Thursday, June 18, 2015

'59 Bassman Reissue

One of the most sought after amplifiers in the world is the Fender tweed Bassman produced from about 1958-1960. There is a good reason for that. It really is a Swiss Army Knife that can handle just about any gig with the exception of metal, but even Eddie Van Halen enjoyed one of these. Trouble is to find an original you need a bankroll like fast Eddie, they can command prices upwards of $10K in great condition. I remember the first one I ever tried, that was at Mr C's Music in Marlboro, Massachusetts. My dear friend Shawn Clement's pop owned it (remember mom and pop music stores?). It was an ugly example and this would be in 1986. The tweed was removed and the pine box had a walnut stain to it. This was the days before people started re-tweeding, relic weirdness etc. You simply played the things and made them better looking in your eyes. I thought is was really cool looking actually and when I played it, though it had no 'overdrive' channel or reverb, the sound I could produce with my 18 year old fingers got me curious about old amps. It was around the next year (1987) that I went to the NAMM show with the Clement family and Fender introduced the '59 Bassman Re-issue. I'm a lifelong Fender fanatic so this totally caught my eye.

Todays example is one from right around that era. It has the blue Eminence speakers rather than the trashy sounding Jensen Re-issues. True story, I had a totally stock Re-issue Bassman from this era and a Victoria version (all hand wired, very nice amp!) that had my least favorite caps and speakers, the Jensens and those 715P orange drops. I had a bunch of my customers play them and they all preferred the re-issue. When I told them it was just an $800 stock re-issue amp, none of my customers believed me. So yeah, these are really good amps.

This particular one was making no sound at all. Dead. That part of the problem was easy to solve: one of the speakers, which are wired in parallel had shorted out. Zero ohms. Unusual. In 25 years I have maybe seen this once, and that could be my memory inventing stories. So I replaced it with an Eminence alnico. Same great speaker as far as I can tell, and I'm a fan of Eminence speakers in general.

Control panel. Yes, those of you who know amps already know this. This is the amp Jim Marshall copied when he made the even prettier Marshall amplifier. Circuit is nearly identical, layout is nearly the same and they are both lovely amps. Those of you who may find that morally objectionable, nothing is original. Fender merely copied old Western Electric and RCA circuits and elaborated on them. That is the fun of tube amps. Copy then experiment!

This amp was also modded, or, hand-wired. Not the tidiest job but still well done:

I've done these before. I prefer to go the old fiberboard route. More room for cooler capacitors. Curiously these are the same caps that Fender uses in there modern amps. Why go to all the trouble if you're not going to do something different. Still, this is an improvement and the person who owns it is selling it. The next buyer is getting something that would sell for a lot more if it were 'boutique'.

This part I didn't like:

Very well done but no cover for the filter caps. Not that anyone will be reaching up there during a gig while it's on but, man, this is dangerous. Also the 2 main filters are 220@350v in series giving you 110uf. With a tube rectifier you really don't want to go above 50. It can cause a drain on that tube and on the 5V filament winding. Or at least this is what the old RCA manuals say and I trust them.

Using such a large filter in your first stage gives you the benefit of improved low end and overall more headroom, plus it's quiet. However, most folks like a little sag and compression. I changed them to 100uf each giving me 50 total. Hum? Nope. Very quiet.

Also had one noisy preamp tube and after a cleaning and tightening every bolt (many were really loose! Output transformer was barely hanging on!) then it was a wrap! Great sounding amp. If I ever decided to go big againit would either be one of these or a Vox AC30 or a Marshall Bluesbreaker. Either re-issue amps so I can actually play them live without worry or I'll build one myself. I had the honor of re-building Jimmy Vivino's Bassman Re-issue years ago and I heard it became a favorite of his. Allegedly Slash rocked it and fell in love too. That amp I simply took out some funky mods and re-tubed it. These are great amps. If you can find an early one like this even better. If you can pay me or someone else you trust to hand wire it then you have something that is really just as good as a $10,000 original! Why pay more?


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