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Leo Fender: Amp design and harmonic content

Discussion in 'Glowing Bottle Tube Amp Forum' started by theprofessor, Nov 18, 2020.

  1. theprofessor

    theprofessor Poster Extraordinaire

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    I thought it would be fun to post this for discussion:

    As is well known, not all "Fender" amps -- even from the pre-CBS "golden age," sound alike. Not even close. And I think we all know that Leo Fender, like most others in his age but perhaps to an even greater extent with him, was looking for clean, undistorted sound. As Ian Port states in his magnificent book, The Birth of Loud, "Leo's versions, played through his own amplifiers, emitted his ideal tone: heavy treble, heavy bass, light midrange to keep from getting muddy. It was a sound like 'lemonade,' he'd later explain -- clear, bright, and punchy" (Birth of Sound, p. 19, with the "lemonade" quote coming from Richard Smith, Fender, 65). I've grown to understand that I am partial to that sound myself, though a perusal of various celebrity opinions on the "best Fender amplifier" at the end of Tom Wheeler's The Soul of Tone (ch. 20, pp. 479-87) suggests that popular opinion largely went the opposite direction, with some notable exceptions.

    It seems to me that Fender succeeded in each major phase of his production and design at achieving his goals. For purposes of discussion, I'll divide these into three:

    (1) Tweed
    (2) Blonde and Brown
    (3) Blackface (and Silverface, though this was largely under the direction of the CBS engineers)

    TWEED
    I think that the amp that comes closest to capturing the "lemonade" sound in this area is the 5f4 Tweed Super, which was purported to be Leo's favorite. Are there other contenders here?

    BLONDE/BROWN
    This one is harder, and it's where I'm hoping that discussion can help sort things out. The Blonde and Brown amps seem to have retained a great deal of harmonic content in their design, but perhaps there are some that push closer to the "blackface" thing. I do not have experience with many of these, so perhaps others can chime in here. But I'm pretty sure we're going to need 6L6 tubes, a solid-state, GZ34, or 5U4, and their accompanying higher voltages. I'll take a guess and say it's the 6G14-A Blonde Showman or the 6G13-A Brown Vibrasonic, which was intended for steel guitar. These both commonly sported 15" JBL's, and I have indeed heard Dick Dale in person, producing massive amounts of clear, ear-bleeding, undistorted treble and bass with these.

    BLACKFACE/SILVERFACE
    I think this era is the easiest to pick out, in terms of which amp is the "lemonade": Twin Reverb. I might even go so far as to say that the development of the Ultralinear amps in the CBS era (UL transformers introduced in 1977), while not strictly under Leo's design supervision, may still best represent his ideal. How about an ultralinear Twin Reverb with 2 JBL's.?

    Personally, the Brown amps I've heard often have too much harmonic content for my tastes. I know that this is precisely what others like about those amps. I find myself reaching for guitars that tend to have less harmonic content (like springy, squeaky-clean Strats) when I play those amps, and I find that the cleaner "blackface" tone of the bigger BF amps work really well with pickups with more midrange and harmonic content, like P-90's or humbuckers. I like a nice, clean base, because I can always add harmonic content with a pedal or by turning up the amp's midrange or the like, but one can't really take it away once it's there in the circuitry of the amp. It's taken me a while to come to this realization, and I've had to hear these things for myself to figure it out -- largely by building several amps and playing them over time.

    In each era, it seems to me that the amps that are going to embody Leo's ideal best are those with 6L6's, solid state or GZ34 rectifiers and their accompanying higher voltages, and with extraordinarily efficient "hi-fi" speakers like JBL's.

    So here are the questions for discussion:
    (1) In your opinion, which amps of each era best embody Leo's ideal "lemonade" sound?
    (2) What are your favorite amps of each era, and why?
    (3) And, for a sillier question: How do you relate to "harmonic content"?

    Cheers!
     
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  2. Wulf

    Wulf Tele-Afflicted

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    Had a 74 pro reverb that was a gorgeous sounding amp and i wish i still had it..non master volume one..12" utah speakers sold on a whim and after a week i had a bruise on my bum the size of a saucer from kicking it
    got a 65 DRRI a couple of years ago...not hugely impressed..not an inspiring amp.sold it
    got a 68 custom twin reverb great surf amp for me...but thats it .
    i like a lot of harmonic content and no neg feedback for everything but surf really. (Vox amps!!!)
    but that 74 pro was by far the best of the fenders i owned sonically...big and breathy and versatile...45 watts started to break up about 4-5 on vol...i also liked that you could route the reverb through 1st channel on it..almost like outboard tank.
    guy i sold it too called me and told me everything in it was original too.
    i used to own 3 rickenbackers...fender amps really dont do those any favours...theyre actually quite dull sounding through them...put one into a vox though..
     
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  3. Wulf

    Wulf Tele-Afflicted

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    Just to add...harmonic content...chime and rich crunch on breakup with a 3D kind of quality
    fenders don do that due to having the neg feedback...clean clean clean...breakup sounds flubby and mid scooped no real crunch. and much less "in your face"
    its US sound vs Brit sound
     
  4. Fiesta Red

    Fiesta Red Poster Extraordinaire

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    I’m kinda stupid and inarticulate when it comes to breaking down what I like about an amp...also, there are amps that sound great when other people are using them but sound terrible when I try to play through them (I’m looking at you, Blackface Twin Reverb!)...so here’s the amps of different eras I like the most with my rig/style/technique:

    -Tweed 4x10 Bassman
    -Tweed Tremolux
    -Tweed Champ
    -Tweed Harvard
    -Brownface (1963) Vibroverb
    -Brownface Super (very rare, I know; I saw Kim Wilson using one for harp at Antone’s in the early 90’s!)
    -Brownface Vibrolux
    -Blackface Super Reverb
    -Blackface Princeton
    -Blackface Champ and/or Vibro Champ
    -Silverface Bassman Ten (w/master volume...one of the best amps I ever owned and would still own if I were beefier and brawnier)
    -Silverface Super Reverb (with or without master volume—I like master volume circuits...sue me)
    -Silverface Champ or Vibro Champ
    -Silverface Musicmaster Bass amp (overgrown Champ)
    -Silverface Quad Reverb (Albert Collins!)
    -Silverface Super Six (6x10...:cool::cool::cool:)
    -‘63-reissue Vibroverb (my main amp since 1992)
    -Blues Deluxe and Blues Deville (great amps, hands down)
    -‘68 Custom Vibrolux (sorta reissue Silverface)
    -‘68 Custom Princeton (sorta reissue Silverface)

    ...there’s others I like, and some I’ve missed, but these are the Amps that fit into my weird/rare/oddball taste...
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2020
  5. Mark the Moose

    Mark the Moose Tele-Afflicted

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    Tweed...bassman? Brown, maybe a vibrolux. Blackface., I might have gone super or vibroverb, but there’s an easy case for the twin.
     
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  6. Wulf

    Wulf Tele-Afflicted

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    nothing wrong with any of those mate!
    i ve got one of those epi BC30 amps...
    if you like the ultralinear M/V fenders ..nowt wrong in that at all.
    i like vox because theyr so 3d sounding and theyre sooo sensitive compared to fenders...due to that lack of neg feedback...fenders seem to die when i back the guitar off ...vox can go from a clean but full whisper with guitar down almost to nothing...then one twist of vol knob and your windows end up the next street and its raining roof slates...30 watts..yet twin reverb loud...if you need that power...i like to run mine hot and use the guitar knobs
     
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  7. theprofessor

    theprofessor Poster Extraordinaire

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    Great list! That says a lot! Since your main gigging amp for almost thirty years now has been the '63 reissue Brown Vibroverb, can you tell us more about that one, and why you love it so much? And especially where you think it falls on the "lemonade" spectrum in terms of the Brown amps? It seems to me that it's much closer to the lemonade sound than others of the Brownies, and that none is farther from lemonade than the Brown 6G3 Deluxe...

    A discussion of the '63 Brown Vibroverb would be relevant, too, because it's in discussion in other threads, where some of us are thinking of building one, based at least in part on the new Mojotone kit. See here: https://www.tdpri.com/threads/mojotone-brownface-vibroverb-kit.1047984/
     
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  8. Fiesta Red

    Fiesta Red Poster Extraordinaire

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    As far as “lemonade”, I can’t really point to a specific thing that makes the ‘63-reissue Vibroverb work for me...

    But it works so well (for me) for several reasons:

    -It has a rich, full, punchy tone that can be coaxed into a brighter, jangly 60’s pop tone or a fatter, fuller blues sound or heavier classic rock colors or an excellent Outlaw Country growl...it’s never too shrill or boomy; the focused punch of the two ten-inch speakers allow a full spectrum of sounds yet always has a good, tight low end (and who doesn’t like a tight bottom?).

    -It sounds good straight in from a guitar—no matter what type of guitar—but it works very well with pedals; depending on what you’re feeding into it, it can go from sweet Fender clean to rip-roaring raunch.

    -One of the best tremolo effects ever developed by Fender (note: it’s the same circuit as the tweed vibrato/tremolo/whatever; very different from the Blackface version of the effect).

    -Spectacular splashy reverb, which I barely use (I don’t use much reverb on my playing—but it’s there when I need it).

    -It sounds great for both guitar and
    harp/harmonica, which are my two main instruments (besides vocals). Many amps sound great for one or the other, but it’s tough to find one that sounds equally good for both.

    -It’s loud enough for any venue but sounds good at lower volumes, too—it doesn’t wimp out as you turn it down (I’ve played it everywhere from coffee houses with 20 people up to large outdoor venues with 2000 people).

    -It’s not that big (real estate is expensive on some stages), and it doesn’t weigh a ton, but it’s sturdy as can be.

    -It looks cool :cool: (Yes, that’s important...)

    The only two gripes:
    -It stays very clean until you’re melting the faces of the people on the front row, so I often use an overdrive or (more recently) an attenuator...unless you’re playing a huge outdoor venue, you’re not going to get any breakup/natural overdrive, and even then, it won’t get dirty. Fortunately, though, it’s not shrill/bright clean, it’s rich/full clean.

    -The stock Oxfart...(ahem)...Oxford-style speakers weren’t very good (The general consensus of the 63RIVV Community is that the speakers are the weak link of this whole design)...they just didn’t sound that great—not terrible, but not great. When they finally went kaput (after nine years of continuous and heavy use), I replaced them with some basic Eminences and have been very happy since.

    9236F1A9-BFD7-4256-A4EF-EC2D9D175AA5.jpeg F2FC7762-A792-4379-81A5-F596D2E424EB.jpeg AE6E6481-D6B9-498D-B84E-BAB68FE7441B.jpeg 9A5EF106-E2ED-4FC4-9C1E-0CEA12B82DC2.jpeg
     
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  9. theprofessor

    theprofessor Poster Extraordinaire

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    Thanks! That's a FANTASTIC report!
     
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  10. fasteddie42

    fasteddie42 Tele-Afflicted

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    also, when they released them besides the 59 bassman reissue... the BM had a SS recto plugged into an actual tube socket while the VV got a diode recto... why in the world?
     
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  11. theprofessor

    theprofessor Poster Extraordinaire

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    Yeah, for real. I saw one video on this where the guy says he thought they did that for "reliability." At 1:21-1:23. Hmmm.

     
  12. Bulldoggio

    Bulldoggio Tele-Meister Gold Supporter

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    The first generation "TV Front" tweeds are very different from the later 50's ones, the biggest difference being the octal preamp tubes(6SL7), which switched over to the nonal (7025) in '54 or so. The switch definitely added more lemonade into the mix. The octals tend to be extremely harmonically rich, very delicous in their way, but even they could be pretty bright and happy sounding. Jimmy Bryant's early tone (tele and a Pro amp) is a wonderful example of that sound. For later blackfaces, I'd suggest the bassman.To me, the lemonadeiest black face would have to be the vibrolux reverb.
     
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  13. MilwMark

    MilwMark Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    I have nothing substantive to add but this is a neat idea, @theprofessor

    I think I like to spike Leo's Lemonade because even with a Deluxe Reverb I turn up the volume until the bass and treble recede relative to the mids.

    Then I'm happy.
     
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  14. theprofessor

    theprofessor Poster Extraordinaire

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    I really like this whole "spiked lemonade" idea for describing certain Fender sounds. This phrase should be added to our collective tone vocabulary word bank.
     
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  15. Nickfl

    Nickfl Friend of Leo's

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    Fenders are a mixed bag with negative feedback a lot had it but a lot didn't especially earlier on. And some of the ones that did had very little for example the 6g3 and 5c3.

    As for the British, Vox may not have used NFB, but what about marshall? All their big amps used negative feedback and are strongly associated with the concept of "crunch".
     
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  16. schmee

    schmee Doctor of Teleocity

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    So here are the questions for discussion:
    (1) In your opinion, which amps of each era best embody Leo's ideal "lemonade" sound?
    (2) What are your favorite amps of each era, and why?
    (3) And, for a sillier question: How do you relate to "harmonic content"?


    I'm not sure what Lemonade sound is. but for 2 and 3:
    2) TWEED: Not a big fan of the tweed amps myself. Had a 5E3 back in the day which I sold in '75 for $75. nasty little thing. Played a 54 Pro I kinda liked so I'll pick that.
    -In BROWN the Vibrolux is definitely it. Brown Deluxe probably #2. The Supers I had were great, but if I'm being picky seemed a bit dark or compressive to me.
    -IN BF/SF I'm torn between the BFDR which I've used for over 40 years and of course the BFSR which if you ask me is the best amp of all time. The BFDR is more useful for me. But I've come to the conclusion that any BF without Reverb is the best generally. I no longer have the BFSR or the BFDR and have kept the non reverb Deluxe and now a Non Rev Pro. But I'm going to pick the BFSR anyway as "the best"!

    3) Harmonic content: tough one, now we get into semantics and words which mean different things to different people! Speaking from a normal low volume playing standpoint:
    -Multiple speakers seem to make a difference in A/B ing amps. 4x10 is hard to beat in providing a big voice with texture.
    -The BFSR has big low mids available if you want them which some others dont have.
    -Some Browns may be a bit middy for me and dont seem to provide the rich voice that many BF will give.
    -The Brown Super seems more compressed which generally Fenders amps dont display as much as some amps, yet the Brown Deluxe doesn't, and rather is clean and nasal.
    -I think what I like about the BF non reverb in general is the thicker tone but with plenty of highs available. I'm not into "sparkle" a lot.
    - I was just thinking ....my preference of BF over Brown may be related to NFB differences.
     
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  17. fasteddie42

    fasteddie42 Tele-Afflicted

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    that may even have been true. FWIU the early 90's was an uncertain time tubes, but they had enough forthought to use a tube socket SS recto in the bassman... why not extend the same treatment/logic to the VV... we'll probably never know.
     
  18. King Fan

    King Fan Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

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    LOL, Prof -- I think @Fiesta Red nailed it by listing 20 (count 'em 20) favorite amps.

    I realize you were asking relative to what you note as Leo tone -- 'clear, bright, and punchy.' That's tricky for me -- are we talking lap steel? Les Paul and Mary Ford? Tommy Tedesco? Name someone after Tommy? Umm, Buck Owens? :)

    In any case, I guess that tone trail does end up in front of the TR, but I'm not sure that's the road that created most of the *iconic* Fender tones. Off the top of my head, I think of some of these...

    Iconic small tweed:
    • Champs (and Princetons)
    • 5_3 (in several iterations)
    • Harvard (Steve Cropper is my favorite clear, bright, punchy player)
    • 5F11; or does it belong with brownface?
    Iconic big tweed:
    • 5F6a
    • Tweed Twins, Hi and Lo
    • Super
    • Bandmaster
    • Tremolux 5G9
    Iconic brown and blonde:
    • 6G2
    • 6G3
    • Vibrolux (Knopfler...)
    • Most of the blondes, AFAIK
    Iconic BF / SF:
    • VibroChamp and Champ
    • PR (Tedesco, Mike Campbell, etc. etc.)
    • DR (thousands of recordings, millions of shows)
    • VR
    • VV
    • Super Reverb
    • Bassman
    • TR
    • Rivera Super Champ
    And that's off the top of my head, plus I don't know much about later Fender amps...

    EDIT: How do I relate to 'harmonic content'? Very happily. :D
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2020
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  19. elpico

    elpico Tele-Afflicted

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    I have to imagine the 5F8-A tweed twin would be the cleanest tweed at any given volume level. "Imagine" because sadly I haven't had the pleasure of playing one. It's twice the power of the tweed super, has a more modern tonestack, and uses a higher headroom phase inverter.

    The later Blonde and Brown amps are very similar to Blackface circuits so if you're looking for the cleanest one I think it's still going to be the twin.
     
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  20. Wulf

    Wulf Tele-Afflicted

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    true enough.
    marshall amps from what i recall were based on the bassman but with substituted components due to availability in england...marshall were deliberately built as loud crunchy amps as people wanted more and more drive in their sound... friend of mines got a lovely old marshall combo all tube...
    ive been playing for 50 yrs and gigging for 40plus.
    been repairing and rebuilding guitars for same length of time...my mentor was a man called Jim Cairns
    he made pickups for burns and was chris reas guitar tech for years...what that man didnt know about guitars wasnt worth knowing.
     
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