History of Fender Brown Face Amps

The Brownface Fender amplifiers were introduced in 1959 and discontinued in 1963. This period marked the beginning of Fender's use of Tolex to cover amp cabinets. Most of the brownface amps featured a "wheat" grille cloth. Some of them also came with a dark maroon or "oxblood" grill cloth. There were many notable accomplishments for the company's amplifier division during these years. Namely, the introduction of the stand-alone spring reverb unit in 1961, followed by the subsequent incorporation of the reverb circuit within a combo-amp design with the 1963 Vibroverb. Other notable accomplishments of this period include the shift of the top-of-the-line model from the traditional Twin-Amp to include other models, like the Vibrasonic Amp in early 1960, as well as the blonde Showman Amp in 1961.

Also worthy of note are Fender's employment of the silicon rectifier to reduce heat caused by tube recitifiers, as well as the advancement of the vibrato circuit which many feel to be at its best during these years. For all of these innovations however, these years are most recognized for the various color combinations the amplifiers wore--brown tolex with yellow or "wheat" grille cloth being the most common.

The shift from the tweed design to tolex occurred in limited production in 1960. The tolex on the earliest versions in this era was pinkish brown and rough textured. There were only six amplifiers covered in tolex originally, and they were called the Professional Series: Bandmaster-Amp, Concert-Amp, Pro-Amp, Super-Amp, the Twin-Amp (production halted Feb-May 1960, resumed as the blonde Twin) and the Vibrasonic-Amp. These were considered a step above the student models (Champ, Harvard, Deluxe, Princeton, Vibrolux) which remained tweed-covered in 1960. Grille cloths were initially the same as those used in the previous tweed era (i.e.: maroon with gold stripe). Beginning in mid to late 1961, Fender introduced another color combination: a smoother but still light brown tolex with a dark maroon or "oxblood" grill cloth. By mid 1961, after this short-lived look, Fender is using the darker brown tolex which was a mainstay for many of the mid 1961 to 1963 amps. Between 1961 and 1963, there were three different grille cloth colors: wheat, brown, and maroon and many tolex-grille color combinations are found suggesting that Leo Fender and Co. was not hesitant to use up whatever stocks of materials were on hand. This mode of operation would seem to extend to the electrical components as well given that it is not uncommon to find actual production amps that vary from the published schematics. Variations of Fender's circuit design appear to have spiked in the tweed-to-tolex transition from 1959 to 1960. Many of the earliest brown amps from this period have a combination of features uncommon for production amps. To start with, the sharp cut of the upper-front edge of the cabinet is a feature that distinguishes most of the 1960 brown Fenders. This was caused by not using a router bit along this edge during the finishing stages of the cabinetry. A router was later employed giving the tolex amps from approximately 1961 onward a more common rounded upper edge. Another interesting feature of these early brown amps is the unusual "center-volume" array of control nobs-reading "BASS-TREBLE-VOLUME" from left to right-which appears to have been a feature of the six Professional Series of amps between approximately January and May 1960. Afterwards, this was changed to the order we still find today (VOLUME-TREBLE-BASS). A feature that coincides with these "center volume" Fenders is the plugged "pulse adj." would-be jack or control feature on the back panel. Suggestions as to what this control may have been were published in Vintage Guitar Magazine in the late 1990s.

As the brown-era wore on, the plight of the smaller, student model amps was varied. They all remained in name at least except for the 1x10" Harvard which was not continued through 1961. The 1x8" Champ-Amp remained a tweed-covered through 1963 and into 64 when it made the change to black tolex. The 1x10" Vibrolux amp remained a tweed amp until it was upgraded in 1961 to a single 12" speaker powered by a duet of 6L6 power tubes and a larger output transformer. Also upgraded from tweed was the Princeton-Amp which acquired its brown tolex in 1962 along with a larger speaker array: 1x10". The Deluxe-Amp remained as well, however its upgrade was largely aesthetic as it remained a 2-6V6 powered single 12" speaker voiced amplifier. Another aspect of this period of Fender Amplifiers can be found in the new amplifiers which made their debuts at this time. The Concert-Amp came to fill the demand for a tolex 4x10" design so ably filled by its predecessor the Bassman. The Showman Amp was designed with Dick Dale in mind. Its interleaved output transformer and top of the line JBL speaker(s) made it a formidable presence at the time. Its blonde tolex and head and cabinet design made it a harbinger of changes on the horizon for Fender Amps. Following its lead, the Bassman-Amp as well as the Bandmaster-Amp were covered in blonde and changed from combo amps (all in one) to the new head-and-cabinet design. The year 1960 saw the end of the 3x10" combo with the short-lived, center-volume Bandmaster. The JBL speaker upgrade points to concerns that had been mounting at Fender since the debut of the hi-powered 80 watt Twin Amp in 1958. Speakers of the era were unable to keep pace. Another new design, the 1x15" Vibrasonic-Amp featured a Lansing speaker and was temporarily touted as the flagship of Fender Amps in early 1960. This leads us to perhaps an interesting moment of brown-era Fender Amp history: the mystery of the brown Twin-Amp.