Jimmy Day’s 1950 Fender Super-Amp

Just Like Hank
Jimmy Day’s 1950 Fender Super-Amp
Amp courtesy of John Andrews, photos by Romina Olson.
1950 Fender 5B4 Super Amp
• Preamp tubes: three 6SL7
• Output tubes: two 6L6G
• Rectifier: 5U4G
• Controls: Mic. Vol., Inst. Vol., Tone
• Speaker: two Jensen P10Q
• Output: approximately 25 watts RMS

As fascinating as we might find any vintage amplifier, at its heart, it’s often just a dusty box of archaic technology. Occasionally, though, one is a nexus to a point where legendary music was made. Such is the portal opened by this 1950 Fender Super.

We profiled Fender’s original “V-front” Dual Professional/Super in the August ’11 issue and a ’52 that once belonged to G.E. Smith in November ’22. One of the rarest Fender tweeds (thanks in part to Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, who purportedly buys every one he finds), the model is a fascinating creation, associated with seminal guitarists at a higher ratio than most vintage amps.

When launched as the Dual Professional in late ’46 or early ’47, the amp represented many Fender and industry-wide innovations, including being the first guitar amp (by any known maker) to carry two speakers. It also was Fender’s first to have a finger-jointed cab, top-facing chrome control panel, and tweed covering. But this example stands out for its ownership by two notable professionals.

This Super’s chassis was restored in the mid ’90s. The original Jensen P10Q speakers still populate the split-V baffle.

John Andrews, former guitarist with the California blues-rock band Mother Earth and a collaborator with other artists, has owned it since 1969, using it often in the studio and occasionally onstage. But it’s the Super’s former owner that elicits a jaw-dropping “Who now?” from fans of mid-century American popular music.

Andrews’ first encounter with the amp occurred as all great touring-musician acquisitions should – in a junk-packed Nashville music store while killing time before a session.

On New Year’s Eve of ’68, Mother Earth embarked upon a 10-week tour promoting its first album, Living With The Animals. Launching with an opening slot for the Chambers Brothers at the Fillmore East in Manhattan’s East Village, the band then stuck around New York City for a two-week engagement at The Scene, one of the “in” clubs of the day, with Jimmy McGriff and Charlie Musselwhite as opening acts. The tour took them to Baltimore, Lexington (Virginia), Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, and finally to an old cathedral at Vanderbilt University.

“A few days later, we were booked to record our second album at Bradley’s Barn in Mt. Juliet, 20 miles east of Nashville,” Andrews recalls. “The studio was built by the legendary Owen Bradley who produced Kitty Wells, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, Brenda Lee, as well as rock-and-rollers Buddy Holly and Gene Vincent.

“On the first day of our sessions, I went to get strings at Hewgley’s Music store in downtown Nashville. On the floor was this odd V-shaped amp with a chrome strip down the front. The top panel read ‘Fender Super Amp.’ I asked the salesman about a price and he replied, ‘$25.’ I gave him the money without even asking if it worked (laughs), and on my way out, he said, ‘That belonged to Jimmy Day, and he played it on the road with Hank Williams in 1952.’”

In addition to playing with Hank, Sr., Day was the staff steel-guitarist on “The Louisiana Hayride” with Webb Pierce, where he backed Jim Reeves, Faron Young, Johnny Horton, Lefty Frizzell, Floyd Cramer, and even a young Elvis Presley. He later joined Willie Nelson’s band, toured with George Jones, and was one of the most in-demand session steelers in Nashville. This Super amplified his trenchant, emotive playing until the mid ’60s, when he gave it up in favor of a solid-state Sho-Bud 1×15 combo he called “Old Blue.”

The Super sports the familiar early-Fender control complement of two Volumes (Mic and Inst) and one Tone. All four inputs are electronically identical within the circuit.

“When I got to the studio around 4 p.m., Waylon [Jennings] was recording, and I got to meet Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, writers of the Everly Brothers’ hits, who were there to pitch songs to our vocalist, Tracy Nelson,” Andrews adds. “Around 5 p.m., I brought the Super in to see how it sounded. To my surprise, it was better than my ’59 4×10″ Bassman, and I could crank it up to get the distortion I was looking for. Back then, there was no way could you turn a Bassman up to 10 at any Nashville studio!

“The first song we cut that day was the Little Willie John classic, ‘I Need Your Love So Bad.’ My ’54 Tele through that Super was the perfect combination for the intro and fills. Boz Scaggs was on rhythm guitar, and Pig Robbins played the B-3. The horn section consisted of Joe Arnold and Aaron Varnell on tenor sax, Bowlegs Miller on trumpet, and Ronald Eades on baritone. They were all from Memphis and usually recorded at Stax and Muscle Shoals, rarely if ever in Nashville. A-Team players on the country side were Pete Drake on pedal steel and Johnny Gimble on fiddle. I played the Super on all tracks.”

Then, as if by some fact-is-stranger-than-fiction twist, in late November of ’69, Day quit Willie Nelson’s band and joined Mother Earth to tour with Andrews, Nelson, Scaggs and company through the summer of 1970. He also played on the band’s fourth album, Satisfied.

“The first gigs he played, we opened two nights for The Band in Long Island,” said Andrews. “What a change from Ray Price, Willie, Roger Miller and Johnny Paycheck! At one of our rehearsals, I brought the Super, and Jimmy confirmed it was his.” Day eventually rejoined Nelson and stayed until his death in 1999.

The Super’s chart shows the preamp-tube designations with C crossed out and replaced with L, Fender apparently having substituted the usual 6SC7s with 6SL7s.

The coupling and electrolytic capacitors Fender used in the late ’40s and ’50s were notorious for becoming leaky with age and ultimately failing. So, in the mid ’90s, Andrews had the circuit rebuilt to keep it functional. He also had the cabinet recovered, but the original muslin grillecloth was retained. The original output transformer was relocated from the frame of one of the 10″ Jensen speakers (where Fender mounted them at the time) to the chassis. Today, Andrews says, the amp is still kicking, still sounding great.

“My good friend Carla Olson recently played my ’51 Esquire through it at a gig at the Continental Club, here in Austin. She nailed it. What a sound!”

This article originally appeared in VG’s July 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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