PHOTO: John Peden
The Woodies: A History of Fender's First Amps
The Princeton, Deluxe and Professional were the first steps in Fender's long history of amplified excellence.
By Jeff Owens
All Fender amps trace their lineage to three “woodie” models of 1946—the original Princeton, Deluxe (also called “Model 26”) and Professional. The amps appeared in spring of that year, almost immediately after Fender was formed on the dissolution of its short-lived predecessor, the K&F Manufacturing Corp. They were the immediate successors of the small, nameless K&F amps of 1945, and were designed for use with Fender’s early steel guitars. A notable step up in design and construction, they were built with hardwood cabinets that eventually provided their nickname (Fender didn’t call them “woodies” at the time; that name came later, from collectors).
They were thus among the first products to bear the Fender name, and while they were only around for about a year and a half, it is with them that Fender’s legacy of great amplifiers begins. The revolutionary Fender instruments of the early 1950s were still half a decade away, and in a new post-World War II era when good-sounding, rugged, reliable and suitably loud instrument amplification basically didn’t exist, the small, simple and stylish woodies were by far the best amps of their day.
All three shared an elegantly simple design in both look and circuitry. Their hardwood cabinets came in “gleaming blonde maple, black walnut and dark mahogany,” although oak showed up here and there too. The story there is that Leo Fender received a batch of hardwood in 1946 that was supposed to be used for steel guitar bodies, but the 1”-thick boards were too thin for that. Rather than let the wood sit unused except perhaps as a buffet for termites, he designed Fender’s first amps so it could be put to good use.
Grille cloth came in red, blue and yellow/gold, with matching material on a lower rear panel. Three protective metal strips ran vertically over the speaker opening of each amp; a thicker center strip flanked by two thinner ones, which Fender said added “flash and brilliance to their already sparkling appearance” (some models only had two metal strips). All three had a wooden handle on top and black “pointer”-style control knobs. The Deluxe and Professional models had rear-facing control panels stenciled with numerals 1-12 for the control knobs and a new logo that kept the K&F lightning bolt from the year before but now said “Fender Electric Instrument Co., Fullerton, California” (the Princeton had no control panel and no markings).
Billed as a student model, the Princeton was the smallest and simplest of the three. Six watts. Three tubes. Two inputs on the back. A single Jensen 8” field-coil speaker (permanent-magnet speakers appeared in 1947). No controls, since the Princeton steel guitar already had a volume control. No on/off switch, either—when plugged in it was on, and when not plugged in it was off. Very sparse circuitry that varied as Fender continually experimented with it.
That was the original Princeton—about as bare bones as it gets. Its long evolution started almost immediately, and its next significantly different iteration appeared in 1948, when it was redesigned as a tweed-covered “TV-front” model.
Next up in size among the three original woodies was the Deluxe, which, as noted, was also referred to as the “Model 26” (which was seen on the control panels of early models). The first to bear a venerable and enduring name in Fender amp history, it featured a single 10” field-coil speaker and five tubes in a 14-watt design that “may not seem like much today” as stated by authors John Teagle and John Sprung in their indispensable reference book, Fender Amps: The First Fifty Years, but in 1946 “satisfied most playing situations.”
The original woodie Deluxe had three input jacks; two for instruments and one for a microphone. The rear-mounted control panel was stenciled with the Fender lightning-bolt logo and 1-12 for each of its three black pointer control knobs—instrument volume, microphone volume and tone, the last of which also served as the on/off switch. As with the Princeton, the Deluxe’s circuitry and tube configuration varied as Fender designers continually experimented with it. Another feature shared with the Princeton woodies is that early Deluxe woodies had no circuit board; most components were directly connected to each other without wires. Circuit boards for the woodie Deluxe models were introduced in 1947. Further, Jensen speakers with permanent magnets soon replaced the 10” Jensen field-coil speakers originally used in the Deluxe.
By summer 1948, the Deluxe was upgraded to the new tweed-covered TV-front style, along with a larger speaker, revamped circuitry and other features. Fender seems to have built substantially more of the Deluxe woodie models than the other two woodie amps, whereas woodie Princetons and Professionals are now much more rare and, accordingly, expensive. And of course, several of the Deluxe’s namesake descendants went on to rank among the most acclaimed and popular Fender amps ever.
Few guitarists of the age required more than what the Deluxe offered, but the Professional—largest of the three original woodie amps—did indeed offer more, pumping 25 watts into a single Jensen 15” field-coil speaker.
Teagle and Sprung note in Fender Amps: The First Fifty Years that the Professional’s components “were the best available and at the time were really more than most players needed.” Relatively few were built; perhaps only as special orders.
The woodie Professional had six tubes and the most intricate circuitry of any of the three woodie amps (although, again, no circuit board). It had instrument and microphone volume controls and a “backwards” tone control that provided full treble when turned counterclockwise. These were found on a control panel identical to that of the Deluxe (indeed, Professional control panels were also stenciled with “Model 26” like the Deluxe, with the “26” typically scratched out).
The woodie Professional also appears to have been upgraded to the tweed-covered TV-front style earlier than the Princeton and Deluxe woodie models; this took place circa mid 1947.
The woodie amps marked the first appearance of three of Fender’s most venerable and enduring amp names. Indeed, as noted guitar historian and author Tom Wheeler notes in The Soul of Tone: Celebrating 60 Years of Fender Amps, “Princetons, Deluxes and Pros would be cornerstones of the line for much of the next 60 years.”
In the modern era, Fender has occasionally paid tribute to the original woodie amps by issuing replica models that completely or in part mirror the basic design and stylish vibe of the originals.