The Smoking Solder Gun

The Smoking Solder Gun

1960’s Sears Silvertone model 1484

This week I will be geeking out on this 60’s Silvertone tube guitar amplifier, please join me! This piece of vintage gear was brought into The Antique Rocker for maintanence repairs a couple weeks ago. I was told that the owner wanted to make it “bullet-proof”. Perhaps he was planning to go on tour with this amp or maybe he is just very fond of it and wants to keep it in good working order. Either way, it is certainly a project well worth undertaking.

According to, this amp has been used by the likes of Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, and Robert Schneider of the Elephant Six band, Apples In Stereo. I’m not sure if this amp really gives them a signature sound or anything, but they must like something about it!

The Silvertone badge that this amp bears is the marketing name Sears gave to their musical instrument line, which gained popularity as a cheap alternative to Fender and others in the sixties. The amp was built with cheap componentry, and thus has some inherent design quirks from the factory.

The transformers, for example, are very undersized compared to those found in amps with similar output tube configurations. Hey, transformers are expensive! This cut in costs actually ended up significantly affecting the overall tone of the amp. Small power and output transformers saturate quickly, especially when played at high working power levels. So, when you’re cranking along with the volume dial at 10, you get a lot of sag, or compression effect. A saturated transformer also tends to lend a warmer, “tubey” flavor to the guitar tone.

Back view – look at the tiny transformers!

Normally, a pair of 6L6 output tubes in a guitar amplifier will produce around 50-60 watts of power output. This Silvertone, on the other hand, puts out only about 30 watts. That’s mostly because the transformers can’t handle more power than that. Oh well, it just makes this amp even more unique!

After pulling the amp chassis out of the cabinet, I found that while all of the polyester capacitors had been changed out in favor of “orange drops”, and the lead dress had been cleaned up, the amp still had the original electrolytic caps in place. These old caps had to go! They were just waiting to short out at the next chance and would probably take the little transformers out with them. After sourcing some Sprague Atom’s, I went through and replaced all these caps with the new caps, which are vastly superior in performance and longevity.

Not much room in there!

The old cardboard covered caps were manufactured by Planet, one of the budget electronic component manufacturers of the time. None of the caps were leaking or bulging, however, which is amazing but probably about ready to happen soon. There was also a multi-section twist-lock metal can capacitor, which held three capacitor sections. I was unable to source an affordable replacement for this, so I left the can mounted in place, but added 3 caps of the appropriate values, while removing the old can sections from the circuit. This way, it looks stock from the outside but has the new caps in place for better service.

After 35 or so years, I guess they did better than the guarantee!
The Silvertone 1484’s tone has been described as creamy and with smooth breakup, when overdriven. Many players say the reverb is strange and has a kind of spacey sound. Just looking at the reverb tank, I can say that I’ve never seen anything like it in other amps I’ve worked on. It’s got a very odd shape and is comparatively small. Those that use effects pedals in front of the amp say that it responds well to pedals and is a good basis for that type of setup. At only 30 watts, however, it is not an extremely loud amplifier. It can cut through well enough for small venues and is actually a choice amp for recording applications, but it is not meant for larger venues without reinforcement.

I hope this Silvertone continues to please the ear for many years to come. It’s an odd amp with a great sound and I know that the satisfaction a guitar player can get from that is worth the effort in keeping it alive and blaring.