Fender Deluxe VM Combo
Fender Deluxe VM Combo
The Deluxe combo is the latest addition to Fender's Vintage Modified range of amplifiers, which aim to blend vintage and modern aspects together.
At first glance, the combo appears to be based on a Fender classic, however, when you get a little closer you realise things are somewhat different.
To begin with, it's a hybrid design - but not the usual 'solid-state with a token preamp valve' type of hybrid.
Rather, both amps share a common circuit, which combines a dual 6L6 valve power stage with a valve and solid-state preamplifier.
This isn't a new idea - Music Man was doing a similar thing way back in the early 80s with the RD series and so was Roland with its excellent Bolt combos.
But it has been unusual, as it costs more to build than the reverse concept, and the valves actually have to do something more than just glow red.
The styling is closely based on Fender's classic 60s 'blackface' amplifiers - Fender has added a small 'VM' badge to the front grille, but done away with the metal corner protectors you'd find on an original 60s blackface.
One bad thing, which has sadly become a tradition on all modern Fender amps, is the flimsy cereal box rear panel material - how much does two square feet of quarter inch plywood cost? Still too much, evidently.
The electronics are contained within a sturdy wedge-shaped open-ended tray chassis, with folded returns on each side to improve rigidity.
At the thin end, all the front panel components apart from the pilot light are fitted onto a single through-plated and double-sided PCB, with the DSP (Digital Signal Processor) on a smaller daughter board.
The thick end is home to the rear panel stuff, valves and power supply, housed on two non-through-plated boards.
The PCB holding the valve bases is adequately supported on solid metal standoffs, however, the chassis layout means the preamp valve bases are deeply recessed, making valve replacement a pain.
Overall, the general standard of the components, layout and wiring is better than average for this type of modern mass-produced product.
The control panel is easy to understand, even without the aid of a manual.
The clean channel features volume, bass and treble controls, while the lead channel has the usual gain, volume and three-band EQ arrangement.
After this comes the effects section, which features reverb, delay and chorus - all digitally generated.
The reverb is governed by a single level control and is a reasonably good facsimile of a Hammond spring, while the delay and chorus effects share knobs for rate/time, mix level and repeats/depth.
You press a small button on the panel to select delay, dial in your preferred settings and then press another small button to use the same knobs to adjust the chorus effect independently.
So you can go from a wide, slow chorus with a single hard slapback delay to fast wobbly almost Leslie-type stuff with long delay and endless repeats.
Once tweaked, the amp remembers your settings until you alter them again, but there's no programmability as such.
It's an ideal set-up for a player who might use one or two pedals but doesn't want to get bogged down with editing endless parameters.
The rear panel is easy - a pair of sockets for the series effects loop, a pair of speaker outlets and a DIN socket for the amp's supplied four-button footswitch, a reassuringly chunky affair that swaps channels and toggles each effect on or off.
You can access the same functions as these from small switches on the front panel, with the exception of reverb.
The Deluxe VM has a single 12-inch driver in a fairly small open-backed cabinet.
The clean channel is typical Fender - fat bass, smooth mids and a rich, sugary treble that's perfect for practically any clean tone you might want.
There's plenty of headroom on this channel too, with the amp refusing to break up until the volume control is pushed past nine.
Just as this channel's tone typifies classic clean Fender, so the VM's lead channel is classic 60s Fender overdrive, with a smooth distortion effect and plenty of gain to handle anything from country to blues or rock ballad stuff with ease.
Once again, there's plenty of volume on this channel, even with the single speaker combo.
The VM's digital effects are very good - as mentioned above the reverb is a fair replica of the traditional spring, although the level is excessive and most players will never turn this control beyond two.
The delay and chorus effects are rich and warm, with a maximum delay length of around two seconds and plenty of depth on the chorus to cover most needs.
The amp's dynamic range is good, but lacks the depth you'd expect from a traditional all-valve Fender, resulting in a slightly stiffer response - however this is something that many effects users may not even notice.
One could argue that the Vintage Modified tag is perhaps a misnomer as these amps are patently neither.
Nevertheless, the Deluxe VM is a well-executed modern guitar amp that has enough range and flexibility to cope with practically any gig.
Of course, some people might say the same thing about their 45-year-old namesake.
But the reality is that you'd need a bunch of pedals and a tangled mess of leads and power supply cables to emulate what the VM can do - and a 6V6-powered Deluxe could never match the headroom of the modern 6L6-powered VM equivalent.
The Deluxe is easy to lug around and unobtrusive - perfect for space-limited work. It looks good too, although the iconic style of the classic blackface Fender has been diluted by leaving off those metal corners.
However, the onward march of time means many younger players will have never seen a 'real' Fender amp in the flesh, let alone plugged into one, making small details like this largely (albeit sadly) irrelevant.
The VM presents good value for money compared to the competition; especially as the build quality is superior to many Far Eastern-manufactured products.
If you're a working player looking for a tough, good looking, all-in-one-solution at a very affordable price, we think this amp comes very close to ticking all the right boxes.