Restoration of a 1961 Fender Bandmaster Head

Here's the somewhat rambling story behind this amp.  I purchased this amp from someone via eBay, and the auction description and the seller assured me that this amp sounded fantastic and had "incredible tone".  When I received it, half the tubes were missing and one of the output tubes was broken.  I would therefore agree that if this amp had any tone at all, THAT would be incredible!  Cosmetically it was an enigma.  The tolex was in terrible shape and it was completely loose on top.  Moreover, the original blond tolex had obviously painted black, then repainted with beige paint over the black.  There some black spray on the back of the chassis and beige paint on the front grill.  It had a blackface-era handle and some odd non-standard rubber feet.  But the faceplate was pristine.  I don't think it was a repro, it was aged, just not a single scratch on it, which seemed unusual, given the mileage this cabinet has seen.

So, I emailed the seller and asked what was up with this mess, whereupon I was informed that he was  "selling it for a friend" (gasp!), who picked up random amps in the southwest.  He said he never really plugged it in, was sorry for the misunderstanding, and offered a refund.  

But... the amp just reeked of coolness and how often to these come around?  So, even though I paid a fair, not great, price for a working amp, I opted to keep and restore it.  These old amps are pretty simple and I have some experience with old tube electronics.  As the photos show, I wound up re-tolexing the cabinet and it came out pretty well.  While I was at it, I re-tolexed and regrilled my Fender reissue tube reverb to match.  (BTW, I got this reverb from Kenny Blue Ray).  

Okay, back to the amp.... electronically, it was a mess.  Someone had added damping caps all over the place and rewired the inputs with some weird shielded cable.  I took all that mess out and restored the circuit to stock.  Then I turned it on and all it could do was H-O-W-L.  After beating my head against the wall for a few days, it finally dawned on me that tube amps howl when the output transformer is wired out of phase.  That just never occurred to me because, the OT was a stock Fender Bassman OT, with a 1964 date code and it appeared to have been wired like that for a long time.  The wires were clearly unmolested and rigid as old wiring tends to get, and the solder joints looked old.  However, when I reversed the primary wires on the OT, the amp sang clearly.  This may explain why the faceplate was so pristine, if the OT was actually installed backwards early in its life, it would have seen little actual use, since it could not possibly have worked properly.  That may also explain all the wiring changes, as someone was obviously trying to get rid of the feedback.  My guess is that this wasn't the original cabinet, as often happens.  Who knows?  Anyway, now the amp at least worked, but it was VERY noisy at idle and didn't sound "right".  So, I recapped the power supply, changed out a bad standby switch and installed a 3-prong power cord.  This helped, but the tremolo wasn't working, so I tested the coupling caps, and sure enough, four were leaky.  Changing these out fixed the tremolo, quieted the amp right down and restored the tone.  What a sweet amp this turned out to be!  Well worth the effort (to me).

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Created 21 June 2003

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