What happened when Fender Custom Shop amp specialists Shawn Greene and Jim Dolmage got their hands on vintage wooden planks that were well over two centuries old?
They made a set of amps, of course.
But these aren’t any amps. The Fender Custom Shop Old Ironsides Pro and Old Ironsides Champ feature cabinets fashioned from a rare stash of live Oak, the same type of wood which was used to manufacture warships of that era, including famed USS Constitution.
For repairs, these massive warships required a specific type of oak that was in scarce supply until construction crews building a new hospital in Boston’s former Charlestown Naval Yard unearthed an enormous stockpile of unused beams. Buried by the Navy before the Civil War and long forgotten, the wood was submerged in water and mud, keeping it in surprisingly good condition.
While the Navy kept most of it, a small amount was sold to wood dealers. Enter Greene.
As he does nearly every day, the master builder was scouring the Internet for antique woods and came across the Constitution story. Diving deeper, he was able to acquire some for the Custom Shop with amps on his mind.
“Instantly, I thought this would be great to make an amp out of,” he said. “It’s a great story, and the wood looked great, too.”
Each piece was still bearing the inventory number stamped on it, and the age-old oak was sealed and stabilized with epoxy to prevent warping and cracking, making it more easily workable when fashioning the amps.
“The wood had been underground for 200 years, so it didn’t like air,” Greene said. “Start to finish, it was about a five-month process.”
Greene and Dolmage, the Custom Shop’s senior model maker, gave the Old Ironsides Pro and Champ a nautical theme. The Champ features a distinct handle consisting of a large brass dock cleat, while the Pro boasts a pair of dock cleats connected by a custom ship’s-bell rope. The Pro also has a special compass graphic.
The result is a set of dense and heavy amps that impart pronounced sharpness and clarity to their sound.
“We wanted to let the wood speak for itself,” said Greene. “It took a lot of work, but these are truly one-of-a-kind.”
On display at the 2017 NAMM Show in Anaheim, Calif., the Old Ironsides Pro was available for $20,000, while the Old Ironsides Custom came in at $10,000.
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