Sears 5XL

Review: Sears 5XL Amp (Silvertone 1420)

by alex on October 23, 2010

in Amps, Menu, Vacuum Tubes

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Welcome to our first review. Please consider Tone Gems a resource for vintage guitars, amps and gear of non-repute. We will strive to make each review rich with information and content, including inside gut shots, electrical schematics, audio, video, manufacturer specs and more. Since this is our very first review, please excuse any rough spots. We welcome your comments and feedback. Thanks ~alex.

Quick Info

Summary: Five watts of hand-wired boutique tube heaven for a fraction of the cost. Lots of midrange growl and crunchy overdrive. Great for  jazz, blues, classic and indie rock. Use as a practice amp or at small venues. Perfect for recording.

Likes: Cheap! Lots of tube overdrive. Awesome speaker. Cheap! Point-to-point hand soldered. Cheap!

Dislikes: Cheap cabinet materials and shoddy construction. Not loud enough. No safety fuse. Non-grounded power cord.

Surprises: 8-inch Alnico Speaker. Polypropylene caps (Orange Drops!).

Price: $90.00 from Trade Up Music, Portland Oregon.

Similar Amps: Silvertone 1420; Silvertone 1459.

The 5XL Review

At first glance the Sears 5XL guitar amp would be easy to disrespect, even considering it’s legacy in the line of original Danelectro/Silvertone guitars and amplifiers. And why not, it’s a Sears, right? Well, that’s where you’d be wrong. We recently discovered this 5XL at Trade Up Music, a local music shop in Portland (see posting: How It All Began…). It was dirty, dusty inside, and a little beat-up. It appeared to be all original, except for two replaced vacuum tubes, and was fully functional. Later, we discovered that someone must have upgraded the capacitors with new Orange drops (more on that later).

My son Jon, who likes to play alternative and indie stuff, thought this amp would be a perfect match for his 1950′s Gretsch Electromatic or his newer custom modified Telecaster. I was not initially impressed. But boy was I wrong, and he was right!

The 5XL is an all-tube amplifier producing a modest 5-watts of peak power through a single 8-inch speaker. It has one channel, two instrument inputs, and separate volume and tone controls. The cabinet is built from cheap pressed board and the speaker baffle is 1/8-inch thick Masonite. It is clad in an equally cheap, thin green vinyl that stretches and tears easily.

At lower volume this amp has a clear, clean sound and decent frequency response. But with only three tubes pushing 5-watts it’s more fun to dial this puppy to 10! At that level it’s easy for the player to control the output and vary the tone from clean to full distortion.

This amp is also friendly to effects pedals. It sounds really good with a decent analog delay or analog reverb pedal.

Video of the 5XL

How good does it sound? See and hear for yourself. Here is Jon playing his modified Squier thinline Tele through the 5XL. Hope you have a good set of speakers connected to your computer.

Who built the 5XL?

The tube version of the 5XL was sold by Sears in the United States from about 1969 through about 1972. It was Sears entry level into their line of guitar amps. But the original manufacturer of the Sears 5XL is hard to nail down. I have seen several different builds of the Sears 5XL amp on eBay and elsewhere on the web. Up until 1968 or so, the Silvertone line of electric guitar amps were built for Sears by the Danelectro company of Neptune, New Jersey. In fact, the 5XL is identical in electronics and appearance to the earlier Silvertone 1420 and 1459 amps that were built by Danelectro. But Danelectro was purchased by MCA in 1967 and was, unfortunately, out of business by 1969. This particular sample appears to have been built in December of 1968, so it’s possible that it could be a Danelectro original. But I suspect that even later models were built for Sears by others, maybe using leftover Danelectro parts?

UPDATE: I recently noticed that the schematic diagram for the Harmony H303A is nearly identical to the Silvertone 1420 and Sears 5XL. So it might be possible that these were built for Sears by Harmony. However, I thought Harmony was struggling to stay open around this time as well?

UPDATE 2: This basic amplifier design was used throughout the radio and musical instrument industries for decades. Which makes it even harder to pin point the factory of origin.

The 5XL Chassis

The amplifier is a hand-wired, point-to-point, single-ended Class A amp. The chassis layout and construction is standard to Danelectro/Silvertone design dating back to 1950’s. It is very similar to the Silvertone 1430 chassis, except that it has a separate tone control and a voltage isolation transformer which the 1430 lacks. Apart from some replaced tubes, this chassis has all its original parts including the big paper-oil-wax filter capacitor. Amazingly, this amp is still quiet while running. The three vacuum tubes (thermionic valves) used here are: one 12AU6 for pre-amp, 5OC5 output, and a 35W4 tube rectifier. Curiously, we believe someone replaced all the original capacitors with newer polypropylene film capacitors (Orange Drops!) which may have something to with the usually smooth tone of this sample.

A close up view of chassis showing the Orange Drop caps and volume pot. The stamped 7-digit code on the pot indicates it was manufactured by CTS (code 137) on the 48th week of 1968.

The Speaker

Sears used a lot of cheap parts. No exception here. But for some reason this original 8-inch speaker made by Fisher with an Alnico magnet sounds great!

Conclusion

Even though this little amp is as basic as it gets, it simply excels at what it does. And that qualifies the 5XL as a Tone Gem. Perfect for recording jazz, blues or rock. And perfect for the player looking for that alternative indie sound. But fare warning: manufacturing quality of this amp was inconsistent and not all samples found today will be built like or sound like this one.

Specifications – The Sears 5XL

SEARS 5XL
Model Number 257-1420(1100?)
Serial Number ????
Manufacture Date Dec. 1968
Type Combo
Output (Peak or RMS) 5 Watts, Peak
Pre-Amp Tubes 1 x 12AU6
Power Amp Tubes 1 x 50C5
Tube Rectifier 35W4
Speaker Fisher 8″ Alnico
Speaker Code 6392 (printed on cone)
Speaker Configuration 1 x 8″
Baffle Board 1/8″ Masonite
Impedance 16 Ohm (?)
On-Board Effects None
Footswitch None
Controls Separate Volume & Tone
Inputs 2
Channels 1
Cabinet Construction 3/8″ Pressed Board
Cabinet Covering/Color Vinyl / Olive Green
Dimensions (WxHxD) 16″x16″x6″
Weight 8 lbs.
Power 120V AC

Schematic for the 5XL

I’m working on a new schematic diagram for this amp which I will add here later. In the meantime the schematic of the Silvertone 1430 (shown below) is somewhat similar to the 5XL, except that the 5XL adds a tone control and has no safety fuse! Diagram courtesy www.freeinfosociety.com.

Silvertone 1430 Schematic

Additional Resources

Links to more info surrounding the 5XL…

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Carlo Castillo Scott February 28, 2011 at 7:42 am

Hi, in the video we can to hear a little distorsion, can you tell me if this is for overdrive pedal or natural vacuum tube distortion. Thanks

Reply

alex February 28, 2011 at 8:42 am

Hi. The guitar is plugged directly into the amp. No pedals. The amp is at full volume, and you hear its natural distortion. Thanks. ~alex

Reply

Chad July 29, 2011 at 11:18 pm

Hi,

Awesome review. Just picked up a solid state version of is amp. Sounds about identical. These seem to be unappreciated practice amps that in some ways are better made than modern equivalent. For $50 how can you go wrong?

Reply

alex July 31, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Thanks Chad for stopping by and leaving your comments. Glad you found the article helpful. Sounds like you found a real sweet deal, too. Enjoy!

Reply

Steven January 23, 2016 at 11:08 am

Indeed, you cannot go wrong at $50!
Gratitude for the review. Would have loved to hear it with either a volume pedal, or your guitar’s volume knob so we could have not only heard some of its cleaner tones, but also how the amp responds to volume manipulation.
Regardless, thanks for the review!
I just sold my Fender Twin Reverb (Reissue from 2003-2004? Somewhere in there…) and I’m looking for something I can use to push the power tubes hard and still keep it relatively clean, and hit the preamp with an overdrive pedal for more raucous funk solos, etc..
I had a Marshall 50w head I bought used in ’94 at this little spot in Portland on Burnside and 4th? Maybe Old Town Music? I know they’ve moved, but if it was them 20 years ago, it was a hole-in-the-wall spot! Very hard to find, but so worth the time it took!
Anyhow, my Marshall was stolen in 2003. It damn near killed me… I’ve never experienced tone like that. Yeah, it was a half stack – I used a Peavey 5150 EVH 4×12 cab – and a bitch to carry around, but honestly, I didn’t really even notice. It just sounded so freakin good!!
Anyhow, I’m presently looking for something similar – a combo this time unless I come across something I can’t pass up – also, I really want to buy from a local builder I can work with… or at least a local merchant that isn’t a chain store if possible.
If anyone who reads this post knows where to find what I’m looking for, please let me know. I’ll come in anytime. I’m in SW Portland so I can get to just about anywhere fast!

Again, thanks for the demo!

Reply

alex January 23, 2016 at 8:21 pm

Steven,
Thanks for visiting Tone Gems and sharing!!! Good luck in your search for the perfect combo. There are some great builders in Portland. Unfortunately, we have been losing our locally owned music shops 🙁 Try looking at Trade Up Music or Centaur Guitar.

Cheers,
~alex

Reply

Jeff September 2, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Hi, just picked one of these little firecrackers up, its really got the cool vibe and sounds great compared to todays little amps in this range, and sounds awesome with my delay/ reverb pedal….I love it, probably a keeper. THANKS, JEFF

Reply

Jason May 6, 2014 at 7:50 pm

Hi Alex, cool review. Any updates on the schematic? Or at least the ratings of your caps? I just got a 1420 off ebay for repair and it looks like the previous owner attempted a restoration of their own and butchered it so I’m not entirely sure which caps I need to get. By the by, mine is laid out a little differently with the both transformers mounted directly to the chassis rather than one one on the speaker. Any thoughts? Thanks – Jason

Reply

alex May 10, 2014 at 11:35 am

Hi Jason – thanks for the post. There’s still no schematic for the 1420, sorry. If you need to replace caps, I would suggest the cap values in the schematic for the 1330. But the 1330 does not a tone control, so I would recommend looking at the schematic for the 1421 for the tone stack. If you still worried about a specific cap value, then send me an email with some photos and I will try to decipher from our 1420. We still have it, but it’s at my son’s house.
Good luck! ~Alex

Reply

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