There are components in the amp that hold live current long after the amplifier is unplugged. If you are not familiar with working on vacuum tube equipment, you should consult an experienced technician before opening any equipment containing vacuum tubes.
This article is for informational purposes only. The Free Information Society will not be responsible for any injury or damage caused to you or your equipment. I can't say today that they are the "best kept secret", because over the past few years, the prices on them are steadily climbing That MusicMaster Bass amp or Silverface Champ that you could have bought all day for 50 bucks as recently as 2 years ago can run as high as on ebay now. Though, hopefully no one will bid on those that are that high.
Other silverface amps have similarly appreciated. But, they are still available at killer prices, if for no other reason, there are many of them still available I recently purchased a Silverface Champ for 40 bucks. I am not an expert on amps, Fender amps, or Silverface Fender amps. Nor am I a tech. I am merely someone that loves old gear, appreciates Silverface amps, loves to write, and loves history.
So, here I am, writing about the history of some old gear, the Silverface Fender. I also have a small amount of knowledge of and experience in working on tube amps. This is intended to be an informative article for the uninformed, and is purposely not terribly specific. I'm also not going to get too deeply into technical details of circuitry. I apologize in advance if I got a date wrong, a model wrong, etc. Its pretty hard to get extremely accurate information on the history of Fender amps I also apologize for not having a lot of photos of mint Silverface equipment.
Both had seen many miles by the time I got them, and I've added a few more to the Bassman in the nearly 20 years that I've owned it.
Actually, when I bought my head, it was in a Blackface box I have a few other jpegs of other silverface equipment I know the owners of. I suppose I could have ripped off some photos from other websites, but that's not my style.
If you need to see them, Google the Fender Field Guide. My Champ What the heck is a Silverface? They are called "silverface" due to the brushed aluminum look of the faceplate. Much more on this later. So, why don't I want one? I suppose that if you compare Silverface equipment to its earlier tweed and blackface brethren, the silverface amps are in many cases not that great, and that is the justification that has been used for a couple of decades by Silverface critics.
Do a quick look on ebay, eliminate the ridiculously high opening bids that no one else has bid on, which in case of the search I just did is well over half of them and you'll find that in most cases you can expect to pay about twice as much for a Blackface than a Silverface, and at least three or four times as much for a tweed. Personally, I would rather compare Silverface equipment to what is available today.
Take the Silverface Champ. Yes, silverface amps are hand wired. I have an Epiphone Galaxie 10 that I was given for Christmas. It is a pretty cool little amp, and I really liked it. I don't think it has been plugged in since I'm not knocking the Galaxie I still think it is a great little amp, especially for the price I think that Gibson made a mistake discontinuing it Actually, it is pretty incredible, if you really think about it, that Fender was still hand wiring all of their tube amps in And, silverface amps are built like tanks.
Pretty much for the first 5 years, CBS didn't make that many changes to the amp circuits in production when they took over, and kept the current cosmetic scheme, a black faceplate with white lettering, black tolex which Fender had changed to in and a bone colored grillcloth with black and silver threads in it.
But, there were a few changes here and there, some models were discontinued during that time In late , Fender changed the cosmetics of the faceplate to a brushed aluminum look with blue and black lettering, and the grillcloth was given a blue "sparkle". There were a very few cosmetic changes made between and For the next few years, many models received mods to the current circuits, and in some cases totally new circuits. A little more on that later. Unlike many others I don't profess to know what CBS was doing, why they went the direction they did with the circuits.
Most changes generally made a louder, cleaner sounding amp, with more headroom. Of course, during this time, rock musicians were seeking more and more distortion. Don Randall obviously didn't agree with what was going on, as he resigned his general manager position in mid Around , there was a music store that I would stand in front of often, slobbering at this silverface Dual Showman Reverb with two cabs that they had in the window.
It just looked so massive. A few years later, when I actually started playing the guitar, that amp was forgotten By that time, no one was using Fender amps, except for Ted Nugent, and he was in a class by himself anyway. From probably to the early '80's, I really don't even remember seeing a Fender amp in a music store, much less on stage.
Between and , reverb and vibrato was added to several models, and master volume was added to a few. By mid, most Fender amps 50 watts and over had a master volume. I guess it was a too little too late attempt to draw some rock musicians over. That December, the movie "Saturday Night Fever" was released, the "disco" era began, and most musical instrument manufacturers suffered to some extent.
Many closed their doors in the late 's. Though, I will say, during that time, I saw a fair number of DJ's using Fender column PA systems, so they were selling at least some amps. In , Fender went back to blackface cosmetics. The silverface models that continued through this period are still considered silverface amps, the new models introduced through this period are generally called "Rivera" Fender amps, and begin a new era of Fender amps.
By the end of , all silverface amps were discontinued. Later Silverface Logo Blackface vs. Silverface So what's different between the amps of the blackface era, and the silverface era. As I have already mentioned, probably the most important change was going from a bias adjustment pot on the blackface amps, to a pot that allowed one to balance the bias between the two tubes This was done to help eliminate hum, mostly from poor circuit design and sloppy manufacturing processes.
Probably the biggest reason was to allow for using pairs of unmatched tubes. By the late s, the quality of tubes from American manufacturers had dropped greatly, mostly due to poor quality control. The balance pot compensated for that, thus eliminating the need for going thru countless tubes to get matched ones.
The problem with the balance pot is that attempting to reset the bias after replacing tubes became a major undertaking. Another change for the silverface amps was that voltages increased pretty much throughout the circuits. Not a terrible thing in itself, but keeping in mind that Fender was obviously looking to keep the amps clean, other changes had to be made in the circuits to compensate And the above caused other problems To compensate for that, many circuits had "snubber capacitors", small value capacitors run across the power tubes to filter out some high frequencies.
Many people feel that these kill the "sparkle" that was common to the blackface amps. And, there were other changes. Fender got away from using Mallory capacitors to using "chocolate drop" capacitors, which many feel just don't sound as good. By the late '70's, they had changed to using ultralinear output transformers, which increased output wattage, but also increased voltages in other places in the amp.
They started putting master volume pots on some models in , any by the end of the decade, pretty much all larger models had a master volume, some with push-pull pots, "pull for gain". Also, Fender changed brands of speakers that they used over the years, even Leo did. It is extremely common to find silverface equipment with speakers that were replaced with non-standard ones 25 years ago. I can't sit here and truthfully say that silverface amps sound as good as blackface, though the 6 and 12 watters pretty much do.
The bigger amps don't sound bad, many of them just don't sound great, especially when compared to their blackface ancestors, which I've already said cost twice as much.
I have heard for many years, "don't get the ones with master volume", "don't get the ones with ultralinear", "don't get this", "don't get that" Most of these people with the warnings, when asked, actually had never personally owned a silverface Fender.
I have personally been told by more than one person, that after swapping the speakers, their large silverface sounded great, and they couldn't believe that they bought all of the bad info they had been given over the years. The small amps have that tube tone, regardless of what you've heard. They all if working correctly pretty much are clean up to "5" or "6" The larger amps have a lot of clean headroom If there is nothing in your sound chain between guitar and amp but a cord, and you like pure tube tone There were a few small changes made in them, but both retain basically the blackface circuit throughout the silverface era.
The MusicMaster Bass amp 12 watts was introduced in as a 12 watt bass practice amp. IMO, it is totally worthless as a bass amp, but is a little guitar tone monster. All three have a similar tone, IMO, with the Champ sporting the most distortion. The VibroChamp is the most desired of the bunch, and usually fetches the most cash, but to be totally honest, I have never played through one, and I really don't remember hearing anyone else doing so