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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.


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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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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A Fantastic Guitar Amp Transformer

It was originally built around the design of one of Jim Marshall’s favorites, the Fender Bassman; like the Bassman, the JTM45 was actually a fantastic guitar amp. Because of its consistent popularity, Marshall has offered a reissue version of the head — more than 20 years after production of the original JTM45 ceased. While the reissue is built with modern components and assembly techniques, it retains much of the tone, responsiveness and character of the original, hand-wired versions of the early days. No wonder builders today still carry on the tradition of the JTM45, and guitarists continue to seek out the pure simplicity and touch response of this tone machine. To celebrate the JTM45, I got together with my Sunday afternoon amp group, after contacting a handful of respected amp builders who sent us their versions of the amp. We fired them all up alongside an original and a reissue JTM45 to take a listen — and to enjoy one of the best amps ever designed.

About the Authors

About 5 years ago, while playing a 9/11 benefit show, I had the good fortune to meet two people who would not only profoundly impact my life with tube amps, but would become lifelong friends. John Rossi and Tony Burns were there that day; Tony, a killer player and a regular on the Tempe/Phoenix music scene, and Johnny, his friend and amp tech, making sure Tony’s amps were running well in 115 degree heat at the outdoor amphitheater. When I saw Tony’s wall of Marshalls next to my backline of Marshalls, it was an instant conversation starter.

We spent time between sets that day discussing the various finer points of our amps and gawking at each other’s rigs. The show went great but my ’67 Super P.A. felt a bit stiff, and wasn’t reacting in the most flattering way. This incident proved to be the catalyst, as Johnny was an underground semi-retired tech and ultra-fanatic Marshall enthusiast, and he had some ideas that he wanted to try out. He invited me over the following Sunday to check out the amp, and to experiment with various preamp and power amp tubes while BBQ-ing and having a beer. Tony was there, and it became clear that we all had a deep respect for these amps; rather than modify them, we wanted to bring them back to their former glory. After five years, and dozens of hacked-up Marshalls coming back from the dead, here we are. Over that time we’ve learned more about these amazing amps than any of us ever anticipated, and we’ve have had a blast in the process. I have no doubt in my mind, based on my readings of the various amp forums, that there are plenty of groups just like us all over the world doing the same thing.

The Lineup

The lineup consisted of our own 1965 original and 1990 reissue heads, two MetroAmp JTM45s (a kit version as well as the GPM 45), a Germino Classic 45, a Wallace Amplification BKW45 and Mojave Ampworks’ new Special Edition Plexi 45 head. After searching through our collection of cabinets, we settled on both an eighties Marshall JCM800 4×12 with black back 25s, and a Mojave 2×12 cab with 1963-era Celestion Alnico Blues. It may sound strange that there were no pinstripe or basket weave cabs used for the roundup, but that wasn’t for lack of trying. Among all the members of the amp group, we actually have a pinstripe, a basket weave and a variety of Marshall 4x12s, but for some reason we always come back to the early-eighties JCM 800 cab with black back 25s.

That particular cab has more clarity, tone and authority than any other, and it remains our favorite in the bunch — despite the cool factor of the older cabs. The 2×12 with Blues was a natural choice, as that flavor shares similarities with the mid-sixties Marshall cabs and is also a popular speaker configuration for Bluesbreaker combos. The guitars we used were our standard array of Les Pauls from the ’70s, ’80s and 2000s, as well as a newer 2008 Fender Strat and two early-seventies Strats. With everything in the room (it was quite a sight!) we were ready to begin.

Original 1965 JTM45

To get our ears accustomed to the JTM45 sound, we began by firing up our ’65 head with a Les Paul. Normally, this head has EL34s in it, but we borrowed the Genelex KT66s from the Mojave and biased the amp to accommodate them. It made sense to us to use KT66s, because they were what the amp was designed for. With everything looking good, we flipped it from standby and beheld the beauty of this vintage masterpiece. It’s no wonder players and collectors are paying big bucks for these amps; everything we played through it sounded incredible.

What was amazing was how much of a rock ‘n roll amp this really is. Considering how long it’s been since it was conceived, the amp’s sound remains surprisingly current. The distortion is organic, full-bodied and earthy, and it allowed the personality of the guitar and player to shine through. While it was very easy to play, this is an amp that still requires a level of discipline and control to fully harness its capabilities. It makes sense that players who want to be heard would play on this style of amp, because like it or not, whatever you play through the amp is… well, amplified. It just comes out better.

We played through it for a good long time, switching guitars and speaker cabinets to hear it in as many different configurations as possible. Whether it was a Strat, a Les Paul, a 2×12 or a 4×12, the sound was always remarkable — perhaps the very definition of great tone. Subjective? Yes. Brilliant? Absolutely. Rolling back the volume on the guitars exposed a beautiful clean tone that was harmonically rich and defined, never muddy or dull. Even with the guitar’s volume knob all the way up, the dynamic response of the amp, and the way it musically fed back, was awe-inspiring.

Once we had established a base tone for comparison’s sake, it was time to play and listen to the other amps. Before I break down each individual amp and builder, I must observe that each and every one of the amps had ridiculously good tone, and they all sounded like JTM45s, but each had its own unique voice. Aside from the reissue Marshall, all of the amps are hand-wired. The reissue Marshall was of PCB-construction, and used the standard parts and components that Marshall was building their amps with during that era. I spoke with Mitch Colby from Korg USA (Marshall’s US distributor), who told me that the reissues have not undergone any significant changes since their reintroduction 20 years ago. While they are using the components that Marshall builds with today, they should yield very similar tones to the earlier reissue amps.

MetroAmp JTM 45 Kit and GPM 45 Custom Build

George Metropoulos is no stranger to the world of Marshall amps or to the online amp building community. Having run MetroAmp for some time now, George offers everything from fully built replicas of many classic Marshalls to ready-to-build kits and hard-to-find replacement parts for vintage Marshalls. A player, George honed his amp-tech skills by adopting a DIY approach, taking care of his own amp repairs on the road. This extended into repair work at home, and then really took off when amps began coming in for restoration rather than simple re-tubing. After his ’73 Super Lead was stolen from a gig, he realized it might be best to leave the valuable amps at home, and so he embarked on a never-ending quest to replicate the tone of the old Marshalls.

Like all the builders in the roundup, George is passionate about vintage Marshalls and obsessive over the details that make these amps so coveted. We received two amps from Metro: the JTM45 kit (which can be purchased already assembled for an additional $400) and the GPM45, George’s custom-built JTM45 using NOS vintage parts. When we fired up the MetroAmp 45s, it was clear that they both came from the same camp. Both amps were meticulously built and incredibly precise in their layouts. The main physical differences between the amps came down to the caps, resistors and tubes. Both amps shared the same iron and layout, so they also shared a lot of the inherent tone in their circuits. As George is a fan of the mid-sixties JTM45s, Metro’s transformers are based on the Drakes, rather than the earlier Radiospares iron [editor’s note: Kit also comes with optional Mercury Magnetics transformers]. Still, there was no question that the GPM45, which included NOS Phillips mustard caps, Allen Bradley carbon comp resistors and a gorgeous set of Genelex KT66s, was sweeter sounding.

While those differences accounted for a tonal upgrade, what made the differences even more compelling was the way they affected the touch factor of the amp. Much like our ‘65, the custom-built Metro had an ease about it that felt like a broken-in vintage head, making it a breeze to dig in, or to lay back on the strings and feel the amp act as an instrument. It was truly inspiring. Of all the amps in the roundup, this amp sounded most like our ’65 — frighteningly close! I should mention that the Metro kit version was actually plugged in first, and before comparing it to the GPM45, we all agreed we’d be thrilled to have one in our collection. We may be splitting hairs here to some degree, but knowing that anyone can buy a complete kit for under a grand, and have that kind of quality and tone — that says a lot.

Metro’s JTM 45 Kit:

Metro’s GTM 45 Custom Build:

Wallace Amplification BKW45

Brian Wallace has electronics in his DNA. His father, an electronics engineer, and his grandfather, an RCA tube repairman, were both instrumental in his early education and development in tubes and electronics. When he was young his father gave him a 75-in-1 electronic projects kit and further encouraged Brian by letting him watch as he built his own projects. Like all of the builders in the roundup, Brian is a player. He began modifying amps in 1974, when he removed the speakers and baffle in his Checkmate amp and replaced them with a baffle he created and some purchased speakers — altering the sound of the amp and thus beginning his lifelong journey. In 1995, he was approached by Guytron Amplification to help out while they were getting started. A positive experience, it propelled him to the next level and led to the creation of Wallace Amplification, which now offers several amp models as well as replacement transformers under the Marstran name.

Wallace’s first amp is the BKW45, but he is more than a clone maker. Recently he introduced the Abaddon, which is a 50-watt master volume head consisting of four gain stages in the preamp. There is much more to come, including a line of pedals and a reissue of the Fuzz Ace pedal he made back in the early ’90s. The BKW45 is a unique flavor of JTM45. A hair darker in tone and possessing slightly less gain than all of the other models, including both the vintage and reissue Marshall, it yielded enormous bloom and a bold, thick, sustaining quality. Even though there was a little less gain, it didn’t affect playability, and we never struggled with the amp. It was one of the rarest qualities I’ve experienced in an amp, and certainly an unexpected bonus.

The Wallace had a magical ability to push notes through loud and clear while still being able to dish out gritty and harmonically pleasing chords that didn’t fight the non-perfect intervals they were built on. This all came out of an amp that was using tubes you can buy today without breaking the bank.

Speaking of breaking, check out the sidebar on what the BKW45 was subjected to by UPS en route to our roundup. In spite of the gorilla treatment it received, the amp arrived without shattered glass and performed flawlessly throughout the entire set of three sessions of playing and listening. That’s a testament to a solidly built and roadworthy piece of equipment. And one look inside the amp will show what a dedicated and precise builder Wallace is. In tone and build quality, the amp is a work of art.

Ever wonder what could happen to your amp in shipping? In the case of Brian Wallace’s BKW45 amp, UPS had a field day, and decided it would be a lot of fun to throw it around. When the amp arrived, it was packed neatly in a new cardboard box with padding inside suspending the padded road case that housed the amp. That’s double-boxed and protected by a case built for heavy abuse. Sadly, it took one good slide down the end of a ramp and collided with either another box or the wall of the truck. Though the box didn’t show any signs of abuse on the outside, it was clear that something had shifted when I opened the case. Take a look at this picture of the damage and the way the entire amp was shifted to one side because of the impact. Believe it or not, the tubes didn’t shatter and the amp worked fine, but it was cosmetically damaged by a broken front Plexi panel. This isn’t the first time this has happened, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it happen with this type of road-worthy packing. Let this serve as a reminder to always insure your amps, as the shipping company can’t tell if you’ve got a bag of peanuts in a box or an amp that was lovingly built by somebody like Brian.

Germino Amplification Classic 45

Greg Germino is another lifelong guitarist who was bitten by the tube-amp bug after catching the Allman Brothers Band back in 1972. He was so inspired by that show that he switched over from acoustic to electric guitar and began taking electronics classes in high school. In 1979, he requested schematics from both Ampeg and Unicord (Marshall’s US distributor at the time) and began his hands-on education with tube amps. He spent the ’80s at an electronics job, and by the early ’90s he was moonlighting doing tube amp repair for a few music stores. He continued to play live with both 50W and 100W Marshalls during that time and moved to Durham, NC to work at Bull City Sound — working on tube amps from the big-name amp companies.

This led to Greg’s being commissioned by Mojo Musical, where he built their Tone Machine amplifier. The following year, 2002, he began work on the prototype of his Lead 55 amp, which debuted in May of 2002. The Classic 45 model is based on the earlier Radiospares-style output transformer, rather than the Drake 1202-103used in the ’65-’66 era, and the circuit is exactly what you would find in an earlier original. The Radiospares-style OT is supplied by none other than Chris Merren, who is highly regarded in the world of Marshalls, and known to make some of the most accurate transformer replicas out there.

The Classic 45 was the only amp in the roundup that used 6L6 power tubes. Greg’s decision to use them was a combination of staying true to the earliest tubes Marshall used on the original JTM45 amps and his belief that the current crop of 6L6s sound and perform better than newer KT66s. NOS and vintage 6L6s are also less expensive and more plentiful than NOS KT66s. Our immediate response to the Classic 45 was that it was a lively and aggressive amp, with tons of power that made the pick explode off the strings. In ways it reminded us of our favorite ’67 Super Bass in its volume and attack, but it still retained the sound of a 45. It may very well have been the loudest amp of the bunch, and that volume translated to a feeling of excitement that made the amp extremely fun to play. It was present without being shrill and had a super-tight bottom end, no matter what guitar we played through it. While the Classic 45 had tons of natural gain on tap, it also cleaned up nicely when rolling back the volume on the guitar, revealing a bright and sparkly chime. This amp is a real beast, and it could hold its own against 100W amps without flinching.

Mojave Ampworks Special Edition Plexi 45

Anyone familiar with the JTM45 would surely be jealous of Victor Mason. Not only has he seen more than his fair share of vintage Marshall, Vox, Hiwatt and other rare treasures come through his shop, but Victor recently acquired 26 of the all-time greatest JTM45s ever assembled via the Kronemyer collection, and he’s got the pictures to prove it! This is just one of the factors contributing to the obsessive nature of Mojave (and the associated Plexi Palace). Having been around for over a decade on the internet, Vic has been repairing, restoring, buying and selling vintage Marshalls for quite some time now. Stemming from his early desire to find out how EVH created the classic brown sound, Victor embarked on his journey through countless hours of digging into vintage amps and learning where their strengths and weaknesses lay. Mojave now offers an entire line of amps to serve the classic Marshall tones and well beyond with innovative features and designs. The Mojave Plexi 45 also has two very unique features over a stock JTM45. First is a simple feature to allow volume control by way of throttling the power level. Second is a line level output, which is adjustable and incorporates a ground lift.

Standing apart cosmetically from the rest of the amps, the Special Edition Plexi 45 is built on the same footprint as the Coyote and Scorpion designs, with a white-and-black color scheme and chrome hardware. The head is built with an open grille cage that allows for maximum airflow to keep the set of completely NOS glass cool. The 45 supplied for the roundup consisted of a pair of 1970 NOS Genelex KT66s, 3 Mullard 12AX7s and a Mullard GZ34. Like the Germino, the Plexi 45 is based on the Radiospares transformers, which are custom wound by Mercury Magnetics.

The chassis is a thing of beauty; the .09″ thick aluminum, with a high tensile strength and welded edges and seams will ensure it will not flex, bend or develop fatigue, like the early, folded, softer chassis, and will prevent the heavy transformers from causing the chassis to sink in and sag. Mojave deviates from the original JTM45 by using modern, tight-tolerance parts. Custom manufactured caps and metal film resistors allow each amp to sound as close to the one built before it as the one after it. Consistency is something that Vic definitely strives for, and it shows in the build quality and attention to detail, and the desire to add convenient functionality to his amps.

We found in testing that not only did the amp have an extremely low noise floor, but that it was an authoritative and powerfully voiced amp. There was definitely something different in the tone of the Plexi 45; it was cleaner sounding, but still very bold. Having been to Vic’s shop, I was fortunate enough to play one of the 26 JTM45s he had acquired, and I’m positive that the experience with those amps had more than a little to do with the design of the custom Mercury Magnetics’ Radiospares transformers made for his Special Edition model. The amp is built like a tank.

Marshall Reissue JTM45

While the reissue looked very similar to the ‘65 on the outside, especially due to the fact that it’s already 20 years old, the differences on the inside were quite pronounced. Assembled with more modern methods, and using a PCB rather than hand-wired turrets, you could easily be fooled into thinking that it wouldn’t perform like the others. This particular amp was the only one in the bunch to use EL34s rather than KT66s or 6L6s, so the sound was definitely different. It was incredibly loud and focused sounding, and actually had many of the characteristics of a Super Lead. The sustain and power of the amp was incredible, and for an amp that can be found used for around $1000, this is a sleeper bargain. Marshall has taken some flak for their amps sounding stiff and cold from the factory, but with a little attention — slightly hotter bias and good tubes — this amp is a monster. And just because it says it’s a 45-watt amp, don’t harbor any illusions that it would be a good bedroom amp. This is a loud and powerful beast, and a tone machine as well.

The Blindfold Test

As a final, fun test, we did a blind study, to see how accurately I could identify each of the various amps in the roundup. Johnny and Tony set up the group of amps, and I sat in a chair with my back turned away from them. With the guitar plugged in, they began to fire up the various amps, and we got rolling. Out of all the amps, I was always able to distinguish the Wallace BKW45, due to it’s slightly darker sound. The Metros were also fairly easy to spot, but I ended up guessing the kit as the custom build and vice-versa. The ‘65 was also an easy amp to recognize, but as ear-fatigue set in, the lines began to blur substantially. Pretty soon, I was confusing the Germino for the reissue JTM, the Mojave Plexi for the Wallace, and the Metros for the real JTM. It just goes to show you that all of the amps performed remarkably well, and you can be fooled when you’re not seeing what you’re playing, so never discount a PCB reissue head as a second fiddle to the real thing. In the mix of a band, these differences become small, and any one of these amps would hold their own any day of the week.


To have the opportunity to play through so many variations on a classic theme was not only fun, it was educational. Each one of the builders excels in creating their own unique version of the great rock and roll amp that Ken Bran, Dudley Craven and Jim Marshall built back in 1962. While like all Marshalls, the JTM45 went through changes in tubes, components and designs over its lifetime, there is a trademark flavor and color that still can be found in all of them. Not everyone can afford a vintage 45, but with the help of these builders we have the opportunity to get into that sound and have build quality that will last for years.


Transformer Replacement

Article: Let’s Ask Budda with Jeff Bober of Budda Amps

Q: I’ve got an SR Blackface ’66 amp, all original. The sound is very thin, weak and trebly. There’s nothing wrong with any of the tubes, and it has been biased correctly. I’ve tried the amp through different speakers but found the same result. The amp hasn’t been played very much over the years. Can it be old, dried-out capacitors that make the amp sound like this? Can a complete replacement of the capacitors really improve the sound – meaning to give it more twang and bottom end, or “life”? – Tobbe Sweden

A: Beautiful amp. One of my favorites… except, of course, for a Budda!

I’m assuming both channels of the amp are thin and weak. If it were only one channel that sounded bad, I would tell you that the 100K resistor in the tone stack of that channel was probably open. This would also disable the Middle and Bass control, but I’m going to assume that all the amplifier controls function properly. Since you also mentioned that the amp has been properly biased, I have to assume that the primary sections of the power supply have the correct voltages.

Considering the amp’s age and the possibility that it might have been sitting idle for some time, a power-supply cap job is probably a good idea. This might not be the source of the problem, but once any other repairs have been made it will make the amp sound stronger and tighter. Make sure the values of the power-supply resistors are checked after the filter caps have been removed. A power-supply resistor that’s substantially out of tolerance can cause degradation in tone, but usually it won’t be as drastic as the symptoms you’re describing. And don’t forget to have the bias supply cap replaced. A weak cap in the bias supply will give the amp some additional unnecessary hum. You might also want your tech to do some normal maintenance on the amp, such as cleaning all of the tube sockets and controls while he’s in there. A very dirty tube socket, especially in the phase inverter, can really suck the life out of the amp. If the amp still isn’t right after the maintenance and power-supply build, it’s time to start looking elsewhere.

Okay, let’s look at some other possible causes for an anemic Fender amp. The first thing I’d look for would be the ground connections from the circuit board. These are the buss wires that come off the circuit board behind the controls and solder to the brass grounding plate that runs under the control panel. I’d check all of these connections, but there’s a particular one that seems to be the most frequent offender. It comes off the board in the area of the tremolo and phase inverter circuits behind the tone controls for Channel 2. For some reason this solder connection tends to break, causing the phase inverter to lose its grounding. That makes the amp lose substantial power and sound thin. If any of these ground connections is broken, it takes a good deal of heat to re-solder them. So, you’ll need to use a high-wattage soldering iron or gun. If all these ground are intact, the next thing to check would be the 100-ohm (brown/black/brown) resistor in this same area. It’s the only resistor in the area that is positioned horizontally on the circuit board. It also typically suffers from a broken solder connection and will yield the same low-power situation. Re-solder the resistor, and you should be good to go. If not, it’s time to start looking at the other major cause: a bad output transformer.

The best way to determine if the output transformer is bad is to simply substitute it with one you know is okay. A good way to check it is to simply unsolder the leads coming from the original transformer and attach a replacement using clip leads. If you can’t come up with a Super Reverb transformer to try, a Twin Reverbtransformer will work well for the test. If you need a replacement transformer, I have to recommend (as I have in the past) Mercury Magnetics. Their Axiom line of transformers should have just what you need. They can be found at

I hope you can make your Super super again.


British Tone in an Amplifier

Following up on the successful introduction of 65 Amps’ flagship London 18W, the company has launched its second model — the Marquee. Named for the legendary Soho music venue where every ’60s British band of note once honed their craft, the Marquee is a bigger-sounding, louder version of the London 65 in some respects, endowed with great headroom and presence. We asked co-founder of 65 Amps and Sheryl Crow guitarist Peter Stroud to describe the musical intention of the Marquee, and our review follows….

TQR: What inspired the development and design of the Marquee, Peter? What did you want to accomplish specifically?

Peter Stroud: We had guitarists loving the sound of the London, but still needing either more volume or clean headroom. Personally, I wanted an amp to replace the Super Reverb in my live rig with that Fender clarity, but more of the openness and touch sensitivity of an amp like the London. Our initial idea with the Marquee was to create a more powerful version of the London 18 watter using 4 EL84s. But we also wanted something with the midrange clarity of the British amps and the clean sparkle of the American Fender Blackface sounds — just not as hard sounding as the 6L6 cleaner tone can be. On top of that, it has a higher gain tone that really roars.

TQR: To what extent were some of the design features in the Marquee such as the cascaded twin-triode operating in pentode mode and the 6-way Color control inspired by vintage amp designs?

Peter Stroud: Our initial intention for the Cascode (note spelling) configuration in this amp was to find a sound similar to the pentode type EF86 tube we use in the London, but more quiet. Due to vibration and noise issues inherent with EF86 tubes, we were apprehensive using it in a higher powered combo. The cascode circuit, which utilizes a 12AX7, was popular in early hi-fi preamplifiers. It has a harmonic content similar to the pentode circuit but produces more even-order harmonics. Randall Aiken helped us greatly with this circuit and we’ve continuously tweaked it’s current configuration in our amp. The end result is a distinctly different sounding channel from the Treble-Mid-Bass channel — very warm and rich sounding. It sounds beautiful with single coils and 12-string electrics. So, the Marquee initially came from many inspirations. Dan (Boul) and I are big fans of the Selmer amps. A few years ago while on tour in the UK I had picked up a Selmer Treble & Bass 50 MkIII, which is the early ’70s silver metal front — the ugly one. But that amp sounds awesome, like a “British Fender Blackface” with two EL34s. We’ve since found a Mk I Treble ‘n Bass from the first year they were built.

The font end of the Marquee Treble-Mid-Bass channel was initially inspired by the Selmer, but it branched off quite a bit. We just aimed for that sound. There are also similarities with the Selmer front-end circuit and the early ’60s brown-Tolex Fenders. I know one of your favorite amps is that killer Vibrolux 1×12 you have. The (Marquee) power stage is a fairly typical British-style 4-EL84 circuit. From there we spent months tweaking the tone circuit. We wanted the Treble-Mid-Bass tone configuration for more control with a higher powered amp.

TQR: You’ve played just about every conceivable guitar amp and for years your rig consisted of a Super Reverb and Marshall 50W. To what extent does the Marquee succeed in giving you both the clean and overdriven tones you need at usable state volumes, and how do you use it specifically?

Peter Stroud: On the latest tour I used both a London and a Marquee and A/B’d between the two. The two together worked perfectly for our stage volume. I’d set the London for a slightly driven rhythm sound playing through an EF86 channel and would use the gain boost for leads. The Marquee took the place of my Super Reverb as my clean sound, and it proved to be better since the mids are more pronounced and you get the nice dynamic saturation of EL84s. It’s much more touch sensitive, which is hard to get with a clean sound without using a compressor. The only time I’d kick on both amps was for Led Zep’s “Rock N Roll,” which we play as an encore. I’d crank the Marquee to 6, hit the gain boost and boost the mids. It totally hit the “Pagey” kind of sound. You can dump the mids and boost the bass and highs and get a chimey sparkling clean tone — settings around 4 on the volume, treble and bass around 6 to 7 and midrange around 4. For a cranking rhythm I’ll set the volume around6, boost the mids to 8 or so, drop the bass around 4, treble at 5. There’s also a footswitchable gain, like on the London, so you can set a rhythm tone on the T-M-B channel and kick in the boost for lead. If you turn the amp up to 10, look out!

TQR: You mention “mustard” caps on your web site being used throughout the amp — are these modern reproductions of the original “mustard” caps used by Marshall in the ’60s?

Peter Stroud: Yes, we use the SOZO caps made by John Gaynor. John’s a Marshall enthusiast who has totally nailed (and surpassed, in our opinion) the “mustard cap” tone where you get the nice smooth mids and bell-tone clarity.

TQR: What else are you working on?

Peter Stroud: We have two new models in the works — a smaller “grab n go” 1×12 combo which actually incorporates a master volume with two EL84s. It has a great sounding master volume that has a sound of its own that can be disengaged so that the amp ha a non-master function. Sort of a “British Fender” vibe again. The thing screams, it can get chimey clean, and it’s incredibly versatile. And over the past six months, we’ve been developing a KT77 head using our Marquee as the springboard with a KT77/EL34 power stage. We had a handful of pro level artists who wanted extreme volume and headroom, where they were used to their 50 and 100 watt EL34 hears and quite a lot of volume. Plus, Dan is a big fan of the Vox AC50 and I’m the Marshall fanatic, so we got into that mindset again. We sent a prototype out for a test run with Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes and he ended up using it as his main amp for the entire last month or so of their tour. When we got it back, all the knobs were dimed. Couldn’t ask for better testing in the field! We’ll introduce both of these amps at Winter NAMM.

REVIEW — 65 Marquee

We spent a lot of quality time with the 35W Marquee Club, and it impressed us as a feisty chameleon that can gracefully move between big, jangly clean tones and an impressive roar with a deep palette of voices available from two very different input channels.

EL84 amps typically produce a distinct, musical compression characteristic that is absent in amplifiers using 6L6 output tubes, yet the Marquee produces gobs of clean headroom — albeit British headroom rather than the trademark 6L6-fueled fidelity of a Fender amp like the Twin or Super Reverb. As far as we’re concerned, British tone in an amplifier denotes rich harmonic depth and chime, often augmented with a dominant midrange emphasis, while Fender amps (Blackface models in particular, sound scooped in the mids by comparison with a wider, broader, looser feel and toner not unlike the difference between the sound of oooh and ahhh. In the Marquee, individual strings seem “closer together,” yet still well-defined throughout its range of clean settings. EQ coloration is accomplished in the “Classic” Channel bass/mid/treble/cut controls, and in the “Normal Channel via six EQ presets on a rotary switch. This “color switch” progressively thickens tone with gradual increases in lows and mids, but the Marquee’s chime and sparkle remain audibly preserved in every setting.

The Marquee produces moderate levels of smooth, overdriven tone at higher volume settings (+6) in the Normal Channel that can be neatly managed from the volume on your guitar, while the footswitchable Boost feature in the Classic Channel yields scorching distortion and sustain that nearly rival that of a Marshall JCM 900 Series Mk III. However, the Marquee delivers a chimier crunch rather than the more linear and cutting, laser beam focus of a high-gain Marshall. It’s a prettier brand of mayhem, if you will. And unlike many vintage British amps, the Marquee succeeds in delivery an enhanced range of both clean and overdriven tones, as well as a more versatile and varied range of EQ emphasis. Overall, we found it to be an inherently bright amp with the EQ controls in neutral settings, but you are also given plenty of room to shape the voice of the Marquee, from brilliant and clangy, to thick, heavy and imposing. We had no trouble dialing in great tones with all of our guitars — thickening the Teles and Stratocasters, planting a wet kiss of treble emphasis on the humbucking Gibsons, and alternatively mining the jangly clean chime and perfect meltdown of P90s. A potent rock amp that can cover a lot of ground, the Marquee is handwired with point-to-point construction that meets the high standards we have all come to expect from custom builders today, the transformers are custom-made by Mercury Magnetics, and the fit and finish of the cabinet work were flawless. As the name implies, the Marquee is steeped in the tones that defined modern rock & roll, viewed through a properly British perspective. And as Fender’s Ritchie Fliegler is fond of saying, “If this is what you like, you’ll really love this!” Quest forth, mate.



Brown, Blackface & Silverface Spring Reverb Transformer — #022921

Custom-Wound Mercury Magnetics Transformers

Like the pedal business, the number of amplifiers being built by smaller builders has mushroomed into a garage and basement Skunkworks industry that is constantly changing. New guys pop to the surface and ride the momentum created by chat rooms and social media, while others quietly slip beneath the surface in an unfortunate imitation of Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson, never to be heard from again. The desire amongst certain guitarists and collectors to own the latest, supposedly greatest new amplifier is a power drug, and for some, a hard habit to kick. We enjoy discovering small batch alternatives to familiar archetypes and affordable production amps, too, but since we’re doing so on your behalf, our initial evaluation process lacks the unbridled enthusiasm of a new owner who has already made the plunge financially and emotionally. Still, when a giddy reader calls or writes asking us to review their new killer amp, we routinely hit the builder’s website, send an introductory email and wait for a response. Such was the case with the Tungsten Cremawheat and builder Adam Palow

Ultimately, the Cremawheat turned out to be another exceptional amplifier as our review reflects, but as is so often the case, the story behind the name on the face plate is as interesting as the amp. Listen….

TQR: You mention on your website that you were inspired and intrigued many years ago by your first tube amp. Do you recall what it was?

It was a 1965 Fender Vibro-Champ that was missing the face plate, and the grill cloth had been replaced with a red and black check material that looked like it had been on a sofa. I think I was around 16 when I got it, and no matter what I played through it, the amp sounded very musical compared to the solid state practice amps had used before. It was the beginning of an obsession. I started chasing down vintage Fender amps wherever I could, and I met a guy who showed me how to safely drain the stored voltage in an amp, how to use a soldering iron, and he explained how bigger caps produced more low end. From that point forward I was on my own, and everything I have done since has been the result of trail and error and experimentation. I’m limited in some areas because I don’t necessarily understand all the theory, but in another sense it’s empowering because I am chasing feel and working in an intuitive way rather than strictly by the “book.” My favorite part of the build is constructing the board and wiring the chassis. If there is any artistic expression in building an amplifier it’s in the way the board is constructed. Of course, in the larger picture, it’s completely meaningless.

TQR: What were the most significant things you learned through hands-on experience working with guitar amps, and the five years you spent working on Hammond organs with Bob Schleicher?

The thing that blew my mind the most once I had acquired multiple identical models of the same amplifier like the Fender Blackface Bassman and Bandmaster was how different they could sound from each other even though they were built with the same components. That also carried over into my work with Hammond organs, because every large Hammond console also had its individual voice, and I attribute that to the accepted variance in parts values, and individual and very unpredictable drift in these values over time. You also see random parts stacking where some of the capacitors may have been oriented the correct way and others not. When all the caps are pointing the right way you can have an amp that sounds faster, and when they are oriented the wrong way the amp can sound slower. On the old caps there was usually a band marking the outer foil, and whether or not they were oriented correctly often just seems like chance. Some companies paid strict attention to that and others did not. Even if I am building ten identical amplifiers in my own line, there are going to be variances between them – not only in the tolerance stacking, but in the way the tubes bias to the cathode resistor. I have an absolute minimum standard – it has to inspire me or I’m not going to ship it out, but every once in a while you drop in the right rectifier and the right power tubes and they just match up perfectly with the cathode resistor and it makes your hair stand up on end. Magical. Yet that same amplifier with a different set of tubes may not do the same thing.The Hammond organs are unique because not only do they have an extremely rich and harmonically complex signal, but they have infinite sustain with no transient attack unless you’re using the percussion feature, so when you’re dealing with Leslie power amplifiers you’re not dealing with sag. You’ve got compression going on because you’re driving it with a very wide band signal, but because there is no transient, you’re not experiencing sag, compression and release in that order. I spent a lot of time rebuilding Leslie amplifiers, and there was a very specific type of distortion coming from those 6550 Tung-Sols – a low, grinding, wooly distortion kind of like the Marshall of the organ world in a lot of ways, and I caught that sound in my head. It was very musical, and it had a lot of clean qualities, but also an outrageous amount of overdrive on tap, and even when it was driving hard there was still enough clarity to retain a musical quality in the distortion. You could really hear the notes and the intervals between them, and that’s the complaint I had with a lot of amplifiers outside the vintage world…. They swung so far into breakup and distortion that you lost the clarity of the notes. There was more noise than tone, and the place I’m coming from is a more musical place. The other aspect of my work with Hammonds is that I gained a huge amount of experience with vintage Jensen Alnico speakers.

TQR: We have always wondered if the Jensen speakers used in Hammond cabinets were similar to those made for guitar.

In the Leslie, the Alnico P15LL and later C15NLL bass driver that shoots down into the rotating horn were definitely not guitar speakers by any stretch. The 12 inch Jensens I’ve seen bear all the same markings as standard Jensens for guitar, the differences being that they have black frames with no Jensen sticker, and the Hammond code starting with the letters “AO” have been silk-screened on the frame. I have pulled P12Ns out of old Hammond A100s, as well as P12Qs, and if they were specifically designed for organ, they are also the best sounding guitar speakers I have ever heard, and I have used them to base my own speakers on made by Weber.

TQR: Which prompted the development of your own line of proprietary speakers?

Yes, and I didn’t really have to start from the ground up because they had already come close to the mark, but I wasn’t hearing the same extended frequency response that I was hearing from the vintage speakers, and it was just a matter of developing a different recipe. Fortunately, when Ted was still alive we went through the process of mixing and matching components, just trying to get that sound. I didn’t care if the parts were period-correct – I just wanted them to sound right. I tried to do the same thing with the ceramic line, but we just never nailed it and I never put them into production. Of course, the goal in developing the Alnico speakers was to produce the low-wattage, medium fidelity, $6 replacement speakers that they were originally.

TQR: Looking at the different models you build today, it’s obvious you prefer the sound of tweed-era amplifiers.

Yes, I cut my teeth on blackface amps, but when I built my first tweed Champ I became one of those guys that ditched my pedalboard and plugged straight in. For me it’s all about that very alive midrange, and the dynamic response you get out of the power section. I was instantly hooked. I also have a fondness for the lower power brown amps as well, but when it comes to what I personally want to plug in to and play, I really need to feel the response of a tweed power section.

TQR: What’s your approach to specific types of capacitors used in building your amps?

You have to let your ears be the guide, and everyone hears things differently. Every quality capacitor has its place, but I personally prefer the sound of Mallory 150s in tweed amps. Other people feel that they are too bright in the upper mids until they break in. I tend to break in my amplifiers for 72 hours and when I take breaks from building I’ll plug into every amp that’s burning in. The truth is, everything matters. In the Cremawheat, for example, there different capacitors are used in the tone circuit to color the tone in a certain way. It’s one recipe. I also use custom-wound Mercury Magnetics transformers in everything. Some of them are custom-wound because I wanted a different gauge of wire, and others because I wanted a different secondary voltage. When we’re talking about power transformers, voltage that you’re sending out to the circuit makes much more difference than the brand you’re using. With output transformers it becomes more critical. Some people want to hear a darker transformer, others high-end clarity…. Some people want a smaller core so it saturates sooner, and others want enough iron so that it never saturates. All of those factors play not only into the sound, but they hugely affect feel.

TQR: Can you briefly summarize each model you build?

The 8 inch version of the Mosaic comes with either the stock 5F1 (Champ) output transformer or the oversize version, which nets you perhaps an additional 2 watts. You get more punch rather than volume. I also build a 12 inch Mosaic Mark II with an additional tone knob, which gives you more bass.

The Cortez was intended to be my flagship model until the Cremawheat came out. The name was inspired by Neil Young’s Suma album – you can just hear the tweed all over it. Its 12W-15W with 6V6s and it bumps up to about 18W with 5881s or 6L6s. It’s basically a straight-ahead 5E3 design.

The Cremawheat is my attempt to retain the tone and feel of a great 5E3 Deluxe, while giving you the dynamic range that would otherwise be lost in the output transformer and speaker with that amp. Those were two choke points on the 5E3, and the third being the massive amount of bass that’s being sent through the circuit, which causes it to distort so early. The other significant feature in this amp is the British-voiced Scumback speaker. It adds punch to the dynamic range, and enough bass, but not the ragged and loose 5E3 style low end.

The T35 covers the 5F4, 5E5-A and 5E7 circuits for the Bandmaster, Pro and Super. They were basically the same chassis with a couple of minor resistor changes and three different speaker configurations, and I tend to prefer the 1×15 and 3×10 versions. It’s the only fixed bias amp I offer. I like the T35 series, but I tend to gravitate toward the cathode biased amps and most of my customers seem to as well.

If you took the 2-input ’55 Bassman, which shares a lot with the Super, Bandmaster and Pro amps of that era, and cathode biased it in a 2×12 speaker format, that’s kind of where the Blue Point sits. When you pay it clean, it sounds very American in the style of a mid-’50s Bassman, and as you turn it up, you get more coloration from the British-voiced speakers. It starts to cross the Atlantic into that early JTM-45 Bluesbreaker tone, but stops short of a later Plexi amp.

The Buckwheat is the follow up to the Cremawheat. It’s a 6L6-based, 30 watt with the Scumback H-75, which is their version of the pre-Rola G12H. It has a significant amount of headroom over the Cremawheat, and the speaker produces a glassier, high-headroom tone with a bigger transformer and a larger cabinet that leaves more air around the notes. If you’re a Telecaster player, for example, who wants more headroom with just a little hair, this is that amp.

TQR: Will you build specific amps with different speaker configurations as a head or combo, and what is the current lead time for an amp?

Sure, I’ll absolutely build variations on the stock models – I actually really like the 16 inch Mosaic and I have built several of them. I want to know that I’m building exactly what a customer wants. The lead time right now is eight weeks, and I always try to keep it under three months. I sell direct, and through a small dealer network, but I do enjoy working directly with customers. Depending on what a customer wants, I may suggest a specific change to the stock circuit, and I find that interaction very rewarding Introducing another 15W–20W amp in these pages is nothing new – in the past year we’ve invested a log of ink highlighting amps like Jeff Beck’s choice of a Pro Junior, our vintage ’59 Deluxe and ’76 Princeton Reverb, the Retro-King 18W and the Trace-Elliot Velocette. Why? Because we understand that such friendly decibel levels offer adequate volume for use in small clubs, mic’ed on bigger stages, yet till fill your house, studio or practice room with a mighty roar when needed. Small amps just make more sense today for most players, but like us, you might be wondering just how many ways a smallish guitar amplifier can be designed and built to produce a genuinely unique voice and vibe. You know what you’ve already got, but what might you be missing, and at what point does your quest to discover the ultimate low power amp become redundant, at best? A fair question, and given the nearly infinite variables created by the marriage of different components within different circuit designs, we are happy to report that we haven’t reached the end of the road in the quest for tone quite yet.

Viewed within the board context of the booteek amp landscape, the Tungsten Cremawheat emerges from the box as an uncommonly attractive natural blonde. Offset with gold grill cloth, it scores big in style points without even being lit up. Nor will you find any self-conscious bells and whistles added to an otherwise classic design, as if the builder wanted to get noticed by adding the kind of stuff we seldom really use – like Selmer-style rotary tone switches, pentode/triode modes and toggled boost switches (although Carr has always done those right by bypassing the tone stack). Indeed, this amp is so outwardly attractive, approachable and comely that pulling the back panel off might inspire distant memories of an anticipation experienced in concert with a one-handed thumb and forefinger bra removal technique. (We now pause to allow a moment of fond reflection. Please take your time.) Adam Palow’s skill in assembling and soldering up a circuit board culminates in nothing less than a work of art. Flip the chassis over and the custom-wound Mercury Magnetics trannies provide further evidence of Palow’s commitment to following his muse. In practical terms, you get four inputs into two channels (bright and normal), volume/volume and tone, plus a standby switch and extension speaker jack.

Our first session with the Cremawheat was agreeable enough, but repeat visits left us with a nagging impression that something was either missing, or perhaps technically present, but not being fully reflected in the sound of the amp. Naturally, we used our tweed Tremolux and Deluxe for benchmarks, and the Tungsten sounded subdued and restrained by comparison. We tried different tubes first with no appreciable change, and that’s when we focused our attention on the Scumback speaker. Admittedly, we had suspected it from the beginning, so with the original tubes back in the amp, we connected the Celestion G12H30 70th Anniversary in our ’59 Deluxe cabinet to the Cremawheat, fired it up, hit a big E chord raking a heavy Pyramid pick over the strings slowly, followed by ten minutes of unbridled delirium. Paired with the Celestion, the Tungsten bowed up with increased volume, clarity, dynamic punch, and a gloriously rich tone that easily rivals that of our Deluxe, but with a little more added sparkle. Swapping the stock Electro-Harmonix 6V6s for a pair of RCA 6L6s brought the Cremawheat to climax with an even bigger, more imposing voice, precisely in the style of our ’59. If anything, the Tungsten offered a slightly more defined and chiseled tone as a new amp should when compared to one that has undergone a half century break-in period.

To be fair, we called Adam Palow to inform him that while we absolutely loved the Cremawheat, we were not feeling the Scumback. He agreeably acknowledged that the Scumback was indeed somewhat more subtlety endowed than the Celestion, which is why he offered the G12H as an alternative for players desiring maximum girth, power and growl. Any number of modern speakers would surely sound outstanding in the Cremawheat – but we clearly preferred the more vivid soundstage created by the Celestion when the choice is narrowed to one of the two stock speakers offered. Would we buy and play the Cremawheat? Absolutely. It now reigns among the best on temporary boutique twenty watters, and in four important respects (tone, overall clarity, availability and price), the Tungsten impressed us as an irresistible alternative to a vintage Deluxe and any and all modern replicas

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ToneClone – Tonelux transformers

It’s no secret to any of us that Fender’s Deluxe Reverb has long been considered the guitar player’s ultimate desert island amp. It’s lightweight, compact, incredibly sturdy and dependable, and it captures the essence of classic ’60s Fender tone. Blackface models built between 1964 and 1967 can cost as much today as a clean vintage Super Reverb, and Silverface Deluxe reverb amps built from 1968 through the mid ’70s remain a bargain, selling for $600-$900. There is very little difference between unmodified amps built during the two eras, except for a couple of caps connecting the output tube grids to ground in the Silverface amps, and a variety of stock speakers, including JensenCTS and Oxford. There is absolutely no reason why a Silverface Deluxe Reverb can’t sound every bit as wonderful as any Blackface amp, and some of the Silverface amps will sound better than some Blackface Deluxe’s you’ll find. Local amp wizard and advisory board member Jeff Bakos has observed that some of the exceptional Deluxe Reverb amps he’s heard (and he’s heard hundreds of Deluxes) seem to have “hotter” power transformers, and the slight inconsistencies in the way some transformers were wound can make a big difference in tone. Earlier today we heard as much in Jeff’s shop in a ’66. Unfortunately, it all comes down to the luck of the draw when finding those special amps. If there is fault to be found with the sound of a Deluxe Reverb (and it really isn’t a fault), it’s the speed at which the amps begin to break up. The clean threshold of the Deluxe is pretty low, and while this characteristic feature is an irresistible attribute to many players, we wondered what could be done to make the Deluxe Reverb even more versatile without losing its unmistakable tone. The modifications we describe here are very simple as modifications go, and all of them are easily reversible. We encourage you to try some and let us know how you like the results.

We started with a beautifully preserved ’68 Deluxe Reverb acquired on eBay for $900.00. The owner had replaced the original particleboard baffle board with pine, recovered it in vintage Blackface-era grill cloth, and installed a repro Blackface plate. We also received the original baffle board covered with the original blue and silver grill cloth, the aluminum trim, and the Silver face plate. We had acquired a replacement output transformer from Mercury Magnetics, and although the original transformer seemed to be working fine, we wanted to see what we might hear by swapping transformers. The Mercury ToneClone series transformers is the result of years of testing in which Mercury blueprinted some of the best sounding output transformers that could be found in vintage amps and painstakingly reproduced them in every detail. At first, the new transformer didn’t sound starkly different from the original – it sounded exactly like the original. But over time, it became increasingly apparent that the amp was behaving with more dynamic response. Notes and chords were imaging differently than before. Individual notes within chords were better defined, the amp responded faster to touch, and harmonics were more pronounced and complex. We’re the first to subscribe to the “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” school of amp maintenance, but in this instance, the fix was a good one.

One of the easiest things you can do to Deluxe Reverb amps is rebias them for 6L6 power tubes. The outcome is predictable and sublime — more power, more headroom and better lows that won’t fall apart. Call it the “Beano”” treatment for your farting DeluxeJeff Bakos rebiased the amp after we had installed a pair of RCA black plate 6L6s, and we were mighty pleased with the results. You lose some of the compression and darker character of the 6V6 tube when you switch to 6L6s, but there is very little downside to the trade off — just big, bloomy 6L6 tone, and lots of it.

After installing the RCA 6L6s, we opted for an NOS RCA 5751 rather than the 12AX7 in V2, and it really smoothed out the tone to silky perfection. We also experimented with a Chinese 5AR4 rectifier tube, a new Sovtek 5AR4 and a Mullard 5V4. The Mullard pulled the volume back down ever so slightly, but it also seemed to sweeten the tone, rendering a throaty voice that fell nicely in between the “old”” amp with the 6V6s and the “new” one with the 6L6s. Either tube is a good choice — you’ll just have to decide which sound you prefer. Among the 5AR4s, we actually preferred the sound of the Chinese tube over the Sovtek, although the Chinese 5AR4s aren’t quite as robust. Our Deluxe came with an absolutely dreadful (recone?) non-original Fender “blue label” Oxford ceramic magnet speaker that was commonly used in the BassmanTwin and Pro Reverb. We replaced it with n Eminence Legend V12, and this speaker turned out to be a “best buy.” The V12 features a British cone, and the tone is extremely round, well-balanced, and warmer than the Jensen C12N. It’s rated at 80W, and as usual with Eminence products, value and tone are absolutely unmatched for a speaker that sells for under $50.00. Jeff also likes the Legend 125, which is rated at 50W and built with a 1.5 inch voice coil and a slightly lighter magnet. As we observed in Eminence founder Bob Gault’s interview, the low price of an Eminence speaker is no indication of cheap construction or tone. The speakers rock, and they are voiced to appeal to a wide variety of players. We continued experimenting, and our next choice was a new Jensen C12K. We had seen this speaker in Victoria and Fender Twins, and it’s a massive thing. Built in Italy, and rated at 100W with a 2 inch voice coil and 50 oz. magnet. The C12K in a Deluxe with 6L6s yielded huge clean tone from top to bottom, with more high frequency emphasis than the Eminence speakers, and no speaker distortion whatsoever. The Jensen C12K in a Deluxe won’t be everybody’s idea of the perfect match, but it you crave a wide-open, big sound with nothing but clean speaker, the Jensen is a worthy contender at $90 retail. The last speaker we installed was a paper (not hemp) Tone Tubby from A Brown Soun. The paper-cone Tone Tubby is voiced a little brighter than the hemp cones, and we were floored by its rich, smooth character and charm. Jeff described it as being “silky smooth,” and just what he expected, with great lows, stout midrange, and creamy, creamy highs. Now, do you really need a $200 speaker to sound great? Of course not, and the price of a Tone Tubby is not for everyone. But if it’s the speaker for you, you won’t rest until you get one, and nothing we’ve heard can touch it. Enjoy yours, Eric, and enjoy milking some more of the good thang out of your Deluxe, gang. Hey… if not now, when?



Brown 2 x 10 — Universal Voltage Primary


Brown 2 x 10


Brown 2 x 10 — #45216


Brown, Blackface, Silverface


Brown — single 4 Ohm tap — Upgrade!

Guitar Amp Tone

Mark Dewey is a former hair-rocker who’s graduated to the corporate world and Gibson Custom Shop Les Pauls. We were impressed by his collection of reissues, and intrigued by his custom-looking Strats, so we talked a little further with Mark about his collection and playing history. Here’s Mark’s collection, in his own words.

“This shows pretty much my backline of amps. All of my Marshalls have been modified by Alan Cyr of the Amp Exchange in Woodland Hills, California. He is the best amp guru alive for Marshall amps. They all have Mercury iron and just blister like nothing I have ever heard. I also have a Divided by 13 FTR 37 that Fred Taccone built for me a few years ago. His stuff is very unique — super big clean sounds and a Marshall-Vox-like kind of brown sound on the click channel.

“I still pretty much plug a guitar directly into a Marshall and use the volume as a gain control for my main sound. Sometimes I will Y two amps together and have one DSL 100 with a slight delay and the other 59 HW head or 50 watt JCM 800 as pure tone.

“In the first photo, you also see a bunch of Gibson Custom guitars and a lineup of custom-built Strats. I got a little carried away with finding the best body wood/neck combinations last year so I built 15 of them. I also have experimented with a ton of pickup manufacturers like Seymour Custom winds, Suhr, DiMarzio, Nordstrand and a few others. My favorite pickup is pretty much a BurstBucker in a Les Paul Historic. They just sound like an open vowel waiting for your strings to vibrate. They are open, airy, clean, crunchy, stingy and have a ton of balls and low end while still being very clear and well-balanced.

“I have tried most [pickup] manufacturers cold and hot. For singles I like Seymour Duncan Custom calibrated set of Alnico 2: 6.5, 6.5 (RW Middle), 6.5. MJ knows what she is doing and is great to work with. The John Suhr v60 LPs are equally as awesome for single coils. I have never tried a BurstBucker in a Strat, so I stick with Seymour or DiMarzio humbuckers. I like the five-way Superstrat wiring where you take two humbuckers and split the north coils on position 2 and the south coils on position 4. Since the pickups are reverse of each other this makes all five positions humbucking. I usually use a hi-pass filter on the volume so it rolls down clean and sparkly.

“Most of the guitars in my Gibson Custom Collection are newer reissues from 2001 to 2008. I made the jump and bought my first ’59 from Willcutt’s guitars for $4000. It was a lot of money but quite frankly once I got the guitar, I realized I would rather have the guitar than the money so I was hooked and now have quite a few of them. The sound of a Custom Shop Les Paul is just so much better than anything else for rock guitar. I pretty much only play a Strat every now and then, especially for whammy bar gymnastics.

Ice Water Mansion (Mark is second from left).

“Here are a few of my prime Custom Shop Les Pauls a few years ago. These are some of my favorites actually. However, I have never found one guitar or amp that does it all. There is no true “favorite” — they are all different. I have never had a guitar I thought was “the one.” Perhaps this is the devil’s snare for materialism. I also could not fathom buying a real ’59 because I already worry enough when I put a ’59 reissue in the back seat of my car. Imagine getting a $300,000 guitar stolen?

About Mark

“In the eighties I was in Ice Water Mansion – a hard rock eighties hair band from upstate New York. I used to use BC Rich (USA high end), Dean (USA), Fender (USA) and Ibanez, but never liked seventies or eighties Gibsons. I bought an ’84 Explorer that just sucked. I only wish they had the custom shop of today back then.

“This was a song I wrote about being scared of the dark — “Ghosts in the mirror.” I used my Marshall JCM 800 with a Fender Strat loaded with a humbucker with a boss compressor as a boost for lead schwing.

“I don’t play in a band at the moment but I certainly play about two hours every day and all weekend. I have twp boys, ages four and five who both love guitars. My four-year-old plays drums like a man and also loves his plastic guitar collection. He has about ten, which makes me wonder if we are teaching him the sin of excess which I never meant to do myself.

“I guess at 43, I am done trying to make it big so I just focus on playing for the soul and the enjoyment. When you play a guitar, you forget about the wood in your hands and just kind of get “out there” and that is my bliss.

“I have also really enjoyed building, testing and working on gear too. I never thought I would even play guitar past 25, but I guess it now plays me!”

Listen to Mark’s Guitars

Mark was nice enough to share some YouTube clips of his guitars in action. Says Mark, “These are by no means anything but my wife holding her Sony camera sideways but you can sure hear the tone….”


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