Mercury Magnetics Transformer Replacement

In 1963, the Silvertone 1484 or “Twin Twelve” was top-of-the-line among the amplifiers offered by Sears, Roebuck and Co. It debuted with a whopping catalog price of $149.95 (the equivalent of $1000 today)! Though once headed north of $800 on the latter day collectible market, the economy has seen these tone bandits recently dip back under the $500 mark. The 1484 is one of tone expert Andy Brauer’s all-time favorite amps, and rightfully so, since this baby can rock the socks off the meanest swamp alligators!

Every time someone asks you about sleeper amps, you bring up the Twin Twelve and how it’s one of your favorites. What’s the deal?

Twin Twelves are killer – really magical. Back in the day, you could pick one up at a garage sale for $25 or $50! People sold them as speaker cabinets; they didn’t even know it was an amplifier because the head sits underneath in the cab. It’s an innovative design feature for which we can thank Nathan Daniel; he developed and supplied them to Sears.

How long ago was it they were going for $25?

In the ’70s. But even today, these amps remain very undervalued. Most I see are fairly unmolested and still have the original tubes. They’re clean, or easy to clean because for some reason they weren’t as used or abused as other amps I see in my shop – most have remained closet-classic clean.

Their values jumped, though, when The White Stripes became popular and players learned Jack White’s killer sound was through Silvertone amps.

I agree. He was using a 1485 – the 100-watt version of the 1484, with six 10s. It’s much cleaner-sounding, with more headroom, punchier, with big, tight low-end. Jack liked the clarity – the chimey highs, the thick midrange, and the whoompf on the bottom.

What makes up the heart of the 1484?

It has two 6L6s for power, three 12ZX7s in the preamp, two 6FQ7s for the phase inverter and reverb driver, and a solid-state rectifier. And there’s a funky little reverb tank in them, but most I see are broken.The example on my bench at the moment is from early 1964. Some of the post are ’63, but most are ’64 and the speakers are ’64, which leads me to believe it’s an early-’64 model. The speakers are Jensen C12Qs, ceramic, with 20- to 25-watt capacity. Their small magnetics tend to break up faster and be a little honkier.

Funny, it doesn’t sound like a modern 50-watt amp. More like20 watts.

That’s partly because the voltages on the power tubes – the first-stage plate resistors – are 229k. First-stage plate resistors on the typical Fender amp are 100k.

So the Fenders’ allow more current to flow?

Yes. This results in a lot more headroom, a lot more clarity, and more overall punch. Most modern amps run their tubes, and their entire circuit, hotter than vintage gear. They try and squeeze more bang for the buck out of their amps, sometimes mistaking louder for better.

The nice thing about Silvertone amps, and the Twin Twelve especially, is that by raising some of the resistance, and the way Nat Daniel developed the circuit, results in a very nice note compression that isn’t found in many other amps. The hard edges are taken off the notes. Also, the Twin Twelve’s tone controls are interactive – the more you turn up the Treble and Bass, the more gain you get. So if you want it real clean, turn the Volume to 3 or 4, turn the tone controls down to 2 or 3 respectively and you can get some clarity out of it. But after 3 or 4 on the dial, the amp gets gainier and gainier.

I noticed that the tremolo and reverb affect gain, as well. If you turn everything up, the amp turns into a real monster.It’s not a multi-tasking amplifier. It likes to do reverb, or it likes to do tremolo. If you do both, it gets fussy… but it sounds great, by the way! The 6L6 screen voltage is about 150 volts below plate value, so these amps are not pushing the tubes much at all. When you’re that conservative on the wattage, you reduce headroom. It’s almost like talking a Variac to the incoming voltage. When you Variac it down a touch, you lose clean headroom and get more overdrive.

These amps are not extremely loud, but what they do have is a instantly likeable, friendly tone that really grabs you and kind of encourages you to play with it. It’s very bluesy. It’s aggressive, and it’s compressed, but without the drawbacks of compression. It’s not like a 6V6-driven amp that squashes the sound, it’s more of a high-fidelity sound. It compresses the sound like an LA2A limiter – almost limiting the compression versus squashing it like a 6V6 Deluxe or like a brown Deluxe. The tone stack enhances the tone and adds gain, versus cutting or boosting lows and highs.

So, do you like to just turn everything all the way up on the Twin Twelve?

Who doesn’t like to do that every once in a while on any amp? But no, not as a general rule. Amps that I like, I set the tone controls to five, to start. From there I play with the Volume. And then, believe it or not, I’ll go around the amp with a screwdriver and a socket wrench, and start tightening bolts on the speaker, or tune the cabinet to a certain frequency to get the amp to ring. The Twin Twelve has a ported cabinet with a back panel that’s open on the bottom. One can play with the screws inside the cabinet to torque them all to the same tension, so that sound reverberates off all parts of the cabinet at the same pressure.

Kind of like tuning the head on a drum – you want even tension all the way around…

Exactly. When I do that to a cabinet and the speakers, I hear a difference.

These amps came with 25 feet of cable to separate the speaker from the head. The old Sears catalogue claimed that this was to eliminate feedback. Is there any truth to that?

That was a marketing gimmick. They wanted the musician to be able to place the head near where they were standing, and place the cab away from them, with the idea that the further the cab was from the pickups, the less chance there was for feedback.

Who are some high-profile players who use these?

Obviously, Jack White brought them into the spotlight. But I’ve seen many players – Dean Parks, Ronnie Woods, Keith Richards, Lyle Workman, Josh Homme, Ry Cooder, and David Lindley – use them. It tends to be a staple in major recording studios, so music fans have heard them on countless albums, though they may not be aware.

Do a lot of these amps come in for repairs and such?

I see the 1×12 version, the 1482. And I’ve definitely worked on my share of the 1484s. When I’m servicing a Silvertone, nine out of 10 times it’s merely pitted and dirty and just needs its pots cleaned, and maybe tension the tube sockets or re-solder something for good contact. Generally, the tubes are pretty good, and many Silvertones have original tubes.

Were the Silvertone tubes in these made specifically for Sears?

There were OEM. I’m not sure if they were RCA, GE, or Sylvania, but they were definitely American manufacture. Vintage RCA and GE tubes are considered some of the best, and the tubes in these are terrific. Consider it’s possible to purchase a Silvertones for a few hundred dollars. If original tubes are in there, that’s at least $100 just in tubes!

Are they good for mods?

Not that I’d recommend. Just restore them back to stock.

Other good Silvertones?

The bass version, the model 1483, is pretty awesome. It’s the same circuit minus the reverb and tremolo, and driven through a 1×12 cabinet. It’s 50 watts, as well. Most Silvertones were given numbers as model names, but the Twin Twelve was branded because it was top of the line. The only other amp Silvertone branded was the 1434, which was dubbed the Medalist.

How do the tremolo and reverb sound?

The reverb isn’t the best, but it’s not bad – it’s fashionably anemic. The tremolo is great – very surf-sounding and muted, in a nice way, unlike a Gibson tremolo, which is bright and pingy.

Are there a lot of Twin Twelves out there?

Yes. They were manufactured only form 1963 to ’66, but were apparently churned out in large numbers. There’s almost always one for sale in online auctions, and I often see them in music stores. As I said, they tend to be in fairly good shape, though if exposed to moisture the particleboard tends to fall apart. Aside from that, there are no major issues. They don’t always ship well, though – the reverb tanks can get messed up. But there’s nothing that can go wrong on these that can’t be fixed; all the parts are readily available. If you blow the transformer, a Mercury Magnetics replacement is available.

Another interesting feature is that if you open up the back panel on the speaker cab, you’ll see there’s a hidden shelf. It’s a baffle.

What for?

It’s a bass trap, for lower frequencies. When the bass comes off the back of the speakers, the baffle catches it and sends it forward again. You get a little bit more of a thump than with most open-back cabs. It was really kind of a revolutionary design Nat Daniel came up with, and I don’t know of any other amps that employ it. (Ed. Note: Daniel had a patent on the speaker cabinet design with inclined baffles called the “acoustical case”.)

Sonically, what would you compare this amp to?

Probably a Fender, as it has a really nice twang. But it’s a bit darker. It offers a terrific Dick Dale surf tone as well.

Cranked up?

Well, listen to any White Stripes album!

View PDF Article

Amp Transformers, Output Transformers & Chokes

© Mercury Magnetics
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.