Boss FDR-1 vs. Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb Reissue / Boss FBM-1 vs. Fender ’59 Bassman Reissue

Digital modeling hasn’t caused guitarists to take their plexi Marshalls to the local Salvation Army drop-off, but it has created some interesting corporate bedfellows. Witness the power-partnership between industry giants Fender and Roland, which has led not only to the new VG Stratocaster, but also to a pair of Boss modeling pedals called the FBM-1 ’59 Bassman and FDR-1 ’65 Deluxe Reverb. The new pedals employ Roland’s COSM modeling technology to squeeze the tonal mojo of Fender’s classic tube combos into their 9-volt-powered circuits.
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Now, it’s obvious a pedal can’t match the sonic outpouring of a wound-up amplifier, but the challenge at hand is to determine just how closely the Boss pedals simulate the sound, feel, and vibe of the real deals. And not only that, but is it really possible to bestow a stompbox with the power to imprint a venerated tube amp’s sonic signature onto any amp?

To answer these questions, we compared each pedal to a reissue version of the amp they seek to emulate. The first rounds of this dual-match Fight Club paired the FBM-1 and FDR-1 with a Roland JC-120 combo—a solid-state 2x12 combo known for its clean response, and the amp Boss used to demo the new pedals at January’s Winter NAMM show. A Roger Mayer Crossroads Signal Director A/B box was employed to facilitate quick A/B comparisons between the pedal/JC-120 setups and the real amps, and all connections were made using low-capacitance George L’s cables. To see how the FBM-1 and FDR-1 fared as overdrive pedals, we also ran them into a selection of tube amps: a Mesa/Boogie Lonestar Special, a Reverend Goblin 5/15, and a Victoria Regal. Test guitars included Gibson SGs, a Fender Telecaster and a Stratocaster, and a PRS McCarty.

Boss FDR-1 vs. Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb Reissue

Strutting a tad over 20 watts, the dual 6V6-powered ’65 Deluxe Reverb ($1,214 retail/$849 street) looks exactly like the mid-’60s classic, and it features a 12" ceramic-magnet Jensen C-12K speaker. The Deluxe Reverb is highly revered for many reasons: It’s easy to carry at a tad over 40 lbs, its moderate power rating lets you crank the volume for authentic power-tube grind (rolling back your guitar’s volume also yields pure, spank-eriffic Fender clean tones), and it drips with vibe enhancers such as Fender’s famous spring reverb (courtesy of a full-size Accutronics tank) and the hallowed, albeit misnamed, vibrato (it’s really tremolo, as it modulates volume, not pitch). All of these accoutrements have made the Deluxe Reverb a perennial fave for blues, rock, country, and R&B players.

So how does the Boss FDR-1 ($235 retail/$149 street) stack up to such a tonal icon? Well, the pedal gets off to a good start by matching the ’65 Deluxe Reverb’s controls by using a pair of standard knobs for Treble and Bass, and a pair of concentric knobs to control Gain/Level and Reverb/Vibrato. (Changing the speed involves turning the Vibrato knob while depressing the pedal switch.) Running the FDR-1 between my Telecaster and JC-120, my first impression of the pedal was quite positive. Without a doubt, it imparts sonic elements that make the ’65 Deluxe Reverb the mutt’s nuts—sweet upper mids, lilting treble frequencies, and a singing midrange when pushed hard. It provided a big-time timbral makeover for the clinical-sounding JC-120. With the FDR-1’s Gain set at ten ’o clock, the amount of grind is equal to the ’65 Deluxe turned up halfway. Needless to say, the FDR-1 has more gain on tap than I was able to conjure from the Deluxe when it was turned all the way.

But even though I could dial in the FDR-1/JC-120 rig to approximate the ’65 Deluxe Reverb’s most obvious sonic characteristics, in the end, it’s the way the Deluxe Reverb achieves its grind that makes it so magical. For example, when I krang a Mel Bay G chord, the notes explode from the Deluxe. However, even with the JC-120’s 2x12 enclosure and formidable power, the physical sensation between the ears and hands delivered by the FDR-1/JC-120 rig couldn’t match the Deluxe’s barkier response. The Deluxe’s midrange carried more weight, and when I really laid into it, the amp handled it beautifully, responding in kind with a blooming roar.

The FDR-1 cleaned up wonderfully when I lightened my touch or backed down my guitar volume, but it didn’t handle a harder attack as well, and it could be coaxed into splatter and funky digital artifacts—especially at high Gain settings. Running the FDR-1 front of a tube amp lessened this characteristic somewhat, but not entirely.

The FDR-1’s tremolo aped the Deluxe’s classic throb to near perfection, but the FDR-1’s simulated spring reverb has a rather peculiar anomaly. At low settings, the Reverb adds a fair amount of air and dimension. But as you inch the Reverb control up, you begin to hear random drips, blips, and doinks that are in no way associated with what you’re playing. Bizarre. And whereas you can hear the actual pitch of the notes in the warm, soupy decay of the Deluxe’s ’verb, the FDR-1’s decay has no sense of pitch whatsoever.

The FDR-1 gets you in the ballpark of the real deal, but if you’re looking for all of the magic that a Deluxe Reverb offers, there’s only one way to get it. However, as an overdrive pedal, the FDR-1 is extremely intriguing. For example, placed in front of my Reverend Goblin 5/15, the FDR-1 proved useful not only for tremolo, but also for the thick, singing midrange it imparted. By digitally chasing the Deluxe Reverb’s huge sonic palette—and capturing many of the amp’s broad strokes—the FDR-1 has the ability to give any amp some cool new sounds.

Boss FBM-1 vs. Fender ’59 Bassman reissue

Introduced in 1952 as a complement to Fender’s new Precision Bass, the Bassman combo initially sported a single 15" speaker. In 1954, the classic 4x10 configuration hit—though the amplifier’s circuit kept evolving right up to the hallowed 1959 model that has transfixed guitarists for nearly 50 years. The first Marshall heads were based on this fab 4x10 from Fullerton, and guitarists from Buddy Guy to Buck Owens hauled them around. Interestingly, Leo Fender didn’t invent the Bassman’s circuit. AT&T/Western Electric patented it in 1948, and later licensed it to Fender, who made further tweaks.

Fender introduced its reissue ’59 Bassman ($1,714 retail/ $1,199 street) in 1990, during the initial spark of the boutique boom. And, like the ’65 Deluxe Reverb, the Bassman is a cosmetic doppelganger of the original—although it sports PC board circuitry, and uses a pair of Groove Tubes GT6L6GC power tubes instead of the original 5881s. Plugging my Telecaster into the ’59 Bassman’s Bright input, I was greeted with some of the most sparkling, full-bodied, three-dimensional tones known to man. And this amp is loud—pumping out close to 50 watts through its four Jensen P10Rs. At about halfway up, the lows are taut, the highs searing, and the honky, clarified midrange exquisitely pointed so that the sound fits perfectly into a bandstand or studio mix. There’s a reason this amp is a classic.

So the Boss FBM-1 ($235 retail/$149 street) has a formidable challenge ahead of it. The FBM-1 sports the same Bass, Treble, Middle, and Presence controls as the ’59 Bassman, along with a Level control and a Gain knob (the latter is not found on the original or reissue amp). Among the hip features of the FBM-1 is its inclusion of Normal and Bright inputs. Snazzy!

Connected between my SG and the JC-120, the FBM-1 was easily dialed in to yield a heavy whiff of Bassman stank, with the JC’s somewhat non descript midrange instantly assuming near-imposter status to the Bassman’s. Going for the grind, the FBM-1 also has more gain on tap than its amplifier equivalent, but that only increases the FBM-1’s utility as an overdrive box. What impressed me the most, however, was the FBM-1’s Bright input, which yielded some glassy tones that sported a bounty of sweet, high-end detail. Damn impressive for a modeling pedal!

Again, a heavy attack revealed crashy digital artifacts with the FBM-1—especially at higher Gain settings. This can be mitigated somewhat by finding a sweet spot with your picking dynamics, and running the pedal in front of a tube amp also helped. As with the FDR-1, I found the FBM-1’s most useful application was not being a tonal Fred Travalena, but rather a stompbox with some seriously funky character. In front of the Mesa/Boogie Lonestar Special, for example, I coaxed some badass solo tones that bordered on the lo-fi side of the spectrum—try getting that from a Tube Screamer. The FBM-1 also cleaned up very nicely when I turned my guitar down or lightened up my picking.

Scorecards, Please…

In a market flooded with overdrive/distortion boxes, the FDR-1 and the FBM-1 are unique in their abilities to replicate signature characteristics of two of the most storied guitar amplifiers. At the end of the day, the biggest factor that differentiates the Boss pedals from their amp counterparts is the sheer rush of sound you experience when playing the ’59 Bassman and ’65 Deluxe Reverb. It’s not a volume thing, it’s a mass thing, and the Boss boys can’t match the harmonic bloom and weighty bouquet of tones that a good tube circuit and speaker pairing can deliver. That said, if you’re looking to add some classic Fender flavor to your rig, or if you simply want a great overdrive pedal, these new Boss offerings are definitely up to the task.