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FDP Forum / Fender Amps: Vintage (before 1985) / Fender amp heads - the NO tolex option



you can do a lot with quarter notes.....
Mar 29th, 2016 12:32 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

A few questions for anyone who has stripped the tolex off of their Fender amp head and went with an exposed wood finish.

Some brief background to minimize any confusion: This is being done after a major fire last summer. My Bassman 135 was in a room that did not burn, but had extreme smoke / soot and heat damage.

Although the amp did not burn, and most of the damage was a thick soot / smoke layer, there is more involved than just cleaning the amp. The plastic side vent panels crumbled when the screws were removed. (due to heat, age or a combination of the two). Also, large sections of the tolex appear to be breaking down. In addition to pulling away from the cabinet, the tolex seems to be decomposing; I’m guessing from highly corrosive components of the smoke / soot. This tolex problem is what I want to focus on with this thread.

This amp was never going to be a 100% original collector’s amp – it’s a late model silver face that had just gone through a complete *major* service to make it “like new” (or better!) as far as reliability and performance are concerned.

At this stage in life I know what I am good at, and what I am not good at. Taking the amp apart, storing each part in a labelled envelope or baggie, thoroughly cleaning each piece, etc. – this I’ve got covered. Removing the tolex, sanding off the remaining glue, filling any holes, repairing any cracks and final prep of the wood cabinet – more difficult as I don’t really have an adequate work space, but I can accomplish this. Installing new tolex – not a chance, paying someone to do this would be my only realistic option, and I could almost purchase another B135 in good shape for the price of a pro tolex job.

But after I’ve got the wood cabinet cleaned up and ready for new tolex, it would also be just about ready for stain and shellac, or an oil finish. So this is the direction I’m headed. But as I’ve never done anything like this, what am I missing? I know that the tolex helps minimize minor dings, but am I giving up anything significant if I go with a naked amp head? After the wood has been properly finished, I re-install all of the hardware, etc. The only change will be using metal speaker grill material in place of the old plastic vent panels. And some have suggested a fan unit in one of the side openings.

If the results are so spectacular that I don’t want to ding up the wood finish, I could always spring for a lightweight anvil type case. A major case manufacturer is in my neighborhood and they sell their returns, unclaimed units, rental pieces, etc. for very reasonable prices.

What else do I need to consider before committing to the bare wood (no tolex) option? Any advantages / disadvantages to shellac vs oil finish? I’ve read posts from guys raving about each option, but I’m leaning toward oil; but I’m open to arguments from both.

Thanks. I’d like to have made a final decision by the time the amp has been cleaned and is ready for the final finish to be applied. I’m hoping for some first-hand responses from guys who have done this as I’m sure there are some issues that I have not considered.


Alexandria, Virginia

Pass a bigger hammer
Mar 29th, 2016 01:20 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Not that familiar with the BM135 heads, but given the age I'm suspecting that it may not be "real" wood as you're expecting. Possibilities that come to mind:

At best maybe #2 pine that would/could have knots in it.

Laminated pine - strips of wood glued together

Particle board - pressed sawdust and glue

MDF - medium density fiberboard (basically untempered masonite)

Any of these you'll be able to tell by looking at the inside of the cab before stripping the tolex off.



you can do a lot with quarter notes.....
Mar 29th, 2016 01:40 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Not that familiar with the BM135 heads, but given the age I'm suspecting that it may not be "real" wood as you're expecting. Possibilities that come to mind:...etc.

Thanks - I hadn't thought of that; I've seen so many heads that were probably solid pine that I just assumed that all Fender amp heads (at least through silverface era) were solid wood.

I'm not looking to end up with something resembling high end furniture, even the glued strips of pine would be OK, but if I have MDF or similiar, I'll have to re-think this.

Contributing Member

American Patriot

I'm on guard these days.
Mar 29th, 2016 08:07 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

I know about the Bassman 135. Our bass player used to have one of these. I have stripped, sanded, covered and re-covered all kinds of Fender amps. It's not hard to do. I can cover one and make the cuts just like Fender makes them on the corners.
The cabinets that I have seen all stripped down can look pretty rough due to having to remove all that glue residue. If you have woodworking skills, you might consider just making a new shell for the head.
Anyway, let us know how it goes.

Contributing Member

Eat. Sleep. Guitar.

Mar 29th, 2016 09:42 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Another really cool (and dead simple) option is to get some aerosol bed liner from your local auto parts store and apply that to your cabinet.

It looks like Tolex and is 10 times tougher.


michigan usa

Mar 30th, 2016 05:12 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

FWIW, I don't know why anyone would put shellac on something like this. It's not at all durable and will melt under alcohol. Polyurethane would be the best bet I would think.



all your tone are belong to us
Mar 30th, 2016 07:19 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Do you guys have Hammerite paint over there?

Or, what did Leo and Doc use when they painted K+F cabs and baked them in their oven at home?



you can do a lot with quarter notes.....
Mar 30th, 2016 11:09 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

"FWIW, I don't know why anyone would put shellac...."

My bad, I was using "shellac" as a generic term. (Its not like the situation w/ guitars where you have guys that won't even look at a guitar w/ a poly finish - only n-c lacquer will do) Poly will be fine as long as I can find a low gloss / no gloss version.

Contributing Member

United States

Vance Erickson
Mar 30th, 2016 04:33 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

If you actually want Tolex on the head, putting it on might be easier than you think. There's tons of instructional videos and good web sites to source materials. I covered a 2x12" cab with Tolex and I'm very happy with how it came out (even though I would not consider it the kind of thing I'm good at!).

Danny Nader


You should have been there!
Mar 30th, 2016 05:19 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Covering the head is not a difficult thing to do. A yard of vinyl & some adhesive. Four cuts on the corners & the metal corners cover at least four of them. So only four have to be respectable. Look at the old vinyl when you take it off. That should give you an idea of what the cuts are.

They look too rough to just do them as a wood finish. Take your time & it'll turn out fine. If you just had it brought back to 'spec', it deserves to look that way it's supposed to.


(This message was last edited by Danny Nader at 11:33 AM, Mar 31st, 2016)

FDP Forum / Fender Amps: Vintage (before 1985) / Fender amp heads - the NO tolex option

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