FireBelly Amplifiers’ Tweed 1955SE, PR3512SE
Price: $949 (Tweed 1955SE); $1,595 (PR3512SE)
The quest for vintage tone continues, and while budgetary concerns might keep many guitarists from owning the real deal, the demand has created a market for affordable hand-built amplifiers with old-school sounds and specs.
The father-and-son team of Steven and Scott Cohen at FireBelly Amplifiers is filling that demand by making it their mission to build a relatively inexpensive line of hand-wired amplifiers based on the sounds of the 1950s and 1960s. FireBelly amps are made to order and feature “enhanced and upgraded re-creations” of popular vintage Tweed and Blackface models, with point-to-point wiring, vintage tube circuits, and retro looks.
FireBelly’s Tweed 1955SE model is based on the Fender 1955 Princeton 5F2A Tweed. The Cohens upgraded the power section for better sag and compression. They also tightened up the bass, eliminated the hum, and used a 12AX7 preamp tube with a Class-A 6V6GT power amp tube, which runs 4 to 6 watts of output into a 10″ Jensen Alnico P10R speaker. The Tweed 1955SE also has a V3-5Y3GT tube rectifier.
The controls on the top of the amp are as simple as it gets. Single Volume and Tone chicken heads offer EQ and level flexibility. Input One has -3dB of gain for increased headroom at lower volumes, and Input Two is 3dB louder, which yields higher gain that compresses at lower volumes.
Constructed with solid finger-jointed pine, the 1955SE is lightweight, covered in immaculate ’50s-style tweed, and sports an oxblood grille.
With a 1966 Fender Stratocaster, the 1955SE produced a variety of rugged low-volume clean tones that became downright nasty when the level was pushed. Maxing the Volume knob produced beautiful overdrive and welcome compression. Not quite sweet enough for jazz, the Tone knob mellows the harsh in the 3 to 7 range and thrives in Keith Richards Land. It was made for gut-bucket blues. Though it lacks the aged-to-perfection warmth and subtleties of the real thing, the 1955SE puts you in the correct church for traditional blues, rockabilly, and all kinds of low-volume self-expression.
Based on the same circuit as Fender’s 1964 Princeton Reverb, FireBelly’ PR3512SE has twice the output for increased headroom. The finger-jointed pine enclosure is also redesigned to offer a wider range of sounds. At 35 watts and sporting a pair of 6L6GCs, the PR3512SE also features a larger output transformer, three 12AX7s, and one 12AT7. And it comes with a 5AR4/GZ34 tube rectifier and a single Jensen 12″ Alnico P12Q.
While the original 1964 Princeton Reverb had Volume, Treble, Bass, Reverb, knobs, along with Speed and Intensity controls for tremolo, FireBelly’s version offers the same complement but adds a Middle (midrange) tone control and a footswitch that engages a Fat Boost to extend the midrange circuit. It lifts part of the tone stack, scooping out the low and high frequencies, and boosts the mids, resulting in natural overdrive. FireBelly also added a Master Volume – very smart. The rear of the amp features a Line Out instead of an extension speaker output, enabling you to plug into a recording console.
The controls are calibrated so that 12 o’clock is the 0 position. Once that was sussed, sparkling shimmer erupted from the guitar’s single-coils with bold substantive clarity. With the EQ set between 5 and 6 o’clock, sparkling cleans and organic tube-driven spring reverb became an excuse for playing colorful arpeggios, pristine country licks, and chimey funk. It nails the Jim Campilongo thing perfectly, eliciting cantankerous punch, bite, and clarity. The Fat Boost pumps beef into the amp’s system, fattening things up with warmth and just a smidgeon of dirt.
FireBelly’s Tweed 1955SE and PR3512SE get high marks for attention to detail, solid construction, and replicating our hard-to-find musical past. Best of all, these amps are affordable.
This article originally appeared in VG August 2015 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.