I used to have a couple of tweed fenders and one was the Deluxe. It was a ’59. The speaker had been changed a couple of times. The capacitors were recent and who knows where the output transformer came from. The tweed was ripped and covered in candle wax from a couple of different recording sessions. And it sounded, in a word, like a small piece of rock heaven.
The amplifier pictured is clearly not my old tweed Deluxe. This one led a completely different life than the one from the recording studio. This one was bought used in 1964 by guy who just liked guitars. He wasn’t a great player but neither were most of the people who bought these amps new. They were not holy grails then. They were small, cheap amps that distorted when cranked up. People in the 50s didn’t really think that was “good.” High quality amplifiers weren’t supposed to sound distorted at any volume.
So it was bought used by the second owner and played very little for most of its life. He said he had a couple of guitars he would play through it -like his Gibson Les Paul Jr. – but mostly he played a Gretsch Chet Atkins. Eventually, he sold those guitars but had little motivation to sell the amp because nobody cared. As a result this amplifier sat in his closet with the cover on for years.
A friend mentioned to him recently that it was a fine amplifier and there were people out there that would pay good money for it.
Would I like to buy a near mint condition tweed deluxe? Why yes, yes I would. It didn’t matter to me that it was 5 hours away.
When I got there I didn’t even plug the thing in. He had pawned it a few weeks before so I had to pay the pawn price and give the rest in cash. I was happy to do so.
The Fender Deluxe (model 5e3) was introduced in 1955 lasted until 1960. According to the Fender Amp Field Guide
this one has about 15 watts of all tube output through a 12″ speaker, usually a Jensen. A pair of 6v6gt vacuum tubes make up the power section with two 12ax7s in the preamp. The original tubes were probably RCA but these are General Electric. The amplifier and speaker are housed in a fingerjointed pine cabinet covered in diagonal tweed.
Living in an apartment has its disadvantages. One of them is not being able to crank up an amp to get that sweet, sweet tube saturation. I took it to my buddy (who helped me find it- thanks man!) at the local music shop and we put it through its paces. With a brand new Gibson R8 Les Paul it started distorting with the chicken head knob pointing at 3. 3! From there to about 9 it had that beautiful overdrive these tweed fenders are known for. 9 to 12 got a little piercing with the harmonic overtones and that just wasn’t what I was going for.
Then he brought out a 1960 Gibson ES-330 and let me have a go with it. That was the combo I was looking for. I had the 330’s volume and tone pots dimed on the neck pickup with the Deluxe on about 3 and a half. The tone. I was just doing a little blues noodling around the 7th fret and it was everything I had hoped for. The P-90 was thick and nuanced. The Deluxe’s pair of GE 6v6s were lightly distorting and absolutely growled when I dug in deep. It was very responsive. The lightest touch produced sparkly cleans that darkened substantially with a little right hand heat. I was sold.
After the tone expedition we decided do do a little research into the originality of this amp. The capacitors, transformers, potentiometers and switches all seemed original and in good shape. The GE tubes were probably replacements but I am still not convinced on the speaker. It should be a Jensen but there were some exceptions. Oxford and Rola seem to come to mind. In all likelihood the original Jensen was changed by the first owner. The second owner said he did not change the speaker and I believe him. The music he was playing did not require loud or distorted tone so it is unlikely he pushed the speaker to its breaking point. If you have any more information or theories then please feel free to comment!
Fender amps are easily dated by their tube charts. They usually have a stamp with two letters for a year and a month. This one bears the letters FJ meaning 1956 and October.
They also usually have a little piece of masking tape bearing the initials of the person who wired the amplifier. This one is a bit obscured by time but the name on the tape is Lily. The other popular names that show up are: Lupe (most popular), Lily, Eileen, Margaret, Rachel, Maybell, Lydia and Julia.
Hope you enjoyed a look at this amp. Maybe I can get a real guitar player to help me out with a video of it.
My buddy Chris at Bailey Brothers Music in Birmingham was kind enough to shred on this amp after I got it all cleaned up. He also let me take a few videos of it. Check them out:
Thanks Chris! Nice playing!