Our columnist is a Fender die-hard but finds thrills in an inspired modern alternative: the Victoria Victorilux.
I am extremely loyal to vintage Fender amps. I love their clean and transparent tones, and how their simplicity makes for amplifiers that are not only collectable but serviceable. I do play other guitars and amps besides Fenders, although I have to admit that I always measure them against the brand and often try dialing them to a sound as close as possible to Fender tone. But this month I want to share a story about a Fender-inspired amp that I love: the Victoria Victorilux.
Victoria has had great success with their point-to-point-wired amps based on classic designs—with a twist. Their long customer list of influential musicians and weekend players proves they’ve done something right. Who doesn’t want a new, robust, high-quality amp that looks and sounds vintage?
My love of the Victorilux started in 2011, when I got to try one for the first time. It was my brother’s, and he showed me a long email thread with company founder Mark Baier discussing different speaker and tube options. I was impressed. My brother’s amp was a 3x10 combo loaded with Jensen P10R speakers. It had dual 6L6GC power tubes and a 230V power transformer. Other speaker configurations were also offered by the company including 2x10, 2x12, and 1x15. Today, Victoria offers Eminence speakers instead of Jensens, according to the company’s website. I really like Eminence Legend 1058 10s and Legend 1518 15s because of their full tone and ability to handle high power without losing touch-sensitivity.
I describe the Victorilux as a Fender-black-panel-style amp in a tweed enclosure with brown-panel charm.
I describe the Victorilux as a Fender-black-panel-style amp in a tweed enclosure with brown-panel charm. As with Fender tweed amps, the chassis is placed vertically in the cabinet, which is robustly constructed with finger-jointed solid pine. The speaker baffle board is Baltic plywood. The controls consist of two 1/4" inputs, volume, treble, mid, bass, reverb, and speed and intensity for the tremolo. With just a single channel, there are fewer things that can fail. The circuit component layout is tidy and takes no shortcuts, and everything is coupled and fitted tightly.
For me, the Victorilux was love at first sight. And that deepened when I heard it. I expected the amp to sound something like a Super Reverb: good and clean. But I was surprised by how fine it sounded at low volumes. It had a sparkling clean-yet-lush-and-warm voice even at the quietest bedroom levels. The EQ spectrum seemed wider than I was used to with older Fender amps—especially for the mid control. I have seen a few Victoriluxes without mid knobs, and I strongly recommend trying one with mid control, since that dial can change the amp’s character between a mid-based British voice and an American scooped tone. With the mid knob set high, the Victorilux starts breaking up surprisingly soon for a dual 6L6GC amp. Lowering the mids will take you back into Fender-black-panel land.
At that first meeting, I was quickly able to dial in a nice tone—as can be done with a vintage Fender. But when I turned up the volume, it didn’t sound Fender black-panel at all. The amp broke up earlier and was more aggressive, with more sag and compression—thanks to the Victorilux’s cathode bias design, which reduces clean headroom. I guess Baier was inspired by the early breakup characteristics of small Fender tweed amps when he chose cathode bias for the relatively high-powered Victorilux. Cathode bias is a less efficient power-amp design compared to fixed bias. All black-panel-era amps and the bigger tweed amps had fixed bias, to maximize clean headroom.
The original Jensen speakers in this amp have been replaced with a trio of Webers for a more powerful and chunky sound, with firm, well-defined bass response.
I also expected the reverb to be lush, but I particularly liked the smooth and gradual knob response. The tremolo could nicely sweep deep and slow or very fast. To summarize, I found the Victorilux to be a brilliantly designed amp that contains the best inspirations from Fender’s tweed and black-panel eras.
I later tried a set of Weber speakers in the amp: two alnico 10A150s in the bottom row and a 10A125 on top. That made it much more powerful and chunky, with firm, well-defined bass response. For those who play in power trios with a loud drummer, I recommend this speaker setup. You will fill the stage completely with massive guitar tone. Those are my favorite Webers, though the ceramic 10F150 or 10F125 will also do the job.
I hope my experience will encourage the vintage Fender fellowship to try out various amp brands. There are ambitious alternatives out there, and my experience with the Victorilux proves that classic tone can be crafted using well-built modern amps.
The Nashville-based power player uses classic-style guitars and amps to create big tones that echo from the past to the future.
Our last Rundown with J.D. Simo was eight years ago. Since then, the songwriter, guitarist, and producer has worked with Jack White, Tommy Emmanuel, Luther Dickinson, Dave Cobb, Blackberry Smoke, and even been a friend in Grateful Dead founder Phil Lesh’s band Phil and Friends. Currently, Simo is promoting his most unique, original, and raw album yet, called Mind Control, where he explores Afrobeat grooves and Mississippi trance blues. Simo invited John Bohlinger and the PG team to his studio to look at some new and old friends with strings, cones, and attitude.
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Hail to the Chief
JD Simo’s No. 1 remains his beloved and battered 1962 Gibson ES-335. It’s had a few changes since his last Rundown. Note JFK on the back of its headstock! Nashville star luthier Joe Glaser modded the neck tone control to knock it out of phase. During quarantine, Simo reinstalled the original Bigsby bridge with nylon saddles. This, and all of Simo’s guitars, use Stringjoy strings (.010 sets, when tuned to standard) and are picked with Jim Dunlop tortoise mediums.
Trifecta of Cool
The backside of the 335's headstock reveals some classic stamps.
Picks of the Litter
Here you see JD's Jim Dunlop tortoise medium pick (for guitar) and a Dave Grisman DAWG pick (for mandolin).
Jazzmaster Just in Name
It began life as a mid-’60s Jazzmaster body. Fellow Nashville-based guitarist George Bradfute added a MusiKraft neck and refinished and rewired this 6-string with a humbucker and S-style pickups from Vintage Inspired Pickups, out of Beverly, Massachusetts. There is a phase switch on the tone control.
A close look at this axe’s headstock logo reveals that … well, this offset has a unique make and model name. The Asscaster stays tuned down to B with .014–.064 strings.
From the Deeps
This Echopark Exner Tavares in a seemingly luminescent finish is made from white pine sinker wood. It features a gold-foil neck pickup, a ’70s Fender Wide Range bridge pickup, and a Chris Swope Guitars bridge. The Exner stays tuned down a whole step, with .011–.049 strings.
Down in the Hollows
Here’s an all-stock 1952 Gibson ES-5 in standard tuning and strung with flatwound .012—.056 strings, for vintage tone. This model debuted in 1949 as an electric version of Gibson’s then-popular acoustic L-5.
This Gibson Custom Shop Murphy Lab ’64 SG Standard features OX4 pickups, hand-wound by Mark Stow in Oxford, England. The finish is the work of Gibson’s famed in-house aging and replication expert, Tom Murphy.
Simo’s going for heavy acoustic vibe with this 1965 Silvertone H165. It stays tuned down to C# and is amplified with a LR Baggs M80 pickup.
This 1966 Kay Airline mandolin is hipper than most, with the company’s cool Kelvinator-style logo on its headstock. It’s all original, including the Jimmy Reed-style pickup and two-tone binding.
J-50 is the Gibson company’s designation for its natural-finish J-45 workhorses—the guitar that helped define modern folk music. This 1961 J-50 features a 1963 DeArmond RHC-B soundhole pickup and stays strung with nickel bronze .012–.056 strings.
Depending on the scenario, Simo currently uses one, or a combination of, these amps: a 1964 Ampeg Gemini I with a Weber ceramic-magnet ferromax speaker, a 1949 Alamo Model 3 (lower right), a 1972 Fender silver-panel Deluxe Reverb converted to black-panel specs (also with a Weber speaker), and a Pre CBS Amps Clifford 18W made by Zack Allen of Nashville’s Carter Guitars. The latter is essentially a 7591-output-tube Princeton Reverb clone and has a Weber speaker. Simo runs with his amps with an AmpRX Brown Box power attenuator.
At the Stomp Post
Simo’s very simple pedalboard includes a 1972 Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, a 1973 Vox Cry Baby with a Chase tone pot, a rehoused vintage Kay fuzz, a Strymon El Capistan, and a Fender trem/reverb Switch. XAct Tone Solutions made the board and its battery box. Simo also uses Divine Noise Cables.
Guitarist John Lee Shannon and bassist Dan Horne explore the sonic space with a mix of vintage amps, DIY cabs, and plenty of pedals.
Founded by the late Neal Casal, this instrumental band of sonic explorers was born out of a request for set-break music during the Grateful Dead’s final run of shows in San Francisco and Chicago during 2015. Originally, CATS was going to be a one-off project, but fan feedback pushed Casal and company to release it as Interludes for the Dead. This wasn’t simply wordless Dead covers, but new creations formed in essence and spirt of the Dead.
In 2018, the group released their second double album, Let it Wander, and followed it up with a completely improvised EP featuring drummer Joe Russo. Sadly, a week after tracking their self-titled album Casal took his own life. Casal urged the group to carry on without him. The group recruited Eric Krasno and Scott Metzger for various tours before settling in with John Lee Shannon in July of 2021. Shortly before a gig at Brooklyn Bowl in Nashville, John Bohlinger caught up with Shannon and bassist Dan Horne to talk gear.
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The Lone Ranger
John Lee Shannon tours with a single guitar: a 2017 Fender Custom Shop 1969 Journeyman Relic Strat. It’s outfitted with handwound ’69 pickups in the neck and middle with a Texas Special in the bridge. “It’s really barky,” mentions Shannon. “It’s not a ‘tame’ Strat,” He puts D’Addario NYXL (.010–.046) strings on it and uses Pick Boy Vintage Celluloid Rainbow .75 mm picks.
Amp on the Run
Due to somewhat complicated logistics, Shannon had been looking online at various Nashville guitar shops for an amp he could pick up at the last minute and use on this run. After flying in from Brooklyn the morning of the show, he headed straight for Rumble Seat Music to check out this 1968 Sunn 100S and matching 2x15 cabinet. Shannon put down a deposit before getting to town hoping the amp would work for him. Obviously, it did. Later he found out this amp was on consignment from Nashville session king Tom Bukovac.
After experimenting with various pedals on the band’s West coast run, Shannon shifted some things around and even took inspiration from Casal’s board to form this mothership. The centerpiece is the Road Rage true bypass looper which allows Shannon to individually bring each pedal in and out of the signal flow. Right before the looper is a JAM Pedals Wahcko, which was custom ordered solely based on the finish. Other highlights include a Greer Amps Super Hornet, Strymon Lex, a trio of Catalinbread stomps (Belle Epoch, Echorec, and Topanga), a Walrus Audio Monument, Lovepedal Rubber Chicken and a pair of BearFoot FX (Pale Green and Honey Beest OD).
Circles Around the Sun take plenty of musical risks, but that fearlessness stretches over into their gear choices as bassist Dan Horne also takes a single bass on the road. This 1978 Alembic Series 1 has an unusual setup. Although you can power the active pickups with batteries, Horne uses an Alembic DS5 power supply to provide power via the cable. (The DS5 also has dual outputs, but Horne only uses the bass output.)
Tower of Doom
The Grateful Dead’s “Wall of Sound”-era speakers served as the inspiration for Horne’s triple-cabinet tower. The top cabinet was built by Bag End while the bottom two were DIY affairs created by a friend. All three cabinets feature a Weber speaker.
Under the Hood
The engine behind Horne’s sound is this rack, which includes an Alembic F-1X tube preamp—powered by a 12AX7—and a Crown XLS 1502 power amp. All of Horne’s effects are behind him on the pedal drawer and he controls them via a Voodoo Lab PX-8 Plus.
Horne's Tone Zone
Horne’s pedal rack includes a Sonic Research ST-300 tuner, Boss BF-2 Flanger, MXR Carbon Copy, MXR 10-Band EQ, a vintage Electro-Harmonix Small Stone Phase Shifter, MXR Bass Envelope Filter, and a BearFoot FX Pale Green compressor. He wrangles them all with a Voodoo Lab HEX loop switcher that’s controlled by a PX-8 Plus.
To mod or not to mod? Three experts tell us what we should and shouldn’t do to our ’70s-era Fender amplifiers.
Fender’s silver-panel amplifiers have a mixed reputation. Some people will happily bend your ear about how they can’t compare to their counterparts from the tweed, black-panel, or drip-edge eras, while others will tell you they simply sound great. And some are in between—admiring the silver-panel amps for exactly the reliable, powerful, and plentiful specimens they are.
Not too long ago, you could easily find low asking prices on silver-panels of all types, earning them a designation as vintage amps for working musicians (prices have gone up, but you can still find a deal with a little effort). Yet thanks to those more affordable tags and their reputations, the years haven’t always been kind. These amps have been put through the ringer and subjected to their share of mods: everything from tweaks to increase midrange to ill-advised attempts to turn them into Marshalls and Voxes. Still, so many have survived the test of time—a testament to their durability.
“What we see today is from 50, 60 years of things becoming the industry standard. Back in the ’50s or ’60s, everything was new. They were just throwing things out there.”—George Alessandro
If you own a silver-panel model, you know that there’s a lot of subjective information floating around between the internet and our local amp-repair shop. If you’re not a tech, and you just want an amp that works well and sounds good, it can be a lot to unpack—suggestions about mods, restorations, and other tweaks can really leave your head spinning. It might seem like the easiest path is to never change anything and just fix what’s broken when it’s time to service yours, but that’s not always possible. Vintage examples of these amps have been rocking for so long that many of them are likely to need quite a bit of maintenance or have received extensive servicing over the years, and possibly not at the highest level.
So, when it comes time to fix your amp, what’s the best way to proceed? Do you restore your amp to factory spec? And will you even like the way that sounds? Considering how much time has passed, there’s a good chance it could make for a dramatic difference. And are some modifications to the circuit in order?
I’m no tech. I’m just a player who has an appreciation for these amplifiers and has owned my share of ’em. So, with all these questions in mind, I hit up a couple experts who know their way around a Fender amp in order to set the record straight on how to proceed with servicing our silver-panel amps and getting the best, most reliable tones out of them.
What’s the Deal with Silver-Panel Amps?
The author’s beloved 1971 Deluxe Reverb shows some wear after 51 years of heavy use. Except for a replaced speaker—now a Celestion Vintage 30—this amp is up to original spec.
Through 1965, Fender kicked out one iconic, revered amp design after another. After CBS took over, those circuits slowly changed over the course of the transitional late-’60s “drip-edge” era of amps. By the ’70s, the entire line had evolved into the silver-panels. This was Fender’s first era to really draw significant negative feedback from players. (When’s the last time you read a piece about modding a tweed Deluxe!?) One big point of criticism is that, during this phase, the company was looking for cheaper ways to build their amps—choices often blamed on the accounting department rather than their engineers—which affected everything from speaker quality to the type of wire used inside the circuits.
But there’s more to it than just skimping on parts. “They were just trying to keep up with the times,” explains George Alessandro of Alessandro High-End Products. In addition to his own amps, which are famously used by artists like Derek Trucks, Eric Clapton, and John Mayer, Alessandro also rebuilds plenty of vintage models for some of those same players. While some parts were of a lesser quality in the silver era, he points out that “Fender’s raw materials were still relatively good quality. By the ’70s, the caps were still good, the transformers were still authentic, the chassis were still right.”
“I find that the silver-panel amps, even if they are 10 years newer than the black-panel amps, are usually in much worse condition because they are stacked away in a moist basement or garage.”—Jens Mosbergvik
A big reason that silver-panel amps don’t live up to the reputation of their older siblings is that “their focus was more on getting output than tone.” Alessandro explains, “By the mid-60s, things were getting louder. PAs were just coming into play. Concerts were getting bigger. So, amplifiers had to get much larger and louder.” This eventually amounted to larger transformers in some models and other changes to boost power and bass response.
“At the time, there was no set rule,” he continues. “What we see today is from 50, 60 years of things becoming the industry standard. Back in the ’50s or ’60s, everything was new. They were just throwing things out there.”
But the lesser-than reputation of the silver-panel amps is often not exclusively about choices that Fender made back in the ’70s. It’s also about how these amps have been treated in subsequent decades. Once “pre-CBS” became a revered term, that solidified the reputation of anything Fender built before 1965, and those amps were often treated differently than the silver-panels. “The thing with silver-panel amps,” says Jens Mosbergvik, PG’s own Fender expert and author of our Silver and Black column, “is that they have been less looked after than black-panel amps because they were considered cheap amps. I find that the silver-panel amps, even if they are 10 years newer than the black-panel amps, are usually in a much worse condition because they are stacked away in a moist basement or garage.” With its lesser status, a silver-panel amp is also more likely to have been either serviced poorly or modified.
What’s in a Mod?
Colleen Fazio works on a silver-panel Twin Reverb. “Fender amps are so nice and so well designed,” she says, “it’s pretty easy to bring them back to stock if you want to.”
Photo courtesy of Colleen Fazio
Nowadays, plenty of players love silver-panel amps. They might not always deliver the hallowed tones of their pre-CBS siblings, but these models certainly hold their own when stacked against many modern amps that command similar prices. If you own one that hasn’t been restored, when you service it or take it to get serviced, you’ll have some decisions to make.
The most important thing to do is consider your expectations. Los Angeles guitar tech Colleen Fazio, who posts extensive and informative vintage amp repair and restoration videos to her YouTube channel, calls herself a “minimally invasive” tech and says, “I always tell people, ‘If you want your amp to sound like a different amp, you should probably just get a different amp.’ Because each amp is designed to do its own thing.”
Vintage Fender Deluxe Reverbs: 1965 Black-Panel Vs. 1974 Silver-Panel
“My philosophy with vintage amps is do no harm. I don’t like mods,” says Alessandro. “I’m really against mods, because almost 100 percent of the time it ruins what something is supposed to be.” He also warns against any sort of modification that will change an amp’s intended character. “I do more un-modding of vintage amps than you can imagine. A Deluxe Reverb is not going to be a tweed Deluxe. It’s not going to be a little Bluesbreaker. It’s gonna be a Deluxe Reverb. Try and make it the best it is supposed to be.”
Alessandro advocates looking at the changes made by Fender in the silver-panel era with perspective and hindsight. “That circuit from ’64, ’65 is right,” he says. “So, when Fender started changing it through the years, they were making it less right.” When it comes to restoring a silver-panel amp to black-panel specs, Alessandro doesn’t necessarily consider that to be a mod, but, rather, “restoring from what their engineers changed and making it what it’s supposed to be.” He adds, “It’s kind of like an old computer. What do you do when your new software doesn’t work? You revert back to the old one.”
“I always tell people, ‘If you want your amp to sound like a different amp, you should probably just get a different amp.’ Because each amp is designed to do its own thing.”—Colleen Fazio
Some Black-Panel Mods
Whatever you’re doing, whether it’s servicing or making changes to the circuit, Alessandro stresses using the correct components. “People go in there and replace all the parts,” he says, “because this resistor is supposed to be 100k, and it’s reading 112. But it’s not that it’s reading 112 that’s the problem. It’s when they replace it with a 100k resistor and it’s not the right type.”
To get the most from your amp, Mosbergvik says “there are only a few solid things you should do that will really improve the amp in terms of tone.” While different models and years will have their own idiosyncrasies—including the push-pull boosts, master volumes, and larger transformers found in models from the latter part of the decade—here are a few things you or your tech might consider.
Mosbergvik’s favorites for amps with 10" speakers are Weber 10A100s ($114 street), which he says are “pretty close to the Jensen P10R or CTS alnicos in 1964 black-panel Super Reverbs,” or Weber 10A125s ($119 street) “for a tad more punch and bigger/cleaner bottom end.” For ceramic speakers, he likes Weber’s 10F125s ($108), which he says are “like the CTS ceramics in some ’65 Super Reverbs.”
For amps loaded with 12s, George Alessandro specially designed the GA-SC64 ($144 street) with Eminence to capture the black-panel-era sound.
The gory guts of a pre-overhaul silver-panel Twin Reverb.
Photo by Colleen Fazio
By the ’70s, Fender switched all their fixed bias amps from a standard bias control, which allows users to raise or lower the bias on the power tubes but requires a matched pair, to a balance-style control, which accommodates non-matched power-tube pairs yet might not give those tubes the power they need. This creates bigger problems than simply purchasing a matched pair of power tubes and can have a negative effect on an amp’s tone.
“You can re-wire the control to be like the ’60s control, so you’re adjusting the bias,” says Fazio. “It’s a pretty simple re-wire. I would probably include that with a service. You’re not replacing any parts, you’re just re-wiring the configuration.”
Look at the sides to spot the differences. This Super Reverb has a screwed-in style baffle board.
This Super Reverb offers an example of a glued-in baffle board for speaker mounting.
“Try and make it the best it is supposed to be.”—George Alessandro
Early in the ’70s, Fender switched from using a screwed-in baffle to a glued-in baffle, so removing them can be tricky on the latter models. Mosbergvik says the glued-in design sounds “unbalanced” to his ears and points out that it is possible to switch back to the early screwed-in style if you’re already removing the baffle. “You’ll need to work to get it screwed in,” he explains. This includes adding supports to screw the baffle into. “It’s a lot of dirty work.”
If the baffle needs to be replaced, you’ll have to decide between a plywood baffle, a popular choice for many players who believe it changes the tone for the better, or stick with the original particle-board style, which is consistent with both silver- and black-panel models.
Phase Inverter Changes
All that is easy enough for us non-techs to wrap our heads around. But Fazio points out there are some finer differences to be found by looking at schematics.
The coupling capacitor is in the part of the circuit that connects the preamp signal to the output section. “A bigger value in the silver-panel amps increased the bass response. If you want tighter bass like the ’60s amps, you lower the value of that capacitor back to the ’60s specs, which is .001 µF, and a lot of the silver amps are .01. There are some exceptions, but those are common values to find.”
She also points out that the values of the plate resistors on the phase-inverter tube were lowered in the silver-panel amps to reduce gain, and those can be changed to original spec.
Good, Clean Work
This modern Deluxe Reverb has been hand re-wired to black-panel specs by George Alessandro, offering a great example of a clean, tidy circuit.
Photo courtesy of George Alessandro
It’s always good to remember that any change you make to your amp will affect the way it sounds and feels. If you have an amp you already like, you should especially keep that in mind and don’t feel any pressure to make changes that aren’t necessary. “If it has been modified and you like how it sounds, that’s cool. Silver-panel amps sound really good as they are, and I’ve heard really good modified ones, too,” says Fazio.
If you’re looking to purchase an amp that has been modified, it can be helpful to take a look at the circuit, when possible, even if you’re not a tech. Mosbergvik suggests inspecting to see “if it’s done tidy and properly, with twisted wires, and if the soldering work is done properly—the wires are cut to correct length, they are soldered with enough lead, etcetera.” This will at least help you decide the quality of work that has gone into the amp over the course of its decades of servicing.
One of the great things about these vintage specimens is that they’re easy enough to work on and it’s not hard to source parts. “Fender amps are so nice and so well designed,” says Fazio, “it’s pretty easy to bring them back to stock if you want to.” So, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to keep your amp in good working order for many years to come. And with some of these tips, you’ll be able to have it sounding better than ever.
1971 Fender Twin Reverb | Vintage Amp Repair | The Electric Lady
Watch as Colleen Fazio overhauls a 1971 Twin Reverb.