Fender 5F8-A Twin-Amp

Awarded the “high power” designation because of its four 5881 output tubes, the 5F8 Twin-Amp, introduced in 1958, boasted twice the wattage of the earlier dual-5881 Twins (models 5C8, 5D8, and 5E8-A). High-power Twins were only made until late 1959, and, as less than 1,000 were built, they are among the most collectible of the ’50s-era Fenders.
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This mint-condition 1959 5F8-A was purchased in 1975 by Ken Settle, a Detroit-area photographer, who still owns the amp. Settle was 15 years old when he became enthralled by early Fender amps, and here he describes his first encounters with this most elusive of the tweed breed:

“I first became interested in tweed, or, as they used to call them, ‘pinstripe’ Fender amps in 1974, after reading in Guitar Player that Rory Gallagher used them. I found my first high-power Twin in 1974 at store called Capital Music in Detroit, which was in a real dumpy part of the city. This was where Ted Nugent took guitar lessons in the early ’60s. Ted also played in a polka band with the store’s owner, Joe Pedorsek. By 1974, however, Capital Music was in the ghetto. A thick layer of dust covered everything inside, and all the guitars on the walls were junk, but they had tons of vintage amps. I quickly spotted the Twin I came to see. It had been recovered in white Tolex and it had cigarette burns all over it, but it sounded great. My mom had driven me to the store, and I remember she started to pick up a tweed Bassman to show me, and the rotted leather handle snapped right off. I later found out that Drew Abbott from Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band bought that Bassman, and he used it on Live Bullet and many of the tracks on Night Moves—including ‘Rock and Roll Never Forgets,’ ‘The Fire Down Below,’ and ‘Ship of Fools.’ He said he always wished it had the original handle.

“The following year, I learned that a local collector and employee of another Detroit area store called Massimino Music owed some money to the store’s owner, Joe Massimino, and had given him a mint condition 1959 Twin to square his debt. Massimino told me he wanted $1,500 for the amp, which was an unheard of sum at that time. He soon started running classified ads for it in the Detroit News, and that’s when I went to see it. I remember the amp was in a back practice room all covered up, and, initially, he wasn’t even going to let me play through it. The amp had its original brown slipcover from the Victoria Luggage Company, and I was astounded when I took the cover off and saw that the amp looked like it had been in a time capsule. There wasn’t a mark on it, and the covering hadn’t even begun to turn yellow. When I finally got to play through it, I was knocked out—it was the sweetest, cleanest-sounding amp I’d ever heard. I quickly offered him $550, but Massimino wouldn’t budge on the price. I was determined to have the amp, though, so I started calling him every day just to bug him, disguising my voice, and saying things like, ‘Are you sure that price ain’t a typo?’ I even had some of my friends phone the store and do the same. During one of our conversations, I again offered him $550. ‘No,’ he said. ‘It’s supply and demand.’ ‘Come on,’ I angrily responded. ‘You’ve had the supply for three months—where’s the demand?’ A week later, Massimino relented and sold me the amp for $550. Even so, most of my friends thought I was nuts for spending that much on it.

“A little while after I bought the amp, I spoke with the guy who had given it to Massimino. He told me that it had belonged to an elderly man who bought it in 1959 to play his steel guitar through in his living room. I also called Fender to find out more about the amp, and the receptionist connected me to Freddie Tavares. I was aware that he was a legendary designer at Fender, and he was very kind and seemed to enjoy talking about the amp. He told me, ‘We built the high-power Twin to capture the interest of pedal-steel players, who needed greater amounts of clean power and headroom.’ I remember asking Mr. Tavares about the roadworthiness of the amp and he said confidently, ‘Well, we’ve sure seen a lot of them bouncing around in the back of pickup trucks!’”