December 21, 2019 at 6:57 pm #3331Matt HaydenParticipant
I have an old Blackface Fender DR. It’s a great amp, but it has to get kinda loud before it breaks up well.
Years ago, I met David Hicks, the former Guitar Player amp columnist, and bought a couple of his Hicks Mender devices. They plug into the first two preamp tube sockets – V1 and V2 – of BF two-channel Fenders and provide footswitchable cascading gain, all without permanent mods. Plug in, connect the ground lead, and plug in a foot switch, and a two-channel Fender becomes a footswitchable two-channel amp with extra gain control. It provides a much better breakup and lead tone than the justifiably maligned Ice Cubes of the late 70s which used the reverb tube to add gain….yecch.
Back when I first got it, I was looking for super-high-gain sounds, which it delivered, albeit at the cost of some amp stability – in full-on, super-high-gain distortion mode, it ran the amp really hard and there were some hard-to-control sonic artifacts like some squeak if strings weren’t damped well. At that gain level, it was Neil-Young-Live-Rust level distortion, which is a great sound – a 1×12 spilling its guts because it’s running like crazy sounds awesome – but maybe a little over the top for most of what I play now. 😉
I just put one of them back into the DR, but adjusted the gain on the device almost all the way down, and discovered that when not in gain-monster mode, which is (seriously) all I’d ever used it for, it adds a really nice raw tweed-like edge and more touch sensitivity at way lower volumes than the amp can deliver by itself.
A friend and I tested the second one in a Bandmaster Reverb (196-something, not sure, probably 1966? It’s head + 2×12 cab, black tolex, tube chart stained and unreadable) and it was ridiculously good at all gain levels. He bought one for himself – they show up regularly on Reverb and the like – and it means he can keep using the Bandmaster, which he was planning to sell with the plan to get a smaller amp for use in smaller rooms. The Mender provides lead tone at much lower volumes, which he likes.
Apparently the Menders were maligned for years bc of gain freaks like yours truly (well, used-to-be gain freaks), but they’re seeing some resurgence as people try to get some different tones out of old BF amps without permanent mods. And I’m here to report that on their lowest setting, they deliver really well.
So if you’ve got a two-channel BF Fender, check one of these things out They offer a way to change things up without permanent mods and preserve the clean tone while providing extra gain, and you get reverb on both channels as a plus.
If we ever get together in a place where we can increase the volume a bit, I’ll bring it along. It’s a treat to play…
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