Given the current craze for semi-small “home” and “recording” amps, Fender’s 5F10 Harvard of 1955-’60 could be the ideal tweed amp, yet, in its day, it fell between two stools and never sold in large numbers. Or, make that three stools.
With the Champ and Princeton in its rear-view mirror and the Deluxe and Tremolux on its horizon – with the Vibrolux riding shotgun – the Harvard was flanked by several small-to-medium-sized alternatives, yet its specs, for many, are likely to be even more appealing than those of its siblings. One way of looking at the tweed Harvard is that it offered everything players would come to love in the brown and blackface Princeton of the early/mid ’60s, minus the tremolo. Interestingly, under the hood, the Harvard had other closer links to the later Princeton, and to the medium- and larger-sized narrow-panel tweed Fenders of the late ’50s besides. As such, it was really quite different from a “smaller Deluxe” or “larger Champ,” and was its own beast within the Fender stable.
As for the basics, the Harvard offered 10 watts from two 6V6 output tubes through a 10″ Jensen P10R speaker in a 161/2″ x 18″ x 83/4″ cab that straddled that of the Princeton and the Deluxe. In 1959, the year this well-loved example was produced, it sold for $99, compared to the $59 Champ, $79 Princeton, $129 Deluxe, and $139 Vibrolux. Like its two smaller siblings, the Harvard had but one channel, with controls for Volume and Tone, but with its two output tubes and a step up to double-digits wattage, it was truly a rung up the ladder performance-wise from Fender’s single-ended “student” amps.
The Harvard’s single-channel circuit required just one initial gain stage in what was otherwise a preamp that much resembled that of the cornerstone 5E3 Deluxe, and therefore used a single-triode 6AT6 tube rather than a 12AY7. From there, your signal high-tails it into the same phase-inverter circuit that everything shy of the Bassman and high-powered Twin were using at the time, which is to say a split-load (a.k.a. cathodyne) inverter preceded by a driver stage, all fired by the two triodes in a single 12AX7.
The rest of the ride on through the output stage, however, is where the Harvard really differed from its small and medium stablemates in both design and tone, and came to resemble the later dual-6V6 Princeton. While the “two 6V6s” and “10″ speaker” specs might put one immediately in mind of a slightly smaller tweed Deluxe, those 6V6s were used in class AB fixed-bias in the Harvard, rather than cathode-biased (nominally class A) as they were in the Deluxe. Why Fender did this isn’t entirely clear. Fixed bias is often used to generate a little more power from any given output stage, but the Harvard slipped in well under the Deluxe in its rated wattage. The topology can also generate a little more headroom and a slightly firmer, tighter low-end in any given amp, all else being equal, so maybe it was seen as a means of firming an amp that was otherwise on the lower end of the medium-sized range. As used in the Harvard, the biasing circuit requires four components and their related wiring (including chassis-bolted selenium rectifier) to the two components of the Deluxe’s cathode-bias network, so the added effort and expense doesn’t fit Fender’s usual agenda. So, ultimately just a minor mystery? Perhaps. Or maybe it was simply a means of squeezing an extra couple of stout watts out of a relatively small power transformer that put a mere 302 DC volts on the plates of the 6V6s via the 5Y3 rectifier. Then again, the circuit could have been a test-bed for the Vibrolux of 1956, which carried similar specs aside from its larger cabinet (the same as the Deluxe) and the addition of a built-in tremolo effect, rendered a little more stable thanks to its tie to the fixed-bias output stage.
In the end, does it matter much why Fender did it? Not really; this little sweety sounds downright tasty no matter how you cook it. Despite the added headroom from the fixed-bias output, it still begins to break up plenty by just about 4 or 5 on the “goes to 12” dial with a Telecaster or a P-90 equipped LP Junior injected, and the Tone control brings in a little extra crunch as you advance it past 7 or so. An original Jensen P10R in good condition can sound fantastic in this amp – revealing its classic compression and organic touch sensitivity – but if you plan to ride your own tweed Harvard particularly hard, a modern replacement speaker can be a good idea, and will bring out a little more punch and headroom. Or, try patching it through an even larger 8-ohm cab to hear what this circuit really sounds like when pushed. While this is an amp that might be considered just barely giggable in any full-band, rock-and-roll context, it’s perhaps more so today, ironically, than it would have been back when it was released, given you can very likely mic it through a good PA at any decent club. As for recording, that’s a given: Steve Cropper tracked countless seminal tunes through a tweed Harvard, both as the guitarist with Booker T. & the MGs and backing legendary Stax artists such as Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and others, so this is legend-certified tone right out of the gate.
Whatever it sounds like (which is gorgeous, if we haven’t already made that clear), this Harvard somehow tugs at our heartstrings in its own special little way, too. Relatively rare though it is, a late-’50s Harvard doesn’t tend to demand quite the cash of the ubiquitous Deluxe, nor the Vibrolux or Tremolux either, yet offers so much of the delightfully cork-snifferish tweedism that sets our gently glowing hearts aflutter. This one boasts all of its original yellow Astron signal caps and still carries each of the brown cardboard-sleeved Astron filter caps it was born with, along with all of its original carbon-comp resistors. Its original tweed covering exhibits some worn spots, around the corners and edges in particular, where a previous owner laboriously scrubbed off the paint a still-previous owner had once sprayed it with to “update” its look – simply more of the patina of a life well lived. Breathe deep and you can still catch a whiff of Leo’s cologne hovering round the chassis… or so we would like to think.
This article originally appeared in VG June 2013 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.