Search Results for: Tweed Super


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.

 

Original Power Transformer in our ’73 Super Lead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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VVT Amps Lindy Fralin Model

It only stands to reason that a guy whose day gig involves running his own successful and renowned pickup company knows killer tone when he hears it. So when the Jones hit to seek out a custom made map that combined the best of his favorite Blackface Vibroverb and Vibrolux, Lindy Franlin called upon Tony Albany and the guys at Vintage Vacuum Tube Amps to see if they might be up to the task. And that they were.

The holy grail would be to produce a 6L6 based 30 watt tone machine capable of a beautiful clean sound as well as a smooth, crunchy overdrive and be put captive into the smallest and lightest workable cabinet.

Beginning with a 2×10 Mojotone Tweed Super amp kit for the basic prototype, VVT and Fralin tweaked their hearts out for six months until they got it right.

Residing in a rather compact 20×20 cabinet, the VVT Lindy Fralin Model strikes a vintage pose in its white Tolex with oxblood-like grill cloth.

Beginning with a 2×10 Mojo tone Tweed Super amp kit for the basic prototype, VVT and Fralin tweaked their hearts out for six months until they got it right. Residing in a rather compact 20×20 cabinet, the VVT Lindy Fralin Model strikes a vintage pose in its white Tolex with oxblood-like grill cloth.

The VVT Lindy Fralin Model is a cathode biased straight forward, no bells and whistles affair. The “Plexi”top panel is simple and clean with its Input, bright switch, volume, treble and bass controls followed by the reverb control, standby and on/off switch. Chicken-headknobs let you know where you’re at. Two TAD matched 6L6 tubes supply the power with two 12AX7s for the preamp. A pair of 12AT7s are for the reverb driver and phase inverter. Rectifyin’ is courtesy of an Electro Harmonix 5U4GE. The cool thing is that the Lindy Fralin Model can also accept a deuce of 6V6s in place of the big bottles in the power section for a whole different vibe. Because of the higher plate voltages, VVT Amps stresses that only modern tubes (like the supplied JJ Electronics) should be used. You don’t want to blow the thing up, do ya?

If you think a 15 inch speaker might get as loose and floppy as your Auntie Mabel’s arse, you might be in fora pleasant surprise. With an obviously wider bass frequency range than a 12 inch, the Weber’sbottom remains tight and punchy with a nice lower mid section as well.Single coil and humbucker equipped instruments alike snuggled up quite admirably to the Weber Classic.

First impressions? The Lindy Fralin Model with my Strat spoke with gorgeous single coil chime and harmon-ic complexity, unabashedly magnified with a full trans-parent tone and organic beefy sustain. Very articulate and touch sensitive, the amp displays a more than impressive amount of projection. Both Lindy and Tony attribute this to the cross shaped members (called an integral diffuser) placed across the speaker opening in the baffle board which help disperse the sound and tame some of the“beamy” high end.

All tone controls are unobtrusive and very musical. While the treble is subtle up to around 6 on the dial, the bass is more evident from the get go but remains trans-parent throughout its range with no muddiness. The bright switch surrounds the notes and chards alike with an airiness without compromising the inherent full tone of the amp.

In addition to the Strat, the Lindy Fralin Model warmed up nicely to my other 6 string friends. The Carvin California Carved Top sounded sweet and detailed while my Ibanez AS200spoke with a very articulate, full and warm bodied tone.

Arch tops? This little box makes a nice jazz amp as well with clear, well defined chord structures and beefy single notes. With the fat axes pushing the volume past 3-1/2 caused a little mush in the low end which could probably be remedied by changing the first preamp tube to something with a bit less gain.

The reverb fills out the sound with a pleasant mix behind the dry signal. Throughout its range, the effect is very complimentary and doesn’t send your playing out to see even when dimed. For the dirty stuff, cranking the chicken head to the red(!) produced a bubbly, organic and throaty overdrive with real honest to goodness preamp/amp interaction. Very sweet with gobs of sustain. Doing a quick swap to the matched pair of 6V6s morphed the amp into a kind of Blackface Deluxe vibe with breakup noticeable at lower levels. The bottom felt a little less tight with a bit more perceived glassiness in the top end.

Whereas the 6L6 bottles speak “tux and bow tie” the6V6s are more “t-shirt and jeans”—not quite as complex but with a grittier and nice fat tone.

Also VVT Amps’ attention to detail gets a big thumbs up for the extra long line cord and groovy little spare fuse holder inside the back of the amp.

The collaboration between VVT Amps and Lindy Fralin has turned out to be a winning combination. The VVT Lindy Fralin Model’s beautiful, three-dimensional tones are equaled only by its straight-forward and no-nonsense design.

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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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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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FTS-PM-U

Mid ’50s Tweed – 5E4-A — two 6V6 tube version — Lower B+ — 335-0-335VAC Unloaded — With Universal Voltage Primary

Which Guitar Amp to Buy

Ten years after our first published amp review (the blackface Vibrolux Reverb), we still find ourselves answering readers’ questions about which amp to buy. We’re not complaining… your subscription to TQR has always included phone or email access for those contemplating a new gear purchase, but it seems that published reviews can still sometimes prompt more questions than answers. We understand, and like you, we are routinely faced with these same buying decisions just about every month as we look ahead to future issues. “Power” and “headroom” (or lack of it) seem to remain among the most daunting considerations for prospective amp buyers. This may not keep you up at night if you’re looking for a toneful box to play solely at home, but the range of clean and overdriven tones available from a single amplifier that can hang with a band is absolutely critical – the tipping point for guitarists who wish to have both clean and grittier tones available on the fly. And even the casual “bedroom” player (does anyone really play their guitars in the bedroom?) will quickly discover that big, lush guitar tones – clean or jacked into rich distortion – are often best obtained through a “bigger” amp. We’re not suggesting that we don’t love our ’58 tweed Tremolux or ’64 Deluxe – they both uniquely, timelessly epitomize great guitar tones – but an entirely different realm exists within the range of vintage Fender amps, and try as we might, we have never found another amplifier quite as versatile, user-friendly or uniquely toneful as the blackface (1965–7) 40 watt Pro Reverb – still the most under-valued and overlooked reverb amp from the entire blackface era, although aside from its 2×12 speaker configuration, the Pro is nearly identical to the Vibrolux and the Super Reverb amps.

Yes, the 2×12 Pro Reverb can move some air, just as an AC30or Matchless DC30, both highly coveted amps for good reason, do the same. Experienced in a room, 2×12 amps produce an ambient presence and a spatial quality that single 12s can’t match. That extra speaker isn’t adding volume as much as it simply disperse sound effectively by filling more space. And although the Pro Reverb is rated at 40 watts, the smaller output transformer Leo Fender chose to use delivers only 28 watts, probably in an effort to minimize speaker failure, yet the original Oxford and Jensen 12 s shipped in the Pro still blew when pushed by enthusiastic rockers. A well-maintained Pro Reverb will typically produce classically clean Fender tones with strong bass and treble and slightly diminished mids from “2” on the volume control to “5,” gradually spilling into lush Fendery distortion at higher settings. If you choose to use an overdrive device to achieve distortion at lower volume levels, the Pro will sound significantly better than most 20 watt amps because your pedal is affecting a cleaner signal, rather than adding distortion to an amp already spilling over into distortion. And as we have reported so often in the past, non-invasive and completely reversible modifications can be made, such as the addition of a 25K mid range pot utilizing the existing back panel hole for the extension speaker jack. This single mod enables the Pro to develop a very ballsy British voice as midrange is increased, while completely preserving the integrity of the original Fullerton tone with the midrange pot set at zero, rendering two outstanding amps in one. Intrigued? You should be, because we have never heard a contemporary boutique 2×12 combo amp that can approach the sound of a Pro Reverb equipped with a solid set of tubes and speakers. And with the range of speaker options available today, you can effectively custom design and shape the sound of your Pro for more of a traditional, bright“American” sound, a heavier or chimier British tone, or the two combined.

Ah, but buying old amps is risky business says you… what if I get a “dog” or it needs a lot of work? I’d rather buy some-thing new and not deal with the unknown. Fine, do that. But for those willing to reap the rewards that only a certain degree of risk can offer, it’s not that difficult to minimize your chances for disappointment. Here’s how:

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Tweed — 5D4 — no CT on 6.3V — 220V, 230V & 240V primary

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Mid ’50s Tweed – 5E4-A — two 6V6 tube version — lower B+ — 335-0-335

FTS-OM

Tweed — 2, 4 & 8Ω taps

FTSUP-O

Mid ’50s Tweed – 5E4-A — two 6V6 tubes — single 4 Ohm tap

FC4

Tweed — 4 Henry. Uses Grain-Oriented Iron

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Mid ’50s Tweed – 5E4-A — two 6V6 tubes — single 8 Ohm tap

F-TSUP-OT

50s Tweed — #1848 — dual self leads — Uses Grain-Oriented Iron

FTWDS-P

Tweed — 5D4 — no CT on 6.3V

FTS-OS

Tweed — single 8 Ohm tap

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Tweed — 4, 8 & 16 Ohm taps

FTWS-O

Early ’50s Tweed — #1848

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Tweed — #45216

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