Review: Fender ’55 Tweed Deluxe
Much attention has been paid to the preamp side of Universal Audio’s Unison technology. But what of that humble DI jack on the front panel? It’s equally Unison-equipped, and UA’s latest Fender ’55 Deluxe Tweed plug-in goes as far as the company’s gone to show it can squeeze as much bleeding-edge-meets-vintage mojo out of a DI as it has previously achieved with a mic preamp.
Two years in the making, UA has emulated every bit of valve goodness and circuitry in one of the all time classic amps. While the original Fender Deluxe was the epitome of simplicity with its single tone and volume controls, UA’s version offers loads of possibilities for those who love to tinker. First up, the gain structure can be adjusted via the Apollo Hi-Z channel input and this is followed by a choice of four differently attenuated amplifier instrument and microphone inputs (there is also a patch cable in the GUI for hot patching one channel to another). Further downstream, primary gain is available at the amp’s actual volume control, a ‘normal/line’ toggle switch damps down the overdrive factor, and finally, a master output knob.
The amp’s tone control is complemented by a choice of five classic go-to guitar cab microphones — two dynamics, two ribbons, and one condenser — any two of which can be placed on or off axis and blended together for just the right amount of body and crunch. Another nice touch is the choice of three different speaker emulations. The original Jensen breaks up very quickly and has a glassier top end while the JBL and Celestion varieties offer cleaner options and slightly different tonal weightings.
I currently have three Fender amps in my studio — including great ’70s and ’60s models — and I use them a lot. Naturally, I approached this plug-in with the suspicious curiosity that many guitarists out there would no doubt share. I have used amp plug-ins before but rarely do they make it into my final mixes — unless they’re doing something whacky to complement other ‘real’ guitars. In use I found the Fender ’55 Tweed Deluxe surprisingly vivid straight out of the box, and being an amp emulation that really wanted to head for valve overdrive territory, I was happy to indulge. Playing a Gibson SG through it brought out a lot of tubey top end crunch which really shone on lead lines and melodic parts. Full tilt bar chord riffing initially brought out too much trebly grit for my taste but things got a lot smoother once I opted for a ribbon mic in the GUI.
Changing things up with a lower output ’60s Kay hollow-body I quickly entered the territory I had hoped to explore with this plug-in; namely ’50s blues/jazz semi-broken up tone. After a bit of patient fiddling with the gain structure I got some great solo tones and (probably for the first time in my life) found myself playing really expressively through an amplifier plug-in! Fender guitars absolutely sing through this thing, though again you have to watch the top end doesn’t get too brittle at higher gain settings. The full bloom of the bottom end was a real highlight of the sound as was the nature of the break-up at more moderate settings.
Does it sound good? Yes, it does. Is it the same as having an amp moving air in the room with you? No, it’s not. But that’s fine, the UAD-2 Fender ’55 Tweed Deluxe is a plug-in designed to take the hassle out of running an amp. It also happens to be one of the best amp emulations ever released. The sounds on tap here can drastically expand your studio’s possibilities and rescue your arrangements and mixes from the limitations of your equipment and/or room. If you’re lacking vintage Fender tone, it’s a lot cheaper than shelling out thousands for the real thing. Even with my collection of vintage Fenders, this plug-in will definitely find it’s way into my mixes, and not just on ’50s and ’60s orientated material. Once again, UA has made something I didn’t know I needed!