The Soul of Tone: Celebrating 60 Years of Fender Amps

By Tom Wheeler [Hal Leonard]

From one of the world’s foremost chroniclers of Fender history comes this fabulous new book on the amplifiers produced by Fender over the last six decades. Wheeler’s tale begins with an extensive (over 100 pages) overview of Fender amps, where—bolstered by National Geographic-grade views of their inner workings—we learn about the main tube types and how they work, classes of operation, biasing, transformers, tone circuits, speakers, cabinets, circuit and date codes, etc.—all of which serves to make this book much more than just a lavish, coffee-table tome of tweed and Tolex. Not that there isn’t plenty of stuff to feast your eyes on. The next 300 or so pages (the book contains over 500!) are devoted to the evolution of the amplifiers, beginning with the early K&F models that Doc Kaufman and Leo Fender made in their small factory (actually a shed located behind Leo’s radio shop) in Fullerton, California, in the mid 1940s.

Along with a wealth of beautiful photos of the primordial woodies and tweeds, we learn much about their development from the words of the folks who were involved with the company in the early years—George Fullerton, Forrest White, Don Randall, Bill Carson, and, of course, Leo himself. Their recollections provide a great deal of insight into how the Fender sound was established, and how the models evolved into the brownface and blackface classics of the glorious Tolex years.

A great thing about this book is that it never stops delivering the technical nuggets that amp freaks lust after. Numerous boutique makers and tube pundits weigh in on the nuts and bolts of the amplifier designs to the benefit of anyone who has pondered such things as the different tremolo circuits and output transformers Fender used over the years, and what makes Neil Young’s famous “Whizzer” motorized knob-twister tick. Fun stuff. Naturally, Fender’s CBS years are given ample space with the inclusion of the solid-state and silverface lines, as are the contributions of amp designers such as Paul Rivera in the ’80s (whose hits included the Concert, Super Champ, London Reverb, and Montreux) and the Mike Lewis/Bruce Zinky nexus of the ’90s that led to the famed Vibro-King and Tone-Master amps. It will take a long time to fully absorb this amazing book—in no small part due to the wealth of awesome photos to gaze at, and the two CDs worth of amplifier tracks to listen to—but suffice to say that The Soul of Tone is the richest account of the Fender amp story to date, and the most thoroughly entertaining book on amplifiers in general that I’ve ever seen.
—Art Thompson