A Silver-Panel Owner’s Manual
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.
- Silver and Black: Tips for Buying Vintage Fender Amps - Premier ... ›
- Ask Amp Man: Beefing Up a Vintage Fender Vibrolux Reverb ... ›
- Wake Up Tired Amps with New Speakers - Premier Guitar ›
For these new recreations, Fender focuses on the little things that make original golden-era Fenders objects of obsession.
If there’s one thing players love more than new guitars, it’s old guitars—the unique feel, the design idiosyncrasies, the quirks in finish that all came from the pre-CNC era of instrument manufacturing. These characteristics become the stuff of legend, passed on through the years via rumors and anecdotes in shops, forums, and community networks.
It’s a little difficult to separate fact from fiction given these guitars aren’t easy to get your hands on. Fender Telecasters manufactured in the 1950s and 1960s sell for upwards of $20,000. But old is about to become new again. Fender’s American Vintage II series features 12 year-specific electric guitar and bass models from over two decades, spanning 1951 to 1977, that replicate most specs on their original counterparts, but are produced with modern technologies that ensure uniform build and feel.
Chronologically, the series begins and ends, fittingly, with the Telecaster—starting with the butterscotch blonde, blackguard 1951 Telecaster (built with an ash body, one-piece U-shaped maple neck, and 7.25" radius fretboard) and ending with the 1977 Telecaster Custom, which features a C-shaped neck, a CuNiFe magnet-based Wide Range humbucker in the neck position, and a single-coil at the bridge. The rest of the series spans the highlights of Fender’s repertoire: the 1954 Precision Bass, 1957 Stratocaster in ash or alder, 1960 Precision Bass, 1961 Stratocaster, 1963 Telecaster, 1966 Jazz Bass, 1966 Jazzmaster, 1972 Tele Thinline, 1973 Strat, and 1975 Telecaster Deluxe. The 1951 Telecaster, 1957 Strat, 1961 Strat, and 1966 Jazz Bass will also be offered as left-handed models. Street prices run from $2,099 to $2,399.
Fender '72 American Vintage II Telecaster Thinline Demo | First Look
Spec’d To Please
Every guitar in the series sports the era’s 7.25" radius fretboard, a mostly abandoned spec found on Custom Shop instruments—Mexico-made Vintera models, and Fender’s Artist Series guitars like the Jimmy Page, Jason Isbell, and Albert Hammond Jr. models. Most modern Fenders feature a 9.5" radius, while radii on Gibsons reach upwards of 12". Videos experimenting with the 7.25" radius’ playability pull in tens of thousands of viewers, suggesting both a modern fascination with and a lack of exposure to the radius among some younger and less experienced players.
T.J. Osborne of the Brothers Osborne picks an American Vintage II 1966 Jazzmaster in Dakota red.
Bringing back the polarizing 7.25" radius across the entire series is a gamble, and it’s been nearly five years since Fender released year-specific models. But Fender executive vice president Justin Norvell says that two years ago when the Fender brain trust was conceptualizing the American Vintage II line, they decided the time was right to “go back to the well.”
“We’ve been doing the same [models], the same years, over and over again for 30 years,” says Norvell. “We really wanted to change the line and expand it into some new things that we hadn’t done before and pick some different years that we thought were cool.”
“It takes a lot of doing to go back in time and sort of uncover the secret-sauce recipes.”—Steve Thomas, Fender
To decide on which years to produce, Fender drew from what Norvell calls a “huge cauldron of information” from Custom Shop master builders to collectors with vintage models to former employees from the 1950s and 1960s. The hands-on manufacturing of Fender’s golden years meant guitars produced within the same year would have marked differences in design and finish. So, the team had to procure multiple versions of the same year’s guitar to decide which models to replicate. Norvell says some purists would advocate for the “cleanest, most down-the-middle kind of variant,” while others would push for more esoteric and rare versions. Norvell says that ultimately, the team picked the models that they felt best represented “the throughline of history on our platforms.”
Simple and agile, the Fender Precision Bass—here in its new American Vintage II ’54 incarnation—earned its reputation in the hands of Bill Black, James Jamerson, Donald “Duck” Dunn, and other foundational players.
Norvell says the American Vintage II series was developed, in part, in response to calls to reproduce vintage guitars. Just like with classic cars, he says, people are passionate about year-specific guitars. Plus, American Vintage II fits perfectly with the pandemic-stoked yearning for bygone times. “For some people, these specific years are representative of experiences they had when they were first playing guitar, or a favorite artist that played guitars from these eras,” says Norvell. “These are touchstones for those stories, and that makes them very desirable.”
Fender’s electric guitar research and design team, led by director Steve Thomas, dug through the company’s archive of original drawings and designs—dating all the way back to Leo Fender’s original shop in Fullerton, California. They found detailed notes, including some documenting body woods that changed mid-year on certain models. Halfway through 1956, for example, Stratocaster bodies switched from ash to alder. That meant the American Vintage II 1957 Stratocaster needed to be alder, too. That, in turn, meant ensuring enough alder was on hand to fulfill production needs.
Among the series’ Stratocaster recreations is this 1973-style instrument, with an ash body, maple C-profile neck, rosewood fretboard, and the company’s Pure Vintage single-coils.
Thomas and his team discovered another piece of the production puzzle when researching how pickups for that same 1957 Strat were made. “We realized that if we incorporated a little bit more pinch control on the winders, we could more effectively mimic the way pickups would have been hand-wound in the ’50s,” says Thomas. “It takes a lot of doing to go back in time and sort of uncover the secret-sauce recipes.”
Thomas proudly calls the guitars “some of the best instruments we’ve ever made here in the Fender plant,” pointing to the level of detail put into design features, including more delicate lacquer finishes which take longer to cure and dry, and vintage-correct tweed cases for some guitars. New pickups were incorporated in the series, like a reworking of Seth Lover’s famed CuNiFe Wide Range humbuckers, which were discontinued around 1981. Even more minute details, like the width of 12th fret dots and the material used for them, were labored over. Three different models in the line feature clay dot inlays at unique, year-specific spacings.
Ironically, modern CNC manufacturing now makes these design quirks consistent features in mass-produced instruments. While the hand-crafted guitars from the ’50s and ’60s varied a lot from instrument to instrument. “Everything needs to be located perfectly, and it wasn’t necessarily back in the day,” says Norvell. “Now, it can be.”
Don’t Look Back
With this new series so firmly planted in the rose-tinted past, Fender does run the risk of netting only vintage-obsessed players. But Norvell says the team, despite being sticklers for period-correct detail, sought to strike a balance between vintage specs, practicality, and playability. The 1957 Stratocaster, for example, has a 5-way switch rather than the original’s 3-way switch. Norvell also asserts that the “ergonomic” old-school radius feels great when chording. “It might not be [right for] a shred machine, but it feels great and effortless.”
The 1966 Jazz Bass is also represented, shown here in a left-handed version.
Norvell also pushes back on the notion that Fender is playing it safe by indulging nostalgia and leaning on their past successes. He says that while the vintage models are some of the most desirable on the market, the team “purposely did not stick to the safe bets,” citing unusual year models like the 1954 P Bass and the 1973 Stratocaster.There’s a good reason why anything that hails back to “the good ol’ days” hits home with every generation. We’re constantly plagued by a belief that what came before is better than what we’ve got now. But with the American Vintage II series, Fender makes the case that guitars from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s can very easily be a relevant part of the 2020s.
JET Pedals Releases The Red Sea
The Red Sea was born out of the vision to provide complex signal routing options available to the live/performing musician, that up until now, are only found in a studio mixing environment.
Introducing the Red Sea, an all-analog signal routing matrix, designed for countless stereo and mono signal path routing options. The Red Sea was born out of the vision to provide complex signal routing options available to the live/performing musician, that up until now, are only found in a studio mixing environment. The Red Sea has accomplished this in a compact, easy-to-use, and cost-effective solution.
Wet | Dry | Wet
The Red Sea gives you the ability to run a FULL Stereo wet dry wet rig using only 2 amps or just 2 signals to the FOH, while also giving you complete control over your Wet & Dry mix! Use the Blend knob to control the overall mix between stereo wet effects and mono dry/drive signals.
Stereo Dual Amps
Run dual amp modelers if full stereo w/ stereo effects. Gone are the traditional ways of one amp in the Left channel and another in the Right channel. Now use the Red Sea to seamlessly blend between two separate amps in true stereo. Think of this as a 2-channel amp where you can blend anywhere between both amps.
Stereo Parallel FX
Red Sea has two independent stereo FX loops. Use each FX loop to run stereo delay's and reverb's in parallel, where each effect does not interact with each other. Huge soundscapes can be achieved with washy reverbs and articulate delay repeats while being able to blend between each FX loops mix level.
The Red Sea can also do the following routing options:
- Wet | Dry utilizing a single amp
- Clean Wet | Dry | Wet (drives DO NOT run into wet effects)
- Wet | Dry | Wet with dual delays (one in the L channel & other in R channel)
- Parallel Dual Amps (run dual amp modelers in FULL stereo)
- Convert a tube amp's serial FX Loop to a parallel FX Loop
- Stereo and Mono analog dry through (avoid latency in digital pedals)
Crazy Tube Circuits Announces the Stardust V3
Stardust V3 was designed to capture the sound and response of 3 distinct amplifier models.
Stardust V3 was designed to capture the sound and response of 3 distinct maxed-out amplifier models. An all-analog signal path with discrete gain stages featuring MOSFET transistors provides juicy overdrive tones with great note separation that clean up to that sparkly sound that we all love and heard in recordings of the past. Set gain and tone and control everything from your guitar. Sparkly clean to crunchy mean are all there.
You can select the amplifier voicing via the onboard toggle switch.
BSM: Voiced after a blackface amp head that was primarily targeted for bass guitar players but got famous for electric guitar classic rock tones.
VLX: Voiced after a chimey 2x10” combo offering the perfect amount of controllable crunch
DLX: Voiced after one of the most popular low wattage 1×12″ combo amps that have found their way in countless recording studios and clubs around the world.
Stardust V3 now comes with top-mounted jacks and soft-click true bypass via a high-quality relay. The pedal has loads of output volume and enhanced headroom provided by 18V DC (boosted internally) so that it can also be used as a preamp going straight into your Power Amp or AudioInterface when combined with a separate speaker simulation device.
Street price: 199 Euro / 199 USD.
For more information, please visit crazytubecircuits.com.
EarthQuaker Devices Presents the Third Incarnation of the Sunn O))) Life Pedal
The Sunn O))) Life Pedal circuit has been meticulously tweaked from the original and includes a third footswitch.
Sunn O))) present an enhanced version of the Sunn O))) Life Pedal Octave Distortion + Booster, in collaboration with their comrades at EarthQuaker Devices. The Sunn O))) Life Pedal circuit has been meticulously tweaked from the original to squeeze every last drop of heavy crushing tone available. The octave section has been fine tuned to make it more pronounced without losing the bottom end and we added a third footswitch, utilizing Flexi-Switch Technology, for the octave to allow an additional method of quick and radical tone shaping.
“Working on this new version has been a great continuity of this collaboration which feels so right, and sounds so right,” says Stephen O’Malley. “It’s a really beautiful pedal and it’s also a beautiful art collaboration. I think we made something really interesting that people can enjoy to use for their own music, but also, it makes a lot of sense to release a piece of distortion as a release for our band. We’re really happy that this is a trilogy now.”
The Sunn O))) Life Pedal is designed to represent the core front end chain used in those sessions, to drive the tubes of the band’s multiple vintage Sunn O))) Model T amplifiers (or take your fancy) into overload ecstasy. This is a 100w tube amp full stack’s holy dream, or its apostate nightmare.
Sunn O))) Life Pedal is a distortion with a blendable analog octave up and a booster
- Features 3 different clipping options: Symmetrical Silicon, Asymmetrical Silicon & LED, and pure OpAmp Drive
- Distortion and booster can be used independently
- Expression and footswitch control over analog octave up
- Octave blend allows total control over how much Octave is mixed into the circuit
- True bypass with silent relay based soft touch switches
- Features EarthQuaker Devices’ proprietary Flexi-Switch® Technology
- Lifetime warranty
- Current Draw: 15 mA
- Octave Distortion: Input impedance: 1 MΩ / Output impedance: <1 kΩ
- Booster: Input Impedance: 500 kΩ / Output Impedance: <1 kΩ
- List Price: $299 USD