The amp’s speakers consisted of two 12” Celestion G12s, rated at 20 watts, 15 ohms, and with an Alnico magnet. These speakers were essentially the same as those used in Vox AC30s, and are extremely fragile when pushed beyond their limit. Because Clapton ran the amplifier at full volume, the Alnicos may have been damaged. He may have replaced them with the higher wattage, ceramic magnet Celestion Greenbacks.
The Objective: Convert a Reissue to Clapton-Spec
|The Model 1962 reissue schematic
I started my investigation into obtaining this sound over 20 years ago. In addition to the “Beano” studio CD, there were other John Mayall albums that included “live” cuts from Eric Clapton’s time with the Bluesbreakers. Although these recordings were done with crude equipment, they captured the raw and unrestrained sound of Clapton’s guitar and amplifier. To my ears, these recordings were most realistic, as they lacked any studio treatment. I quickly knew what sound I was after.
In 1994, Mike Doyle’s book, The History of Marshall
, was released and included an eye-opening chapter on the Bluesbreaker. That chapter confirmed the reissue’s lack of authentic sound, and it became obvious that in the amp’s conversion to Clapton specs the only salvageable pieces would be the electrical chassis, the control panel and some of the cabinet hardware – the cabinet and speakers would have to be replaced.
With that, I decided to do the conversion in a logical progression and planned to document the progress. I preferred a progressive approach, as it would give me a chance to analyze each change made separately. In addition, since this conversion would be fairly expensive, it would be easier on the budget to purchase items over a period of time. The changes required could be grouped into three categories:
- Cabinet: Since the reissue cabinet was too small, it could not be used. I’d have to find a new cabinet that is the correct size. The reissue’s casters, amplifier strap handle and the plastic Marshall logo badge could still be used.
- Electronics: Swap out the reissue output transformer for a vintage correct one, re-tube with KT66 vacuum tubes and change out the filter capacitors.
- Speakers: Change to an Alnico magnet type.
I should note that it is possible to make deeper changes, such as replacement of the circuit board, resistors, potentiometers and components, plastic tube sockets, and rewiring of the chassis to original specifications. These additions will make the electronics of the amplifier more authentic, but will not noticeably improve the sound. These additions also significantly increase the cost and add more time to the project.
The steps I have outlined above will reproduce the amplifier tone as heard on the live cuts of Clapton with the Bluesbreakers, as well as the “Beano” record. In fact, after making these changes, your Bluesbreaker will no longer be a mere reissue – it will sound like the real thing!
Step 1: A Bigger Cabinet
|The new cabinet is over 2” bigger than the reissue cabinet, resulting in a fuller sound
There are now several competent amplifier cabinet makers building exact replicas of the Model 1962 Series I and II cabinets. Be sure these makers use the required multi-ply Baltic birch plywood, correct black tolex covering, vintage gold veining and the surrounding white piping. It is also wise to have them confirm the correct cabinet dimensions, as the Series I and II are two completely different cabinets. To save some money, you could use the Marshall logo, casters and other hardware from your existing reissue. Two excellent cabinet makers available on the internet are Vibroworld.com and Swansoncabinets.com.
For the first phase, I ordered a new cabinet from a cabinet maker on the internet – to ensure accuracy, I supplied them with a CAD drawing of the Series II dimensions and features. I was very pleased with the results I received a few weeks later. I removed the chassis and speakers from my Marshall reissue and reinstalled them in the new cabinet. Even though the new cabinet included pre-drilled holes and Tnuts for the speakers, it still took some time to make this switch. While switching cabinets, be careful to ensure the speaker and amplifier connections are right.