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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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Replacement Transformer

New Amps on the Block: The Sound of History and Innovation

Byers Amplifiers is a new company with the unique outlook and values of its founder. Trevor Byers worked at the Fender Custom Shop and has seen it all, from carefully reproducing old vintage gear to building new guitars to exacting specification. Trevor founded Byers Amplifiers because he saw a need for amps that no one else is building. One of his amps is an original product, the Byers Model 10, while the other is a faithful re-creation of one of Leo’s earliest K&F amps — an amp so old and rare that the only way to see one is to make a pilgrimage to the Fullerton Museum in California. Byers has unique values regarding the way things should sound, feel and look. We interviewed Trevor at his shop in Corona, California to talk about Leo, the history of these old amps, and the new amps that bear his name.

Where did you get the idea to start an amp company?

It was the K&F that got me started. Working at Fender and knowing the entire lineage, including the K&F era, which is kind of separate, it was really intriguing to see what kind of things he came up with. Because it was so rare, the K&F was really appealing to me.

How did you discover this cool original gear while at Fender?

People would come in with things that were not in regular production and would want to have things done and have items reproduced, and people would come in for repairs too. It was a nice influx of cool equipment coming in, and we would turn around and reproduce it to the best of our ability. One of the first pieces we did while I was there was the “snake-head” Tele set, the first regular Fender-style guitar that Leo built.

Doesn’t that predate the Nocaster?

Yes, in fact I think that guitar was a ’47 or ’48. It had a four-piece pine Telecaster-style body, two inches thick with a small, black Bakelite pickguard, volume and tone control, and one bridge pickup. The snake-head headstock was the style he was using on his K&F lap steels, so it had three-on-aside tuners, with a solid, fat, maple neck with no truss rod — he hadn’t thought about a truss rod yet! They only made a few of them, and they were made as a set with the woody Pro amp.

So, did you put truss rods in the reproductions?

No, but they are big, round, C-shaped necks, and they’re quarter sawn, so they don’t move around too much.

There are actually guys who believe that necks without truss rods sound better.

This guitar is really neat-sounding because we used antique pine. One of my first jobs there was to rough-cut these old pine boards, glue them up, and plug and fill nail holes. Looking at these old-style guitars and amplifiers in comparison to what was being manufactured at the time, I saw a night and day difference. These have a style to them that nobody does any more.

This got me started thinking about K&F. If the circuit for the woody Pro was primitive, then the K&F amp circuit was even more so. The Pro had 6L6s and a push-pull output, and a 15″ speaker — a field coil speaker, which we had a lot of problems with. The K&F amps didn’t use field-coils and were permanent-magnet.

Give us a little background on K&F.

It was Doc Kauffman and Leo Fender. The information on K&F varies, so I can’t give a perfect history. They started around late 1944, and ran probably to the end of ’45 or early ’46, then they stopped making these in mid-1946. Leo had done some really interesting things — he had designed an automatic jukebox and little P.A. systems, and he was working with his radio company. Then, he had an idea for these guitars. He started making them and it became popular enough that he needed a larger investment; Doc didn’t think he could invest in something that looked like a hillbilly guitar, and at that time, that was the type of music played on them.

I remember even up until the 1960s, many jazz guitarists looked down their noses at these and told us, “When you grow up, you’ll get a real guitar,” meaning something more traditional, like a Gibson archtop.

Yeah, so Doc left and the K&F company was dissolved. Finding pieces from that time period is hard because there’s no record of how many were made and there were no advertisements for them. I do have some pictures from George Fullerton that Doc’s son gave him of the first piece that they put together, which is nothing like the ones that went into production. It’s very beautiful.

Did you get to play that original Tele that was copied for this run of instruments?

Oh, no. The story behind that guitar was that Leo was a huge stickler for not keeping prototypes around. There were two of those — the first one was cut up and the second was thrown in the trash. George pulled it out of the trash. He was young and had just started working with the company; he was a guitar player and this was his creation too! He and Leo went to little bars and shows and listened to players. Without telling them what they were up to, they asked the players what they would want in a guitar, which became the basis for their business and designs: being able to change small parts out easily and being able to easily change the neck on a guitar. There was a bit of a stigma attached to their early instruments because they weren’t craftsman pieces — they were functional instruments.

Yes, they were outside the instrument crafting tradition. This was a modernist piece of design, rather than following classical instrument-building traditions.

Exactly. So when I started researching all the K&Fs, I talked to George who was there just after Doc left, and I got as much information as I could from the closest source. Strangely, though they made guitars and amps in sets, many of the guitars still exist while most of the amps do not. I figure that the guitar is a functional piece and all you have to do is change the strings, but if you have an amp go out, it might have been easier to just go buy another amp.

Was it through the process of reproducing old gear, and speaking with George Fullerton, that you became interested in the 1940s K&F amp?

Yes, that amplifier in particular because it was so simple and because the circuit was kind of the predecessor to the Princeton, but instead of having an 8″ speaker like a Princeton, it had a big, large-magnet, alnico 20-30 watt 10″ speaker. This was late ’44 or early ’45, and these amplifiers were made from military surplus parts, so they were all different and had this unique industrial look about them. Design-wise, it wasn’t made to be the prettiest thing out there — it was made to be functional.

So it was just “The K&F Amplifier” and they only made the one model?

No, see that’s the thing, they made one, and we know the record shows from Doc’s writing on the pictures I have, that the first one they made was beautiful! It had wooden sides, a grille cloth that was embroidered with K&F on the front, and a 15″ speaker. The photo says, This is the first K&F [lap] steel, and this is the first amplifier in the U.S. with a hanging chassis and hanging tubes.” Before that, everything was put on the bottom of the amplifier and the tubes all sat up.

And that amp is gone now?

Yeah, in John Sprung’s book, Fender Amps: The First Fifty Years, he wrote that this amp was made as a custom, one-off piece, and it is likely gone now, since the only pictures we have ever seen of it were the from the 1940s.

That would be a fun one to reproduce, wouldn’t it?

Oh, it would be amazing. There was an article in the October 1998 issue of Guitar Player with a 15″ K&F — the style of the K&F that I am reproducing. It was the same cabinet shape, just larger, and it is the only time I have seen a 15 other than that one custom one-off piece.

So what you had was three or four amps, all without names or model numbers which were essentially prototypes

Yes, they were “if this works we will make another just like it” sort of deals. There were two basic models that you see in published pictures. One is the 8″model that looked like a little lunch box. It had one volume knob and one or two inputs, no pilot light, no fuse, and the cord coming straight out — that was it.

The other is the 10″ model, which is the one I’m reproducing. It had two inputs, no fuse, no pilot light, one tone control, and either one or two volume controls, and two channels — which was something completely new. Each channel ran on one half of the input tube, which is what Fender did until the Blackface era in the ’60s.

It’s not a large amp at only 5-6 watts. The speaker was an unknown Jensen model that had a large, plug-style alnico magnet instead of the horseshoe magnet. I am sure every example varied because the parts all varied — the knobs, transformers, everything. The transformer on the one I am reproducing was a replacement transformer right out of an Allied catalogue made by some unknown manufacturer.

How did you originally come in contact with the amp you decided to reproduce?

I worked with Geoff Fullerton at Fender, who became a good friend of mine. Geoff is George’s son, and was Leo’s personal assistant at G&L for several years. He was a builder and engineer there as well. George’s father used to work at Fender in the wood mill where he ran this huge ripsaw, which George, Geoff and I also ran, so I had become good friends with the family.

George is a wealth of information and a really interesting man to talk to. He has great ideas about how things were done, the reason things were done, and craftsmanship. Even though his guitars were not traditional, the craftsmanship that went into them was impressive. They case-hardened every single one of the screws that went into a guitar, so if you had to repair it, you wouldn’t strip out the threads. Nobody does that kind of thing anymore because it is not cost-effective.

When I talked to George about the amp, he told me about one at the Fullerton Museum owned by Phyllis Fender, Leo’s widow. As he described the amp to me, I decided I wanted to take a look at it. Phyllis said sure, so they pulled it out of the museum for a day. I looked at it, taking every picture and measurement I possibly could. I worked with what I had, but it wasn’t enough to do a reproduction. Later on I was able to go back, and they let me take the chassis down and measure every single component. One thing I couldn’t do was turn it on.

You were able to disassemble this old amp down to the component level?

I was. I took my meters down there and measured everything. Not only did I measure it, but I cross-referenced it to the color code because those resistors and capacitors are 63 years old now and have drifted a lot. One of the things I noticed is that he used many of the components because they were the only things he could get. They weren’t exactly the right value for the position they were in, but he put them in there because they were close enough and that’s what he had.

So, I’m looking at it, and George leans over and says, “You know, you’re the first person who touched the inside of that amp since Leo; you’d better be careful!” Because no one had touched it in all those years, the chassis, being made of steel and zinc plated, was pretty much pure white and powdery — I wasn’t about to leave my fingerprints in it!

Are you going to reproduce the zinc plating and everything?

Oh yeah, but I’m not going to relic it or try to make it look old.

Are there any ground issues getting through the zinc?

Yes, you have to grind away the zinc to get to the steel. And that was one of the things; there’s no circuit board, it’s all point to point, and whatever had to be grounded was run straight to the chassis right there. It was function over form.

What year was the original produced?

I don’t really know if it is one of the earlier or later ones, although I think it is earlier. There is a kind of complex cutaway on the top of the amplifier and a relief on the cord panel that is pretty much decorative. Those two things are also on the 15″ amps that we know were the first ones made. Later examples don’t have either of those features on them, so it is likely an early piece.

Did your experiences at Fender and taking apart the old K&F amp lead to your decision to start an amplifier company?

The K&F thing led directly to my own amplifiers. That amp was amazing and cool, but it was so rudimentary. Boutique amplifiers are becoming a bigger business now and I though it would be interesting to see if I could do my own interpretation of the design.

I was looking at all these beautiful Fender guitars that we were making, the amazing Custom Shop guitars with custom finishes that people wait years for. There are some really nice-looking amplifiers out there, but most of them look like big Tolex suitcases.

It all started me thinking about something that was small enough that you wouldn’t worry about it getting banged around, with the form plus the function, and replicating some of the beauty of the guitar finishes. That really appealed to me – no one was doing that. Finishing it like a guitar, the correct way, is such an art. I wanted to make them so they would match people’s prized instruments.

Over the years, guitars and their finishes have gotten more elaborate, but you aren’t doing that with the new Model 10; it is using simple shape, texture and color for the amplifier, rather than the busy style of many expensive guitars.

I started out spending hours designing cabinets, and the right one just hits you. This one was simple; it effectively gave room for my logo, but with some different elements. I have 1″ radiuses on the corners instead of ¾”, which makes the amp look more spherical, instead of looking like a big square

It gives it a softer, more attractive appearance.

I started the design of the amp with the cabinet, and I got that nice angled swoop to the front, which was simple, not complex — you see some of the amps from the 1940s that had great grilles on them, and some were so complex. Once I got the design for the cabinet down, and I knew that I could physically produce it from a woodworking standpoint, I knew how much space I had, so I could work on the chassis and circuit layout.

Tell me about the Model 10’s circuit and electronic design, and the sounds you were going for.

Well, George introduced me to Bill Sterle who started working at Fender around 1960. Bill is an audio engineer who designed a lot of the original Blackface amps.

Having someone who was there and who designed amps telling me why they made certain decisions is so much different than starting with copies of what Fender, Gibson, or Marshall did. I learned distinction between the amps Bill made and the Fender amps of the 1950s, which were the easiest and simplest designs. The Blackface-era amps were much more complex designs and they were really trying to do different things with the preamps to keep them cleaner.

When Bill was designing things, he stressed that distortion is your enemy — that’s the school of amp design he came from. You have to have the cleanest representation possible. I went to Bill’s house for hours and he would describe everything from tube heater circuit design to what you want to get accomplished in the preamp section, the phase inverter section, and the power section. He told me once you get going on the tone controls, you can go crazy because there are so many variations in tone circuits — not only what you use, but where they are placed.

I wanted to have a 10″ speaker in there. A 10 just has a clarity that you cannot get from an 8″ speaker, and I didn’t want to go as big as a 12. 10s have a really neat sound to them if you find the right one. I knew it was going to be either a small, single-ended design or a cramped, push-pull design. I ended up starting off with a small single-ended design.

So, design wise, you met some of the original guys who developed modern guitar amps, and took it from there, as if you were in that era.

Oh yeah, and every single element that was put in the amp was based on what I was trying to accomplish in the circuit, not based on something I was trying to copy. My initial intention was to make it really straight and clean, without a ton of bells and whistles. It is a single-ended design with a 6V6 power section and a 12AX7 preamp tube.

I looked at a lot of Internet message boards for guys who are building amps, and for players in general, to find out what kind of modifications they were making and what they wanted out of an amp. I tried to keep it really simple and clean, but I did put in a few things that I thought would expand the tone a little more.

Is there a tube rectifier?

No tube rectifier in this. In such a small, single-ended amp that putting one in would be more of a novelty than anything functional. Not putting one in allowed me to use a smaller power transformer and to clean up the power and make it more stable, along with giving me more space to do other things in the chassis. Also, when I went back and talked to Bill Sterle, he threw his hands up and said, “Tube rectifiers are absolutely worthless!” [Laughs]

My impression is that stout, well-built power supplies produce robust tones, especially at high levels. When you are pushing the amp, and you’re not clobbering the power supply, the amp doesn’t freak out as much. If I want a little sag and compression, I use a compressor!

Well, yeah. It’s all relative though, because there is a ratio between the voltage and the current that the plates see. You push harder, sand the plates, and try to draw more current. If the current isn’t there, then there is going to be a difference in the tone.

I started with a solid-state rectifier and that is the only solid-state piece in the amp. In the preamp, I used more of a Blackface preamp design, where I split the 12AX7 in the middle because the amp only has one channel. I do have two inputs on the amp, but one is just hotter than the other.

So there are only two tubes in the amp?

Only two! It’s simple — there is just a treble and a bass control. With all passive tone controls, if you use the control, there is a certain amount of insertion loss, so on bass control I put a switch so you could remove the tone controls from the circuit completely.

The Model 10 has the standard volume, bass and treble controls; then there is the switch. What does it do?

It takes out the negative feedback loop. You turn that off and bypass the tone controls and it will crunch just like an early tweed Champ. Even with only two tubes and three knobs I wanted to be able to have a range so it isn’t just for one style of play; it is an amp that you can play around with and get a cool tone out of.

It has an amazing array of tones for having so few controls.

I have designs of every shape and size, but this is where I wanted to start. In the larger models, I am going to do a 15-20 watt amp, and I may do as much as a 30-35 watt one as well, though I don’t want to come out with a 100 watt monster.

I think people are starting to re-evaluate how much wattage is really needed.

You know, one of the many helpful things I learned from Bill Sterle was how to test everything correctly. Lots of amp makers out there will say, “This is a 5-watt amp,” and that’s what they assume because a similar one was made by Fender, but Fender tested where the wattage comes up just before distortion, on every one, and that’s how we test as well.

The Model 10 puts out almost exactly 5 watts. It has a cathode bias power section and I go through and measure every single one of those tubes and every single output section of each amp to make sure it is right for this design. I don’t want to run these as hot as I possibly can to get every last watt out of them, because it is hard on tubes. I offer NOS tubes as an upgrade, and they are not making any more of them! I run them right in the middle where you get great tone and good longevity.

What tubes have you been using?

Right now I am using Electro-Harmonix preamp tubes and JJ power tubes. I think the JJ 6V6 is a really neat tube. They can handle a lot of plate current, and they sound good.

If somebody wants a Model 10, how long would it take?

I have all of the parts ready to go, but I have a six to eight week lead time on the custom-colored cabinets, including shipping. It takes about four weeks for the paint to be completely finished, because it has to be perfect. It is a guitar finish on the Model 10 and it’s done just like any expensive guitar finish. The amps are built to order, though I may stock certain colors here and there.

It’s exciting to see the founding of a company with such an amazing product. Do you have a price set for the Model 10?

It looks like the Model 10 will be $1050, at least as an initial release price.

You spoke earlier of having several color choices and perhaps some clear finishes on nice wood available.

The cabinets right now are poplar for the solid colors, and ash or alder depending on whether the finish is a blonde or sunburst one, just like a guitar.

If someone asked you what your amp sounds like, what would you say?

Well, what I was trying to achieve was a combination of the tweed Champ and Princeton, combined with a Blackface Champ and Princeton. I wanted to be able to combine all four of those amps together so you could get a really grungy, overdriven, tweed tone or a really clean, clear tone with or without tone controls.

Tell me about the K&F reproduction amp, is that currently in the pipeline?

That amp is 99% done. Because this amp has never been done before, and because the parts are not off-the-shelf parts, everything is different from what is currently available. Everything had to be done from scratch; transformers had to be custom wound, and chassis had to be custom made — and the chassis are not normal dimensions by any means. The tubes are all NOS tubes, because there is no current equivalent to them.

It’s an octal socket preamp tube isn’t it — a large base and pins like a power tube? What tube is that?

It’s a 6SC7 medium mu triode and a 6J5 triode in the preamp section. Each channel gets half of that triode. It’s a pretty low-gain tube actually; it’s not overdriving the preamp circuit a lot like the later 12AX7s often do. There is also a 5Y3 rectifier and a 6V6 output tube. Both input signals merge into a 6J5. Instead of putting one channel with one preamp tube, he made two channels that merged into one preamp tube. There’s one volume control for both channels. The circuit is a lot different than a modern amplifier. Leo was doing it to see if it would be functional, and it was very rudimentary and basic.

The octal preamp tubes give a really unique sound to the amp. They don’t drive it very hard, but it does put out a pretty thunderous crunch when you want. I am keeping it as historically correct as I can, with carbon comp resistors, Mallory 150s as the tone caps, and all cloth-covered wiring, which I don’t do in the Model 10. I am not trying to reproduce a look in the Model 10, but am going for the best possible sound, so I’m using all the best components and wiring by today’s standards.

You selected the components for the Model 10 by listening to them, didn’t you?

Yes, but the K&F is a little different. It’s not wired like you would wire something today; it has series heaters, so you get that hum in there that makes for a unique sound. The only changes I made were necessary for safety. Of course, there is a fuse in this one, along with a 3-prong AC plug. Other than that, it is rudimentary in every way. The tube sockets are spot-welded to the chassis.

Did you actually replicate the spot welds?

Oh yeah! Lots of guys would have riveted the sockets in place, but that was an extra expense, so they spot welded them.

It probably had a terrific ground connection.

It does. I found an original output transformer and power transformer and had Mercury Magnetics reproduce them for me. The speaker was a 10″ Alnico plug-style speaker rated at 40 watts for a 5-watt amp, so it was way over-engineered for the circuit. Most Alnico speakers have a horseshoe shaped magnet, but this one has 2½” donut-shaped magnet. It was also used for higher-end audio and larger-wattage amps. It makes for a really heavy speaker, but it’s really neat. This Weber is the closest to the original speaker that is available.

How much is the K&F reproduction amp going to cost, and when will it be available?

I’m trying so hard to get it finished! I am talking to a paint manufacturer about the wrinkle paint we need, and if that works out we’re in business with getting the K&F out. We should be ready in October at the latest, and the cost will be about $1000.

Playing the Amps

I brought my 1987 hardtail Tom Anderson to Byers‘ shop where I got to play through the first Model 10 off the line and a K&F reproduction prototype. Here is a sample of what I heard:

Model 10

The Model 10 is a beautiful amplifier. If your favorite custom guitar builder built an amp, it would look just like this.

The Model 10 is clear and detailed in the way that only minimal circuit paths can be. Set clean, with the tone controls engaged and the feedback loop in, the highs and lows are well-balanced, the tone circuits do what you wish they would, and the result is a sound that makes you want to play more. Turn off the feedback loop and things get woollier and more tweed-like. Switch off the tone controls and the amp gets a more aggressive, throaty attitude going.

K&F Reproduction

The K&F reproduction amp is totally different from the Model 10 and totally different from almost anything I have ever heard. I can almost hear Charlie Christian playing one and I suspect that today’s players will find musical uses for this tone. The K&F reproduction is very big and a bit wooly-sounding, yet not muffled or dull at all. It gets pretty powerful sounding when you push it hard.


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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53 Tweed — Mounts to the speaker frame! — exact clone from a 1953 Princeton


Tweed — lowest B+ — 250-0-250


50’s Tweed Era — 5 H / 40mA


’60 Tweed — 8Ω tap


’55 Tweed – 4Ω tap


’55 Tweed — 8Ω tap


Tweed — 50V bias tap — lower B+ — 325-0-325


Tweed — 220V, 230V & 240V primary


’55 Tweed — 240V primary


’55 Tweed

Mercury Magnetics Trannies and Choke

Many of you are already familiar with our resident amp tech, studio owner/engineer and advisory board member Jeff Bakos. In his spare time, Jeff occasionally builds amps for clients on request, and lately he’s been asked to build… you guessed it – small little biters. Since his personal GA-5 has been featured so often on various recording projects, Jeff toyed with the idea of recreating the Gibson GA-5 Skylark for a minute, but given the fact that vintage GA-5s remain fairly plentiful, he ultimately decided to design his own simple take on a smallish amp – the 8 Ball. Housed in a Mojo Champ cabinet, the 8 Ball is built with one of our favorite tens, the Eminence Legend Alnico 1058 (that’s a hint), Mercury Magnetics trannies and choke, and premium components, including Sozo coupling caps. With the bigger Mercury Princeton transformer set, the single 6V6 / 12AX7 / 5Y3 design is capable of producing 10 watts of power. Features include dual inputs, volume and tone controls, a front panel line out jack, and a “vintage” / ”modern” toggle switch also conveniently mounted on the front panel.

The “vintage” setting produces pristine Fendery clean tones up to 12 o’clock on the volume control, gradually followed by a progressively thicker growl with intense distortion and sustain. In this setting, the 8 Ball surpasses all the other small amps we’ve reviewed in terms of practical versatility with stronger, louder clean tones and a more gradual It’s back! We are now resuming limited production of our meticulous recreation of the original 1959 DeArmond R15 1×12 amp. You may recall that we initially produced a limited number of TQ Clarksdale amps in 2006, before our supplier for the original chassis informed us that small runs would no longer be possible. We’ve found a new supplier, and the TQ Clarksdale “DeArmonds” will be built again by Jeff Bakos with our original specs – pin cabinet construction and design identical to the original, original Mercury Magnetics Tone Clone transformer set cloned from our original ’59 DeArmond, hand-wired chassis, premium components including Sozo caps, Celestion G12H 70th Anniversary speaker, premium JJ and Tung-Sol tubes, Evidence Audio speaker cable, custom gold grill cloth and blonde Tolex covering. This 22 watt design represents one of the rarest and most toneful combos ever built. The original 1959 DeArmond 1x12s were built for just one year in Toledo, OH, and a clean example recently sold on eBay for $7000. In 2006 Jeff Bakos meticulously blue-printed our original DeArmond, Mojo created CAD drawings from the original cabinet design, and we sent the transformers to Mercury Magnetics to be cloned. The result is a phenomenal 1×12 that will generally kick any tweed Deluxe straight to the curb with a bigger, bolder voice and lush, musical distortion cranked. The 4-input, cathode-biased Clarksdale can be operated with dual 6V6s and 5Y3 rectifier for optimum burn, or a pair of 6L6s and 5AR4 for slightly more power and clean headroom. Blonde Tolex only, simply because it’s the coolest color…

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Amp Transformers, Output Transformers & Chokes


’60 Tweed


’60 Tweed — Single 100V primary — higher B+


Tweed — 4, 8 and 16 Ohm Secondary


’60 Tweed — 8Ω tap

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