“There is one thing that is much more rare than all of these things, surprisingly enough. That would be the limited run of Fender Woodies, the first ever Fender amplifiers with an impressive build, and even more secretive existence.”
As time goes on, being a guitar player is such a rewarding thing. There is so much history radiating off of all of the new technology and equipment we have access to today. To think that a company such as Schecter started in a small repair shop, or how Gibson grew from a mandolin craftsman to the amalgamation of history and innovation is a humbling thing as a guitar player. Whenever we go into a music shop, or even pick up our own guitars, we’re essentially walking through a breathing museum and participating in the next chapter. Most of these things, these creations of musical genius, can be experienced by everyone and somewhat accessible.
However, there are some things that we hear about through the musical grape vine that become fragments of the past. Stories and blurry pictures passed around like contraband about gear that has set down the foundational bricks, but remain a myth to unseeing eyes. An original Dumble amplifier, a prototype ’57 Gibson Moderne, or even the rare ’83 neck-through Fender Stratocaster are all examples of pieces of the past that we’ve all only seen pictures of. There is one thing that is much more rare than all of these things, surprisingly enough. That would be the limited run of Fender Woodies, the first ever Fender amplifiers with an impressive build, and even more secretive existence.
Serving as inspiration for all modern Fender amplifiers, the “Woodie” amplifiers came from Leo Fender’s creative brain amidst the beginning thoughts of his own company. Before Fender became a standalone company, Leo Fender and Clayton Orr Kauffman owned K&F Manufacturing Corporation. Founded in 1945, K&F Manufacturing specialized in building electric lap steel guitars and amplifiers specifically for lap steels. While they were successful, the company was short-lived: in 1946, Kauffman left the company and what emerged from the ashes was the Fender company we all know and love today.
Immediately after the name change, the then unnamed amplifiers were released to the public. The term “Woodie” was eventually given to the illusive amplifier line by collectors for their hardwood cabinets. There were three models in 1946 – the Princeton, the Deluxe, and the Professional. All differing in wattage and speaker size, they shared the same recognizable look: a choice of maple, walnut, or mahogany hardwood cabinet with a distinctive red, blue, or gold grill cloth with three metal strips running vertically. Built more in the style of a vintage piece of radio furniture, these amplifiers were (and still are) beautiful. While hardwood cabinets aren’t ideal because it’s quite expensive to obtain in large quantities, Leo received an abundance of 1” wood that was too small for body blanks so he decided to use them in his first ever cabinets instead.
The Princeton was the smallest of the three, sporting an 8” speaker powered by three tubes. The interesting thing about the Princeton was that it was entirely barebones: it had no controls, and no power switch. Stand-by? Never heard of it. After the Princeton, was the Deluxe, which has also sometimes been referred to as the “Model 26” amplifier. The Deluxe had five tubes, a 10” speaker, and provided 14-watts of power. This amp did have control knobs: separate microphone and instrument volumes, as well as a tone. Lastly, the Professional model was the big, bad wolf of the bunch. Powered by six tubes, chugging 25 watts into a 15” speaker, the Professional was built in very low quantities because it was much more than players then needed. The Professional shared a control panel with the Deluxe, however the Professional had a backwards tone control that provided a treble boost when turned counterclockwise. While there have been issue replicas of these iconic original amplifiers, their spirits and identities live through all modern Fender amplifiers.
Have you ever seen a Woodie in person? Better yet, have you ever heard one or played through one? Let me know!