Short Term Review: Fender 57 Custom Deluxe (aka Tweed Deluxe) Re-Issue Amplifier

The mighty Les Paul with my Tweed Deluxe amp.

Last summer, I bought what is probably the bucket list amp for me: a re-issue of Fender’s legendary Tweed Deluxe amplifier.

Nine months or so later, how am I getting on with it? Was it a good decision, or do I regret paying the perceived Fender tax for an almost 70-year-old amp circuit that’s been heavily cloned?

Why Was It A Bucket List Amp For You?

I grew on classic rock and metal tones, largely played on super-Strats through Marshall amplifiers. That was my thing for over 20 years. And then something changed.

Somewhere along the way, I started to prefer writing a more laid-back style of music. It’s still about riffs and rhythm, but the groove has become more central to the kind of rhythm playing that I enjoy today.

While I still love my Marshalls, I’ve found myself gravitating towards a smoother, less aggressive tone. I’ve become more about tones that growl than tones with cutting attack; more about warm tones with a feel-good factor than cold tones that feel like hostilities are about to break out.

Thanks to the explosion of boutique pedals over the last decade, I’ve been able to gradually work out what will give me what I’ve been looking for. I found that tweed-tone pedals (pedals that chase the sound of 50s era Fender amps and their cousins) were my thing.

And that led me to Fender’s Tweed Deluxe amp, thanks to inspiration from my friend Alessandro.

Does The Amp Sound As Good As You Hoped?

Yes. I’m really happy with what I’m getting out of the amp.

To get the sounds that I want, I’m bypassing its own speaker, and I’m running it through my pair of Victory 1×12 cabs. The combination of the Celestion A-Type and Celestion Blue speakers really suits tweed tone, in my opinion. The mid-range is there, the foundational lower-mids are there, and the top-end isn’t harsh at all.

I’m not sold on the amp’s own speaker. For me, it’s too mid-focused, and the amp’s low-mids and low-end aren’t there in the way that I want. It’s probably voiced to work great in a live setting, but for me, those low-mids are fundamental to great tweed tone, and this speaker just doesn’t emphasise them enough.

Through the Fryette, the amp’s a little too bassy. I don’t know how much of this is the amp, and how much of it is the PS-100’s attenuator. To compensate, I’m running an MXR EQ pedal in the PS-100’s effects loop, so that I can turn down the bass. I don’t mind having to do this. I’ll probably pick up a second-hand rack EQ solution at some point, just so that I can have a permanent solution all wired up.

Has The Sound Of The Amp Surprised You?

Yes, it definitely has. My particular Tweed Deluxe amp is not a clean amp. It’s got so much gain, I did pop the V1 tube out to make sure it didn’t accidentally have a 12ax7 in there.

There again, I’m someone who listens to the “clean tone” that content creators use on YouTube and think: that would be my rhythm tone 🤷‍♂️

Amp, Or Pedals?

I’ve got access to most of the tweed-tone pedals that I know of. While many of them are great pedals, I don’t have anything that can match my Tweed Deluxe amp.

Ignoring tone / EQ differences, the main thing for me is just how much richer the amp’s overdrive sounds. The amp fills all the frequencies, while pedals always sound thinner, as-if they’re not filling the sonic spectrum anywhere near as well.

The pedals, however, are often more convenient to use at home. And, if you need to mix your tone up without stopping to change the amp controls, pedals win every time too.

Do You Use The Amp Much?

No, I don’t. Most days, I’m still playing pedals through my Marshall DSL20HR.

To use the Tweed Deluxe at home, I have to run it through my Fryette Power Station PS-100. When I do that, I prefer to put a few pedals into the PS-100’s effects loop, because life’s too short to play without delay and reverb.

I don’t have that setup wired up all the time. When I’m not using the Tweed Deluxe, it’s back inside its included dust cover, to keep it as pristine as possible. I use the PS-100 with other amps.

So, it takes a few minutes to cable all of this up whenever I want to use the Tweed Deluxe. The Marshall, on the other hand, is ready to go all the time. All I’ve got to do is power it on, plug in a guitar, and I’m playing in well under a minute. That convenience is very appealing, especially if I’ve only got 10 or 15 minutes spare to play.

The other thing is that I’m always nervous of making a mistake when I wire up the Tweed Deluxe and blowing the output transformer. All I’ve got to do is forget to plug the speaker cable in, or plug that cable into the wrong jack at either end, and my beloved amp becomes a very exclusive door stop.

At some point, I’ll probably get an amp switcher so that everything can be permanently wired up, if only to calm my nerves whenever I want to use the amp at home volume levels.

Still Glad You Got A Fender Re-Issue?

When I bought the amp, I explained at the time that I deliberately went after Fender’s re-issue. I wanted my first tweed amp to be as authentic an experience as possible, warts and all. (That, and Fender’s re-issue was by far the easiest option for me to actually buy at that time.)

For the first month or so, I did wonder whether I’d made a bit of a mistake. It was my first experience with an amp that has noticeable power amp sag, and the sag was very strong. I didn’t enjoy that at all, to the point where I almost sent it back.

Thankfully, for reasons unknown, the sag is no longer happening. Maybe I’ve just learned to dial the amp in to avoid it, or maybe the tubes just needed to break in. I’ve absolutely no idea. Now that’s stopped, I’m loving the amp.

In particular, the amp gives me the thing I wanted the most: I’ve now got that tweed-tone benchmark to compare everything against. Any pedal, any amp, and model or profile: I can put it side-by-side with the Tweed Deluxe, and feel confident about telling people what the differences are.

In a way, the fact that I love how the amp sounds and I love playing through it are almost bonuses. I know that sounds a bit weird, but I bought the amp mostly for my own education. I never really expected that my first tweed amp would give me exactly the sounds that I wanted.

Would You Recommend This Amp To Others?

If you’ve come to the conclusion that tweed tone is your thing, then you should definitely consider this amp.

Just be aware that alternatives like a Lazy J 20 or Cornell Romany 12 Reverb might be more practical or convenient for you. They feature built-in attenuation, built-in reverb, and (on the Cornell) EQ controls that may suit you more than the traditional Tweed Deluxe controls. Oh, and you may prefer the speakers that those amps use too.

To use Fender’s 57 Custom Deluxe at home, you’re going to need an attenuator. I’m using the Fryette Power Station PS-100, which I’m utterly delighted with. In my experience, the normally trusty Two Notes Captor just doesn’t cut it with this amp: it doesn’t attenuate enough. The PS-100 adds a lot of extra cost to an amp that’s already expensive. Plus, you’re effectively running two tube amps at once, with the power draw and energy costs that go along with doing so.

On the plus side, you’re getting as close to the original 5e3 Tweed Deluxe experience as you’re likely to get from a modern-build amp. Many of the tweed amps that I looked at marketed themselves as featuring improvements to the original 5e3 circuit. While I’ve no doubt that these improvements make for a better amp, that wasn’t right for me.

What about if you’re merely curious about tweed tone?

That’s a bit harder. Fender’s 57 Custom Deluxe is not an affordable amp. Depending on where you live in the world, you may be able to find small amp builders who are making 5e3 clones (or close enough) for a lot less money.

Many of those more affordable alternatives will still need an attenuator to be usable at home volume levels. That’s still going to add a lot of extra cost to such a setup. Having the attenuator is great anyway, if you’ve got more than one amp. I use mine with one of my Marshalls too, and it sounds much better that way.

You’re probably better off trying some tweed-tone pedals through your existing amp first, to discover if you like what they do. (Or trying some digital amp plugins for your DAW.) If you do like them, then it’s a lot easier to justify spending this much money.

One thing to beware of: these amps do not hold their value as well as your average Marshall does. I’ve seen plenty of these re-issues for sale at 75% of retail price or less. If you buy one and it’s not for you, expect to take a bit of a hit when you try to move it on.

Final Thoughts

While it can’t do everything – and it doesn’t suit every guitar – it’s my thing. I can quite happily play this amp all day long, and not feel like I’m missing out at all.

Now, all I need to do is work out how to actually record this amp, and I’ll be delighted. But that’s a problem for another blog post 🙂

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