Classic Gear: 1960 Fender 5F6A Tweed Bassman Combo

From a rock perspective, if there’s a “where it all began” amplifier, then Fender’s tweed Bassman of 1958-’60 is it.
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From a rock perspective, if there’s a “where it all began” amplifier, then Fender’s tweed Bassman of 1958-’60 is it. Sure, there were great amps made before and after it, but it’s arguable that no other single model had such a major impact on the sound of rock and roll as did this tweed wonder. Its design has echoed down through the years in the circuits of other major classics, while the original template remains as viable today as it was six decades ago, whether in vintage form, reissue, or clone. In short, the tweed Bassman is a tone monster, the veritable voice of god, and a classic beauty the glowing tubes of which every respectable guitarist needs to sniff at least once in their careers.

Much of the Bassman’s glory as a guitar amp arose from Fender’s efforts to create a more successful bass amp, and it just so happens that popular music was expanding onto larger stages where the 6-string guitar needed more punching power too, and this combo delivered. Outwardly, the Bassman’s most notable characteristic is its quartet of 10" speakers, Jensen P10Rs to be precise, with alnico magnets. Fender reasoned that dividing the power between four drivers with smaller cones would help to eliminate the flubbing-out of low notes experienced in some bass combos equipped with 15" and 12" speakers (as was Ampeg’s thinking later with its 8x10 SVT cabs). And while this worked to create what was then the most effective bass amp available, it also produced an extremely powerful and articulate guitar amp, sweetly translating the full force of 45 watts from a pair of 6L6GC output tubes.

Not that the 4x10 speaker complement deserves all the credit by any means, as it receives the good stuff from a circuit that was also one of the most advanced in its day, and one that has long been proven virtually unsurpassable for dynamics, touch-sensitivity, and overall sonic girth. Significant elements of the final and most-desirable evolution of the Bassman circuit, the 5F6A model, include a cathode-follower tone stage that uses an entire preamp tube to drive very interactive Treble, Bass, and Middle controls; and a long-tailed-pair phase inverter, which was less prone to distortion than the phase inverters used in Fender’s smaller amps at the time.

Crank up the amp, though, and there’s distortion aplenty, but it’s the smooth, rich, toothsome type that lets a guitarist really dig in and express themselves. Keep it clean, or just on the edge of breakup, and the Bassman delivers thick, deep tones with a lot of body, along with excellent articulation and immediacy thanks to the coupling of the circuit’s virility with those fast-response 10" speakers. In short, there have been few amps that both do it all so well—from country to rockabilly to blues to rock—and have also remained so desirable over the course of 60 years.

Buddy Holly was an early adopter of the Bassman for guitar, and it was later employed by Buddy Guy, Jimmie and (occasionally) Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bruce Springsteen, Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, Joe Bonamassa, and several others. And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the 5F6A should be flattered to pieces by the fact that Jim Marshall and his team in the early ’60s used its circuit as the template for their own British-built rock amp, the JTM45. As a result, a little bit of tweed Bassman DNA lingered through several evolutions of Marshall amps, including the hallowed plexi.

ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS

► Two 6L6GC output tubes generating around 45 watts
► Long-tailed-pair phase inverter
► One 12AY7 and two 12AX7 preamp tubes
► GZ34 rectifier tube
► Cathode-follower tone stage with Treble, Bass, and Middle controls
► Four Jensen P10R 10" speakers with alnico magnets
► Open-back cabinet made from solid finger-joined pine

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