A Guide to Blackface-Era Fender Amps

Certain words and phrases pique the interest of vintage guitar players and collectors worldwide, like “Burst,” “Blackguard” “Plexi” and “Blackface.” Named for their black control panels, Blackface Fender amps are one of the company’s most famous and coveted product series.

Blackface Fender amps tend to be categorized into two groups by collectors and players: “Pre-CBS” (mid-1963 to mid-1965) models with a “Fender Electric Instrument Company” label and “CBS” (mid-1965 to mid-1968) models with a “Fender Musical Instrument” label.

Blackface amps were immediately popular back in the day and used on numerous famous recordings. They continue to be a backline and recording mainstay of musicians who seek a great, chimey Fender clean and, when pushed, classic overdriven tone. Fender offered a full range of amps in their Blackface line ranging from the diminutive Champ to the massive Twin Reverb.

Cosmetically, the amps featured the aforementioned black control panels with white lettering, black tolex protective covering, and silver thread grille cloth. Attesting to Leo Fender’s engineering genius, Blackface Fenders are legendary for their rock solid reliability. Built like a proverbial tank, these 50-plus year old amps will be rocking way into the future.

In this guide, we’ll learn a bit about each of the amps in the Blackface lineup, including performance attributes, key tech specs and famous users.


Fender Champ

Fender offered three versions of the Champ during the Blackface period. Beginning in late 1963 and continuing into mid-1964, Fender used up remaining old “Tweed style” Champ chassis and cabinets, but with Blackface cosmetics; Leo Fender was famously known as a skinflint when it came to minimizing production costs. After all, he was the guy who reused his styrofoam cup for coffee. The new style Champ and Vibro Champ amps featured slanting control panels.

All of these amps put out about 4 watts and had a single 8” speaker. These amps, fondly referred to as the “lunch box,” were sold by the thousands to students and professionals alike. Immediately popular for studio use, they also found favor from musicians playing small gigs. And of course, your Champ can be mic’d to be used in just about any size venue. Just grab your guitar and this little powerhouse and head out to the gig.

Tech Specs:

  • Tweed Style: one channel, single volume control
  • Champ: one channel, volume, treble, bass controls
  • Vibro Champ: one channel, volume, treble, bass, speed and intensity controls

Famous Users: Eric Clapton


Fender Princeton

Once again, Fender issued three distinct variants of the Princeton amp during the Blackface era: the transitional “tuxedo” model, as well as reverb and non-reverb models in the new “Princeton” style. Each version featured a single 10” speaker and about 12 watts of output. Small, light and, like all Blackface Fenders, built like a tank, Princetons are a favorite of many guitarists (and harp players) for studio and live use. Mic’d, they can be used even in medium to large venues.

The tuxedo was the result of the ever-thrifty Leo Fender wanting to use up the remaining “brownface” Princeton Amp chassis and cabinets. Issued from mid-1963 to mid-1964, the tuxedo amps featured Blackface cosmetics, but were very snazzy looking with white barrel knobs.

Overshadowed by the Princeton Reverb, which is widely considered one of the most famous studio amps ever built, the non-reverb Princeton is a sleeper hit. Its existence in the shadow of its reverb-capable brother is a shame, as it offers some of the finest pure Fender tones you can find in a compact package. Also, the non-reverb models cost a lot less than the reverb amps. Plus, unlike the Reverb models, the non-reverb Princeton amp offers a significant amount of clean headroom.

The Princeton Reverb, on the other hand, has an extra 12AX7 preamp tube which gives it a more overdriven sound when the volume is pushed.

Tech Specs:

  • Tuxedo model: single channel, Volume, Tone, Speed and Intensity controls
  • Non-Reverb: single channel, Volume, Treble, Bass, Speed and Intensity controls
  • Reverb: single channel, Volume, Treble, Bass, Speed, Intensity and Reverb controls

Famous Users: Mike Campbell


Fender Deluxe

Moving up to one 12” speaker and about 20 watts with up both reverb and non-reverb models, the Deluxe amp is like a Princeton on steroids. With the Deluxe, you get a lot more bass response and plenty more clean headroom. One of the most legendary amps of all time, pristine Blackface Deluxe examples come with a steep price tag. Some players even fondly refer to their Deluxe Reverb as their “desert island” amp.

These amps are perfect for medium sized venues. Mic’d, they can be used on large stages and even fare well in outdoor concerts. Still, with this amp, you get a lot of oomph and versatility in a compact and relatively light package.

Tech Specs:

  • Non-Reverb: Normal channel (Volume, Treble, Bass controls); Vibrato channel (Volume, Treble, Bass, Speed and Intensity controls)
  • Reverb model: Normal channel (Volume, Treble, Bass controls); Vibrato channel (Volume, Treble, Bass, Speed, Intensity and Reverb controls)

Famous Users: Eric Johnson, J.D. Simo, Trey Anastasio


Fender Vibrolux

The non-reverb Vibrolux featured a single 12” speaker and boasted about 40 watts of output. It was generally discontinued by late 1963, with just a few issued in early 1964, and was replaced by a completely different combo amp of 35 watts, two 10” speakers and reverb. The Vibrolux Reverb is one of the most sought after Blackface Fender amps, especially a clean “Fender Electric Instrument Company” emblazoned example. Offering more guts and headroom than a Deluxe, it can be employed to meet a myriad of gigging situations.

Tech Specs:

  • Non-Reverb model: Normal channel (Volume, Treble, Bass controls); Vibrato channel (Volume, Treble, Bass, Speed and Intensity controls)
  • Reverb model: Normal channel (Volume, Treble, Bass controls); Vibrato channel (Volume, Treble, Bass, Speed, Intensity and Reverb controls)

Famous Users: Richie Kotzen


Fender Pro

The non-reverb Pro amps were about 40 watts and had a single 15” speaker. By late 1964, they were replaced by the completely new Pro Reverb, which touted 40 watts and a pair of 12” speakers. Sometimes referred to as the “Baby Twin,” the Pro Reverb provided a lot of musical firepower and fit the bill in larger venues.

Tech Specs:

  • Non-Reverb model: Normal channel (Volume, Treble, Bass controls); Vibrato channel (Volume, Treble, Bass, Speed and Intensity controls)
  • Reverb model: Normal channel (Volume, Treble, Bass controls); Vibrato channel (Volume, Treble, Bass, Speed, Intensity and Reverb controls)

Famous Users: Pete Townshend was rumored to have used a brown Pro for early Who recordings


Fender Concert

The 4x10” Concert amp put out about 40 watts. A short-lived model, it was discontinued by mid-1964. Still, a lot of sound output for the money—and they tend to sell for a lot less than the similar-looking Super Reverb amps.

Tech Specs:

  • Normal channel (Volume, Treble, Bass controls); Vibrato channel (Volume, Treble, Bass, Speed and Intensity controls)

Famous Users: Pete Townshend used an early brown tolex Concert amp


Fender Super Reverb

The Super Reverb, sporting 4x10” speakers and 40 watts of firepower, is another of the most legendary Blackface Fender amps. An industry standard, you’d be likely to find this amp everywhere from the studio to your local club’s backline. In addition to reverb, it featured a middle control on the Vibrato channel, enabling players to tweak treble response. Some of these amps came equipped from the factory with JBL speakers. The weight combined with the tall cabinet made them a true backbreaker, but many players happily endured the pain in exchange for the amp’s full sounds.

Tech Specs:

  • Normal channel (Volume, Treble, Bass controls); Vibrato channel (Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass, Speed, Intensity and Reverb controls)

Famous Users: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Derek Trucks


Fender Vibroverb

One of the rarest of the Blackface Fender combo amps, the Vibroverb looks like a 1x15” Pro amp but with an onboard reverb. Very collectable, loud and fat sounding with its 15” speaker, the Vibroverb is a great choice if you have enough coin.

Tech Specs:

  • Normal channel (Volume, Treble, Bass controls); Vibrato channel (Volume, Treble, Bass, Speed, Intensity and Reverb controls)

Famous Users: Stevie Ray Vaughan


Fender Twin Reverb

The Twin Reverb was the absolute top of the line in Fender’s Blackface range. Designed for a lot of clean, clear output, it boasted four 6L6GC power tubes for 85 watts and a pair of heavy duty Oxford 12T6 speakers. JBL D120F speakers could be factory-ordered for enhanced clarity and volume (not to mention the added potential to dislocate shoulder sockets). Country players love the Twin for its crystal clear tone—a Tele lead pickup through a Twin could be an instrument of sonic destruction. Also a favorite with blues and rock players, Michael Bloomfield used to dime his Twin to unleash an onslaught of blues tones.

Tech Specs:

  • Normal channel (Volume, Treble, Middle and Bass controls); Vibrato channel (Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass, Speed, Intensity and Reverb controls)

Famous Users: Mike Bloomfield, James Burton, Johnny Winter



While most commonly seen in combo configurations, Fender also produced a number of head and cabinet stacks in the Blackface era. Here's a look at some of the Fender’s Blackface “piggyback” amps.


Fender Tremolux

The Tremolux was Fender’s smallest piggyback amp. About 35 watts of output, the amps were offered with with a single or pair of 10” speakers. The Tremolux was the only Blackface piggyback model that utilized a GZ34 tube rectifier; the rest of the piggyback models were solid-state rectified. A tube rectifier offers a little more sag and, according to some, “juiciness” to the sound. The Tremolux amps are the unsung heroes of the Fender lineup and, as such, a great vintage deal. Plus, they’re easily usable in small- to medium-sized venues.

Tech Specs:

  • Normal channel (Volume, Treble, Bass controls); Vibrato channel (Volume, Treble, Bass, Speed and Intensity controls)

Fender Bandmaster

The Bandmaster was about 40 watts and came with a 2x12” speaker cabinet. Featuring a pair of 6L6GC power tubes, the Bandmaster was another good choice for small- to medium-sized venues.

Tech Specs:

  • Normal channel (Volume, Treble, Bass controls); Vibrato channel (Volume, Treble, Bass, Speed, and Intensity controls)

Fender Bassman

The famous Bassman had 50 watts of output and typically came with a 2x12” speaker cabinet. The Blackface era Bassman came in two variants: the 6G6B “tuxedo model” (which was just the earlier blonde Bassman with Blackface cosmetics) and the AA864 and AA165 models.

Just as guitarists tout the Tweed Bassmans as one of the finest guitar amps ever made, the Blackface Bassman makes a superb guitar amp as well. It delivers Fender chime and, when cranked, rich, fat overdrive tones. Due to its stout construction and massive transformers, the Bassman will tolerate a wide variety of speaker cabinets and loads.

Tech Specs:

  • Tuxedo model: Bass channel (Volume, Treble, Bass controls); Normal channel (Volume, Treble, Bass, and Presence controls)
  • Other models: Bass channel (Volume, Treble, Bass controls); Normal channel (Volume, Treble, Bass controls)

Famous Users: Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, Mike Bloomfield, John Fogerty


Fender Showman

The Showman had two cab options: a single 15” speaker, or the Dual Showman, which came with 2x15” speakers. Both were Fender’s flagship piggyback models. Clocking in at 85 watts, these amps were clearly designed for large venues. These amps were prized for their considerable output and the clean tones they could produce through their JBL D130F or D140F speakers.

Tech Specs:

  • Showman and Dual Showman: Normal channel (Volume, Treble, Bass controls); Vibrato channel (Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass, Speed and Intensity controls)

Famous Users: Mike Bloomfield, Dick Dale


comments powered by Disqus