A Brief History Of Brownface Era Amplifiers

Published on
January 18, 2021 at 4:26:26 PM PST January 18, 2021 at 4:26:26 PM PSTth, January 18, 2021 at 4:26:26 PM PST

Introduced in 1959 and discontinued in 1963, the Brown/Blonde Era of Fender amps was short-lived, but acquainted the American amp world with a number of new design features and prepared us all for the Blackface Era (but we’ll get to that a little later).

First we should note that this Era marked the beginning of Fender’s use of tolex in their amp covering.  Brown and Blonde tolex was now being applied to their amps, typically with the Blonde amps being the piggyback style amps such as Tremolux, Bassman, Showman, etc., and the Brown amps being used for the combo amps.  Now, this is all to be taken with the tiniest grain of salt as Fender was famous for throwing curve balls here and there with the occasional Brown-covered bassman and Blonde-covered experimental amp.

These Brown/Blonde Era amps also introduced two-channel circuitry with separate tone stacks being used for each channel and combining at the phase inverter.  Even more, after the introduction of the stand-alone reverb unit in 1961, Fender began incorporating reverb circuits into their combo amps with the Vibroverb in 1963.  Brown and Blonde amps were known for being a bit more hi-fi and even more versatile than their Tweed predecessors (as far as functionality goes) but still retained some of that sweet Tweed character everyone had come to love so much.  Fixed-bias output sections were also seen almost exclusively during this era as well as a bit more negative feedback.  As a result, these amps featured a more linear response and a more usable presence control.

During this time, Fender also incorporated different brands and types of speakers.  This is when we see brands like Utah and Oxford pop up here and there; we also begin to see the use of ceramic magnet speakers.  Fender even started using JBL speakers in Showman cabs and sometimes offering JBL as an upgrade in other models.  This sort of catalog allowed all kinds of different guitarists to find an amp that made more sense to them.  Rock and Jazz players had  different needs and they were now able to start playing through amps that were specifically geared towards their musicianship.

Larger Brown and Blonde amps also employed a tremolo feature known as “Harmonic Tremolo” that was unique to this era, and considered by many to be the best of all Fender tremolo sounds.  Being that these amps were made for such a short period of time, many players hold them in high regard and they can be rather difficult to find, especially in good condition.  If you do get lucky enough to find one, they are worth holding onto, repairing, and playing.  They sing in the studio and on stage and they will turn heads among well-read players.  For a closer look at a few brownface amps, please visit ampwares.com.