ProGuitarShop

Humboldt Hot Rod Shootout

October 29, 2013

by Ian Garrett

The Amp:  Fender Humboldt Hot Rod v2
The Point:  EL 84 based tube amp
The Damage:  $529
Find the Humboldt Hot Rod on Proguitarshop.com

Chances are that if you play electric guitar and take your craft seriously, you probably use a tube amp.  That’s not to say there aren’t other good alternatives— there are. But a good tube amp, despite being an old-school technology, continues to be a must-have for most guitarists.

The good news is there are tons of choices available these days.  So what makes one amp better than another? Actually, it’s not often which is better, as that’s quite subjective. Rather, it’s what makes an amp best for your needs.   Key factors in helping you decide include budget, features, and of course the tone of the amp itself.   Within that last parameter, I would also include distinguishing between an amp that has a sonic signature, such as a Marshall JCM800 or a Fender Deluxe Reverb, or a platform amp that’s more akin to a blank canvas— one that works well with effect pedals to create a multitude of different tones.

Platform Amp or Sonic Signature?

The Fender Humboldt Hot Rod v2 is one such amp that falls into the platform category–it sounds great with just about any kind of pedal you throw at it.  And while it doesn’t have an obvious sonic signature of, say, Fender’s own Princeton or the Deluxe Reverb; it has a warm, clear, quality of its own.  The highs are pronounced, the bass is tight but warm and authoritative, and there is plenty of midrange that can be accentuated or scooped, based on your preferences.  The Humboldt also features an authentic spring reverb. 

If you crank the Volume (gain) control with the Master Volume up you get a nice, bluesy, gritty overdriven tone. For added growl, there’s a fat switch control which boosts the drive even further.  But be aware, this is not an amp designed for metal or hard rock. It can only do so much. With the right pedals though, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what it can do. 

Tone is in the Speaker

Some will say that “tone is in the fingers,” and I would agree.  However, the speaker in your amp plays an important role, too. The ability of the Humboldt to work well as a platform amp rests in large part with the ability of the new 12” Eminence Hot Rod Hempster speaker–a variation of the Cannabis Rex found in version 1. The Hempster is voiced specifically for this amp and has a unique response—providing that nice bluesy feel, with a tight low end and refined upper midrange that lets the speaker open up a bit more.   When talking about variables that affect tone—whether it’s the type of guitar, pickups, effects, cables,  or the amp design itself— that the final component  affecting  what we  ultimately hear comes from the speaker. 

Humboldt v1 Versus v2

As an owner of a version 1 Humboldt, I was curious to hear the differences between the two amps. I spent a fair amount of time trying to keep gain and volume levels the same, with some EQ adjustments.  What I noticed was v2 has more pronounced higher end to it, which was part of the design upgrade with this amp.  I kept the treble control right around noon for most uses, but sometimes a little more depending on the guitar, or with more gain I might dial it back.  The v2 is a little brighter overall, but fortunately it was never harsh or brittle.

I found the midrange similar on both amps, but I did think the bass on the v2 was warmer and more articulate. I’ll credit the revised Hempster cone with giving it a more “organic” quality overall.  The boost switch engaged with the hemp cone also sounded tighter, but the original Eminence Cannabis Rex found in the v1 is no slouch either.

Visually, the v2 features a black Nubtex covering and a salt and pepper colored grill cloth, a first for Fender in this combo.  It also features red Fender badges on the front and rear of the amp. One interesting note—the Blues Junior name is nowhere to be found on this amp anymore. The Humboldt Hot Rod is a unique amp now.

Humboldt in Stereo

I’m a big fan of running amps in a stereo configuration. It opens up a lot of possibilities with a wider soundstage, and certain effects can sound great running through one amp, but not the other (think a Leslie-type effect ala Gilmour).  I found dual Humboldts in stereo to be a thing of beauty.  With both amps running together, you can’t hear sonic differences from one amp to another.  The soundstage is wide, and with the impact of two 15-watt tube amps in stereo, you can literally feel in it your chest. These two amps pack quite a punch together.  

I enjoyed running some fuzz in stereo, too–my current favorite is a Blackout Effectors a Very Special Twosome, featuring the Blunderbuss, which is muff-based, and the Fix’d Fuzz, sort of a grittier fuzz-face type pedal.  Running both fuzzes in stereo is a wonderful symphony of pure mayhem. Just about any pedal thrown at the Humboldt sounds really good.

Final Thoughts

Is it worth selling your older Humboldt for the new one?  Tough call. I’m still quite happy with my v1, not that I wouldn’t “upgrade” if given the chance.  The v2 does have some worthy sonic upgrades, mainly the upgraded cone.  If you’re one of those that always needs to have the latest updated version of whatever, then yes, it’s probably worth it.

The Humboldt v2 is, without a doubt, one of the best amp deals going today. Affordable, portable, enough features to offer some flexibility without being overly complicated, and a great base tone that is an absolute champ with just about any pedal you can throw at it. The Humboldt is a great workhorse for both studio and live performances, and comes highly recommended.

Rating:  4.5

5 – Tremendous product; among the very best
4 – Great value overall; exceeds expectations
3 – Definite contender, but look closely at the competition too
2 – Average at best; probably better choices exist
1 – Not ready for prime time

Comments

  1. Abbacus says:

        The Humbolt’s are more good ideas from PGS.
    Running 2 blues Jr’s for good stage fill, stereo-field effects, some amp failure at the gig insurance, and gigging-real-world in small to medium clubs works very well. I modded an old green board Blues Jr with a Cannabis Rex with great results and think it’s a great speaker choice for Blues Jr’s and a few other amps. Speaker choices make a huge difference in your sound for not a lot of money and just about anyone can swap out a speaker.
      The Cannabis Rex is a great, and much needed, upgrade for the stock, Ceramic Jenson that comes in the 65 Fender Deluxe Reverb Reissue: eliminating the harsh high end issues these reissues have out of the box.
      The new, Fender 68 Deluxe Reverb is another pretty cool amp with a few useful mods, like a Bassman tone stack in channel one, reverb and trem on both channels and also a stock speaker (this time a Celestion) that needs replacing: unless you really like it. Most won’t, I suspect.

    posted on October 29, 2013 at 12:07 pm
  2. Darin Ames says:

    Maybe it’s me, but when I listen to many excellent demos of the the Humboldt Hot Rods, I find the first version to have smoother and sweet low end. The v.2 seems to have a bit more grumble and beak up to the low end that I don’t like as much as the v.1.

    I also have to admit the look of v.1 was better.

    posted on October 30, 2013 at 9:38 am
  3. Scott Beck says:

    I picked up a Blues Jr. !!! with the same covering as this version 1 and right away upgraded the tubes to cleaner, higher headroom ones so I can crank the volume up to 8 before getting any breakup, and swapped out the Fender speaker for an Eminence Texas Heat.  The amp kicks ass and I use it as a platform for all my pedals.  After reading this, I’m tempted to get the new V2 Humbolt Hot Rod, as it sounds like a good match for mine and one that would work great in stereo (or as a backup in case mine had a problem on a gig).

    Thanks Ian, for the great review ... very informative and gives us a nice idea of the differences between the two amps.  Oh, and I also prefer the V1 looks over the new one.

    posted on October 30, 2013 at 10:29 am
  4. Ethan Caouette says:

    I’ve been running 2 blues jr’s together at small/medium club gigs for awhile.  It’s a great match and I upgraded the cabinets to solid finger jointed pine and some capacitor upgrades and these amps just sing.  Also using the Cannabis Rex in one, Eminence Legend in the other.  One gets placed on an amp stand, the other on the floor to compensate the lows.  I can usually keep up with a loud drummer and 4 other musicians but it’s even better when you mic them.  It gets me close to boutique tone without the price tag.

    posted on October 30, 2013 at 10:53 pm
  5. Steve says:

    Well it’s about time y’all caught up! I’ve been running a stereo Blues Jr rig since I got the Humboldt Hot Rod v.2 (green w/wheat). I added it to my U.S. made tweed Blues Jr (from the Lake Oswego Sunn plant) and it is the envy of all who play with it! I have a bevy of pedals that I enjoy monkeying around with but the “must have” in an equation like this is the EP boost. P90s (Tempest Special w/Lollars), Humbuckers (Hanson Gatto), Mini Humbuckers (Epi Firebird VII), and single coils (G&L ASAT Classic) all sound magnificent!

    posted on November 2, 2013 at 10:31 am
  6. Steve says:

    I meant v.1 (duh) sorry
    That one btw had an upgraded tube array that v.2 doesn’t, did it not?

    posted on November 2, 2013 at 10:33 am
  7. Abbacus says:

    There are tons of avid Blues Jr users out there it seems!  There’s a great site dedicated to Blues Jr’s   All kinds of mods, info on different versions, parts, and upgrades, along with tons of how-to advice,  as well as options to have the mods done for you at very good prices. It’s called Billm Audio Billm Blues Jr Mods at:  http://billmaudio.com/wp/

    posted on November 4, 2013 at 1:57 pm
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