the Silvertone Twin Twelve

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the Silvertone Twin Twelve
How long ago was it they were going for $25?
In the ’70s. But even today, these amps remain
very undervalued. Most I see are fairly unmolested
and still have the original tubes. They’re clean,
or easy to clean because for some reason they
weren’t as used or abused as other amps I see
in my shop – most have remained closet-classic
clean.
Their values jumped, though, when The
White Stripes became popular and players
learned Jack White’s killer sound was through
Silvertone amps.
I agree. He was using a 1485 – the 100-watt
version of the 1484, with six 10s. It’s much
cleaner-sounding, with more headroom, punchier,
with big, tight low-end. Jack liked the clarity –
the chimey highs, the thick midrange, and the
whoompf on the bottom.
What makes up the heart of the 1484?
Sleeper Amps: The Silvertone Twin Twelve
by DAVID JUNG
I
n 1963, the Silvertone 1484 or
“Twin Twelve” was top-of-the-line
among the amplifiers offered by
Sears, Roebuck and Co. It debuted with
a whopping catalog price of $149.95
(the equivalent of $1000 today)!
Though once headed north of $800 on the latterday collectible market, the economy has seen
these tone bandits recently dip back under the
$500 mark. The 1484 is one of tone expert Andy
Brauer’s all-time favorite amps, and rightfully so,
since this baby can rock the socks off the meanest
swamp alligators!
Every time someone asks you about sleeper
amps, you bring up the Twin Twelve and how
it’s one of your favorites. What’s the deal?
Twin Twelves are killer – really magical. Back in
the day, you could pick one up at a garage sale
for $25 or $50! People sold them as speaker
cabinets; they didn’t even know it was an amplifier
because the head sits underneath in the cab. It’s
an innovative design feature for which we can
thank Nathan Daniel; he developed and supplied
them to Sears.
It has two 6L6s for power, three 12ZX7s in the
preamp, two 6FQ7s for the phase inverter and
reverb driver, and a solid-state rectifier. And there’s
a funky little reverb tank in them, but most I see
are broken.
The example on my
bench at the moment is
from early 1964. Some
of the post are ’63, but
most are ’64 and the
speakers are ’64, which
leads me to believe it’s
an early-’64 model. The
speakers are Jensen
Source: Vintage Guitar Magazine, April 2010, Volume 24, No. 06
C12Qs, ceramic, with 20- to 25-watt capacity.
Their small magnetics tend to break up faster and
be a little honkier.
Funny, it doesn’t sound like a modern 50-watt
amp. More like20 watts.
That’s partly because the voltages on the power
tubes – the first-stage plate resistors – are 229k.
First-stage plate resistors on the typical Fender
amp are 100k.
So the Fenders’ allow more current to flow?
Yes. This results in a lot more headroom, a lot
more clarity, and more overall punch. Most modern
amps run their tubes, and their entire circuit, hotter
than vintage gear. They try and squeeze more
bang for the buck out of their amps, sometimes
mistaking louder for better.
The nice thing about Silvertone amps, and the
Twin Twelve especially, is that by raising some of
the resistance, and the way Nat Daniel developed
the circuit, results in a very nice note compression
that isn’t found in many other amps. The hard
edges are taken off the notes. Also, the Twin
Twelve’s tone controls are interactive – the more
you turn up the Treble and Bass, the more gain
you get. So if you want it real clean, turn the
Volume to 3 or 4, turn the tone controls down to
2 or 3 respectively and you can get some clarity
out of it. But after 3 or 4 on the dial, the amp gets
gainier and gainier.
I noticed that the tremolo and reverb affect
gain, as well. If you turn everything up, the
amp turns into a real monster.
It’s not a multi-tasking amplifier. It likes to do
reverb, or it likes to do tremolo. If you do both, it
gets fussy... but it sounds great, by the way!
The 6L6 screen voltage is about 150 volts below
plate value, so these amps are not pushing the
tubes much at all. When you’re that conservative
on the wattage, you reduce headroom. It’s almost
like talking a Variac to the incoming voltage.
When you Variac it down a touch, you lose clean
headroom and get more overdrive.
These amps are not extremely loud, but what they
do have is a instantly likeable, friendly tone that
really grabs you and kind of encourages you to
play with it. It’s very bluesy. It’s aggressive, and
it’s compressed, but without the drawbacks of
compression. It’s not like a 6V6-driven amp that
squashes the sound, it’s more of a high-fidelity
sound. It compresses the sound like an LA2A
limiter – almost limiting the compression versus
squashing it like a 6V6 Deluxe or like a brown
Deluxe. The tone stack enhances the tone and
adds gain, versus cutting or boosting lows and
highs.
So, do you like to just turn everything all the
way up on the Twin Twelve?
Who doesn’t like to do that every once in a while
on any amp? But no, not as a general rule.
Amps that I like, I set the tone controls to five,
to start. From there I play with the Volume. And
then, believe it or not, I’ll go around the amp with
a screwdriver and a socket wrench, and start
tightening bolts on the speaker, or tune the cabinet
to a certain frequency to get the amp to ring. The
Twin Twelve has a ported cabinet with a back
panel that’s open on the bottom. One can play with
the screws inside the cabinet to torque them all to
the same tension, so that sound reverberates off
all parts of the cabinet at the same pressure.
Kind of like tuning the head on a drum – you
want even tension all the way around...
Exactly. When I do that to a cabinet and the
speakers, I hear a difference.
These amps came with 25 feet of cable to
separate the speaker from the head. The old
Sears catalogue claimed that this was to
eliminate feedback. Is there any truth to that?
That was a marketing gimmick. They wanted the
musician to be able to place the head near where
they were standing, and place the cab away from
them, with the idea that the further the cab was
from the pickups, the less chance there was for
feedback.
Who are some high-profile players who use
these?
Obviously, Jack White brought them into the
spotlight. But I’ve seen many players – Dean
Parks, Ronnie Woods, Keith Richards, Lyle
Workman, Josh Homme, Ry Cooder, and David
Lindley – use them. It tends to be a staple in major
recording studios, so music fans have heard them
on countless albums, though they may not be
aware.
Do a lot of these amps come in for repairs and
such?
I see the 1x12 version, the 1482. And I’ve
definitely worked on my share of the 1484s. When
I’m servicing a Silvertone, nine out of 10 times
it’s merely pitted and dirty and just needs its pots
cleaned, and maybe tension the tube sockets or
re-solder something for good contact. Generally,
the tubes are pretty good, and many Silvertones
have original tubes.
Were the Silvertone tubes in these made
specifically for Sears?
There were OEM. I’m not sure if they were
RCA, GE, or Sylvania, but they were definitely
American manufacture. Vintage RCA and GE
tubes are considered some of the best, and the
tubes in these are terrific. Consider it’s possible to
purchase a Silvertones for a few hundred dollars.
If original tubes are in there, that’s at least $100
just in tubes!
Are they good for mods?
Not that I’d recommend. Just restore them back to
stock.
Other good Silvertones?
The bass version, the model 1483, is pretty
awesome. It’s the same circuit minus the reverb
and tremolo, and driven through a 1x12 cabinet.
It’s 50 watts, as well. Most Silvertones were given
numbers as model names, but the Twin Twelve
was branded because it was top of the line. The
only other amp Silvertone branded was the 1434,
which was dubbed the Medalist.
How do the tremolo and reverb sound?
The reverb isn’t the best, but it’s not bad – it’s
fashionably anemic. The tremolo is great – very
surf-sounding and muted, in a nice way, unlike a
Gibson tremolo, which is bright and pingy.
Are there a lot of Twin Twelves out there?
Yes. They were manufactured only form 1963
to ’66, but were apparently churned out in
large numbers. There’s almost always one for
sale in online auctions, and I often see them in
music stores. As I said, they tend to be in fairly
good shape, though if exposed to moisture the
particleboard tends to fall apart. Aside from that,
there are no major issues. They don’t always ship
well, though – the reverb tanks can get messed
up. But there’s nothing that can go wrong on
these that can’t be fixed; all the parts are readily
available. If you blow the transformer, a Mercury
Magnetics replacement is available.
Another interesting feature is that if you open up
the back panel on the speaker cab, you’ll see
there’s a hidden shelf. It’s a baffle.
What for?
It’s a bass trap, for lower frequencies. When
the bass comes off the back of the speakers,
the baffle catches it and sends it forward again.
9167 Independence Avenue • Chatsworth, CA 91311
www.MercuryMagnetics.com
(818) 998-7791
You get a little bit more of a thump than with
most open-back cabs. It was really kind of a
revolutionary design Nat Daniel came up with, and
I don’t know of any other amps that employ it.
(Ed. Note: Daniel had a patent on the speaker
cabinet design with inclined baffles called the
“acoustical case”.)
Sonically, what would you compare this amp to?
Probably a Fender, as it has a really nice twang.
But it’s a bit darker. It offers a terrific Dick Dale surf
tone as well.
Cranked up?
Well, listen to any White Stripes album!
_______________________________________
There’s a clip of this amp in action on VintageGuitar.com
in the VGTV section on the Preview Channel. The clip is
with 1976 Gibson SG with Sheptone Blue Sky Pickups
straight into the amp. Enjoy!
Andy Brauer can be reached at www.AndyBrauer.com.