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SurfGuitar101 Forums » Gear »

Permalink Brownface build?

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Has anyone here built their own brownface amp from either a kit or scratch?

With the scarcity and high prices of brownface Showmans, it seems like a reasonable alternative. I'm aware that some have recreated them (Gomez) and there are other current people selling a variety of brownface clones but the Showman doesn't always show up among the lower wattage offerings.

When I look at an original brownface amp on Reverb or whatever, I just think to myself that it's sure a lot of money for what isn't really that much "stuff." A board, some caps and resistors, some big transformers, and a lot of soldering. I have no experience building amps but I'm sure I could do it, with the right guidance or reference. If I wanted to undertake this, would anyone here say it's a good idea?

Here you go

Mojotone Brownface Kit..

Cool, but that's not a Showman. Wish I had the knowledge and skill to build, or for that mater repair, tube amps. It's a lost art in this area.

It's a pretty terrible idea. I guarantee it's a lot more expensive than you think, which is why Gomez and others are out of business. No way you do it for under $1000 if you use half way decent parts (assuming you have a head cab built).

It will also probably won't go right with this as your first go around. It's not as easy as you think.

Why does if have to be a showman? What is your budget? Comb Reverb frequently and make reasonable offers. Unless you are planning to play a lot of outdoor gigs without a pa.....downsize the dream.

The Kahuna Kings

You might want to practice on a simpler amp build to see what you think about the process. Allen Amps has kits for most of his line and very good documentation according to most people who have built them.


Like Stratdancer I would counsel patience, easier said than done I realize.

It seems like the stumbling point in regard to difficulty and simplicity of construction is a lack of documentation on the steps, i.e. "instructions", yes?

As far as cost goes, I realize the parts list isn't cheap but I think the reason amp building of this sort isn't always economically viable is that the labor involved is more difficult to pass on as a cost than the parts themselves. But as a personal hobby build, the labor isn't a factor.

I guess part of the motivation for my query is that the high and climbing prices for this old gear is just distasteful. For such a specific and quantifiable pile of electronic components, it just seems silly. I'm not after "mojo" or vintage scratches (although I do appreciate vintage things in general)--I just want the sound.

And actually, it would be nice to be able to add some features, such as a switchable transformer for lower output. Anyway, thanks all for the input. This isn't a burning project--just something I wanted to field for future consideration.

Great idea. I've built a tweed Deluxe once from salvaged parts. Very satisfying result and fun to do. I'm still looking for parts to build a blonde bassman, Not because it's cheap nor easy, just to see if it can be done. Go for it!


Just checked the going price for brown faced amps, $3,000 and up is what I found. As noted they are a collection of electrical components, if I was motivated I'd give it a shot. But before that I would seek out somebody with more knowledge and skills building clones, any ideas on that one?

Just before I found my 63 BM head and cab on Reverb I was eyeballing this. I think it's not a bad price but maybe a reasonable offer would close the deal.

The Kahuna Kings

In my one and only surf band the leader played thru that same amp, it had been recapped. Incredible headroom and a sweet tone that you just had to hear. I'm 62 and remember when Black Face and Tweed fenders were not hard to find at all, but this his was the only Brown Face I've ever seen.

I paid 450.00 for my BF Bandmaster that had been re-capped. I asked my amp tech to make it as blonde as possible and he did a bunch of mods to it including a bassman transformer, blonde tone stack in the normal channel, presence control in the negative feedback loop and other things so now it runs 5881's. It's a very sweet ride that retains some BF scoop yet some blonde warmth. I've got about 650.00 into it now. Cheap and it's a beast!

The Kahuna Kings

Redfeather wrote:

It seems like the stumbling point in regard to difficulty and simplicity of construction is a lack of documentation on the steps, i.e. "instructions", yes?

Hmm... How should I put this?

If you need more instructions than just an original schematic, you don't know enough to do this.

Valve amps are perfectly safe: If they're designed right, built right and left alone by everyone but an experienced technician. But if they're designed wrong, built wrong, or someone who doesn't know what they're doing puts their fingers in the wrong place at the wrong moment, they're deadly.

Worst case, you get a few hundred volts DC through your guitar strings. Because it's DC, you won't let go and your goose is quite literally cooked.

Price wise, older reissues (the 90's Vibroverb RI for example) are cheaper than a complete kit of parts. Comparing a Tweed Bassman kit and a current-gen Fender '59 LTD, you save about $350. So; for most people it's not worth it anyway.

One of the few cases where this is less likely to be true is a Showman; AFAIJG it has never had a Reissue, and since Dario is out of the game you're not going to be able to get a new one: either you get very lucky and find a Gomez Surfer at a good price, or you're really going to spend on an original.

I agree with the general sentiment to be cautious. There aren't enough surf guitarists in the world that we can afford to let some of them fry themselves!

bamboozer wrote:

Just checked the going price for brown faced amps, $3,000 and up is what I found. As noted they are a collection of electrical components, if I was motivated I'd give it a shot. But before that I would seek out somebody with more knowledge and skills building clones, any ideas on that one?

You will find one within a month for under $2000.

I've often thought the same thing. It's just a bunch of components. Schematics and even layout drawings exist, how hard can it be?

I've built a couple of reverb units and a small tube amplifier and here's what I learned:
1) It's always more expensive than you think. The passive components are mostly cheap, but suddenly you probably need the same components as the vintage amps, and these start getting very expensive. I found postage costs often exceeded the purchase cost of the components.
2) Building a reverb was quite a learning curve for me with a few decades experience of building electronic circuits. If you have no experience, your learning curve will be very steep. Start with something small and get your experience that way. (further expense, of course)
3) Building an amp is a challenge, but it's nothing compared to troubleshooting the thing when it either doesn't work, doesn't work properly, or hums like an angry bee. (My first build had three sources of hum, which was a real test of endurance. I eventually became attuned to the difference between mains hum, hum loops and induced hum). You'll need troubleshooting skills, and equipment. You can ask in forums, but believe me, trying to troubleshoot a home built amp is a very lonely and dark place.
4) Building an amp and getting it working properly is a buzz (as opposed to a hum), then you have to build a cabinet for the thing. This takes ages, and unless your woodworking and cabinet making skills are above average, then it will look like crap. Factor in the tolex and tools you may need, then you really need to enjoy woodworking to like this part.
5) Eventually, with careful methodical work and a bit of luck, you'll end up with an amp that will, at most, be worth the sum of the parts, just. Your time, cost of tools, and parts postage will not be included. A vintage amp is an appreciating asset, that you will always be able to sell and will effectively cost you nothing. And will your home made amp sound like a vintage amp? Sadly, no it won't. (Something to do with the insulation material used in the transformers, apparently. Or cloth covered wire. Or the circuit board material pffft)

If you have the enthusiasm and motivation to build a big vintage amp, then make sure you're doing it because you want to learn how to make big vintage amps, then the cost and time investment doesn't seem so high. If you're doing it because you think you'll save a bit of cash, then have another think. Save some cash, keep a watch out and, as Jake says, sooner or later one will come your way. If you haven't got the patience to wait for one, it's unlikely you have the patience to build one. Better off spending the time learning your guitar.

Hope this doesn't sound too negative, but you asked for advice, and there's my advice.

I think everything da-ron said should be heeded. Jake is also correct that you can find one for less than $2000 pretty easily.

I started to source the components to build a Blonde Bandmaster. I got a chassis (I got a small fabricator to make a run of them), faceplate, power transformer, and a few other odds and ends and I was already a few hundred bucks into it. I had not sourced the rest of the iron, the board, or other components but I think I estimated about $700 more if I purchased it all from the same place. That's only my guess; I really don't know what I missed. That also did not include a cab with tolex, grill cloth and hardware. With that, I'm WAY over what I paid for my Blonde Bandmaster. Right now the parts are sitting, but if I ever have money setting fire to the inside of my pockets I'll probably reach out to one of the builders out there that does Brown/Blonde stuff. They are out there.

I got a blonde Showman down the road from me that was functional but needed some care. I further abused my friendship with Eddie Katcher to have him look over my shoulder/solder while I watched to replace some major components, and it's still got a little noise gremlin that he's chasing in his spare time. I couldn't imagine building one without idiot-proof instructions, and I'm not sure how idiot-proof it can really be. It can be done, of course. If you just flat want to, knock yourself out. But I know I wouldn't have made a fraction of the progress I did without expert help.

The Mystery Men?
SSS Agent #31

I see that there are a lot of arguments to keep you from building your own amp. Still, I think that it could be a lot of fun, and common sense is great, but progress is made by those who have an interessting idea. You have nothing to lose but some money, and if you get hopelessly stuck you can take it to a friend or a tech to sort it out while you tend to the stuff you can do. Sure, it's not cheap, it's not going to have a decent resale value but if it works it will be worth it.


Last edited: Mar 16, 2018 10:37:50

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