Blackfacing a Silverface Amp
What does it mean, and why do we “blackface” our amps?
When CBS bought out Fender in 1965, it was originally hailed as a good thing. Everyone thought that CBS would bring capital into Fender, increasing production and maybe even lower costs in the process. What ended up happening was something else.
CBS started cutting corners on production and completely revamping the designs of the Fender lines in 1968. Players were unhappy with the resulting products, but they doubled down by making more and more changes. By 1980, Fender was practically broke and CBS was blamed for having run the brand into the ground.
Blackfacing an amp
Blackfacing essentially involves changing the circuit designs that CBS introduced to Leo Fender’s designs. It is not difficult, and gives great results. There are several videos online that can walk you through the process; when I did my blackfacing, the videos were where I started.
Why blackface a Bandmaster Reverb and not some other model?
Out of the entire vintage Fender line, the Bandmaster Reverb is the least sough-after amp, and they can be had for $400-$700 on eBay. The one that I picked up cost me $460. Most other silverface amps run into the $700+ range these days and IMO, get you no closer to a blackface tone.
Change it into a combo
I had a 1×12 cabinet built by busmc on eBay. It cost me around $200, and is of excellent quality. He has a lot of orders coming through, so don’t expect to get it fast. If you are a bit impatient, there are others that can build one more quickly for you—just do a search.
Get a 4 ohm speaker
I’m not getting into the science behind why you should use a speaker with the resistance that the output transformer was designed for. Just treat your equipment the way the engineer intended.
I decided to break the bank and go with the Blue Dog.
The tone caps really mattered.
I was not happy with the low end of the amp until I switched out the tone caps for the blue molded caps that you can see in this picture (see the right side of the amp). The low end just sounded flabby with the Sprague Oranges that I put it, even though the values were the same. They ran me around $10-$15 each on eBay. (note: I liked the sound of the amp much more after I replaced some of the original caps. CBS did not use quality caps, and I noticed that the amp quieted down quite a bit when I switched them out).
What does it sound like?
I had a 1965 Deluxe Reverb for a few months right after I finished blackfacing this amp. I compared the two on several occasions; the difference in sound was surprisingly not that great; the BR seemed to have a bit more muscle than the DR(that could have been attributable to the speaker and almost certainly the wattage difference) but the two definitely sounded like they were in the same ballpark. I ended up spending a total of around $800 for the whole job, I learned a load about tube amps in the process, and I ended up with an amp that could sit in the room with a $3000 vintage Deluxe Reverb (which I sold).
We are all familiar with the HRDX, so let’s compare it to a BR.
It’s hard to get an idea of what an amp sounds like without a basis for comparison. To this end, I played through the amp, then ran a Hot Rod Deluxe through the cabinet by plugging the speaker into the output of the HRDX. I set the volumes to be just about the same, and left everything else the same. Same mic, same placement, same cab/speaker, same interface (an Apollo Twin w/ a 57 on the cab). It gives you a pretty good idea of what a SF Bandmaster Reverb can sound like with a little work and a tiny investment.