Before You Buy A Vintage Tube Amp...
Todd Simpson
Sep 29 2020, 10:14 PM
Posts: 22.424
Joined: 23-December 09
From: Atlanta, Georgia, USA
If you are thinking about buying a “Vintage Amp”, you better start saving your money. These amps are NOT cheap and they are sought after for good reason. Some of these amps sound truly amazing. They create a playing experience that is unique. A good vintage amp is practically a musical instrument all by itself. In many instances, it has a great deal of hand craftsmanship and uses high quality woods and electronics. These amps don’t skimp on parts or process which is why people pay a premium for them and hunt them endlessly. So here are 5 things to consider before you take the plunge and start sniffing corks, I mean, testing amps. ohmy.gif)

What sort of shape is the amp in? Is it really beaten up, road worn, are the edges coming apart, the tolex peeling off, the wiring looking a bit melted, etc.? Old amps often look old for good reason as they have seen many gigs/miles. But, there is a difference between looking a bit reliced and being an actual relic, that needs a lot of work. The worse shape the amp is in, the more money you may need to spend to get it back to working order. Ideally, it should start up and work with full functionality, if it’s been well tended. If not, you should take it to a repair shop and get an estimate of what it might cost to restore it before you make an offer. Buying an old amp can be like buying an old car. Sometimes you find a peach, sometimes you find a lemon. Also, have any modifications been made? All of these factors can impact the resale value of the amp. Ideally, you should look for an amp that is functional and unmodified and hopefully looks like it’s been well kept and not abused.

Also, does the unit have the original speaker that came with it? If the speaker has been replaced, is it the same type of speaker that originally came in the unit? Are the knobs original? Or at least are they the same type of knobs if they had been replaced? The more original parts, the better. If the unit has had a new speaker or speakers put in, and had new knobs put on, and has a different color tolex/grille cloth, etc. it can greatly reduce the value and resale of the unit. Again, ideally, it should be as close to factory as possible. If a speaker has been replaced it should be a replacement part from the same time period of the same type. The same goes for other bits like knobs, switches etc. The further away from factory bits we go, the less value the amp typically has.

It’s best for overall value and resale if the unit has the original transformers and electronics. If the transformers have been replaced, it can devalue the unit. Even if the replacements are better parts, it means the amp isn’t original which starts to devalue it. Of course, some folks may not plan on reselling the amp, so resale value isn’t everything. But, even if one doesn’t plan to resell a unit, having replacement parts should devalue it and reduce the price at the point of purchase. It can be daunting to inspect an amp and look at all the bits and try to make sure that it’s original, or as original as possible, especially if one is new to vintage amps. Thankfully, there is a plethora of material online about every amp on earth. So if you want to grab a certain amp, make sure you know the bits it should contain.

Yet another thing to look for are original capacitors. These may well have been replaced and if they have been replaced, they should have been replaced with parts from an original unit or as close as possible. Just like with everything else on a vintage amp, putting the wrong modern part in it does impact it’s worth and price.

This one element is going to have to be replaced at some point and doesn’t have as serious an impact on the price. Some units may have original filter caps, but you may want to put new ones in. A museum piece may have original filter caps, but a workable amp will probably need new ones if they have not already been replaced. Don’t worry about getting NOS (New old stock) filter caps, just get appropriate new ones if needed.

Sort of like filter camps, resistors will go bad. Like capacitors, putting NOS bits is not always a great idea as age impacts the tone. Find an appropriate replacement choice that is a new part. There are many forums on the web that have information on which bits go best in what amp according to the faithful. Of course, any replacement choice has some degree of personal taste. The good news is that this replacement won’t seriously impact the value/price of the unit.

In Conclusion, Vintage amps are sought after for good reason. Some of them sound truly amazing and give the player a visceral experience that can’t be entirely replicated using technology. There is a certain “Magic” in a well functioning vintage tube amp that is worth experiencing. These amps are not cheap and represent an investment. The good news is, if you take good care of it, it will probably be worth more money when you go to sell it. smile.gif

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This post has been edited by Todd Simpson: Sep 29 2020, 10:16 PM
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Sep 30 2020, 02:14 AM
Posts: 4.028
Joined: 30-December 12
From: Los Angeles, CA
One of the good things about a 'vintage' amp is that if it's all in good working order, regardless of the age of the parts, it can be trouble free for years. I have two vintage Fenders and several other amps that are between 15 and 30 years old and they don't give me too many problems. I've blown a few speakers and tubes wear out but the beauty of it is that that stuff is easily fixable. Vintage amps are easy to work on. Amp repair guys love them. I'll tell you what they hate working on - surface mount components. Nobody likes working on a modern Mesa or a Blackstar or an Engl or a Diezel. If the problem is more than a tube, spkr, pot or transformer - you'll pay through the nose to get it repaired. Unless it's under warranty, and then you'll have to either find a certified warranty repair place or send it to the manufacturer ... and you won't be getting your amp back for 3 weeks at a minimum. 30 to 60 day turnaround is normal. A lot of amp techs won't even work on amps that have SM components.

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