My Sad Little Amp

My amp has a sad.

Thank heaven I became a guitar geek shortly before my 12th birthday. If I hadn’t, I probably would have requested a minibike for my bar mitzvah present a year later, instead of my first electric guitar. And today I’d be an over-the-hill biker instead of an over-the-hill guitarist.

My schoolteacher mom had a colleague whose son worked at Fender in Fullterton, California, not far from where I grew up. (Sadly, I’ve forgotten his name). Shortly before my big day, we visited his mobile home (let’s face it: the musical instrument industry has never been lucrative) to audition some decidedly post-CBS guitars he was selling. I opted for a black Jazzmaster, though I was tempted by the paisley Tele. It was my sole electric throughout high school, though I sold it at exactly the wrong time: five minutes before new-wave guitarists such as Tom Verlaine and Elvis Costello made it cool again. (Though I shouldn’t complain, since I managed to procure my pre-CBS Strat around that time.)

The Fender guy didn’t have extra amps on hand, but I slavered over the oversized amps in the early-’70s Fender catalog.Which sleek silver combo would greet me on the big day?

To my horror, I received an ancient, teensy-weensy combo amp, an ugly thing spray-painted black. I was mature enough not to express anything other than delight, but my heart ached. I wanted an amp as big and loud as my dreams, not this sad relic. They told me I was a man when I turned 13 — but I didn’t feel like one without the Dual Showman of my dreams.

My disappointing amp was a tweed 1952 Deluxe — which makes it sound like this story will have a happy ending. Sadly, no. 

It’s SUPPOSED to look like this.

Yes, I eventually realized that I had something wonderful — but the ’70s and ’80s were not an era of wise gear preservation. Paul Rivera installed a Boogie-esque mod in 1980 or so. A couple of years later, I took it in for a minor repair, and a criminally presumptuous guitar tech rewired the whole damn thing with a bunch of stuff I didn’t even want. And a few years ago, I cracked it open for the first time in many years, only to discover that someone (i.e.,  presumptuous tech guy) had replaced all the cool old passive components with cheapo modern stuff. But since I was getting into DIY, and since the cab, speaker, and tranformers were all original, I resolved to restore it to its tweedy glory. (Though I’m not sure if I should keep it in accordance with the original 5B3 schematic.)

But some resolutions are stronger than others. And now the thing lives disassembled in a box, silently awaiting resurrection.

I was thinking of just getting a vintage-style tweed amp kit and refurbing the thing, using as many old parts as possible. But I can’t find one that fits the chassis, and I like the metalworking skills to fabricate a modified chassis. (Truth be told, I lack the metalworking to straighten a bent paper clip.)

Anyone else ever been in this particular boat? And if so, do you have some brilliant advice?


Clueless Joe










17 comments to My Sad Little Amp

  • jeremy

    No brilliant advice, but – other than the fact it was your first amp, and likely has a place in your heart (even though you weren’t too thrilled with it at the time) – I have to wonder why you’d go to such a lot of effort for something that will never be what it was. I can relate in a small way, as I unwittingly butchered my very first electric guitar (a Starway, as used by Eno) in efforts to “improve” it. but even if I could get all the parts back (I’d need a replacement neck ’cause I re-fretted it and messed up the binding, and a replacement body ’cause I hacked a hole in mine to fit a humbucker) – it would never be my original guitar. I’d be far better off looking out for an unspoilt version on eBay. likewise, you might as well just look out for an un-spoilt Deluxe – sell your good components to raise some cash toward it if necessary. Or at least use the case for something unrelated to the original amp and use the transformers for a new project in a new case. I’m just thinking outloud really – as is often my way – but maybe you can pick something out of it that makes sense to you. 🙂

  • joe

    I guess I could just stick a Line 6 Pod in there. 😉

    • jeremy

      hmm, as a Flexitone III owner, I’m not sure how to take that! good luck on fitting the transformers into the Pod case when you do the reverse transplant. 🙂

      but actually, you’re on the right lines of what I was getting at – how cool to turn up on a session with what appears to be your old Deluxe, when in fact it turns out to be some extreme fuzz machine, or whatever.

  • Oinkus

    None of the Mojotone kits will fit that really ? You say it is a Deluxe but it looks to be Champ sized? You can buy just the chassis there for 30 bucks Generic Tweed Deluxe 5e3 type

  • mwseniff

    As a servicer I have undone “mods” on so many amps I can’t keep track of them. I think you should do your best to restore it. I am not sure what kits you are talking about but it may not save you all that much money. There are certainly sources of Carbon comp resistors to dupe the vintage ones but I recommend you use larger wattage versions as they minimize the negative aspects of them. But you may want to cosnsider using wire wounds instead particularly for plate and screen resistors and in the power supply. Electrolytic caps can use modern types as the are improved today and the originals would be well beyond their life for the signal types like the preamp cathode bypasses try non-polar electrolytics they sound a bit smoother. The other caps in signal stages are replaceable by Sprague Orange Drops, silver micas and polystyrenes which are all currently available. You have the original xfrmrs, case and spkr which IMHO are key to the original tone. The tubes would sound best if you had NOS types but there are many new types that will work fine, tubes are one place I agree with the tone sniffers NOS are better but can be pricy. It sounds to me like you know a lot of folks in the music business so maybe they can help you out with parts. If I were you I would start with the best parts you can gather easily and restore it to near original operation. Then as you go along you can get better vintage style parts to slowly get back to tone sniffer territory. You can find many folks that can redo the tweed to original (it was after all originally a suitcase and trunk covering my sis has a gorgeous old set of tweed luggage that was my moms). Take it in small steps maybe even start with currently easily available parts and then change them for vintage types a bit at a time so you can hear the changes. The beauty of old Fenders is that it is very easy to replace parts on the fiber boards just don’t overdo it with the soldering iron and be creful no to use too much solder. It sounds like a fun project just take your time. This is a much less daunting project than you fear. I would stick with the original schematic to start. Good luck! I’d be more than happy to answer questions.

  • Joe, you can rebuild it. You have the technology. You have the capability to build the world’s first 5E3-ish bionic amp. Your amp will be that amp. Better than it was before. Better, stronger, faster.
    Seriously, send me some photos of the inside and I’ll send you a wiring layout (and properly scaled template) that you can used to squeeze a 5E3-ish amp into your amp. All the basic parts are already there. And I’ve seen your pedals … you can do this. – Rob

  • Bear

    I’d actually try to redo it as a proper 5B3. There’s already so many 5E3’s and clones wandering this Earth. Especially with the octal preamp and PI tubes. It won’t do the Crazy Horse burn, but it’ll probably play much better with all your fun pedals.

    If you’ve got the chassis and transformers, the hardest part is getting a circuit board that will fit to whatever mounting scheme was native. I haven’t seen one ready-made from the likely sources, but it can be done. It’s possible that 5C3 from Watts/ fits as is: Casual glance is you can build the 5B3 perfectly on that board layout. Email them about fit details and you may have a win.

  • Oinkus

    I have just made a discovery last night that needs to be scrutinized.Do you guys know about how using cryogenics improves components in guitars?

    • mwseniff

      Cryogenics has been used to improve the tone of brass horns for many years. It is supposed to improve the response and overtones. They basically put the horn in a cryogenic bath and lower the temperature and keep it there for weeks to achieve the effects if I remember correctly. My buddy that does instrument repair and building said that they do seem to at least tarnish more slowly. Dean Markley used to do cryogenic treatment of strings and sold them under the Blue Steel name he claimed it caused a realignment of the crystal structure resulting in longer life and better tuning stability. I used them for a while and they did seem to last longer. I didn’t get scientific about it or anything so I won’t swear to any improvement. When I worked for a chemistry dept. in a university doing instrumentation I talked to the professor doing solid state materials research he claimed that there was no data that supported it. Further he pointed out that at those cold temperatures chemical processes were vastly diminshed (that is one of the reasons they store biological samples cryogenically). However he said that the cooling and warming periods did present state changes that might have some possibility for modification of materials but then again there was no data to support that hypothesis.

      But tone sniffers seem to gravitate to any new idea so perhaps if you took the hand drawn silver wire and cryogenically treat it you would have a saleable product. My experience says tone is a very subjective thing and pretty much unmeasurable by current tech. I guess it’s like religion most adherents say it changes their life but is it the religion or the person that causes the change? Anything is worth a try but personally I am waiting for pickups delivered by flying saucers, now those will have the best tone ever!! YMMV

    • jeremy

      Alternatively, Joe could be put into cryongenic suspended animation until Line 6 perfect their emulation of his pre-tweaked ’52 Tweed Deluxe!

  • zyon

    I have to take the road that’s the left of the fork. You did a lot of mods on this am (good or bad) but this is the amp that started you in the world of guitar and for better or worse, at the time, those mods made the amp what it is today. Maybe the mods the tech did drove you to explore new amps but that amp rests today as a testament to your willingness to explore modifications. Without that amp, you might not be building your own pedals today. If it were me, I’d put it back together and find a nice place on a shelf to display it as a family artifact of your past.

    I still have the first guitar I ever really took the time to modify. It’s in a specially build display case hanging in my dining room. I play the guitar once or twice a year just to keep it working and set up properly but I would never think about playing it for an extended period of time. It’s worth less than the sum of the parts I put on it but it represents the beginning of who I became as a man and for that, I reserve a special place for it. It’s the only guitar out of many that I display in a special case. It will go to my children when I’m gone.

  • joe

    Wow guys — thanks for all the superb ideas and insight! 🙂

  • I think the good news is that the chassis, transformer and speaker are all present. Everything else is point to point wired and therefore, totally replaceable. The 5B3 circuit may not be the most desirable of tweedy Fenders, but they’re pretty freakin’ cool. I find the kinda’ splatty break-up of that era of Fender to be a rare commodity, and excellent for getting el-primitivo ugliness a la Willie Johnson (early Howling Wolf guitarist). I say, give it the old college try! Do it for the Gipper!

  • Digital Larry

    If you could just get your hands on some NOS air to go around the speaker I think you’ll be set!

  • bear

    Anything happening here? I thought back to this post because a non-basket-case wide-panel 5B3 came up on the local Craigslist for more money than I paid for my first car.

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