I’ve always been a fan of Fender gear. But, if I’m honest, part of my infatuation with Fender designs is as much about sound as it is visual appeal. In my books, any company that can define eras of music across genres with paint colors like Dakota Red, Shoreline Gold, and Sea Foam Green is alright in my books. Of course, many of these guitar hues were drawn from color charts of now classic cars of the 1950s and 1960s. But in those same years, Fender was designing amplifiers with their own distinct exterior finishes that eventually came to signify entire sounds and ages of Fender tones.
Some of Fender’s most popular and long-lasting amplifier designs hearken back to the days of the Tweed era. It’s that unmistakable brownish-yellow blend of fabric that, let’s face it, only looks good on a guitar amplifier. Starting in 1946, Fender began manufacturing the Deluxe, Professional, Dual Professional, and, yes, the Princeton. Two year later in 1948, Fender knocked out another small box destined for decades of success, the Champ. While Tweed amps are undoubtedly diverse in their sounds, early designs share a common infrastructure of pine cabinets, silver control panels, and brown and chrome hood ornaments adorned with the Fender insignia. This design and lineup ran strong through to the late 1950s.
From 1960-1964, Fender swapped out the old Tweed exterior finish for a sandy blonde tolex. While new amps introduced in this era haven’t exactly had the lasting power of others, one amp in particular hit its stride in these years and would have a massive impact on music: the Fender Bassman. While earlier iterations of the amp were included in Tweed designs, the sound of the Bassman in the early 1960s had attracted enough attention it became the model of inspiration behind Jim Marshall’s amplifier designs starting in 1962. To a degree, the modern Bassbreaker series channels this heritage.
These amps from 1959-1963 are the missing link in the evolutionary chain of the Fender catalogue. With exterior shades of either blonde or brown tolex, these give a nod back to the earlier days of amps past. However, their upper control faceplate in a deep brown was just a few shades away from a line of Fender amplifiers that would define generations of sound in the years ahead.
Around 1963/64, Fender began repurposing remaining tweed-style cabinets to present a new type of amplifier with a front-facing and slanted control panel at the top of the cabinet. The color? You guessed it, matte-black with off white script. These exterior of these amps was matched with black tolex and for the first time Fender used silver grille cloth. Classic and classy. The first amps to sport this look were the Champ and Vibro Champ. With specs including an 8 inch speaker and 4 watts, these were accessible, affordable, and quickly acclaimed by a variety of players. The Blackface era of amps extends as far as the year 1968. Along the way, the amps grew in size, power, and features. Notable designs of these days include the Princeton, Deluxe, Vibrolux, the legendary Twin Reverb, and in the heavyweight category, the Concert. The popularity of the Blackface, however, meant they couldn’t stay in the past. These days, Fender’s reissue line includes some fresh takes on top-shelf classics like the ’65 Deluxe Reverb and ’65 Princeton Reverb.
The last item in the almanac of vintage (and now reissued) Fender amps are those of the Silverface era, which spanned from as early as 1967/68 through 1981. Amps of this era saw somewhat of a mixed reception. When CBS acquired Fender in 1965, some items in the years after took a dive in quality. The Silverface amps, in some ways, existed in the shadow of their Blackface predecessors. Nonetheless, the silver faceplate inscribed with block-blue font and “drip edge” around the grille clothe gave these amps a distinct new look. Classic amps of the original lineup include the Bassman, Twin Reverb, and the little engine that could, the Champ. Recently, Fender drew on the best of the Silverface era amps but enhanced them with modern appointments in reissues of the ’68 Custom Princeton, ’68 Custom Deluxe, and ’68 Custom Deluxe Reverb.