The top-mounted pointer knobs are quick to grab when you’re standing above the amp, and the moderate weight of this medium-power package makes it a comfortable carry to the bandstand. Also, having the effects loop jacks on the control panel avoids the inconvenience of having to reach around the back to make these connections.
Though described as having three channels, the Hot Rod Deluxe is really a two-channel affair with a switchable More Drive mode that you can activate on the Drive channel to boost the gain by a preset (non adjustable) amount. While packing a distinctly Fender-style openness, the high-gain tones are gutsy enough for most rock applications. You can get lots of sustain when you kick on the More Drive function (which is footswitchable), and the amount of added gain is just right for kicking a solo over the top when you’ve got the Drive control dialed for a stout crunch sound. The balance of these distortion tones is excellent, and little fussing with the tone controls is required for getting very happening sounds from humbuckers or single-coils. The Overdrive channel is also very quiet.
The shared EQ system is definitely a compromise, but switching to the Clean channel rarely requires any tone knob tweakage—thanks to the similar voicing of the Clean and Drive circuits. The Clean channel has enough headroom for crisp rhythm work and country/rockabilly lead playing, but you don’t have to crank it into the blow-your-head-off range to coax some sweet, bluesy grind. Turned past the halfway point, the Volume control begins to yield fat distortion tones that are cool for scorching blues or hard rock riffing. However, as with any amp that doesn’t have a separate master for its clean channel, the Hot Rod Deluxe is quite loud in this configuration. The HRD’s reverb is the most happening of the group, offering a wide range of textures that cover the bases from subtle airiness to surfy slosh. As with classic Fender ’verb, it sounds like it’s part of the tone rather than an added-on effect.
All told, it’s pretty obvious why the Hot Rod Deluxe remains such a popular amp. It’s not a metal amp by any stretch, but it does a lot of things very well while retaining the signature Fender midrange warmth and top-end slice.