When I discovered Neil Young's Zuma and Ragged Glory I was completely spellbound, as much by the sounds as the songs themselves. Credit should certainly go to the late David Briggs... but mostly it's Neil's incredible feel - his ability to wring chaos from his equipment and ride it - that amazes me.
Anyway, ever since then I wanted a 5E3 Tweed Deluxe. When I found this baby it was in rough shape. The back panel was missing, and decades of shed gunk- dust, rust, and dried bug husks - blanketed the interior of the chassis. The speaker cone was disintegrating and its voice coil was scratchy. At one point it appears someone had covered it with faux woodgrain Mac Tac... there were bits of it still stuck under the edges. The chrome was so corroded that the silkscreening was barely legible. Optically it was beautiful though ;)
Of course I had to plug it in as is, and didn't it produce the most gnarly of tones. I wanted to leave it original, but something about the jolts I'd receive when I plugged in told me I'd need to give it some attention on the bench before it went up in smoke and took me with it. My approach was to change only what was necessary to make it stable and safe. With isopropyl and compressed air, I dove in.
Here's what I did...
First thing: a new grounded power cord for safety.
New leather handle (original was almost gone).
New back panel, aged to match as best I could and shielded for noise reduction.
New speaker. The original P12R came back from the reconer as "unreconable", bent basket and shifted magnet. I found a straight cone black frame P12Q from 1958 in perfect shape after decades in an organ, and gave it a felt dust cap because the cardboard dome was a little ice-picky. The P12Q has a bigger magnet and voice coil than a P12R (see comparison), so it's a bit louder and holds together better.
The circuit: removed "death switch", replaced sticky power switch with NOS JBT DPST for safety in case some nitwit wired an outlet or extension cable backwards (I've seen it, even on big stages). Replaced cracked fuse holder with exact NOS, bent input jack with NOS Milspec-grade Switchcraft, stubbornly noisy potentiometers with Alphas. The filament wiring was suspect, as it had lain in flotsam for years, so I rewired it with solid core teflon-jacket and installed an easily reversible virtual center tap for lower hum than the stock Fender scheme which grounds one leg of the supply. This necessitated a new pilot lamp assembly since Fender hard-soldered one leg to ground, so I found a NOS replacement. Once I fired it up after these changes, it was nice and quiet. My meter revealed DC on the grid ends of two of the yellow Astron coupling caps, so they had to come out... in went NOS Sprague DiFilm Black Beauties, similar in composition and tone to the originals, but blocking DC as they should. One electrolytic in the preamp looked suspect, so I used a new Sprague Atom.
Pictures: front... back... chassis... corrosion
Info on the amp: Serial No. D-02399; Stamp on tube chart: FI. Date codes on pots: 304626, exactly halfway through 1956. Output transformer: Thordarson 24S55. Not what I expected here, but it is from the era and the solder joints look original. *Update: another owner of a '56 5E3 has contacted me to let me know that his amp has the same transformer, so it looks like Fender used them for awhile, probably to stopgap their supply... business must have been good...*
Here's a recording: 1955 Junior... Deluxe in the left channel, running at 114V on a Hammond voltage regulator (not a variac, an autotransformer). Outfit with a GE triple mica 6072A, RCA blackplate 12AX7, RCA blackplate 6V6GTs, and RCA 5Y3GT; RCA BK-5A ribbon microphone. Bright channel input, volume on 11, tone 3. An A/B-Y box splits the guitar into a (slightly noisy) 1968 Traynor TR-2 spring reverb unit, then into the Artifact X and a 1973 Celestion Greenback in the right channel; white Sennheiser MD421. Ampex MX10 mixer. Hard panned so the tones remain isolated... the left is only Deluxe, and the right is only X. No compression or EQ. Thanks for listening.
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