I’ve owned this little Fender Vibrolux amp for nearly 40 years now. The previous owner was an amateur keyboard player who bought it second hand from a music store in Mildura (Vic) to use with his Farfisa electronic organ. It had been sitting under his bed for some time before he decided he had no further use for it. When he offered to sell it to me, neither of us had much idea of its value. He decided that I could have it for the price he’d paid, which was $30 (yes, that’s thirty dollars folks). The concept of “vintage” or “collectable” didn’t seem to apply to guitar amps in those days.
These amps were originally covered with tweed (varnished cotton twill), but this one had been re-covered with a rather unattractive red vinyl cloth. I took this off with the intention of having the cabinet re-finished in the original tweed fabric, but the raw timber looked so good I decided to rub it back and finish it with clear lacquer. To protect the finish I made a soft denim cover with fabric from a pair of 1970s Staggers flared jeans.
I still have a vivid recollection of the first time I tried out the amp – I was amazed at the tone! I’d used larger amps including a Moody GA40, a Fender Twin and a Peavey, but I’d never experienced the great valve overdrive sound of a Fender 10 watt valve amp at full volume.
The control panel has four pots – volume, tone, tremolo speed and tremolo depth. Although the amp is called a Vibrolux, the built-in effect produces tremolo (slight, rapid volume changes) rather than vibrato (slight changes in frequency). There’s a foot switch for the tremolo, with a button that glows in the dark – ooooo, atmospheric!
The model number for this amp is 5F11. The two-letter code KA on the tube label indicates a manufacture date of January 1961, and the serial number F04175 stamped on the control panel is within the 1961 serial number range. There’s a transformer in the base of the cabinet to convert the power from the original 110v to Australia’s 240V.
I took the Vibrolux to Perth during the 1980s and used it extensively for small gigs with an archtop guitar – usually a 1961 Maton Capitol or a 1938 Gibson L4. The amp had one visit to a repair shop during my years in Perth, but since then it’s been working fine. The volume pot is scratchy and should really be replaced, but I’ve been reluctant to have this done until absolutely necessary.
During the 1990s I did a lot of work around Melbourne with a clarinet/guitar/bass trio, again using an archtop with the Vibrolux. More recently it has been serving as “echo amp” with my surf/rock trio, fed by a line out of my Mesa Boogie via a delay pedal. I still use the amp by itself in very small venues (great for load-ins – it weighs less than 10kg).
The Vibrolux still has the original 10 inch Jensen speaker and, of course, that great overdrive sound of a Fender 10 watt valve amp at full volume!