Asher Guitars WD Music Products Amplified Parts Mod Kits DIY Nordstarnd Pickups
Asher Guitars WD Music Products Amplified Parts Mod Kits DIY Nordstarnd Pickups
Asher Guitars WD Music Products Amplified Parts Mod Kits DIY Nordstarnd Pickups

Particle board: really that bad?

Discussion in 'Amp Central Station' started by eddiewagner, Jan 25, 2012.

  1. Lostinthe50s

    Lostinthe50s Tele-Afflicted

    May 7, 2010
    Kenora, ON
    Fender made a special edition Bjr with a hideous plastic cabinet.

  2. t-luxe

    t-luxe Tele-Afflicted

    Nov 23, 2009
    so. cal
    I saw a picture of an old Vox(AC30?)recently that was made of clear
    "Perspex", cab and all. Looked pretty neat. I think it was for sale on EBay or something and used to belong to George Harrison?

  3. middy

    middy Friend of Leo's

    Apr 28, 2010
    Dallas, TX
    The ZT Lunchboxes are mdf.

  4. StephaninMelb

    StephaninMelb Banned

    Jan 11, 2012
    Dr Z & Fender Vintage Series Cabinet Material

    Just for the record it is very difficult to find reference to the material used to build ANY amplifier cabinet. People discuss in detail every tiny detail but generally skip talking about cabinet enclosure material. Strange but indicates that it is generally a non-topic for most people when discussing guitar amplifiers.

    It looks like the ZT lunchbox cabinet material question has already been answered. Similar amps are the Dr. Z. I have seen the Dr. Z amps discussed in great detail down to the type of plating used for the chassis, tolex used and so on, but rarely is the cabinet material mentioned.

    I did find out that Dr Z speaker cabs are all built with Baltic Birch Plywood (BBP) as is the DR Z Monza 1 x10 combo. Based on this it would be reasonable to expect that all Dr Z enclosure are built with BBP. The use of BBP for Dr Z speaker cabs is fairly well known as there is a great deal of discussion over the merits of solid pine vs BBP for guitar speaker cabs on the net.

    You can thank Paul Rivera for the use of Birch ply for the Blackface Fender Deluxe II (with dovetail joinery). Apparently he was concerned with the inroads Mesa was making into the market and to counter it specified the use of quality materials. I would expect the other Fender II amps of the Paul Rivera era to also use BBP for the cabinets. We probably just boosted the price of all these 25%!

    I did note that the current Fender Vintage Series 65 Twin Reverb and 65 Deluxe Reverb Reissue Specifications lists Baltic Birch Plywood as the cabinet material. The cabinet material isn't specified for the 59 Bassman and 65 Princeton Reverb reissue, but it seems likely they also have Birch Plywood cabinets.

  5. keithb7

    keithb7 Friend of Leo's

    Jan 9, 2010
    Western Canada
    It's been said here already that MDF is a way to cut corners on production costs. It's hidden under the vinyl covering so the average joe who doesn't know any better thinks its just as good as those older BF fenders that are so expensive. Manufacturers are forced to cut corners creatively to keep prices down. This is because consumers are fixated on a lower purchase price instead of quality. This is driving quality down. Folks I am against this marketing strategy. Pay for quality and you'll get it. Chase a lower priced amp and you get a cheap amp that will be back in a landfill in due time. Much sooner than the good old amps from the 50's to late 70's that are still going with no end in sight.
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2012

  6. spayne99

    spayne99 Tele-Holic

    Mar 17, 2010
    I did note that the current Fender Vintage Series 65 Twin Reverb and 65 Deluxe Reverb Reissue Specifications lists Baltic Birch Plywood as the cabinet material. The cabinet material isn't specified for the 59 Bassman and 65 Princeton Reverb reissue, but it seems likely they also have Birch Plywood cabinets.[/QUOTE]

    The PRRI I just got has a sticker in the cab that says HWPW (hardwood plywood) and PB (particle board). Most people say the cab is plywood and the baffle is particle board.

  7. Televised

    Televised Friend of Leo's

    Apr 26, 2009
    Portland, OR
    Another Silvertone owner, ('65 1483), and I also planned to replace the baffel etc. because of the particle board. Only thing I've replaced is the cord which is now a 3 prong and also hooked it up to a 2x12 cab. It's still going strong and sounds good to my ears so I just can't get myself to a place where I feel the need to upgrade or Mod it, even though I've modded my MIM Tele and Vox Pathfinder 15R. Just sounds good as-is.

  8. Brian blaut

    Brian blaut Friend of Leo's

    Feb 13, 2005
    SF North Bay
    I've seen 40's amps covered in mother of toilet seat, but I'm sure there's wood under there.

    I'm not surprised about the Excelsior. For $299, a 15" all tube amp....with tremolo....I doubt that MDF was the only cost cutting technique they found.

  9. tombm3

    tombm3 Tele-Holic

    Apr 24, 2003
    WNY, USA

  10. StephaninMelb

    StephaninMelb Banned

    Jan 11, 2012
    Short History of Guitar Amplifier Enclosure Materials

    It seems that in the world of electronic going back to the 1920s there has been a concern to control costs. It also appears that the material used to build amp enclosures is influenced by what was popular to build consumer electronics of the same period.

    The only exception is modern guitar amplifiers do not follow the typical plastic or metal used to build 2012 TV and radio enclosures. For the most part guitar amp enclosure for the most part are still back in the 1950s as far as materials. The only other change is the use of particle board or MDF in place of plywood.

    Pegboard material
    A very paper like pegboard material was frequently used to make back panels in 50s - 60s era TVs, radios and amplifiers. These panels had the speaker connectors pressed into the panel and frequently the connector would break out of the board or alternatively there would be a cutout to access the jacks on the electronics chassis.

    The panels would often warp & crack between the vent holes. We can see this type of material used in some small amps of the 60s, such as Dano and Silvertone.

    Starting in 1930s Bakelite was used to fabricate radio enclosures

    For several decades radio enclosures where built out of cheaper grade solid wood with a quality veneer finish. There wouldn't have been much savings due to the high level of handwork required. This method of construction allowed for some very ornate shapes.

    Many of the early 1930s guitar amps, such as National, had veneer enclosures, which were influenced by radios of the same period.

    Tin / Metal
    Radios from the 1920s frequently had a steel or tin enclosure embossed with a fake wood print. The first guitar amplifier came out around 1929 and missed being influenced by this construction method.

    Plywood was the material used to build the first guitar amplifier, which was made by National.

    The first Rickenbacker "frying pan" guitar amplifiers from the 1930s used an enclosure built of plywood covered with a tolex like material called Keratol. It had steel corners similar to what you'd see on a modern speaker cabinet. There were three models available in 1932 at $62.50, $65 and $70. Not sure what that works out to in 2012 dollars, but imagine it would be significant. The cases and components were probably influenced by steamer trunks made during the same period. The Rickenbacker M-11 of 1933 was plywood covered with linen material.

    Guitar amplifiers started in the 1930s driven by the lapsteel and jazz guitar fads.

    1930 Lapsteel amplifier example (The Oahu)

    Pressed Steel
    The M-10 enclosure was built of pressed steel and had a front face that had vents like an old school locker. The 1937 "Black Metal Box" amp was housed in a metal suitcase enclosure with krinkle paint finish (common with amplifiers of that period). The Model 59 which ran from 34 to 46 also had a similar enclosure. Both these models came with a handle and obviously were designed to be transportable for the gigging musician.

    The 1948 Hawaiian had a pressed metal enclosure with a silver - gray paint finish probably using WWII surplus paint. The rear controls certainly look influenced by military electronics of that period.

    Plywood - Tolex
    The first Fender amplifiers used a plywood Tolex covered enclosure. The end caps would have used steamer trunk hardware available during that period and a similar method of construction.

    Attached Files:

  11. eddiewagner

    eddiewagner Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 6, 2005

  12. Gnobuddy

    Gnobuddy Friend of Leo's

    Sep 15, 2010
    British Columbia
    I agree with you on both counts. Unfortunately, the one thing that nobody on this thread has mentioned is that wood is an increasingly scarce, and increasingly expensive material. :(

    We (humankind) have been cutting down trees at a huge rate - much faster than they can grow back - for at least two hundred years, since the Industrial Revolution got well under way. The consequences have been catching up with us for some time now.

    Not long ago I read a book talking about the days of the big orange groves in California. Less than a century ago, they used to make shipping crates out of solid mahogany for those oranges. Mahogany was cheap and readily available, so why not? Build a crate, ship the oranges, tear the crate apart, burn the wood or throw it away.

    My neighbour, who is in his late 90's, has been living in the same house since WWII. He re-did his living room sometime in the 1950's, after he was back from the war and his business (sheetmetal for the construction industry) was running successfully. His living room has a gabled ceiling covered in solid wood - there isn't a plank narrower than 18 inches or shorter than 4 feet. All the wood has a wonderful curly grain, chosen for its beauty. I can't recall now exactly what the wood is - I think he may have told me it was curly oak.

    Try finding that much wood of that quality in such large sizes today - you'd have to be a multi millionaire to afford it, and you'd probably have to scour the world to find it even if you could afford it.

    So we better all get used to particle board, MDF, block-board, plywood, and all the other ways of taking junky bits of scrap wood and gluing them together to make something approximating solid wood. The wood scarcity that troubles every musical instrument maker today is only going to get worse for the forseeable future.

    That's why Martin is selling acoustic guitars with necks make of glued-up scrapwood ("HPL" is marketing-speak for "poorly finished and nasty coloured plywood"). That's why Fender's and Gibson's cheaper guitars are built of what is essentially blockboard, multiple narrow strips of wood glued end to end and side to side under the paint to make up one guitar body. That's why I counted 23 separate pieces of wood in one little wooden TV Tray from Target, and nearly as many separate pieces of wood in one Epiphone Les Paul body.

    That particular Les Paul had a clear finish, and while the top was a single sheet of wood veneer, you could see the dozens of tiny individual wood blocks making up the body if you looked at the sides or back of the guitar.

    Even worse, I saw what I think was a prototype Epiphone (?) SG guitar with a body that appeared to be made of some sort of plastic and sawdust composite, kinda like MDF but with more plastic and less wood in it. Under the semi-translucent yellow paint, it had a similar appearance to those faux-marble plastic sinks you find in the cheapest of cheap motels. It was being passed around between some Guitar Center employees, and one of them let me try it when I asked. It was extremely heavy, as thick plastic composites tend to be, and had an unpleasant feel to it - cold, hard, and plasticky to the touch. Acoustically, it was totally dead, as you'd expect from a pile of solid plastic composite.

    I don't know if that monstrosity will actually make into production just yet, but it's an eye-opening reminder of how bad the wood shortage is becoming.

    Let's not forget the Rainsong graphite (carbon composite) acoustic guitars; those are in a different quality league from the plastic junk I saw, but are yet another indication that manufacturers big and small are struggling to find alternatives to increasingly rare and expensive real wood.


  13. keithb7

    keithb7 Friend of Leo's

    Jan 9, 2010
    Western Canada
    Wood where I come from is far from scarce. We have an awful lot of it and we have an extensive govt organization who has been protecting it for the last 175 years or so. Wood drives our economy here in BC and my job is directly tied into it. Loggers sell huge logs of specialty wood to instrument makers. They pay big bucks for these logs. A ton of our BC wood is shipped overseas to Asia & into the USA. Our forests are well managed and wood is renewable resource. Instruments hardly need to be built from scrap wood. I stand behind my earlier statement that folks don't want to pay for quality. The wood is here and readily available. Fender will sell thousands of those new Excelsior $299 amps just released at Namm. Although I have not yet inspected one, I am very confident the cabinets are made from particle board. They could easily be built from solid pine boards. God knows we have watched millions and millions of board feet of pine, rotting in our BC forests from the natural Pine Beetle epidemic that went through here 10 years ago. Although much has been harvested, much much more is rotting and falling over.

    Yes, there is a very good chance that wood harvesting in the USA has become scarce however Canada is a very large country with a very small population that mainly lives along the 49th parallel. There are millions of trees to supply guitar and amp makers. It is my opinion that they choose other sources, such at MDF and particle board because it is cheaper. That $299 Fender Excelsior tube amp, is priced low because Fender knows, in order to sell so many, they need to price it low. You can't do that with good quality parts. This the same reason Martin is selling guitars with necks made of glued together scrap...Because they want to stay under a certain price point, in order to sell more. This is driven by consumers who are so reluctant to pay for quality in my opinion. I am sure the top end Martins are made from single pieces of wood. They sell less though, because they cost so much. Where I come from, I don't see a shortage of wood. I see a market turning elsewhere for lower priced alternates. IMHO.

  14. celeste

    celeste Friend of Leo's

    Jun 24, 2006
    MDF is cheaper per square foot then ply or raw lumber, and there is less waste because it is uniform

  15. Mat

    Mat Tele-Meister

    Oct 14, 2003
    Has anyone heard and played an Excelsior?

    Maybe I'm being an optimist but you would hope that the amp was voiced to take into account an MDF cabinet. Different situation with the 70's silverface where the same citrcuit was used in both cabinet cnstruction.

    A "vintage" example of a cheap canbinet is the Silvertone 1482 with a pressed fibre cabinet. I've jumped mine out into a 55 Fender Tremolux and the sound opens right out, not thta it was shabby beforehand but there is a difference (i'm sure the jensen also helped there).

    At the end of the day here in Australia we're talking a RRP of approx $550 - these aren't boutique amps and are priced accordingly. Could be a market for Mojo or another cabinet maker to make a replacement cabinet out of solid timber!

    Bottom line I wouldn't discount the amp based on the cabinet - I'm always guilty of using my eyes rather than my ears when "looking" at new gear. Plug in see what you think and if it seems good and the price is right go for it.

  16. printer2

    printer2 Poster Extraordinaire

    May 24, 2010
    Maybe not guitar amp but PA equipment. Can anybody say fiberglass? As time goes on if I can still play I will make a custom cabinet out of composites. The less weight the better.

  17. StephaninMelb

    StephaninMelb Banned

    Jan 11, 2012
    It is normal for an instrument to have some degree of lamination to add strength and visual interest. Acoustic guitars can be composed of many pieces. A quality electric bass will often be composed of five to seven pieces of wood and most of the lamination is for strength. Sometimes a layer of laminated wood is added to increase aesthetic appeal. An example is top plates of rare visually beautiful pieces of wood laminated over lessor grade wood. This is a common method of constructing electric guitar/bass bodies. There is also the use of core woods that have different tone characteristics than the surface woods. This is probably better understood in the boutique bass market, because instruments carry a high price and buyers well informed.

    Danelectro started production of electric guitars around 1954. Sears also contracted Danelectro to make guitars and amplifiers under the Sears "Silvertone" brand. Guitars were made out of Masonite and plywood to save costs and maximize production speed. And that's how they continue to build their guitars. An example of a Danelectro MDF guitar would be the Longhorn bass. It is not uncommon these days for people to pay $1500.00-$4000.00 for a Danelectro. While I have reservation about instruments with particleboard or MDF bodies this construction method actually seems to hold up well over time. In the case of Danelectro, they met their design objective of building a low-cost instrument. I am sure they never intended for their instruments to last 50 plus years. But they have and some people value them. While their construction method runs counter to my aesthetic sense it isn't necessarily bad. Modern Danos built with MDF pass music journalist reviews and the use of MDF doesn't hinder Danelectro being able to sell their guitars. While I prefer the use of laminated solid wood, cheaper methods of construction are bound to stay the norm.

  18. fezz parka

    fezz parka ---------------------------

    Dano's are either solid from the early 50's or poplar/masonite. My 60 U1 was poplar/masonite, so is my MIK Longjorn.

    MDF is great for a neutral sounding cab. Guitar amps sound best when they resonate.

  19. alnicopu

    alnicopu Friend of Leo's

    Oct 3, 2009
    I have owned princetons made of pine and champs made of pine and both with "the other stuff". I can not tell a hoots bit of difference in their sound, just their weight. By the time you wrap it in a covering material, tolex, any resonance seems to become a non issue. IMHO. I personally think this is the stuff of escoteric voodoo.

  20. fezz parka

    fezz parka ---------------------------

    No it ain't. I too have owned both and there is a big audible difference at high volume, especially the baffle.

    JBL and other loudspeaker companies used MDF, cuz they designed the cab to be neutral. MDF is the most neutral, dead-sounding material that's light enough to move around.

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