The Fender Tweed Deluxe is a guitar amp that was built by Fender from 1948 to 1966 in different versions. The latest version was the 5E3 narrow panel version. The Fender Tweed Deluxe was the most popular tweed amp produced by Fender and was used by many guitar players of whom many wrote music history. (e.g.: Neil Young).
The 5E3 is a relatively small amp with a 12“ speaker and approximately 15 watts of power. It has 2 channels with 2 inputs each. Both channels share one tone stack. All control elements are located on the top of the amp which is covered in cotton tweed and painted with nitrocellulose lacquer. Everyone who is interested in details and the history of the amp, go and check the internet. It is full of stories, reviews and reports on this famous amplifier.
The amp is not produced any more these days and old Fender models sell at very high prices on the collectors market. After Fender gave away the schematics and the layout to the public a lot of companies started to come up with clone kits of the famous 5E3.
There are also a lot of boutique amp builders that took their inspiration in the schematic of the 5E3 and often used it as a basis for their own designs. The German based company Tube Amp Doctor (TAD) who has specialized on tubes and tube amps offers its own Tweed Deluxe 5E3 kit. I always wanted to build a but amp by myself and learn about tube circuits. The TAD Tweed Deluxe Kit was just the perfect kit for it.
This Instructable shall provide guidance and information to anyone interested building his own guitar tube amp kit in general but especially to ones that want to step into building their own Fender Tweed Deluxe 5e3 clones. It is divided in different chapters and covers all the necessary work steps starting from ordering the amp kit until rocking the house with it.
The build instructions for this amp kit can be downloaded at TADs web site: http://www.tubeampdoctor.com/images/File/Dokumentation_TDLX_180814.pdf
Step 1: Preparation and Arrangements
The first step to start this project was basically to inform myself on available amp clones and possibilities. For a long time I was looking out to build the smaller and a „little easier to build“ Fender Champ (5F1) clone. After some research and the possibility to test both the 5F1 and the 5E3 at a friends place I decided to go for the 5E3 because I wanted to have an amp that would also be suited for small club gigs. The 5F1 is a also a fantastic amp and I think on build one for myself too but it is very small and can only be used for exercising and recording.
After getting the decision straight to go for the 5E3 I ordered it at TADs online shop. The reason to order at TAD was because they are a German based company and close to my location in Austria. Further because they offer quality products and quality parts with the amp kit (e.g.: tested and selected tubes, original turret board instead of PCB board, carbon composition resistors, orange drop capacitors…). Anyway there are many companies out there that offer great amp clone kits.
A few days after I ordered the 5E3 kit it was delivered to my home directly by DHL. The first step was to unpack everything and check if the shipment was complete. It included a
- Tweed Deluxe 5E3 cabinet
- 5E3 amp chassis including and all needed parts
- 12“ Jensen Speaker P12R 25Watts, 8 Ohm
- Bill of Materials List
- The amp schematics and layout (can be downloaded at TADs online shop)
- Template to drill holes into the chassis (can be downloaded at TADs online shop)
- Build instructions (can be downloaded at TADs online shop)
The build instruction, schematics and layout can be downloaded at TADs online shop. Please consider that this documents are for private use only. Anyway, the documents are available online. Besides a lot of additional free material on the 5E3 that can be found on in the web.
It shall be mentioned that building a tube amplifier kit like this, is not a beginner project because voltage levels inside a tube amp can exceed 500V and can cause serious damage or even kill. Take serious provisions for safe handling and working on the amp and always check the power line capacitors on their voltage levels (and drain them) before working on the amp.
Based on the shipment documents and the bill of material list (BOM list) I checked if all parts have been delivered correctly.
In parallel I prepared all the necessary tools required to build up the kit:
- Soldering iron or soldering station
- Solder, desoldering wick and/or desoldering pump
- Screw drivers in different sizes (slotted / Philips)
- Ratchet and socket set
- Set of electronic pliers and forceps for cutting, bending, forming, holding, moving …
- Desk lamp
- Drilling machine / battery-powered screw gun, 3.5mm drill, 5.5 mill drill, screw pits
- Hammer and prick punch
- Pencil, highlighter, marker
- Electrical tape and paper tape ruler (aluminium ruler recommended), carpenters angle
- Two wooden blocks (to hold up the chassis)
The next step was to read through the build instruction document and carefully go through each work step described in the document.
Step 2: Drill Holes Into Chassis
Before all the soldering work can start the chassis shall be prepared. The chassis already comes with almost all holes manufactured.
Anyway, two additional holes have to be drilled into the chassis to hold a strain relief for the power cord and an additional hole for later mounting of the turret board. TAD provides a drilling template to mark the holes for drilling. (It seems that TAD buys the chassis from a sub supplier and the additional holes have to be drilled to support TADs clone kit).
Based on the drilling templates the location of the holes have to be punch marked with a prick punch before drilling. Both holes have to be drilled with a 3.5mm diameter. Afterwards use a deburrer to deburr the drill holes.
Step 3: Assemble the Eyelet Board
After the chassis was prepared I started to assemble the eyelet board. The eyelet board comes with all the eyelets already riveted in the right place. Place the eyelet board the same way as can be seen in the amps layout sheet and start to prepare all the components. Bend their legs into the right position in order to fit their location in the eyelet board. Start with the resistors then do the capacitors. At the end do the electrolytic capacitors. Put attention to the right polarity of the electrolyte capacitors.
After all parts are prepared and bent right the eyelet board can be populated with all the parts.
Heat up the soldering iron and carefully solder each eyelet in order to obtain a well done solder joint. Try to avoid cold solder joints, because they give bad connections. After the soldering job is finished go back to the layout sheet and check if all components have been soldered in the correct space.
Step 4: Prepare Bridge-connections on the Bottom of the Eyelet Board
When all parts are soldered, the connections on the bottom of the eyelet board can be made. Like in the original Fender amps yellow push-back wires are used for all the connections. These wires are coated and isolated with yellow fabric. For soldering the isolation is just pushed-back. This allows easy and fast handling of the wires.
Step 5: Align Eyelet Board in Chassis and Drill Holes in the Isolation Board and Eyelet Board
After making the bridge-connections, the eyelet board shall be positioned in the chassis over the mounting holes. Mark the position of the holes on the eyelet board and the isolation board and then drill two 3.5mm drills into the boards. Drill the isolation board first and then the eyelet board. Pay attention to position the mounting holes right between the electronic components and avoid interference with them.
Step 6: Install Tube Sockets in the Chassis
The next step is to install the tube sockets in the chassis. Pay attention to the correct pin position of the sockets in respect to the amp layout and wiring schematic. The layout shows the pinout from inside of the chassis.
After the tube sockets are mounted the connection wires from the eyelet boards bottom side to other parts can be prepared. Therefore place the eyelet board in the mounting position and cut the connection wires to approximately the right length but keep a little longer to be sure.
Step 7: Install Power Transformer, Ground-soldering-strip and Output Transformer
Now as the eyelet board is finished we can start to mount the power transformer to the prepared spot at the left side of the chassis and twist the secondary transformer wires like you can see in the picture. Secure the twisted wires with electrical tape. At next, start to install the fuse socket, the mains switch and connect the primary power transformer wires like it can be seen in the amps layout document. Try to let the wires run close by the chassis.
Before the output transformer can be mounted, the protective sleeve nozzles for the feedthrough of the power chord and the output transformer cables have to be inserted into the drill holes. Now the output transformer can be mounted and the cables can be put through the corresponding drill holes like described in the amps layout document.
Now it is time to mount the pilot light socket near the mains switch. As a matter of fact the pilot light socket was missing in my amp kit shipment as part and as well in the bill of material list. (for this reason I was not able to notice this mistake before starting with the construction). Anyway: I wrote a short email to TAD and they delivered the pilot light socket free of charge within the next days. In the meanwhile I continued to build up the amp kit and temporary used an automotive lamp socked that I later replaced with the correct lamp socket.
Step 8: Install Eyelet Board
Now mount the eyelet board in the chassis with two screws and nuts. As you can see in the picture I had to cut of the upper and lower left edges of the eyelet board because they were overlapping the fixing screws for the output transformer. As a next step all the potentiometers can be installed and wired.
Step 9: Install and Wire Potentiometers
Now the potentiometers of the volume- and tone stack are mounted in the correct position. The potentiometers are getting connected to the eyelet board with yellow push back wires and are connected to ground via the chassis. Therefore check if the potentiometer housings have good connection to ground. The capacitors on the tone potentiometer and on the volume potentiometer of the bright channel will directly be soldered to the potentiometer bodies as can be seen in the picture and in the layout document. To keep track of all connections I used a highlight marker on the layout document to mark all established connections.
Step 10: Install and Wire Input Jacks
After the potentiometers, the input jacks can be prepared and installed. Both input jacks with the number 2 for bright channel and for the normal channel have a 1MOhm resistor in parallel to ground. These resistors are directly soldered to the input jacks respective pins. Again, yellow push-back wire is used to connect the input jacks to the eyelet board based on the schematics and layout document.
Step 11: Install and Wire Speaker Jacks
The next step is to install the speaker jacks and to connect them to the black and yellow wires from the output transformer.
Step 12: Wire Tube Sockets
After the speaker jacks we can start to connect the 9-pin pre-amp tube sockets for the triodes and the 8-pin sockets for the power amp pentodes and the tube rectifier. Pay close attention to the pinout of the tube sockets to avoid errors in the wiring.
Now the secondary wires from the power transformer to the rectifier tube socket can be connected and the filaments (tube heater circuit) can be established with the twisted green push-back-wires. The filament is connected with the green wires from the power transformer and the pilot lamp socket. Both lines are connected to ground via 100Ohm resistors. At this point the original pilot lamp socket was not available (as already described), therefore I temporarily used an automotive lamp socket to continue the work.
Step 13: Prepare Speaker and Speaker Cable
To prepare the speaker cable simply twist the white and black wire and solder one side to the speakers solder lugs. The other side will be soldered to the 1/4“ speaker plug.
Step 14: Power Supply Cord
Installing the power cord and solder the wires to the mains switch. Secure the power cord with the tension relief.
Step 15: Install Chassis Into Cabinet
Before the chassis can be mounted into the cabinet, two holes have to be drilled into the cabinet. Be very careful when drilling the holes because there is only one chance to get it right. Take your time to measure and mark the holes. Use paper tape to prevent the cotton tweed from unraveling. When measuring the distances for the holes consider also the thickness of the back panel that has to be mounted afterwards to cover the chassis. After drilling the holes the speaker can be installed into the cabinet and the chassis can be mounted using 2 screws and nuts. To shied the chassis, a self-sticking aluminium foil has to be sticked to the back panel.
Step 16: Initial Operation
Now as the construction work is complete the initial operation can start. Before the first cranking up I recommend to check all connections against the schematic and layout document. Become sure that all connections are correct, that all parts are in the correct locations and that all ground connections are checked. Also check for for shortcuts.
In the case if you do not have a Variac available (as myself) move all potentiometers to max. and connect a Voltmeter to the first electrolyte capacitor in the power line. Connect the power cord to the mains and switch on the mains switch. Within 20 seconds the voltage on the capacitor should rise to about 490V and then to go down to 400V again. Now the amp should produce a lot of noise. If this happens (in my case it did) everything should be OK and you can start to ROCK!
(If it does not happen as described, switch off the amp immediately and start to check for errors).
Step 17: Rock!!!
Take your guitar and ROCK!
Step 18: Conclusion and Next Steps
After some weeks of playing the amp I can give a first resume on the amp.
At first I like to say that I really love the amp because it really sounds amazing when you plug in a Fender Stratocaster. The amp also rocks when I play my Les Paul but the amp sounds best with a stratocaster type guitar. The sounds are brillant and rich of harmonics.
I am really fascinated because of this awesome sound that is generated just by some tubes, resistors and capacitors. This becomes even more interesting to me because I have built the amp myself and know each part of it.
Nevertheless there are also some drawbacks that have to be mentioned.
First of it: the amp is noisy. The tweed deluxe 5e3s are know for generating a lot of noise. The actual electric schematic takes already some noise canceling measures like to center tab the 6.3V heater power line to ground using 2 100Ohm resistors. This helps to eliminate the 50Hz/60Hz hum that comes from the AC voltage.
Second: the amp is really loud, which is perfect when playing with your friends in the band. Anyway, if you want to dial in the special tweed deluxe sound it is too loud for playing in the living room. Your wife or your neighbors might become angry with you.
I already did some research and have planned some updates on the amplifier that will be done in the weeks and month to come:
- Add a Master Volume
- Add a Switchable Cathode Bypass Capacitor
- Add a Switchable Negative Feedback Loop
- Add a Stand-By-Switch
- Shield the signal wires (especially from input jacks and tone stack potentiometers) to eliminate noise
- Experiment with different ground connections Possibly add a grid stopper resistor
If I find the time I will make some videos.