When Mark Baier opened Victoria Amps, he wanted to recreate authentic versions of Leo Fender’s beloved 1950s tweed amplifiers. And it wasn’t long before Victoria created a stir among vintage amp collectors and enthusiasts who loved the authentic tweed tones that can be heard today on the company’s amplifiers.
Baier Set to Work and the Result Was Victoria Amps
Baier, who first picked up a guitar when he was nine-years-old, was inspired to do this after he’d had bad luck with an amplifier he’d just purchased, Proven.com reports. He’d never been able to afford new equipment and always bought used. Until he became a stockbroker, who could now afford new gear.
“So I decided, I guess I was in my early 30s, that I was going to buy my first brand new guitar and amp. And I went to Guitar Center, and I bought a brand new reissue Bassman amplifier and a brand new Stratocaster. Now I happened to have a used Strat that I bought when I was in college and a used Bassman I bought when I was in college, but I wanted a new one.”
He brought his new gear home, set it up and wound up being disappointed. Not all amps are created equal:
“So I bought this stuff, brought it home, plugged it in, and I was shocked, I guess is the word, disappointed at how poorly I felt that the amplifier performed. I compared it to my old, original Bassman, and it didn’t sound anything like it. It didn’t have the same character, the dynamics were different, the quality of the sound, everything, and it was advertised as being an exact copy of an old Bassman.”
This new amplifier looked like a computer inside, he added. Instead of the circuitry that made it look and sound like a vintage amplifier, there were ribbon cables and a printed circuit board.
Baier realized if he wanted an amplifier with an authentic vintage sound, he was going to have to build one himself. So he studied until he became an expert on vintage 1960s amplifier gadgetry. Once he’d learned about wiring and all the other 1950s bells and whistles that came with Fender amplifiers, it was time to think about tweed and the marvelous tones that made Fender amplifiers famous.
Here’s Baier on Instagram demonstrating what Victoria’s tweed amps sound like.
What’s the Big Deal about Fender Tweed Amps?
Simply put, this: The “tweed” story begins with Leo Fender, who revolutionized amplifiers in the 1950s with an invention which soon became noted for its sonic and constructional qualities, notes Dave Hunter, writing for Reverb. These qualities are still being used today by Fender and many other manufacturers to create the sounds we love. The term tweed refers to aircraft luggage-grade linen that covered Fender amps beginning around 1949.
Fender tweed amps became known for their “narrow panel” models (they earned this nickname due to their narrow upper and lower edges on the front face of the cabinet). They were manufactured between 1955 and 1960. Tweed amps became known for producing exquisitely rich and clean tones. And this means they can easily cover a variety of genres.
Now zoom back to the future, to Victoria Amps, whose tweed models have impressed vintage amplifier collectors and enthusiasts alike, thanks to their authentic tones.
That brings us to one particular model Victoria amplifier that’s a marvel for guitarists who favor blues and roots stylings — the Victoria 20112, also called the 5E3 “Narrow Panel” Fender Deluxe. It’s one of the most sought-after vintage combos, Guitar Player notes. This handsome remake of the 14-watt tweed classic features cathode-biased circuits that are just like the originals. These cathode-biased circuits use two 6V6GT tubes (Russian-made Tung-soles) and (in the model Guitar Player tested), a NOS CBS-made 5Y3WGTA rectifier.
“What does a rectifier do,?” you ask. Well, this: It’s a diode that makes its home inside the amplifier tubes that turn AC voltage from the power transformer into the DC voltage required by preamp (more about that in a second) and output tubes to add a little sizzle to the amplification process.
A preamp is a pedal that amplifies quiet signals from a passive guitar pickup or a microphone into a louder signal that compliments a power amplifier’s input, StackExchange reports. The 20112 comes with a host of other features, including an Eminence Legend 12″ speaker that’s rear-mounted in a solid-pine cabinet. Lacquered for attractiveness and durability, these boutique guitar amplifiers turn the 20112 into a stompbox with power.
That power is what makes Victoria amps a favorite among luminaries in the music world. Keith Richards, John Mayer, Joe Bonamassa, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Susan Tedeschi, Ron Wood, Mark Knopfler, and dozens of other beloved guitarists favor Victoria amplifiers.
Tedeschi said she likes to bring the amps along when she’s on tour.
“On tour, I usually take the 80-watt Victoria that Buddy Guy gave me — which is similar to a tweed 50s Bassman, but with almost as much wattage as a Marshall — combined with a reissue Super Reverb. The reverb and vibrato from the Super really determine my sound.”
The controls are kept pretty simple, with Bright and Normal channel Volumes that are accompanied by a master Tone knob. This really opens up a broad range of tones you can rely on, depending on which of four input jacks you plug into. Whatever you decide to do, this is one amplifier that’s well-suited to humbuckers or single-coils.
And when Baier opened the Victoria Amp company, he kept things simple as well. In so doing, he wound up with a pleasant surprise. “When the company started, I did nothing more than copy vintage Fender tweed amps,” he explained “Because I was successful in building my first few amps, I took them to a guitar show and I was very surprised that somebody bought them. I brought them there to show people, be all proud of them and everything, but people actually wanted to buy them so I sold them.”
That’s how Baier knew he was on to something.
“This was right when the vintage market was catching up with tweed Fender amps, and it was more expensive to buy an old one than it was for me to build one and sell one, so there was a demand for the product and the price was right, so I initially did nothing but build.”
Baier added, “If Fender built it in the 1950s, we had the ability to recreate it, so we did all that stuff.” But Victoria Amps also added in-demand features. “Well those tweed amps from the 1950s were great amps but they don’t have reverb and a lot of players want reverb, so in an effort to keep things moving and keep new product coming, we developed a Victorilux and the Victoriette, which are basically black-face inspired amplifiers.”
One thing is clear: When Baier started the Victoria Amps he brought the past back to the future. One amplifier at a time.
In the video below, Baier discusses his company and how it was started.