Sunday, June 22, 2008

1963 Fender Tremolux Amplifier


I had an opportunity to get an old Fender Tremolux once in a trade situation and completely blew it. When the opportunity came up a second time, years later, I wasn't about to let it get away. I'm pretty sure I've told the story of the first chance I had...I needed an amp for the first actual band I was going to be in. All I had was a really nice, extra fancy Martin D-41 (MAN, I wish I had that one back). I took it to the local guitar store to trade it for an amp and a lesser acoustic guitar and I blew it. I did get a really sweet, cherry sunburst Gibson Dove from the late 70's that played like buttah and sounded great. But when the guy said, "You can pick from those two amps over there in the corner," that's when I blew it. The two amps were a 1963 blonde Fender Tremolux with 2-10" cabinet and a Roland Jazz Chorus 120. You guessed it folks...I picked the Roland, god help me. Suffice it to say, I had no idea what I was doing when it came to amps at the time and I'm sure the guy from that shop still tells the story of how some schmuck traded a D-41 with thousands of dollars of additional inlay for a Dove and a Jazz Chorus.

It's probably his shining retail moment.

So, fast forward a few years, and I come across this second Tremolux, identical to the one I missed out on. That's how I say it..."missed out on." Prior to the world of eBay and Craig's List you had to rely on local papers and entertainment publications and the Penny Saver. In San Diego we have The Reader, which has the listings for all the live music in town, movies, articles about local politics and stories about all kinds of goofy local people, usually with a parrot on their shoulder and wearing Hawaiian shirts. The best part of The Reader for a musician though is the ads for musical instruments. That's where I found this amp...in The Reader. I actually don't remember the details in any way...I'm completely drawing a blank. But I do know that this amp sounded like a million bucks and I fell in love with tremolo.

As you can see from the photos, this amp has a separate head and cabinet. The Tremolux came with a 2-10" cabinet with Jensen speakers, though sometimes you'll find one with 2-12". I'm pretty certain that if you come across that, you're not looking at an original pairing. The old Bandmasters and later Bassmans came with 2-12's and, although they still sound great, it's the 2-10's that I think give this the sound. The head has a sort of built-in bracket system that keeps it attached to the cab with large thumb screws and it had tilt-back legs as well. I was always scared shitless to actually use the tilt-backs because I was afraid the whole thing would tip over and KA-BAM, no amp. I had a custom road case built for this amp with a red finish, so if you happen to own this amp with it's red road case let me know. I'll trade you for a Jazz Chorus...wink, wink. Not that I still have the Jazz Chorus...that's another story.

The end of this amp came about when I was playing a gig one night at a local San Diego bar called Dreamstreet. It's one of those bars that has 4 local bands a night playing and no one's crowd supports any other band...so your band plays, your people come in and hang out, then your band finishes, your people go back outside, and no one ever builds up a local following because no one supports good live music...just supports their friend's band. But I digress. We got set up as quickly as we could, being the third band of the night, and got ready to kick into our first tune. I was the lead singer and rhythm guitarist. I stepped up to the mic to sing the first words and my lips slightly touched the mic and BOOOM...I literally got the shock of my life. That old Tremolux wasn't grounded and, even though I had used the same amp successfully for a long time, the situation that night all added up to massive electrocution. It literally blew me backwards just a bit and I had a burn on my lips for quite a few days. We kept playing but I stayed about a foot from the mic the rest of the night...rock'n'roll must go on.

It didn't take long for me to decide to get a different amp. I suppose I could have had that one altered with a grounded cord, but I didn't want to alter the originality of it and I just decided to get something else. I'm pretty sure I sold it and ended up with a Music Man 4-10 Sixty Five, which was no slouch. Hey, I wish I had that one back too.

Once again, I can't find photos of this actual amp, so I have resorted to stealing some from the 'net. These photos are EXACT though, so pretend this is the one I had and no one will know.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I helped start a rock & roll band back in 1964. My first real amp was a Fender Tremolux. Black. Then picked up a Fender Jaguar guitar. I traded the guitar for a Gibson but hung onto the amp. After years of not using it I decided to sell it. I still kick myself in the ass for that. Now I have a Charvell.. a good amp.. but long for the days I had my Tremolux. All that's left are some dog-eared photographs.

Mark said...

Talk about a story of grief. FWIW, that shock situation can happen any time the PA and the amp are on opposite phases of the buildings 120 volt wiring. A floating ground such as the pre 3-wire amps makes it much more likely but even a 3-wire system is no guaranty. Adding a grounded power cord is no big deal and it is reversable should you ever want to sell the amp to a collector.

Alex said...

Aren't those Tremolux heads the same thing as a Bandmaster, only they came with a smaller cabinet? I thought I came to that conclusion correctly, weird as it is.

Jaimie Muehlhausen said...

I don't think so...I don't think a Bandmaster has tremolo. And I think there are other differences...but I'm certainly no expert. - Jaimie

bluesman said...

I love my Fender Tremolux amp
mine is from 1961. Here are some audio samples I maid with it:

http://www.tonepedia.com/?page=search&cat=1&subcat=2&guitar_company=&guitar_model=&guitar_year=&effect_company=&effect_model=&effect_year=&amp_company=fender&amp_model=tremolux&amp_year=&cabinet_company=&cabinet_model=&cabinet_year=

Red Scott said...

How can you test your amp/mic to know whether or not there's going to be a problem with the phase...ie "shock"? ...lol

Anonymous said...

touch your strings to the mic and watch for a spark. No spark your ok. Spark, flip the polarity switch or rotate the plug. I learned this in the 70's when nothing was grounded

Bruce Palait said...

I have a 1963 Fender Tremolux Amplifier and 1963 Fender Telecaster Guitar bought at the same time, original.

Jaimie Muehlhausen said...

Wow, that's pretty amazing. Bet they sound fantastic.

Bruce Palait said...

Jaimie good question I guess I am lucky to have them. If you want to hear the Guitar I am on facebook. I haven't really performed much with the Amp.

Frank M said...

I had not been playing for a number of years, sold my 61 Gretsch Double Ann. and my 65 Tremolux Amp for $1200 in 93. Knowing I made a mistake, 3 months later I bought a Reissue Jaguar and Twin Reverb. been playing in several bands since then. That combo played all the hot spots in NYC in the 60's I'm sorry I ever sold them.

Peter L said...

Still got my Tremolux which I bought in 1964 £130 new (about $200) Other than a few replacement 6L6 valves about every 10 years or so. still going strong. Unique sound with my Strat. Question now is at 65, fingers aren't as quite as supple as they used to be. I should be thinking of what to do with it. Any ideas?