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The Cost of Fender Tube Amplifiers: 1959 to 2017

Discussion in 'Glowing Bottle Tube Amp Forum' started by theprofessor, May 29, 2017.

  1. theprofessor

    theprofessor Friend of Leo's

    Aug 8, 2016
    Chattanooga, TN
    I've been doing some reading in a fantastic book by Tom Wheeler, The Soul of Tone: Celebrating 60 Years of Fender Amps (Milwaukee: Hal Leonard, 2007). I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the "why" of Fender amplifiers.

    On p. 27, the author cites Blackie Pagano: "One of the things that makes Leo Fender's designs so enduring was that he really did them himself. He didn't go before a committee that was trying to make them cheaper. They were not cheap to buy. Those amps were priced like boutique amps are now."

    On p. 159, the book includes a photo of a Fender catalogue from 1958-59, noting in the caption that by the summer of '58, Fender offered 11 narrow panel amps. The Champ was $59.50, and the Twin was $399.50. I used the CPI inflation calculator (https://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl) to calculate the buying power of this money in today's market in USD.

    Champ: January 1959: $59.50 --> $501.70 in April 2017
    Twin: January 1959: $399.50 --> $3,368.53 in April 2017

    There is a great disparity here, of course, since these are very different models. So that is interesting, in-and-of-itself. Nowadays, good tweed Champ kits regularly sell for $450-$500 USD, and they still have to be put together! One of the Lil Dawg Champsters sells for $809 without a speaker.

    A 5E8A DoubleDawg from Lil Dawg (which is, admittedly, not the same as the '59 Narrow Panel Tweed Twin) sells for $1219, with no tubes or speaker. So we might add about 300 for both, possibly $350, bringing it up to $1569.

    There are plenty of things that could be said, so I'm throwing this out there for discussion. It seems to me like my brief comparison here makes the original 59 Champ seem like a good deal in 1959, while the Twin seems way too high in comparison to what one could produce that is quite similar today. Thoughts?
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2017
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  2. robrob

    robrob Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    United States
    Wow, that really is a crazy price spread between the Champ and the Twin. I'm thinking Leo was using the Champ as a "gateway drug," I mean "amp," to get players hooked on the Fender tone.
     
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  3. Gibsonsmu

    Gibsonsmu Tele-Meister

    333
    May 7, 2015
    Texas
    Perhaps you were paying more for the r&d on the twin since it had all the cutting edge technology like Ltp phase inverter etc
     

  4. thegeezer

    thegeezer Tele-Holic Gold Supporter

    Age:
    65
    660
    Jul 5, 2010
    West Michigan
    Yeah, that's why a lot of us from the 50s and 60s played in our first bands with Silvertones and Univoxes and the likes. Fender was premium equipment and priced accordingly.

    I bought my first decent gear in '67. A used '62 Tennessean for $220, about $1500 in today's dollars and a few month's old '67 Bassman for $300, $2k or so in today's dollars, from another guitar player desperate to drop $450 on a new Gretsch Tennessean and somewhere around 5 or 6 hundred on a brand new 1967 Twin Reverb. That totals around $6-7 thousand in today's dollars.

    I chuckle when I hear people grumble about what hand wired tube amps cost. It's the same or maybe even a little less than it used to be.
     

  5. KyAnne

    KyAnne Tele-Holic

    961
    Oct 8, 2011
    Swamps of Louisiana
    That appears to be very close considering the value of the dollar today is between 7.5-10 cents as opposed to 100 cents in 1959 according to several reference gauges since we are no longer on the gold standard.
     

  6. theprofessor

    theprofessor Friend of Leo's

    Aug 8, 2016
    Chattanooga, TN
    Interesting! That's probably true.

    Yes, this is one thing I took away from a brief consideration of the prices and adjustments as well.

    Another idea: None of us can tell, really, what similarly built, point-to-point amps with high-quality parts will sound like after a long period of time. In part, because the boutique amp scene is relatively new (I think). But so many of them are also essentially trying to put out their best version of a Fender design.

    Let's say I got an amp from Lil Dawg, with a Mather cabinet and a top-of-the-line Weber alnico. Put in NOS tubes or JJ's in the power section. Use F&T electrolytics, etc. I would love to have one of those. What will that sound like in 40-50 years? I wonder if those things will mellow and age the same (glorious) way that Fenders have. They might. I don't know.
     

  7. Ira7

    Ira7 Poster Extraordinaire

    Age:
    61
    Jan 8, 2008
    Coral Springs, FL
    Okay--maybe I'm remembering wrong, but the old prices don't jive with my experience.

    In 1969, I bought my new Twin for around $350.

    My new Strat was $210!
     
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  8. AlbertaGriff

    AlbertaGriff Tele-Meister

    281
    Mar 2, 2016
    Alberta, Canada
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  9. Ira7

    Ira7 Poster Extraordinaire

    Age:
    61
    Jan 8, 2008
    Coral Springs, FL
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  10. AlbertaGriff

    AlbertaGriff Tele-Meister

    281
    Mar 2, 2016
    Alberta, Canada
    Suggested retail price, yes.
     

  11. thegeezer

    thegeezer Tele-Holic Gold Supporter

    Age:
    65
    660
    Jul 5, 2010
    West Michigan
    Just a reminder...there was no GC or Sweetwater. The Mom and Pop stores sold this stuff. MSRP was just about what you paid. They might, might knock off the sales tax.
     
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  12. theprofessor

    theprofessor Friend of Leo's

    Aug 8, 2016
    Chattanooga, TN
    Following AlbertaGriff's lead, I think I found the same page posted at mylespaul.com. It can be found here: http://www.musicmansteve.com/catalogs/FenderCatalogsEnew.htm
    It's the Jan 1, 1960, Fender Sales, Inc. Price List. I don't know the story on this, but note especially that the $399.50 price for the "Twin Amp" (second line) has been scratched out, and $429.50 was written in by hand. (!)
    60pricelistCover2.jpg
     
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  13. AlbertaGriff

    AlbertaGriff Tele-Meister

    281
    Mar 2, 2016
    Alberta, Canada
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  14. jimash

    jimash Friend of Leo's

    Nov 5, 2013
    NJ
    My 1968 Twin Reverb NIB cost $250, because my teacher told us the place to go. It was like an auto parts counter in lower manhattan.No showroom.
    The Super Reverbs were $280.
     
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  15. King Fan

    King Fan Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

    Jan 1, 2013
    Salt Lake City
    Great research, Professor, as usual.

    Because the Champ was a student amp and very simple for Lupe to wire up, it would be reasonably priced.

    And maybe a gateway drug, too, @robrob :). That is, maybe not designed to bring top dollar if they kinda intended them to sell to beginners and youth who would upgrade later. A Twin was their creme-de-la-creme, and pretty darn hard even for Lupe to handwire, and probably targeted pro musicians who had (gasp) actual incomes.

    Let's agree a Deluxe would be midrange and easy to compare then and now. $136.50 on your calculator is $1139.16 today. Hey, that's about right -- you can get a clone from several honest builders in that range, or even build your own with premium parts and a high-grade custom cabinet and top-end speaker.

    You could pay less, you could pay more (I'm looking at you, Fender) but definitely ballpark.

    Now compare the price of a 1960 Strat or Tele to the price of *the same* vintage guitar today. Sunburst Strat with trem? about $2245 in today's money. The one on eBay right now? $25,000....
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2017
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  16. Ira7

    Ira7 Poster Extraordinaire

    Age:
    61
    Jan 8, 2008
    Coral Springs, FL
    Oh, not at all in NYC.

    MSRP was a total joke in the old days, everywhere, including the mom and pops AND bigger companies like Sam Ash, even though SA didn't have many stores in the 60s and 70s.

    Not just music equipment...but everything on earth...was discounted up to 30% off MSRP. A retail store couldn't stay in business by selling anywhere near MSRP.
     
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  17. Ira7

    Ira7 Poster Extraordinaire

    Age:
    61
    Jan 8, 2008
    Coral Springs, FL
    This is what I'm saying.

    Those above prices are way above my personal experience.
     

  18. Ira7

    Ira7 Poster Extraordinaire

    Age:
    61
    Jan 8, 2008
    Coral Springs, FL
    But then again, I shouldn't base this on the 1959 price I see above, because there might have been dramatic price DECREASES for a decade, based on more modern production techniques and increased sales volume.
     

  19. ndcaster

    ndcaster Friend of Leo's

    Nov 14, 2013
    Indiana
    skeptical

    http://m.wikihow.com/Calculate-CPI
     

  20. thegeezer

    thegeezer Tele-Holic Gold Supporter

    Age:
    65
    660
    Jul 5, 2010
    West Michigan
    Ok...I'm not debating your point and certainly not trying to hijack the intent of TheProfessor's post, but it wasn't that way where I came from. You were going to have to be at or near MSRP.

    And his point, which we are both essentially confirming, is that Fender amps were expensive back in the day.
     

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