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The history and merits of "blackfacing"

Discussion in 'Glowing Bottle Tube Amp Forum' started by theprofessor, Jun 5, 2017.

  1. theprofessor

    theprofessor Friend of Leo's

    Aug 8, 2016
    Chattanooga, TN
    Two things on "blackfacing."

    1) Do those of you who have "been around the block" remember when people started to talk about and practice "blackfacing" silverface Fender amps? It seems like this must have been fairly recently. I don't think people were doing this in the 90s, but perhaps I'm wrong.

    2) On the relative merits of "blackfacing": Of course this all depends on the amp. The larger Fender amps went through much more change in the CBS period than the middle-sized and smaller amps (e.g., Deluxe Reverb, Princeton Reverb). For this reason, I've heard folks on this forum say that "blackfacing" a SF Deluxe Reverb (for example) is pretty much a waste of time. I asked my tech his opinion of this vis-a-vis my 1976 Deluxe Reverb, and he said the same thing. He was also skeptical about the idea of the suppression caps on the grids of the power tubes making a lot of difference in tone (i.e., bleeding off higher order harmonics). Here note Gerald Weber's claim in A Desktop Reference of Hip Vintage Guitar Amps, p. 66: "These 1200 pf capacitors kill tone! They go directly from the power tube grids (pin 5) to ground. Higher order harmonics are bled off by these caps."

    If it is really the case that "blackfacing" a SF Deluxe Reverb is mostly just about being able to say that your Deluxe Reverb is now in blackface specs (perhaps some of you will disagree with this, though), then why do people continue to claim that "blackfacing" a SF DR makes a remarkable difference in tone? This paragraph is a description of a "blackface" mods kit for a Deluxe Reverb (http://www.vintagefenderamprepair.com/product/deluxe-reverb-blackface-mod-kit/): "You will truly be amazed at how much better your silverface Fender will sound after completing the blackface mod. It will have more depth, touch sensitivity, & a full, rich sound loaded with beautiful harmonic overtones." Do vendors really believe this stuff, or is this just writing to sell stuff that customers don't really need? Who's ready to call B.S.? Who's not?
     
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2017

  2. Interested in seeing the feedback on this... myself I've heard some great SF amps (some not so great as well).
     
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  3. toomuchfun

    toomuchfun Tele-Holic

    562
    Feb 9, 2014
    NE US
    I'll take a shot before Wally comes by and straightens both of us out.

    I blackfaced a '76 sf Vibrolux Reverb and am very happy with it. I followed the Kendrick info in his book. Blackfacing is taking the newrer circuit back to the way the blackface amps were wired. There is an actual circuit change as well as removing suppression caps. I could be wrong, but Kendrick said to use matched resisters at the phase inverter, which I don't think was done at the factory. This made a noticeable difference in my case.

    And again I may be wrong but I don't think the sf Deluxe Reverb circuit changed like other models in this area.

    Not sure if Torres talked blackfacing, he's been around for years.
     

  4. waparker4

    waparker4 Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

    Nov 9, 2011
    Philadelphia, PA
    Myself, I want to try de-blackfacing my DRRI in one spot - the phase inverter cap.
     

  5. Silverface

    Silverface Poster Extraordinaire Platinum Supporter

    Age:
    65
    Mar 2, 2003
    Lawndale CA
    There is no "blackfacing" procedure for a Deluxe Reverb or Princeton Reverb. Except for the pull-boost on the Deluxe, minor parts value variations and a difference in parts brands they're virtually identical from a sonic standpoint. The cabinets and baffle are different but that's not part of "blackfacing", which normally consists of changes to the phase inverter including wiring an amp for adjustable bias. Parts brand changes are possible "upgrades" or "improvements" - but not "blackfacing". It's the same with PR's

    Any tech that charges someone for "blackfacing" a DR must be providing a new cabinet for a really good price. :rolleyes:

    About 18 years ago I was part of a group that gathered up over a dozen DR's from various years, made sure all were freshly serviced, and did blind listening tests at a wide range of volume levels. We switched tubes around and ran different amps through other amps' speakers at times. On the pull boost amps we did not use the boost, which is sonically benign if left alone.

    The result was not a single player out of around 10 or 12 participating could identify a blackface DR (there were 3 as I remember). As I recall the one that ended up with the most votes as best sounding was a stock 1974.

    The point was that just about any DR can be tweaked to sound great. Late SF's with pull boosts are the best deal in a hand-wired DR from a playing standpoint IMO.
     
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2017

  6. TelZilla

    TelZilla Friend of Leo's

    Jan 21, 2007
    Cleveburg, USA

  7. Silverface

    Silverface Poster Extraordinaire Platinum Supporter

    Age:
    65
    Mar 2, 2003
    Lawndale CA
    You want to change a .1uf to..............*another* .1uf? Err - which one of the two?

    o_O
     

  8. waparker4

    waparker4 Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

    Nov 9, 2011
    Philadelphia, PA

  9. Silverface

    Silverface Poster Extraordinaire Platinum Supporter

    Age:
    65
    Mar 2, 2003
    Lawndale CA
    OK, so you meant the coupling cap to the PI.

    That's not "blackfacing". Well, it is, sort of. It's also "earlier "silverfacing". I explain blackfacing above.

    But if changing that back to a .01 has a noticeable effect I'd be shocked. As Rob notes, changes like the filter cap wiring aren't desirable.

    But desirable and audible are different. The changes Fender made are so subtle from a *listening* standpoint that simply changing tubes, adjusting bias and such can compensate.

    Not "blackfacing".
     

  10. Gibsonsmu

    Gibsonsmu Tele-Meister

    332
    May 7, 2015
    Texas
    Not so sure about blackfacing but I bought a Bassman 50 head for nothing that I was planning on tweaking for guitar. There are some very big differences between that amp and even the earlier (post Tweed) Bassmans. It's great to be able to get that much amp point to point to play around with.
     

  11. MilwMark

    MilwMark Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

    Apr 29, 2013
    near Arnold's
    I call B.S. But only because both techs in town did so for me early on. Thankfully.

    There are two sides to the coin.

    I'm largely in the snake oil/expectation bias/confirmation bias camp.

    To find a kind spin - maybe the "blackfacing" is primarily happening in a context where a vintage SF amp is in need of service anyway. So it DOES sound better when its done. But just because of the service, not the "blackfacing" per se. Correlation mistaken for causation.
     
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2017
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  12. theprofessor

    theprofessor Friend of Leo's

    Aug 8, 2016
    Chattanooga, TN
    Here's something from Steve Melkisethian (Angela Instruments) that I found in The Soul of Tone: "These days it's fairly common for folks to claim that they've 'blackfaced' (ugh!) a silverface amp to earlier specs by changing a few part, but I don't agree. As already noted here, the sound of a specific amp is a complex interplay of circuits, parts choices, even the location and spatial relationships of the bits and pieces. My feeling is that the types of signal capacitors used in most silverface amps contributed to a kind of 'pinched' sound without as much harmonic content as the earlier Fenders. Generally, the blackface Fenders had axial leaded tubular signal capacitors soldered fairly tight to the board, and the silverface amps had 'Orange Drop' type caps that stood off the circuit board quite a bit higher. In my experience, Orange Drop caps don't sound as musical; this may be due to their basic construction features but also to their spatial relationship to other circuit elements. I've also noted that silverface amps often had beefier looking power transformers, often with higher plate voltages. This gave more power and transformer reliability but also a 'stiffer' sound. Furthermore, some of Fender's speaker choices in the silverface era seemed to be more concerned with reliability than with good sound. Finally, I should mention the change from warmer sounding plywood/pin baffle boards to crappy particle board" (p. 317).

    For the purposes of discussion, let's say that these comments encapsulate everything important about the differences between a BF and an SF Deluxe Reverb. One could perhaps find the older signal caps (Is he talking about the Mallory blue molded caps with white paper labels?; and by the 'Orange Drop' types, I assume he means the orange-brown discs in the SF models?) and replace the SF caps with those, soldering them closer to the board. One could get a better speaker. One could put an SF chassis in a finger-jointed pine cabinet with a non-MDF baffle. But the one thing that will never, ever change is the power transformer and the higher voltages. I don't know all that much, but a difference in, say, 25-30 volts is sonically huge in my experience. So even if it were simply a matter of swapping parts, it seems that the power transformer of the SF versions would always resist the attempt to convert it fully to "blackface" specs.
     

  13. chris m.

    chris m. Friend of Leo's

    I have a '72 SR with original CTS alnicos that I bought already blackfaced and worked-over thoroughly by a very good amp tech. I have no idea what he did, but all I know is it is one of the very best sounding amps I have ever played. Of course, that's to my taste, and everyone has their own tastes, and I don't know what it sounded like out of the factory before the mods were done.
     

  14. theprofessor

    theprofessor Friend of Leo's

    Aug 8, 2016
    Chattanooga, TN
    Nice! I like the way you talk, MilwMark! You sound like a college professor (I happen to know some).
     

  15. MilwMark

    MilwMark Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

    Apr 29, 2013
    near Arnold's
    Ironically I was just texting one who sent me a Spongebob video of Sabbath's War Pigs. Mind blown.
     
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  16. theprofessor

    theprofessor Friend of Leo's

    Aug 8, 2016
    Chattanooga, TN
    Ok, now I have to look that up. I feel uneducated. Unfortunately, I'm familiar with Sponge Bob, but not with that video. Perhaps I will finally be "relevant" to my freshmen next Fall semester.
     

  17. MilwMark

    MilwMark Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

    Apr 29, 2013
    near Arnold's
    Nothing says "relevant to college freshmen" than Black Sabbath . . .

    Thread derailed.

    But whoever is behind the mashup did outstanding work.

    Back to it - who say BF amps "sound better" anyway. When I was contemplating BFing my Vibrolux Reverb, my tech talked me through what it was and wasn't (a little more in play on those, but not much if I recall, but this was maybe 5 years ago). But also reminded me that even if there was a "real" difference, who's to say I would like it better. Good point. Good tech.
     
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  18. Middleman

    Middleman Friend of Leo's

    Aug 29, 2007
    MV, CA
    First, I would beg to differ with Steve on the orange caps being in silverface amps. Maybe an early derivation but not the Orange Caps which showed up in the early 80s which were bright orange. The bright orange caps were around in 82 but I don't think prior. Someone correct me if I'm wrong. This was after Fender closed out the silverface lines in 82. But I totally agree on his assessment of orange caps. I let a tech do a cap job on my 81 Vibrolux and it definitely had a pinched, hard sound edge sound which years later I reversed to much satisfaction. I know they are supposed to be high quality electronics but I just don't like the sound of them.

    Regarding the power transformers being beefier, first I've read of that. He makes a lot of assertions which are really opinion based vs data based but I really like Silverfaces's test above which is in line with my own results from a smaller sample set. At this point in the game the difference in filter caps aging and component variation make it truly impossible to do a comparison until all models are brought up to spec. Maybe he meant PT changes in the larger amps which did not apply to smaller amps. He didn't really indicate which Fender amps he was talking about but lumped all silverfaces together which starts to reek of vintage positioning that all blackface amps are better, which they are not.

    Blackfacing in the smaller Fenders is snakeoil but you can definitely make the changes and I guarantee your amp will sound different. Not necessarily better. Now a twin, Super or larger amps, I think that is a worthwhile modification.
     
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  19. theprofessor

    theprofessor Friend of Leo's

    Aug 8, 2016
    Chattanooga, TN
    Yeah, they all know Tony Iommi. (um, no.)

    Right. So that "Blackface Mod" kit I mentioned above consists of a couple of Sprague Atom electrolytic capacitors, several carbon comp resistors, and several 1W metal oxide resistors, and maybe something else. The resistors are supposedly matched sets. So what is this company trying to do/market with those parts?
     

  20. AngelDeville

    AngelDeville Tele-Afflicted

    Age:
    106
    Dec 27, 2007
    Albuquerque

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