp cannot, and vice versa?

When I dig into that, some interesting differences stand out.

The Plugin Doesn’t Clean Up Like My Real Tweed Deluxe Does

If I take the plugin settings mentioned earlier on and match them on the physical amp, I get a different amount of overdrive out of the two.

Instead of a nice rock crunchy rhythm, the real amp is pretty clean – even with the bridge humbucker on the PRS. That was a big surprise. I’ve always felt my real amp had way more gain than I expected. And yet.

I haven’t been able to dial in the plugin to get as clean as the real amp. The MIC VOL on the plugin doesn’t seem to interact with the INST input anywhere near as much as the same controls on the real amp. In the plugin, the interaction is there, but it’s pretty subtle. On the real amp, it can make a significant difference.

Switching to the INST 2 input on the plugin doesn’t get me there either. I don’t so much get a cleaner sound as a quieter sound. If I bring up the INST volume to compensate, I’m back to a pretty similar amount of overdrive. Again, this is different to how my real amp does things.

It’s not all bad news. There’s plenty of playing dynamics available in the plugin. I can pick lighter to reduce the amount of overdrive that the plugin produces. I can also back the guitar’s volume off a bit to clean up the signal too.

The Plugin Doesn’t Saturate Like My Real Tweed Deluxe Does

If you want a saturated rock tone, one of the classic settings for a Tweed Deluxe is:

  • Plugged into INST 1, no channel jumpering
  • INST VOL on 4
  • MIC VOL on 8
  • and Tone adjusted for your instrument

On my real amp, I get a thick, complex, saturated drive tone which really lends itself to melodic parts & lead guitar – especially if I use a Les Paul.

I can’t get the same level of saturated drive out of the plugin.

If I crank the INST VOL on the plugin, I get more gain, definitely. But it never gets thick or harmonically complex to my ears, and if I back off the MIC VOL it just turns into a somewhat unflattering fuzz tone.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely usable, and if I didn’t know what my real amp can do, I’d probably be very happy with it. I’ve certainly had a lot of fun with it. I’m willing to bet that it’s a much more recording-friendly sound too.

But here, the real amp is on a whole other level to the plugin. For me, this is the one area where the amp outdoes any tweed tone pedal that I’ve tried to date.

Channel Jumpering Is Hard To Judge

When you switch over to channel jumpering on the plugin, the graphic actually shows the guitar input being split into both the INST and MIC inputs:

When I jumper the real amp, my guitar is still going into just the one input, and I use a patch lead to plug into both the INST and MIC inputs too.

I’ve no idea if the plugin’s Y-cable approach creates a vastly different result from jumpering the spare inputs plexi-style. I don’t have a Y-cable here to try it with the physical amp, and my local guitar store doesn’t stock Y-cables either.

In jumpered mode, the plugin’s overdrive is definitely a smoother sound than using the plugin with just one input connected. I think I prefer the jumpered sound. There’s a bit more mid-range in the signal, for sure. Plus, the INST VOL and MIC VOL seem to interact in the same sort of way that my real amp does.

Starting From Nothing? UAD Is The Cheaper Option

This one surprised me, because when I first bought into the UAD system, I definitely didn’t think of it as being in any way “cheap”. You can buy a decent instrument for less than the cost of the UAD hardware. Then you need to buy plugins on top to make use of that hardware. A capable UAD setup can quickly get into PRS Core model territory.

All in, the UAD Apollo X6 plus three plugins that I’ve used in my signal chain today are something like £2500 (if you’re patient, and pickup the plugins during one of their regular sales).

However, getting the sound of the real amp into a recording setup will cost you more – a lot more.

Amp + attenuator + reverb & delay pedals alone will cost you the best part of £3500 at the time of writing. Add in another £1300-1600 for the equivalent two mics (pricing on the Royer R121 varies quite a bit atm). And then you still need a recording interface – another £400 for one with mic preamps of comparable quality. Even at that price, that will only be a USB interface. As far as I know, you can’t get zero latency over USB, something that the Apollo gets very close to.

At that point, you’re well over the £5000 mark (more than twice the cost of the UAD solution), and you’ve still got to learn how to position the mics well to capture a great sound. Good luck with that!

You can bring down the price of both options, but you lose a lot by doing so:

  • You can get one of the cheaper Apollo units instead of the X6, but you’ll end up running into lack of processing power as a result. Heck, even with an X6 and an additional satellite unit, I still get UAD plugins being auto-disabled because I’ve run out of available DSP. I’d hate to go back to the days of using an Apollo Twin.
  • Instead of mic’ing up the real amp, you can run it straight into a Two Notes Captor X and use impulse responses or their own virtual cabinets instead. But without a variable attenuator like the Fryette Power Station, you won’t be able to enjoy the sound of the amp in the room, and the Captor X doesn’t have an FX loop for your delay and reverb pedals.

UAD Apollo Plugin, Or Real Amp?

I don’t know which option to recommend: UAD Apollo or real amp.

All I can say is that, while doing the final editing on this blog post, I’ve spent all morning playing through the UAD Apollo + plugin, and I didn’t feel the need to fire up the real amp once. But – I spent most of the day before playing through the real amp rather than the plugin.

If you’ve already got an Apollo unit, and you want a convenient tweed tone option, then it’s definitely worth picking up the Tweed Deluxe plugin in one of the sales.

If you want to make tweed tone the cornerstone of your sound, then that’s a more difficult choice. You can definitely do that with the UAD plugin. You’re going to be able to do that with the real amp too (but I don’t yet know how much effort that is to pull that off). And there’s always the option of a tweed tone pedal into an affordable amp like the Marshall DSL20HR too.

Perhaps my recommendation is: try before you buy, if you can.

The Precision Reflection Engine Is A Nice Plugin

I just want to give a quick shout-out to the Precision Reflection Engine plugin, while we’re here.

This is my very first time using the Precision Reflection Engine plugin for reverb. It sounds good, and it doesn’t eat up a lot of DSP resources either. That’s a relief: the Ocean Way and Capitol Chambers plugins are just too DSP-hungry to use when tracking.

More on this plugin soon, in a dedicated blog post!

Final Thoughts

This plugin gives me tweed tones that I can use in a mix for rhythm guitar work. It gives me those tones with far less effort than the real amp would. And I bet that it sounds better than my own attempts at recording my real amp would.

And non-guitarists? They won’t care. I tested this out on my wife (who has exceptional hearing), and she thought the UAD plugin sounded good. She also commented on how little noise the plugin makes compared to the real amp.

But am I actually going to use it much? I don’t know, yet. I need to take both my 57 Custom Deluxe and my Synergy BMan amps and see how well I can record them, and how much effort that takes.

Look for that in a follow-up blog post before too long!

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