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How one of the rarest pieces in Fender amp history was found at a thrift store for $25...

Updated: Sep 19, 2018

If only these cigarette burns could tell us their stories...

Recently our camera lens was lucky to be graced with the light from this extraordinarily rare piece of Fender history. The 5E3 “Tweed” Deluxe amplifier itself is a fantastic example of a true classic 1950’s Fender amp.

Used by many famous musicians on stage and in the studio it is known to be somewhat of a holy grail for its tone and collectibility. Mike Campbell, Neil Young, Rich Robinson, Little Walter, Grant Green. Jeff Tweedy, Jimmie Vaughn...the list goes on and on and continues to grow.

What’s more noteworthy is its 1x12 matching extension cabinet. We’ve seen one in a book on Fender amps, one on a forum somewhere and heard tale of another selling out of a high end store to a celebrity. My estimate is that it would be hard to account for even 10 of these cabinets in existence today. Original 1956 Fender catalogs mention an extension speaker output on the Deluxe amplifier but nothing of an available cabinet for purchase. This makes it likely that it was a special order item or something you’d have to ask the factory about directly as a pro player.

You’ll notice the slightly different color between the amp and cabinet, indicative of the fact that a cover was only used on one of these pieces and the other was left to age with UV exposure. The current owner keeps the original Jensen P12R speaker for the amplifier in a box for safe keeping as the amp does get used and they wish to not damage it. Other than this understandable and reversible swap the amp is SHOCKINGLY original (see what we did there?), including the 2-prong power cable.

Furthermore, the story on how the amp was acquired by the current owner is the kind of story that makes collectors nuts. The amp was found in a St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in the mid 1980’s in the AS-IS department sitting there with it’s extension cabinet mate. Even then, knowing the potential of owning a tweed Fender (remember, the tweed Fender market was not nearly what it was in the back then as it is today), they quickly grabbed the pair and looked over the price tag. The soon-to-be new owner could not fork over $25 plus sales tax fast enough. We estimate the value to be just a bit more than that in today’s market! The amp alone is estimated to be worth around $4-5k but the rarity of the matching extension cabinet makes the combo virtually priceless.

This amp is a fine example of something I’ve found in many vintage guitars and amps that I’ll share with you. In my experience some of the cleanest and pristine condition vintage instruments and amps leave a little to be desired for sound-wise. Vintage amps and guitars with cigarette burns and lots of wear and patina, if maintained correctly, almost always sound amazing in my personal experience. Some say using the gear breaks it in and creates this great sound. My personal theory is that some amps and guitars just didn’t quite sound as good due to a myriad of variables in the manufacturing process and thus did not get much use. Each cigarette burn tells a tale of a gigging life long gone in the states where nearly every musician and club patron smoked - the extension cabinet begs one to consider that the level of musician who purchased the pair apparently required more volume or for their sound to be spread across the stage (notice the very long speaker wire rolled up in the back of the extension cab!). If only this amp could talk. At least the pair is safe and appreciated by it’s current owner who was gracious enough to allow us to photograph it and tell it’s story as far as is known now. Oh, and sorry collectors - the owner maintains the amplifier is NFS and is to be passed down as a family heirloom. Luckily the family is all musicians!

-Chazz Bessette

P.S. -- Scroll through our gallery to get the full scope of the beauty of this pair!

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