The Leo Fender clean amp myth

el84ster

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Hi all,
I thought I’d share some interesting info on fender amps for general internet knowledge and posterity and to counter a common myth I’ve heard for decades.

This is info I got from a very pleasant and interesting phone call I had about a year ago with amp legend Bob Rissi (Fender amp engineer from ‘61-‘67). He was incredibly kind and just a wonderful guy.

But I got to ask him a few things about fender amps back then and one of the most interesting thing he said was that Leo was NOT after just clean (as is the common internet assumption).

Bob said that Leo enjoyed some hair in the tone and really liked a turned up sound basically.

I’d suspected this because of course it sounds great, and also if not that meant that many of fenders amps went out the door as massive design failures (hello tweed deluxe!).

Anyway, I thought I’d pass this along, straight from an amp designer who was there. Pretty interesting I thought.
 

sonar1

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I like Fender amps!
Loved the tweeds.
Now I like the “blackface sound.”
Want clean? Seventies Ampeg, especially with Altecs or JBL’s (but get a tailgate lift).
 
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Kenshi

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I like Fender amps!
Loved the tweeds.
Now I like the “blackface sound.”
Want clean? Seventies Ampeg, especially with Altecs or JBL’s (but get a tailgate lift).
Oh yeah - Ampegs are notorious for being hard to "drive". I heard the owner/designer was a big Jazz aficionado and despised distorted tone.
 

NotScott

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Interesting that the guy that helped move Fender away from the tweeds and brownfaces and helped design Fender's answer to louder, brighter and cleaner amps would say this.
 

Soul Tramp

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I didn't realize Leo had a reputation for cleans. I never thought of him as such. Some of his designs were definitely clean as in the Bandmaster, but other had beautiful distortion as in the Bassman.

Just about all his P/P amps used unbalanced plate resistors in the P/I which makes the output a bit wonky. I'd heard he did this because he liked the subtle distortion which created a "bluesy" edge.

In my opinion, a cranked Bassman is just about the finest sounding amp extant.
 

David Garner

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Yeah, whatever his preferences, there is no doubt there was a progression from less power and more breakup through more power and less breakup. I have a brown Deluxe clone and a Deluxe Reverb clone. The brown Deluxe gives it up WAY earlier than the Blackface. It isn't even close.

The Deluxe Reverb is louder too, but to be fair, it has a much less efficient speaker than the brownface.
 

BadMongo

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Oh yeah - Ampegs are notorious for being hard to "drive". I heard the owner/designer was a big Jazz aficionado and despised distorted tone.
I just sold my old ~1973 V4 and that thing would start breaking up right around the point it started giving me chest pains. Great pedal platform though.
 

The Ballzz

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I liken the sound of those Ampeg V4s to a combination of a steam whistle and a sldge hammer banging on a piece of 1/2 inch plate steel! Quite harsh and percussive, but they sure can "cut through" the mix, as well as your ears, brain and anything else inside your head! Now, an SVT + 8x10 for bass is a glorious thing. Best guitar effect I've ever heard! Having the bass sound "just right" is the greatest thing for stellar guitar tone!

Just My $.02,
Gene
 
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cybermgk

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Leo was NOT after just clean (as is the common internet assumption).
I don't think I have ever heard this myth.

Yes, SOME Fender amp models are legendary for their loud, clean headroom and tone.

But, others, are legendary for their hair and dirt.
 

Zacknorton

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If you put any credence into the mountain of anecdotal evidence from stories told by people who were there....

Leo was kinda deaf moving towards really kinda deaf as time progressed.
He was really really into treble and
Notorious for asking for feedback from players but not paying any attention to it.

nothing wrong with that. but that adolf mustache was a Serious problem.
 

redking

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I doubt there was a ton of thought put into the early (tweed) designs - wasn't he just copying published schematics from the RCA tube manuals? Same thing can be said of Jim Marshall basically just copying early Fenders.
 

Brek

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I suppose I would fall into that fender is clean camp, but I think that of any amp with a 6l6 in it, so what do I know? :rofl:
 

el84ster

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I disagree that there wasn’t much thought out into the tweeds. He borrowed some ideas, but came up with more of his own. I think the tweeds were more what he liked and the move to black face was to meet market demand.
nothing as legendary and enduring as the teeed amps just happen.
 

LeftyF2003

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I've had a DRRI since 2011 as my primary live amp, and the cleans are stellar. I also replaced the stock Eminence speaker (free to good home) with a Celestion G12-30 which helped with tightening up the low end. Also added a Weber Beam Blocker to take care of the speaker beaming issues. Overall an incredible amp, and takes pedals very well. It helped a lot to disable the bright cap where increasing the volume engaged (or disengaged?) the bright cap. which made pedals sound awful....
 

redking

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I disagree that there wasn’t much thought out into the tweeds. He borrowed some ideas, but came up with more of his own. I think the tweeds were more what he liked and the move to black face was to meet market demand.
nothing as legendary and enduring as the teeed amps just happen.
This era went from 1947 to 1959 pretty much, so yes, over 12 years there was tweaking and development going on, but I think the Tweeds and Brown amps became popular in the 60s as "used" amps and didn't become "legendary" until maybe the 70's and later because creative individuals combined the right guitar with the right amp to get "the sound." Not downplaying anything Leo did, but every success in the world is some combination of luck, skill and perserverance.
 

74JMP

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I like Fender amps!
Loved the tweeds.
Now I like the “blackface sound.”
Want clean? Seventies Ampeg, especially with Altecs or JBL’s (but get a tailgate lift).
I've heard that but Taylor on Ladies n Gentlemen the Rolling Stones is not clean. Is the old: it will but it will be painful. Heard the same about my Hiwatt, not true, use less your a metal guy.
 
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sonar1

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I've heard that but Taylor on Ladies n Gentlemen the Rolling Stones is not clean. Is the old: it will but it will be painful. Head the same about my Hiwatt, not true, use less your a metal guy.
Those V-4 120 watt Ampeg 4X12 cabs used generic speakers.
THOSE distorted, especially when driven hard.
Certainly a big sound. Make your pant legs flap.
But by that level, mine was parting hair out to the back row, outdoors! :naughty:
 

Cjsinla

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I mostly play Fender tweed clones but I was shocked when I turned up a DRRI, it roared. My tweed Supers sound a lot like my JTM45 and 1987x as well.
 


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