This story began a few days after Christmas when my son and I stopped into one of Portland’s music shops, Trade Up Music, to browse the used gear. After checking out Trade Up’s nice selection of guitars, my son spotted a small, funky, beat up amp sitting atop the other guitar and bass amps. It was a simple square box, somewhat plain in appearance. The original green vinyl covering was stretched in a few places and had a few tears. The speaker fabric was splattered with paint and a had hole in it! Because of those “faults,” my son thought it had a certain cool factor and retro personality. And it had tubes inside! Cool… a little tube powered practice amp. Or maybe he could use it on stage, or for recording.
Taking a closer look, I could tell it was one of those unimpressive department store amps of the late 1960’s or early 70’s. Basically the kind of stuff we ran away from (but in reality was all we could afford!). It was a Sears amp, model 5 XL to be exact. Well I thought to myself, “A Sears amp? No way.” Musicians didn’t buy these. Only parents bought these cheap amps, paired with an equally cheap electric guitar, so their kids could start their own noise brigade in the garage.
Anyway, knowing nothing about this amp, I grabbed my smart phone and quickly Googled the amp’s name while still in the store. Not much was found, except for some less than glowing information and commentary found at Silvertone World (a great site, by the way). Still scratching my head, my son decided to buy it for less than $90 cash.
Once we got this guy home and plugged into Jon’s modified tele, all my doubts were replaced with astonishment. What unexpected sounds came zooming out of that plain green box! Jon cranked the volume and the tone knobs. The tubes went into overdrive: somewhat snarly and raspy but under control. Subtle highs, growling midrange, and a whole lot of solid bass. Who knew?!
Have a listen…
Who knew there was an real unexpected Tone Gem hiding underneath that Sears label and ugly green vinyl?
Well, that’s how this whole thing started.
Alex, thanks for the insight on the 1420! “Less than glowing” is right, because I’ve never had the opportunity to play through one… now, I know! Mind if I use your mini-review on the site for the 1420 page? Funny how just a little hot wire, vacuum and glass can create a Tone Gem, eh?
Randy, greetings! A privilege to hear from Silvertonium. Thanks for your comments. Please fee free to use as a mini-review. I am currently working on full fledged review pages (complete with specs, photos, video, and audio) for this amp and for the 10 XL (1421), which will be posted in the near future.