A Brief History of the Fender Deluxe:
Part I: The Woody and Tweed Years 1946 to 1960
The Deluxe is one of Fender's iconic amps. It has had many changes over the years and had many variations. To the casual observer they may look similar but all the models bring something different to the table. The Deluxe has usually been 1X12 Combo amp ranging from 12 to 22 Watts making ideal for smaller gigs,practice as home, and recording. Deluxes of all varieties are on countless records and many famous players have turned to Deluxe for their rich yet volume friendly sound. In this series of articles I will briefly discuss different models of the Deluxe and their sonic and circuit difference (in brief). Also what can and should be done to make them electrically safe and correct flaws that existed in some models. As a builder I have built pretty much every iteration of the Deluxe and service them on a regular basis. I hope this article is useful to interested players who want straight expert information on the Fender Deluxe.
Tweed Years Description and Features found in All Models:
The early years of the Deluxe models were some really good years. The main characteristic of these amp is great overdrive and compression. They can have really nice cleans too but much of the desire for these amp comes from player desiring dynamic and harmonically rich overdrive.
All the Tweed/Woody models have a few things in common:
A. All models have two channels; either labeled bright and normal or in earlier models Microphone and Instrument. All model had three inputs expect for the 5E3 which had four.
B. All models use a 5Y3 tube rectifier. The 5Y3 has quite a bit of sag and a voltage drop of 50V so it contributes to both compression, spongy bass response and lower head/easier overdrive. Over the year many amp builders and player have experimented with other rectifier tubes. The GZ-34 or 5V4 offer a bit more headroom, a little less compression, and tighter bass. In most Tweed deluxe models they can be swapped out with no bias adjustment so it's good thing to try. Carl's Custom Amps Classic Tweed Deluxe 15T and Octal Deluxe both use a GZ-34 and people love the sound.
C.All models used a pair of cathode biased 6V6 tubes for the power section. The cathode bias give the amp singing quality when cranked up and a more compressed feel.
D. All Tweed Versions had finger joined pine cab that resonated. In addition the baffle is the thin "floating" kind. This allows the baffle to act almost as if it is part of the speaker. These features made the cab sound woody and gave them unique punch.
The Woody Deluxe or Model 26 1946-1948
This was Fender's very first amp! It got really unique looks with a hardwood cab. They came in variety of colors and woods. Legend has it that the little chrome strips on the front were born of of the Leo Fender's desire to give it automobile look. The Woody Deluxe usually came with Alnico magnet Jensen P12R (likely a smooth cone version) but some people report amps with field coil speaker. d
The circuit is differs more than any of the versions that came after it. It used a 6SC7 pre-amp tube and 6N7 phase inverter. The first gain stage is cathode biased like the 5E3 and 5D3 Deluxes. The circuit is pretty much a straight copy of many P.A and phonograph amps of the day. The tone control is in different position in the circuit from the other Deluxes so the volumes and tone do interact differently than in the other models.
I've built one out of curiosity and found it to be a very smooth sound but with little overdrive or sparkle. I soon changed it over to a 5B3 circuit. While valuable I don't thinks it's Fenders most toneful Deluxe.
The TV Front and Early Wide Panel Deluxes 5A3, 5B3 and 5C3 1948-1954
I lump together all these models because the circuit is nearly the same in these three models. They use slightly different values for the input resistors between models and the 5C3 has slightly more bass and slightly altered phase inverter circuit with little negative feedback making the amp a bit tamer sounding.
All of these amps use octal 6SC7 and or 6SL7 pre-amp tubes. The two tube types sound the same since one is simply a altered version of the other. These amps use grid-leak bias for the first gain stage which give them sweet over driven tone and fat honk that grid-leak stage seem to give amps. The one caveat is that you cannot use high gain pedals with these amps since you will overload the input. That said pretty much one one needs a high gain pedal with this amp.
These amps also use what's known a paraphase phase inverter which was common in many amplifiers of the day. This style of phase inverter is less hi-fi and imparts a certain grittiness to the amp.
These Deluxe don't have much headroom but the overdrive is divine. It's fat, crunchy, and just plain cool. My company Carl's Custom Amp builds a version called the Octal Deluxe. It's one of my favorites. Over the years I have built all three circuits and eventually developed the Octal Deluxe which take the best attributes of each.
The Wide Panel 5D3 1954-1955
This Deluxe was a transitional Deluxe model. It was the first to use the familiar miniurature pre-amp tubes. It uses 12AY7 and 12AX7 just like the later 5E3. Fender also moved over to self-balancing paraphase phase inverter and back to cathode bias for the first gain stage. Honestly I have yet to build or play one but it surely sounds good being that it has a circuit between the 5E3 and the earlier Wide Panel and TV Front Amps.
The 5E3 Narrow Panel Deluxe 1955-1960
This is the one everyone talks about. For many players the 5E3 is the holy grail. The circuit is different and runs at higher voltages than the other models giving it more headroom and total gain. It uses the 12AY7 and 12AX7 preamp tube but with a cathodyne phase inverter. The cathodyne is cleaner than the phase inverters used in other early Deluxe models and has it's own nasally kind of snarl with the amp turned up. The 5E3 is truly a classic sounding amp. There are not a lot of cleans but they are angelic. The overdrive is gritty, warm and punchy. A vintage 5E3 is pricey item so there are lots of clones out there but few are truly thought out. Tiny changes in the layout, parts selection, and minor tweeks make huge difference. My version of the 5E3 is the Classic Tweed Deluxe 15T and has lots of experience behind it.
Note on Transformers and Speakers:
Speakers: Fender used both Jensen P12R and P12Q speakers on these amps. The P12Q is bit fatter and has better power handling and headroom. Generally the P12Q is the prefered speaker. Also the cone style varied so speakers in Deluxes can be very different from each other.
Transformers: During these year Fender used lots of different transformers with different specs. So vintage Deluxes can differ from amp to amp even within a model.