Search Results for: Blonde Twin


Fender Amplifiers

Founded in the mid-1940s in Fullerton, California by Leo Fender, the legendary amps produced by this company have been heard on countless recordings and are influential on countless other amp makers. In the beginning Fender paired small combo amps with lap steels and electric guitars aimed at student players, but word of the superior tone and build quality quickly spread among professional musicians. In over seventy years of existence, Fender has consistently evolved and innovated its sound from the Tweed era through the Brown and Blackface eras and beyond.

Mercury Magnetics has built a massive collection of ToneClone® Transformers and Chokes for Fender Amps available from all eras of production. Answering the needs of players and amp-builders alike, our extensive catalog of audio transformers is the ultimate resource whether you’re looking to replace a worn-out transformer in a vintage Fender amp or looking to nail a vintage tone in a new amp or amp build. The engineers at Mercury have painstakingly documented every detail and nuance of the best-of-breed vintage transformers and can faithfully produce perfect clones using the same materials and methods used on the originals.

The ToneClone+ Series from Mercury Magnetics adds more utility and options without altering the original tone. Love your amp but want to change your speaker configuration? Mercury’s ToneClone+ Output Transformers give players more impedance options like alternate and multi-tapped secondaries. Power Transformers can benefit from the “Plus” treatment as well with alternate primary voltage, Higher or Lower B+ Voltages, added current capability, and more.

Fender Woodie Amp Transformers: The earliest production amps to come out of Fullerton, Fender ‘Woodie’ amps can be identified by their hardwood cabinets and fixed handles. We are proud to offer ToneClone® transformers from this short-lived and rare Woodie era including the Woodie Deluxe (aka Model 26) and Woodie Pro.

Fender Tweed Amp Transformers: The Fender Tweed era lasted from the late forties to early sixties and a vast amount of artists from all generations have crafted their distinct tone using these amps through all genres. Notable artists include: Scotty Moore (Elvis Presley), Neil Young, Larry Carlton, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards. Mercury Magnetics has the largest catalog of vintage-correct Fender ToneClone® replacements transformers for the following models: Tweed Bandmaster, Tweed Bassman, Tweed Champ, Tweed Harvard, Tweed Princeton, Tweed Pro/Dual Professional, Tweed Super, Tweed Tremolux, Tweed Deluxe, Tweed Twin, and Tweed Vibrolux.

Fender Blonde and Brown (Brownface) Amp Transformers: Sitting on the timeline between the Tweed and Blackface Fender amps, the Blonde/Brown amps of the early sixties were most noticeably embraced by surf groups like the Beach Boys and Dick Dale. Our catalog of ToneClone® amp transformers for this era includes Brown/Blonde Bandmaster, Blonde Bassman, Blonde Showman, Blonde Tremolux, Blonde Twin, Brown Concert, Brown Deluxe, Brown Princeton, Brown Pro, Brown Super, Brown Vibrasonic, Brown Vibrolux, and Brown Vibroverb. Also see our transformers and choke for the 6G15 Reverb Unit.

Fender Blackface Amp Transformers: Easily distinguishable by their black control plates and white lettering, Fender Blackface amps began showing up on stages and recordings in the early-mid 1960s. Extremely popular among musicians then, the impressive build quality and versatile tones have kept these classic amps popular even 50 years later. Mercury Magnetics has hundreds of ToneClone® and ToneClone+ transformers and chokes for Fender Blackface Amps including: Blackface Bandmaster/Bandmaster Reverb, Blackface Bassman, Blackface Champ, Blackface Concert, Blackface Deluxe/Deluxe Reverb, Blackface Princeton/Princeton Reverb, Blackface Pro/Pro Reverb, Blackface Showman, Blackface Tremolux, Blackface Twin Reverb, Blackface Vibrochamp, Blackface Vibrolux, and Blackface Vibroverb. Also see our transformers and choke for the 6G15 Reverb Unit.

 

FC-TWIN

Blonde, Blackface, Silverface

An Excellent Choice Transformer

We always maintain a steady flow of gear arriving for review, but sometimes we also employ a fascinating if time-consuming research strategy that involves logging onto eBay, picking a broad category such as “guitar amplifiers,” and settling in for as long as it takes to patiently scroll through every page of listings. Yeah, that’s often 50 pages or more, but since we can’t possibly think of all the items that might interest us and search for them by name, it’s far more revealing and productive to just hunker down and scroll. Rarely do we fail to find something intriguing that would have otherwise been missed, and such was the case on a morning in August when we stumbled on a listing for a 1959 tweed Deluxe. Were we looking for a tweed Deluxe? Nope. Wouldn’t have crossed our mind at the time…. We had already reviewed 5E3 reproductions from Fender, Clark and Louis Electric within the past 3 years, and we have frequently referenced our 1958 Tremolux as being our desert island #1. Isn’t a Tremolux just a tweed Deluxe with tremolo in a bigger box? No… not even close. That would be like saying you wanted to date a blonde – any blonde. For the record, our fixed bias Tremolux possesses a cleaner tone with a bigger, booming voice created by the taller Pro cabinet. The Two Fifty Nine is a completely different animal….

Sporting a February 1959 date code on the tube chart, the ’59 had been listed by a seller in Arkansas who turned out to be Tut Campbell, formerly a well-known guitar dealer in Atlanta. Still buying and selling gear, Campbell had described the Deluxe as being in original condition with the exception of a replace output transformer – a big old mono block Stancor dating to 1957. Given the otherwise original condition of the Deluxe, which included the Jensen P12R, we made Campbell a “best off” below his asking price and scored the amp for $1,850 shipped. We wouldn’t say we stole the Deluxe, but it seemed a fair price of admission for the opportunity to experience and explore still another rare classic and supremely worthy piece of Fender history on your behalf.

The Deluxe arrived with the big Stancor dangling from the chassis despite Campbell’s careful packaging. Wasn’t his fault, really – in a feeble effort to avoid any additional holes being drilled in the chassis, the fellow who installed the Stancor in the ’60s had merely tightened set screws over the small tabs at the base of the heavy tranny, which was designed to be mounted upright – not hanging upside down in a guitar amplifier. Of more concern was the fact that while the amp was lighting up, there was no sound…. Well, we’ve been here before, so we made a call to God’s Country and the Columbus, Indiana domicile of Terry Dobbs – Mr. Valco to you. We had already set aside a spare output transformer (Lenco, McHenry, IL) that had been the original replacement installed in our ’58 Tremolux when we first received it, replaced with a Mercury Magneticsfor our June ’07 review article. Mr. Valco cheerfully answered his phone and as we explained the situation with the Deluxe he agreed to walk us through the installation of the new replacement – a simple process involving four lead wires being connected to the rectifier and output tube sockets, and the speaker jack. As long as you put the correct wires in the right place, a piece of cake, and we had the new tranny in within 10 minutes. Pilot lamp and all tubes glowing, still no sound…. Valco patiently guided us through a series of diagnostics with the multi-meter and the Deluxe was running on all cylinders, pumping 380 volts. Stumped, and with the hour growing late, we called it a day. Leaving the mysteriously neutered Deluxe chassis on the bench until tomorrow.

Morning came with a whining voice delivering a plaintive wake up call – “It’s got to be something stupid and simple….” Inspired by a huge steaming mug of Jamaican High Mountain meth, we sat back down at the bench, tilted the innards of the Deluxe chassis forward beneath a bright halogen desk lamp and peered in for answers. We began slowly examining the chassis in sections, looking for broken or dull solder joints, loose or broken wires, while gently pushing and prodding wires and connections with the eraser tip of a #2 pencil as we had seen Jeff Bakos do so often at his bench. After ten minutes or so we were about to give up, when we turned our attention to several places where the circuit was grounded to the chassis adjacent to the volume and tone pots, and damned if a solder joint for one of the uninsulated ground wires hadn’t separated from the chassis. No ground, no sound, and as soon as we had restored the solder joint the Two Fifty Nine arose from the dead with a mighty A major roar.

The amp was indeed remarkably well-preserved in all respects, with the typical amber patina of old tweed. The burnished chrome control panel remained bright and clean with no corrosion, the original handle remained intact, and a couple of small ciggie burns on the edge of the cabinet added a stamp of historic legitimacy to the Deluxe’s pedigree. The top half of the Jensen’s frame was coated in a fine film of red clay dust from the Delta, and while the cone was in remarkably good shape with no tears, an audible voice coil rub called for a recone. We would send the speaker to Tom Colvin’s Speaker Workshop in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, requesting that he leave the original unbroken solder joints for the speaker wires intact if possible.

Meanwhile the first order of business was to listen to an assortment of NOS tubes from our stash, and audition no less than a half dozen speakers. Different sets of power tubes and individual preamp tubes will sound surprisingly different, so we started out with a matched pair of NOS RCA 6V6s, a GE 5Y3 rectifier, and an RCA 12AX7 and 12AY7. From there we subbed in a dozen different RCA, Amperex, Tesla and GE 12AX7s, noting varying levels of brightness, warmth and intensity among them all. For an edgier, more aggressive voice, the GEs and Amperex typically deliver the goods, while RCAs produce a slightly warmer, richer, fuller tone. We also experimented with a 12AT7 and 12AX7 in place of the lower gain 12AY7, and while those tubes ramp up gain and distortion faster and with more intensity than the 12AY7, they seemed like overkill for us. Our Deluxe possesses a tone of gain using the stock 12AY7.

Rather than repeatedly reloading the Deluxe with different speakers, we used a Bob Burt 1×12 cabinet built from 100-year-old pine for our speaker tests. The original Jensen had never been pulled from our amp, but multiple speaker replacements in an old Fender inevitably cause the speaker mounting screws to loosen in the baffleboard, making speaker swaps unnecessarily clumsy and complicated. When we do run into loose mounting screws, we simply run a few small drops of Super Glue around the base of the screw and surrounding wood. Allow to dry and your screws will stay put provided that you don’t torque the nuts on the mounting screws like an idiot with a socket wrench. Don’t be that guy,

We tested a range of speakers that included a Celestion G12H 70thAnniversary, Colvin-reconed ’64 Jensen C12N, Eminence Wizard, Private Jack, Alnico Red Fang, Teas Heat, Screaming Eagle, Red, White & Blues, and Warehouse Green Beret, Veteran 30, Alnico Blackhawk and Alnico Black & Blue. The Alnico speakers generally produce a tighter, smoother, slightly more compressed tone, with a variable emphasis on upper mid-range and treble frequencies, while the speakers with ceramic magnets possess a wider, more open sound. Higher power ratings of 75W-100W offered by the Red, White & Blues, Screaming Eagle and Warehouse Blackhawk typically translate into more graceful handling of bass frequencies, and in a 20 watt Deluxe, zero speaker distortion, for a clean, powerful voice.

Let’s cut to the chase with speaker evaluations, shall we? It has become clear to us that even after reviewing a dozen speakers in as much detail as mere words allow in a single article, many of you remain uncertain about which speaker to choose. No kidding. We would absolutely love to hand you a single magic bullet when it comes to speaker swaps, but here’s the dirty little secret about choosing speakers…. The overall character of the amp you will be installing your new speaker in is critical, and to some extent, the type of guitars and pickups you play most often are important, too. Tailoring your sound with the unique gear you play is not a one-size fits-all proposition – you have to invest some thought into the process. Are you going for a classic “scooped” American Fendery tone, or something more British, with a bit of an aggressive edge and upper midrange voice? Are you playing guitars with single coil pickups or humbuckers? Is there a specific, signature tone you are searching for, or are you playing a wide variety of musical styles that requires a broader range of tones? Do you like the more open sound of speakers with ceramic magnets, or the smoother compression of Alnico? What are you not hearing from your amp and the speaker that’s in it now? Do you want a brighter tone, darker, better bass response, or fuller, more prominent mids? Do you want to really drive the speaker and hear it contributing to the overdriven sound of your amp, or do you want a big, clean tone with no speaker distortion in the mix? The truth is, if you don’t know what you want, you are far less likely to get it. On the other hand, nothing is accomplished with paralysis by analysis. To be perfectly honest, there are lots of speakers made by Celestion, Eminence, Warehouse and, if you can wait long enough for them to break in, Jensen, that we could and would be perfectly happy with, but we would also choose them carefully, taking into account all the factors mentioned above. After a couple of days spent swapping speakers, we ultimately concluded that we preferred the ’64 C12N for a classic tweed Deluxe tone, and a broken-in Celestion G12H 70th Anniversary for the most mind-altering 18 watt Marshall tone we have ever heard. Seriously. More on that in a minute….

Having split more than a few hairs with our speaker swaps, it was time to start picking nits off of gnats with some output transformer evaluations. We first contacted Dave Allen of Allen Amplification, who also stocks Heyboer transformers built to his specs. We found a variety of appropriate output transformers on Allen’s site that offered subtle variations on a stock original Deluxe OT, and we asked Dave to describe the TO26 model we wished to try in the Deluxe:

“The TO26 was intended as a hot rodding upgrade to a stock Deluxe Reverb OT. While maintaining the stock 3-1/8” mounting centers, its fat stack of hotter core steel and multi-tap secondary make it a good choice for builders wanting to maximize the performance of a pair of 6V6s and who may also want to push the envelope with 6L6/5881s while still being able to clear the speaker in a stock cabinet. There are physical limitations in small amps, so its short low profile is welcome. The orientation of the laminations is also good for low hum pick up from the power transformer. I found that an OT mounted the tall way (like my TO30D) picks up considerably more hum simply due to its orientation to the power transformer, so, shoe-horning a ‘tallish’ OT into your amp may cause it to pick up hum from the power transformer – not much of an upgrade. “The TO26’s 7K to 8 or 16 ohm rating makes it ideal for a pair of 6V6s as well as 3,500 ohm to 4 or 8 rating for 6L6/5881s. Notice you always have an 8 ohm option with both types of power tubes. An impedance switch could be wired (I use a blackface grounding switch) as a power tube type selector for an 8 ohm speaker to go between 6V6s and 6L6s. The TO26 will typically give slightly more output with 6V6s due to its more efficient low-loss core steel and will keep the bass clean longer for more perceived clean headroom. As it takes the most watts to reproduce the bass, you notice distortion there first, and since Fender-type amps are so bass heavy, you can quickly hit the wall with headroom, so a noticeable increase in clean bass response certainly feels like a more powerful amp with the TO26. It is kind of like you installed a new speaker with a larger ceramic magnet that is more efficient than the old speaker. The amp is a little louder and the bass a little tighter or cleaner.

“There seem to be a lot of 6L6-based 5E3 amps out there now to get a little clean headroom from a circuit normally not known for much of that. The TO26 is a good choice for that type of amp as it will fit typical available chassis and cabinets. It has extra long 12” topcoat leads ready to strip and solder. I would reckon it would handle up to about 30 watts before starting to saturate and compress – plenty of cathode-biased 6L6s. I find that the Heyboer paper stick-wound and interleaved output transformers with premium core steel and heavy core stacks have typically better clarity or definition than ‘stock’ OTs. Call it fidelity or whatever you want – just clearer distorted and complex tones and better separation of notes in chords, etc. I use the TO26 in the Allen Sweet Spot, Accomplice Jr. and Hot Fudge with Nuts amps with excellent results. All of these amps can use either 6V6 or 6L6 power tubes. You know how a 5F6-A or Super Reverb has that huge 4 bolt OT for a pair of 6L6s to get the maximum clean bottom end? That is sort of what the TO26’s OT is to a pair of 6V6s. It just doesn’t even come close to saturating.

When we informed Dave that we planned to run the Deluxe with 6L6/5881 power tubes as well as 6V6s, he recommended that we try the TO26 since it had been specifically designed for such applications. He also sent a smaller TO20 transformer, described as being designed with a wider 1-1/4′′ lamination “fat stack” that provides 60% additional core mass than typical ¾′′ stack units for improved performance. The TO20 is a direct replacement for Blues Jr. and Princeton Reverb amps, and also suitable for dual EL-84 amps with an 8 ohm load.

Mr. Valco also sent us a replacement 5E3 output transformer he had bought on sale from Clark Amplification a few years ago made for Mike Clark by Magnetics Components in Schiller Park, IL – a company that has been producing transformers since 1943, having been the primary supplier for Valco and various Gibson amps in the ’50s and ’60s. A call to the company revealed that ToneQuest ReportV12. N1. Nov. 20104the transformer Valco sent was essentially their replacement for a Deluxe Reverb, model #40-18002 without bell ends per Clark’s request. We also learned that the company offers a complete range of Classic Tone vintage power and output transformers, including a reverse-engineered clone of a ’55 Triad 5E3 output tranny, model #18022.

We also contacted Paul Patronete at Mercury and requested a ToneClone “brown Deluxe” output transformer, since Larry Cragg had provided them with specific measurements from original OT in Neil’s ’61 tweed Deluxe, confirming that it was indeed a ’61–’62 brown Deluxe tranny. With a total of 6 output transformers to listen to, we took the Deluxe to Jeff Bakos, who set up a rig on his bench that enabled us to clip in each transformer and very quickly switch back and forth between them as we played a guitar through the amp. Are we having fun yet? Here’s what we heard:

Lenco – An excellent authentic “vintage” vibe for those that prefer the classic, if somewhat murkier sound of a tweed amp being pushed, lots of sag in the low end and a jangly pop in the top. And “old,” rather “lo-fi” sound indicative of the ’50s era amps.

Magnetics Components Clark Deluxe 18002 – Similar to the Lenco, but stronger and more robust, with a prominent growling character and voice. Thick, wooly and willin’ with better treble presence and clear string definition then the Lenco, yet an entirely “vintage” character. This tranny is comparable to those found in Deluxe amps from the brown era through silverface. Excellent power, punchy and fat with exceptional clarity and tone.

Magnetic Components 5E3 Clone – Percussive and dynamic with a faster attack response than the Clark/Deluxe Reverb version, this transformer was reverse-engineered from an original ’55 Deluxe OT. IT imparts an intense, throaty tweed character with enhanced mid and treble presence, remarkable clarity, and an authentic vintage ’50s vocal tone with softer bass response and slightly less volume and power than the Deluxe 18002.

Allen/Heyboer TO20 – An interesting variation with a much more modern, percussive dynamic character. The sound was not as heavy and imposing in the vintage style, and with this transformer the Deluxe reminded us of the more refined sound of a Fender Princeton, with excellent dynamic punch for slide and Allen/Heyboer TO26 – As advertised, the low end held up loud and proud with very little sag and an audibly higher threshold of clean headroom, although beyond 6 on the volume control the Deluxe was still holding nothing back. Overall, this transformer imparts a cleaner, high fidelity tone with more clarity and stout bass response than a typical stock 5E3 transformer. An excellent choice for enhanced low-end and maximum volume.

Mercury Magnetics brown Deluxe – Immediately recognizable, the Mercury displayed a trademark sound that is smooth, exceptionally musical, warm and balanced. Sounding more “high fidelity” than the Lemco or Magnetic Components transformers, but still seductively unruly enough to get yer ya-ya’s out. Sweet, rich, detailed and sticky.

Now, you may be wondering why we would bother to audition so many output transformers…. How much difference can it make? Well, forty-odd years ago when someone rigged that old Stancor tranny in the Deluxe, the only choice available to most repair shops was whatever was on hand in the scrap pile. Today we can shape the tone and dynamic response of an amp with a variety of “vintage” or more modern, custom transformers that allow us to recapture the original sound and feel of the amp, or improve upon the original design. Why did Cesar Diaz install output transformers for a Twin Reverb in Stevie’s Super Reverb amps, and Bassman transformers in his Vibroverbs? Because the first thing that chokes and overwhelms a smaller output transformer are the bass frequencies, and Cesar wanted Stevie’s amps to produce a rock-solid, thundering low end that could handle his massive wound strings. The tone we’re celebrating with our ’59 Deluxe is quite the opposite…. The raucous sound of the amp teetering on the edge is the key to it’s exploding tone, but if you wanted to go in the opposite direction with more headroom and a tighter low end, transformers like the TO26 have been specifically designed for that purpose. We once replaced the output transformer in our Pro reverb with a bigger MercuryToneClone Bassman, and the Pro grained a tone of clean headroom and unyielding bottom. Wanna make it even harder still? Use a plug-in diode rectifier in place of the 5AR4 rectifier tube. No saggy britches now. As with so many choices we make in the Quest for tone, the final decision comes down to your mission and individual taste, and Jeff agreed that between the Heyboer TO26, both Magnetic Components trannies and the Mercury brown Deluxe, the question wasn’t which one was “best” – all four were exceptional, but different. Some players would prefer one over another for different reasons described here, but all of them represent stellar examples of just how far we’ve come since the day that old Stancor tranny was used to put the Two Fifty Nine back into service.

One last detail needed to be addressed…. Could we safely run the Deluxe with 5881s or 6L6s if we preferred that sound over 6V6s? Once again, we asked the prescient Mr. Valco for some Hoosier insight:

“The impedance mismatch in this particular amp using the 6L6s is really not a big concern, it won’t hurt the amp and will either sound good or it won’t. The 6L6s draw 1.8 amps and two 6V6s draw 0.9 amp, so using the 6L6s will add about 1 amp more current draw that the power transformer needs to supply from the 6.3 volt heater windings. On some small 6V6 amps, using 6L6s can and does cause the power transformer to run hotter because more current equates to more heat. The concern is that the power transformer in the Deluxe, not being a large one to start with, has the extra 1 amp of heater current capacity to safely use the 6L6s. One way to determine if the power transformer is really stressed out with the 6L6s is to measure the AC heater voltage on pins 2 and 7 on the power tube sockets (or on the pilot lamp) and see if the AC voltage drops significantly from the reading using 6V6s versus 6L6s. It should be a bit over 6.3 volts AC with the 6V6 anyway (since the wall voltage is higher these days than in the early ’60s) and with the 6L6s you sure don’t want to see a large drop in voltage below 6.3 volts AC. If there is a large drop it means the transformer is having trouble supplying enough current for the 6L6 heaters if given enough time with the 6L6s could damage the power transformer. If the drop is only a few 10th of a volt, and doesn’t go below 6.3 AC, then it would indicate that the transformer is supplying the demand for the heater current and should be OK. Most Fender amps used power transformers that could handle some extra current demand.

And now we arrive at the moment of truth. We’ve been steadily reeling in a parade of new and classic amps for review in these pages for 12 years now this month – Marshall, Fender, Magnatone, Hiwatt, Vox, Valco, Silvertone, Ampeg, Gibson, Gretsch, Mesa Boogie, Park, Supro, Dickerson, Traynor, Budda, Western Auto, Standel, Dumble, Cornell, Clark, Crate, Divided by 132, Reeves, Bad Cat, Gabriel, Fuchs, Koch, Star, Category 5, 65 Amps, Balls, Bakos, Callaham, Blankenship, Reinhardt, Grammatico, Siegmund, Chicago Blues Box, Roccaforte, Headstrong, Rivera, Mad Professor, Talos, Maven Peal, Reverend, BC Audio, Savage, Goodsell, Fargen, Carol-Ann, DST, Two Rock, Germino, Matchless, Louis Electric, Swart, Demeter, Juke, Aiken, Bluetron, DeArmond, Carr, Victoria, and Dr. Z, with more coming. Lots of amplifiers, multiple models from the same builders, and among the foremost classics – Fender, Marshall, Vox, Hiwatt, Gibson, Ampeg and the entire Valco catalog, we have acquired, optimized and restored dozens of amps considered to be among the most desirable vintage models ever built. In the 20 watt wheelhouse occupied by the Two Fifty Nine, it has no equal by a mile. Game over.

After a lot of back and forth testing with different sets of output tubes, we became hooked on the thundering sound produced by a pair of Philips small-bottle 6L6WGBs. Thanks to Larry Pogreba’s talent for scavenging rare tubes (in Montana, no less), we are flush with several outstanding and stout pairs of RCA 6L6s, but the brighter Philips really lit up the Deluxe with a fresh and lively attitude that mirrors the bounce of a newer amp. With the ’64 Jensen C12N loaded, the Deluxe spookily nails the tones of Neil Young’s rig on Ragged Glory – a “studio” recording cut live with the Deluxe and Old Black in a barn on Young’s ranch with Crazy Horse. With the volume backed off to 4-5 a bluesy jangle emerges anchored by solid low end, rich midrange, the sweetest treble tones imaginable, and variable levels of sustain and edgy distortion that can be controlled both by the volume on the guitar and pick attack. The Deluxe does not discriminate between single coils or humbuckers, ravaging both with equal fervor, and the responsive dynamic character of this amp simply is not of this world. Rotating the single tone control sharpens treble without dumping lows or mids, while also subtlety increasing gain, as if you were using a boost pedal. A “Y” cord plugged into the Instrument and Microphone inputs enables the two channels to be mixed with great effect. As Neil Young described, bringing the mic input volume up with the instrument volume set between 6-8 gradually deepens the tone while slowly igniting an intense explosion of thicker second order harmonics and distortion as the dynamic character of the amp softens. Pushing the Instrument volume level up into the 8-12 range brings the volume up to a perceived level that exceeds 20 watts, while provoking an angry, pissed-off cascade of astonishingly rich musical distortion as the notes swerve into controlled harmonic feedback.

Switching from the Jensen to the Celestion transforms the Deluxe into the most stunningly toneful 20 watt Marshall you could possibly imagine. To be honest, you probably can’t imagine it, because we have never heard anything like this ourselves, even after owning a couple of vintage Marshall PA20s, a rare Lead & Bass head and 1×12 cabinet, and a Balls 2×12 18 watt. We could easily live with either speaker, and the Deluxe also just kills pushing our 8 ohm 4×12 pinstripe cabinet.

For those of you who appreciate a somewhat tamer vibe, we can assure you that the Deluxe loaded with a fine pair of 6V6s is equally mind-altering. The overall sound is a wee bit smaller in girth and less imposing, yet abundantly overflowing with vivid harmonic depth, a supremely touch-sensitive response, and brilliant combination of fidelity, clarity and bloom. Compared to a black or silverface Deluxe Reverb, the ’59 presents a more musically complex soundstage, less harsh, stiff and linear, and it lacks both the sharper treble of a blackface amp, and the scooped midrange character. The tone is rounder and meatier, the treble sweeter and less dominant, with an enhanced 3-D image.

Now, if you’re the type that skeptically requires a qualifier to add a stamp of legitimacy to such an over-the-top review, here it is, Mr. Been There-Done That…. The Deluxe doesn’t and won’t spew big clean tones at stage volume. Our ’58 Tremolux produces a cleaner tone with a higher threshold of clean headroom by far at comparable volume levels, and the taller tweed cabinet encourages a stronger, cleaner resonant bass and low mid response. The Tremolux is also equipped with a Mercury ToneClone Tremolux output transformer, which creates a tone that is less wooly, raucous and indistinct.

The busted-up sound of the Tremolux above 5–6 is gloriously righteous indeed, but with more clarity and less provocative intensity than the Deluxe. Taken in context, what we’re suggesting here is that in our experience, the Deluxe has no equal as both a Fender and Marshall style 20 watt rocker (depending on speaker selection), and we’ll add “blues” to that description equipped with 6V6s and the Jensen C12N. During our 2-month test period, we also routinely used our Lee Jackson Mr. Springgy reverb, Analogman-modded Boss DD3 digital delay, and a very cool, versatile (and cheap) Flip tube tremolo pedal reviewed here. Can a modern replica of the 5E3 Deluxe deliver the same inspiring tones as the Two Fifty Nine? The closest thing we’ve heard is the Louis Electric “Buster,” but no, magical happy accidents like this Deluxe can’t be reproduced today – and that is as it should and shall always be. Quest forth…

 

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Original Power Transformer in our ’73 Super Lead

While Michael Bloomfield was playing cranked up blonde Fender Bassman and blackface Twin Reverb amplifiers, Marshall 100 watt stacks suddently appeared thanks to The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Cream and Led Zepplin. Throughout the ’70s, rock was dominated by the sound of a Les Paul and Marshall amps, but despite its reputation as the ultimate rock machine, all four-input, 100 watt Marshall model “1959” heads are not the same….

The first 100 watt Marshall amps appeared in late 1965,and despite Marshall’s decision to drop tube rectifiers for the less forgiving, harder sound of solid state diode rectification, the “Plexi” 100 watt heads remained more closely related to earlier Marshall amps inspired by the tweed Bassman than the Super Leads that would follow. In the early ’70s, the 50 watt model “1987” head and 100 watt Super Lead were gradually modified to produce more gain faster, and the bright channel was pushed to a punishing level of thin, ear-shattering brightness, while Channel II remained too dull and bassy to be used alone.

We acquired a 1973 Super lead—the last year before Marshall switched to printed circuit boards—for the modest sum of $1,000, made possible by a recent Dagnall replacement output transformer. Two .022 mf caps had been replaced with Orange Drops and another removed altogether in a futile effort to reduce brightness and gain—other-wise, the original Super Lead circuit remained intact and unmolested. Our plan was to run the amp at approximately 60 watts with just two EL34s, requiring the amp to be set at half the rated speaker impedance of our 8 ohm 4×12 Avatar cabinet, loaded with two Celestion Gold Alnico 12s and two “Hellatone” 70th Anniversary G12H 30s.

As we discussed this project with Jeff Bakos, he mentioned that the 100 watt Super Leads not only sound very different from the 50 watt heads in ways that transcend a mere increase in power, but he also felt that the 100 watt Super Lead amps sound better with just two powertubes instead of the full compliment of four…“That’s very common down here—I know a lot of layers who prefer that sound.” We also consulted with Sergio Hamernik of Mercury Magnetics on a suitable replacement for the modern Dagnall OT, and he suggested the ToneClone’69 Marshall self-leaded version. “Self-leaded” means that the actual wires wound within the transformer are extended to connect directly to the amp, rather than smaller diameter lead wires being attached to the transformer internally. Installing a self-leaded version is a bit of a bitch, since you are cutting and bending much heavier gauge wire to fit in tight spaces, and the insulation must be scraped off the wires before soldering. But Jeff had been here before,and all was taken in stride.

We also noted that the original power transformer in our ’73 Super Lead was similar to those found in the early Plexi100 watt amps with plate voltages well above 500 volts.

Our amp measured 522 volts, while the plate voltage on most post-plexi 100 watt “1959” amps are usually lower—around 460 volts. The “hotter” transformer in our Super Lead produces a comparatively higher and less compressed distortion threshold, and if not for our pair of NOS MullardEL34s, we might need to be more selective about choosing current production tubes that can withstand +500 volts on the plates. Jeff was confident that JJs would hold up, less confident of Svetlanas.

We took the Marshall home and initially ran it with three spare Telefunken 12AX7s just to see if they sounded as sterile in a guitar as we had recalled in the past. They do. We could hear a distinct improvement in the mid and bass tones with the new transformer, but the bright channel remained far too bright to be used alone, even with a Les Paul. While we could manage to knock down some of the treble and acquire a decent tone with the bright channel set on “3” and the bass channel patch with the volume on “6,”pushing Channel II so far above the level of bright channel introduced an indistinct woofiness we didn’t care for. The next day we returned to Jeff’s shop for his standard Marshall 4-banger input channel mod, which simply involves moving the original .005 mf bright cap on the bright channel to the basier Channel II. We had done this before with our ’69 50 watt and a vintage PA20, and it unerringly transformers the sound of the notoriously dull Channel II to a fat, warm, musically rich and bright sound that works perfectly every time. We also replaced the two Orange Drop caps with Mallory 150s and pulled the super hi-fi Telefunkens, replacing them with NOS RCA 12AX7s—the warmest, creamiest pre-amp tube ever made.

With the Super Lead thus optimized and tweaked, its voice was transformed from an angry soprano chain saw to a classic Marshall with all of the requiste thick,rich, historic hall of fame tones at our fingertips. We could mine brilliant clean tones on “3” at a usable volume level that revealed all the gorgeous detail of the vintage patent number pickups in our Historic Les Pauls, and our Stratocaster, Nocaster and Les Paul Junior all sounded equally good. Add Fender outboard reverb and you do indeed have the Twin from Bloody Hell.As Jeff predicted, the big power supply in the Super Lead also produced a much more formidable and impressive presence than a typical 50W. Yes, the Super Lead is still a beast, tamed for your consideration and our enjoyment. But if classic Marshall tone is the sound you crave, a properly groomed Super Lead is hard to beat, and given today’s boteek and vintage amp prices, it’s a solid steal.

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Ordered a Black-face Pro Tone Clone Guitar Amp Transformer

Fender designed and built more than one transitional, non reverb blackface combo amp that would soon acquire reverb and a new name, including relatively small numbers of blackface Princetons, 4×10 Concerts, 1×12 Vibrolux and 1×15 Pros. We acquired a 1×15 blackface Pro, and while it ultimately proved to be an extraordinary exceptional amp, we were also reminded of the potential pitfalls that exist when buying old amps sight-unseen, as well as the potential rewards.

We found the ’64 Pro listed on eBay and bout it from a dealer after requesting a detailed photo of the chassis and circuit. Proudly described as “the best amp in the store, “the rare ’64 blackface Pro is essentially a blackface Vibroverb without the “verb.” Do we have your attention yet? Three caps had been replaced, the original baffleboard had been professionally converted to plywood with the original grill cloth remaining intact, and an on/off pot had been installed for the tremolo intensity control that bypassed the tremolo circuit when rolled to “1” with a click, adding gain that would otherwise be missing in the Vibrato channel. We pulled the JJ power tubes and assorted Russian pre-amp tubes and replaced them with lightly used,“test new” RCAs from our stash, rebiased the amp and fired up the Pro….

Sounded like shit. We had been here before with a dead-mint ’64 Vibroverb bought years ago that had passed through a certain amp guru’s hands in Pflugerville, Texas.How could a vintage Fender sound so bad we wondered? Turned out that the value of the bright cap on the Vibrato channel had been changed on the Vibroverb, rendering a thin, scalding tone that would have given Ed Jahns fits, as it did us. Changing the bright cap back to spec immediately restored the Vibroverb to its rightful pace in history, but the Pro had other problems….

The baffleboard swap and added switch on the tremolo intensity control were clues that someone had also spent time troubleshooting the amp, probably trying to detect the cause of the Pro’s weak output, thin tone and curiously harsh edgy distortion. The amp just didn’t sound right. We pulled the original, reconed Jensen C15N dating to 1964 and subbed in an Eminence Legend, but the Pro still sounded choked-off, linear and wrong, so it was off to Jeff at Bakos Amp works on the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day weekend in a frog-chokin’ Georgia thunderstorm. When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro…..Now, this is the difference between someone who really knows his craft and a hack….Jeff plugged his bench guitar into the Pro, hit a couple of chords, issued a single grunt of displeasure and caustically observed, “Something is definitely fucked up.” With the chassis on the bench, Jeff scowled at the choppy sine wave the amp produced on his scope as he checked voltages with his multimeter. “I think the output transformer is going down slow—it measures 11 volts and it should be reading 16….” He clipped in a substitute OT from a stout old Fisher hi-fi, plugged in and hit a chord… “That’s closer to what it’s supposed to sound lie….” And sure enough, the missing lows and mids were present, the raspy treble tones were subdued, and for the moment, the Pro showed promise. We called Paul at Mercury Magnetics and ordered a black-face Pro Tone Clone replacement trans-former, shut it down and wished each other a good holiday. A week later the Mercury Magnetics replacement output transformer had arrived. Jeff wired it up, and then turned his attention o three silver mica caps that had replaced the original ceramic caps in the phase inverter and tone circuits. Jeff: “Somebody probably read an article about how these would bring the high end up, but I prefer the ceramics—always have. Besides the effect of the voltage from the old output transformer being low, these silver mica caps were contributing to that brittle tone we were hearing. They are the wrong value, and they changed the entire sound of the amp.” Jeff pulled all three silver mica caps and replaced them with the correct ceramic disc caps, and since an on/off switch had already been installed for the tremolo, we mounted the 25K mid range pot in the back panel hole for the extension speaker jack. With the Pro now thoroughly put right and the midrange pot added, Jeff hit a few chords, moved the EQ and volume settings around a bit in both channels, smiled and said, “That sounds really good. Yeah, that’s it.”

Back in our music room, the final step was to re-bias the Proat 34mA with an AmperexGZ34 rectifier and our last pair of vintage RCA black plate 6L6s, which in unused, new old stock condition have soared to $400/pair. The re-labeled Tube NOS Phillips JAN 6L6 WGBs we had tried sounded good—but the smooth warmth, exceptional musicality and deep harmonic content of the RCAs just can’t be beat, and it is a difference you can definitely hear. Smoke ’em if you got ’em….

We lit up the Pro with the ’63Fender Reverb unit and reverently smiled at the jaw-dropping tones pouring from the big Eminence Legend 15. Imagine the sound of a slightly kinder, warmer sounding 40 watt Super Reverb void of the sharp, penetrating treble presence that has sooften left our ears ringing for hours after a tumble with a blackface Super. The sound of the ’64 Pro is all Fender, with solid bass that doesn’t fall apart at high volume as the smaller blackface combos can,sweet, singing treble tones, and now… a mid range control that can gradually push the amp beyond its original, clear and liquid “scooped” mid range voice to an exceptionally thick, “mid-Atlantic” roar that unleashes heavy sustain and rich, musical distortion as only a Fender can. The Pro brilliantly complements every guitar we own, producing the essence of classic Stratocaster, Tele, P90 and humbucker tones with clarity, depth and lush fidelity that literally fills the room. Yes, there are different and equally worthy tones to be had from the British classics,but we have never heard a more beautiful sounding or versatile Fender amp—one that can range from crystalline, blackface clarity to the full burn of an early blonde Fender Bassman at much friendlier volume levels. The Pro can get plenty loud, but it’s a loud that doesn’t kill you in the style of a Showman, Twin or a Super Reverb.

The irony in this unexpected discovery has not escaped us,and perhaps the weight of it is now becoming clear to you, too. This project did not begin well, and we confess to experiencing some remorse when the Pro arrived with a few bad mods, weak and thin from the original output transformer going down, and generally just sounding very wrong. Our dismay was soon displaced by genuine enthusiasm; however, as we were reminded that this is indeed what the quest for tone is all about it. We’ve acquired absolutely bone stock amps in perfect working condition that just couldn’t tote the note, so why should we expect to buy a 44 year old amp that’s been played without it needing a little repair and restoration work? The end entirely justifies the means.

Having finally experienced the Pro’s singular, exceptional sound, we wondered what had caused it to be relegated to such obscurity among all the Fender black face amps. Like the Vibrasonic and Vibroverb, perhaps it was doomed by the presence of the single 15” speaker. Like the Pro, the blackface Vibroverb 1×15 was produced for less than a year, and with the introduction of the 2x12Pro Reverb in 1965, Fender would no longer produce a 1×15 combo until the introduction of the silver face Vibrosonic in 1972. Yet, the earlier 1×16 Pros had been Fender’s flagship amps during much of the tweed era, and in 1960 the 1×15 brown Pro ranked second only to the1x16 Vibrasonic in the Fender catalog. Somewhere along the way, the 1×15 combo had clearly fallen out of favor with Fender, guitarists, or both, and given the short life span of the Vibroverb, even the addition of reverb couldn’t save it.

Twenty years later, Stevie Ray Vaughan elevated the Vibroverb to hall of fame status, otherwise, the 1×15 com-bos seem to have been perceived as “uncool” for anything bug jazz and blues, as if wearing a jacket and tie were required to play them. The Pro is a great blues amp, but it’s also a great rocker, and equally well-suited for jazz, pop and country. With far more clean head room and power than any tweed Pro and much stronger distortion, sustain and dynamic character than a brown Pro, the blackface Pro reflects Fender’s ongoing pursuit of more powerful, cleaner sounding amps, but unlike the black face Bandmaster, Tremolux and Showman, and Pro can really rock the house cranked. We suspect it’s a single 15 and missing ’verb that throws people off today, yet in’64 Pro shares its DNA with the ’64 Bassman and all the highly prized blackface combo amps, including the Deluxe Reverb, Vibrolux Reverb, Super Reverb and the heavily prized and hyped Vibroverb.

The contrast between the Vibroverb’s Holy Grail status versus the lowly blackface Pro simply underscores how easily we can be blown off course by what isn’t hyped on the Internet or in print, and by the powerful logic that suggests if anything 44 years old is truly noteworthy, “we” would already know about it. Well, apparently “they” don’t. But you do. Blackface Pros can be found for $1 500–$2,000,with originality and overall condition driving prices accordingly. Like the Deluxe, we wouldn’t buy one that has had all the blue molded capacitors or Allen-Bradley resistors replaced, but the transformers available today from Mercury will sound every bit as good or better than the originals, and as we have said so many times in the past,the Eminence Legend 15 is spectacular. Add some good,current production or NOS tubes and you will have been delivered to a place well beyond the common man’s limp and shriveled imagination. Now Quest forth….

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FBLTW-O

Rare! Blonde — #125A4A

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