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Knowledge Base:  
Retolexing an amp
Last Updated: 11/01/2017

While much of what we'll be doing here is specific to the Crate amp that we're working on, many of the techniques could be used for other amps or speaker cabinets as well. For that matter working with speaker carpet isn't all that much different so you might pick up a few pointers for that as well.

Disclaimer!! Doing a project like this requires the use of potentially harmful objects (sharp things like knives and screwdrivers -also sticky stuff like glue and solvents etc.). Anyone attempting this type of project should be fully aware that it will require a certain amount of skill in working with these things, and I will not be responsible for any personal injury or property damage, or environmental holocaust as a result. If you have any doubt about your ability to do the project, you might want to consider hiring a professional.

I certainly welcome your comments and suggestions. I'm always open to new ideas.

Thanks -Gary

©2007 jam4jaudio

Here’s what the amp looked like when we got it. Not much to look at, but sounded fairly decent, although the stock crate speakers left a lot to be desired. I swapped in a couple of new Eminence speakers and tested the amp out to make sure that it was worth the effort. With the new speakers the amp sounded pretty darn good. I traded this amp for some old PA equipment that I didn’t need anymore, so I was happy with the deal.

The old tolex was covered with cigarette burns and a previous owner had carved his name in the old tolex. (good move Ken!) Plus there was a huge scuff mark on the front corner. Most of the hardware was in decent shape although the strap handle was a little abraded and a couple of the rubber feet on the bottom of the cabinet were broken or missing. We’ll replace those items. The grill cloth was in excellent shape so we’ll just clean it up and it’ll be good to go.

BTW this amp came from the factory with black nubtex tolex which is sometimes called "rough" texture. We'll be replacing it with the same.

So now we’ll begin removing all the hardware. (you did realize all this stuff has to be removed didn’t you?). Carefully remove the screws, and make note of where everything goes so that you won’t have trouble putting everything back together. The corners and the handle are pretty self explanatory as are the rubber feet and the caster sockets on the bottom of the cabinet.

Most of these Crate amps have a baffle board which is wrapped in grill cloth. You’ll need to unplug the speaker wires coming from the chassis. Some amps will also have a spring reverb unit which will need to be unplugged. Just make sure to mark these wires so you’ll know how to hook everything back up. Now remove the four screws going through the top of the amp that hold the chassis in place. This amp also had a built in tuner on the top of the amp. As you slide the chassis out you can access the wires going to the tuner and unplug it. The tuner just snaps into place with plastic clips on the side, which are pretty fragile so be careful not to break them off. Once the chassis is out, you can remove the screws on each side which hold the baffle in place. You may be able to remove the baffle with the speakers still attached.

Here’s the cabinet with everything removed. Now you can begin removing the old tolex. It’ll probably be easiest to begin on one of the inside edges and just begin pulling it off. The last amp I did was really easy. This one was a different story. You might find it helpful to use a heat gun to soften up the old glue, but even then it can be a lot of work. As you remove the old tolex take time to examine how it was installed -how were the corners cut? where did they put the seams? This can be very helpful when it comes time to install the new. You’ll most likely find a seam or two on the bottom of the cabinet and also on the partial back panel. The factory normally does these seams as semicircular cuts which helps to conceal them, and we'll try to use the same technique.

Here’s the stripped down cabinet with the debris field next to it. We’re definitely at the point of no return now! The old tolex was applied with a seam at the bottom left corner of the amp and wrapping all the way around the cabinet in one piece. This amp is 26in wide and 20in tall which means that a one piece installation would have required a piece of tolex 92in long plus enough to overlap the seam. Since most tolex is comes in 54in width and is sold by the linear yd., a 92in piece would require 3yds. We decided to put a seam at both bottom corners which allowed us to cover the cabinet with only two yds of tolex. (saving money is cool isn’t it?)

As we were removing the old tolex we noticed that the spot where “Ken” engraved his name was deeper than we thought, so we had to apply some wood filler to fix it. This cabinet was made of particle board and some of the particles lifted out as we removed the old tolex. So we also went around the cabinet and filled those spots too. We then let the filler set overnight. Once the filler was set we went over the entire cabinet with a DA Sander just to make sure everything was good and smooth. You could also use a regular sanding block with some medium grit paper.

So here’s the amp cabinet, stripped and sanded and ready to go. If the black paint inside the cabinet needs to be touched up, now would be the time to do it. Also note that some installers like to apply some black paint in the area under where the seams will be so that if the seams are gapped slightly they won't show as bad. You may have noticed the black paint on this cabinet in that area in the earlier pictures. If you're using something other than black tolex you should use a paint to match a closely as possible.

Other than the glue here’s some of the tools required to do the job. From left to right in the picture: a flat steel ruler, a carpenter square, a utility knife with extra blades. A tape measure. A small trowel for spreading the glue (shown in the picture is a plastic one and a metal one). The trowel should have notches which are about 1/16” x 1/16”. And you’ll also need a small throw away paint brush for apply the glue to the corners and the tight areas where the tolex wraps around the edges. The picture shows a 2in china bristle brush and also a small “acid” brush. Also not shown in the picture, a hair dryer or heat gun to help soften the tolex when when wrapping it around the edges. If you use a heat gun use caution -these things get very hot and can actually melt the tolex. You’ll also need a nice soft surface to work on so we don’t scuff the new tolex before we even get it applied. We’re using an old moving blanket.

What glue?

One of the most asked questions that I get is “What kind of glue should I use for the tolex?”

There are adhesives on the market labeled as "tolex glue", but in my opinion, this stuff is nothing more than regular latex contact cement which is available at any hardware store or home center at about half the price. Some installers swear by hyde glue, but it's kind of hard to work with, same with regular wood glue (ie, titebond, or elmers) -it works great and holds like crazy, but the slow drying time makes it kind of hard to work with.
Avoid using any kind of solvent based adhesive, as the solvents can react with the tolex causing it to shrink and bubble up (not good!). There are people who swear by 3M Super77 spray adhesive, but it's solvent based -in fact all spray adhesives are solvent based. If you decide to use this stuff, be careful -apply it to the tolex in very thin layers, allowing each to dry before applying more. If you apply the adhesive too "wet" it will have time to soak in and damage the tolex. Also, take proper precautions when using any kind of solvent based adhesive. Use a respirator and stay away from open flames!

For the amp recover in this tutorial we used DAP brand flooring adhesive, but in our shop we normally use a combination of the latex flooring adhesive on the large flat panels, and then we use the latex contact cement on the edges and the seams. This method gives you the extra working time on the large panels, so you can reposition the tolex if needed to make sure you have the tolex aligned properly. And using the contact adhesive on the seams and edges gives you the instant holding power so the tolex will hold immediately.


So we’re ready to start. As we said earlier, we opted to do the cabinet with two seams on the bottom of the cabinet, near the ends, We’ll be starting with the 72in x 54in piece of tolex. We’ll leave it at 72in long because this is just about the right length to do the top and sides of the cabinet plus a little extra to overlap the seams, but we’ll cut it down to the depth of the cabinet plus enough to wrap around the edges. We’ve determined that the this piece will need to be about 22in. This will give us plenty for wrapping plus a little extra in case things shift a little.

Now lay out the tolex upside down and position the cabinet like so. Make sure that it’s lined up correctly and that you’ll have plenty of tolex to wrap the edges. The cabinet is sitting on it’s left side. But you can start on either side.

Now tip the cabinet down like this so that it’s sitting right side up. Don’t let the cabinet slide as you tip it down. You need to keep it aligned with the tolex.

Now begin spreading the glue. Spread it smoothly and evenly. You don’t want any globs of glue because it’ll end up as a lump underneath the tolex. You’ll want to go over the edges slightly, but not all the way over.

Now you can roll the cabinet right over, upside down, so that the surface you just glued is on the tolex. Again make sure that the cabinet stays lined up correctly -don’t let it shift.

Now glue the sides. You might find it helpful to spread the adhesive to the tolex itself on the bottom corner, as we did here. Just make sure there’s no globs of glue under that edge (it’s kind of hard to see under that edge).

Once you have one side glued you can lift the tolex up into the glue like so. You might find it helpful to let the glue tack up for a few minutes so that the tolex grip, and stay in place.

Now you can tip the cabinet up with the side you just glued facing down and begin gluing the other side.

So here’s the cabinet with the top and both sides glued.

Now for the bottom of the cabinet. (You’ll notice that we glued this piece in place before we cut the corners -you can do it either way). The piece needs to be long enough to wrap around the partial back panel and also around the front edge of the cabinet. In this case about 27in. If you cut the width of this piece precisely to the inside width of the cabinet it’ll be a lot easier to install. This cabinet is 26in wide and the side panels are 3/4in so we cut this piece at 24-½in. When you glue it in place center it up perfectly and it should wrap perfectly around the front edge and also around the partial back panel

Now here‘s the bottom of the cabinet with the piece of tolex glued in place and the piece from the side overlapping. Now were ready to cut the seams, and you’ll have to cut the seams while the glue is still wet.

Remember how those factory seams looked? They were cut with a nice even curve like this. They actually use templates at the factory to make these cuts, but we’ll freehand it. Use a good sharp knife blade and cut through both layers. Make sure that both pieces are laying absolutely flat. You may have to hold the top piece down with one hand while you make the cut. Press down hard enough to cut through both layers.

Now you can pull the bottom piece out like so, and dispose of it.

This is what you have when you’re done cutting. (the right side of the seam hasn't been pressed down into the glue yet).

Now press the two sides of the seam down into the glue. You may have to keep working it down until the glue gets tacky enough to hold. As you can see it's almost invisible!

Here’s where a lot of people have trouble: the corners! But here’s a trick might help you out. We’re looking at the cabinet from the front and we’ve got the cabinet sitting on it’s left side with the top facing left. Now take a small framing square and stand it up like so. The base of the square (the horizontal part) should be sitting flat on the tolex and it should be pushed up tight to the edge of the cabinet. The leg of the square should be lined up with the inside edge of the top.

Now tilt the square down like this. Make sure that the base of the square doesn’t slide or shift.

Now take your sharp knife and make a slit in the tolex like so, but don’t extend this cut all the way to the edge of the cabinet. The side of the cabinet is about 1in thick so we’ll leave this cut back about 1in from the edge.

Here’s what you’ll end up with. You may have to extend the cut a little further, but this is what you should end up with. The piece wraps around the inside edge of the cabinet perfectly.

Now you can flip the cabinet over and do the same with the adjacent side of the corner.

Like so.

You’ll end up with two slits like so.

Now take your knife and cut a nice V shape at the corner like this. The corners will cover up this cut so it’s not too critical except that the top of the V cut should end up exactly at the end of the two slits you made.

You can use the square to do the same technique with the to cut the flap on the back of the cabinet where the tolex wraps around.

Ok, so now all four sides of the cabinet are glued in place and the corners are cut. It’s now time to wrap the tolex around the inside edges. You’ll note that all of these pieces are cut extra long. We’ll use a straight edge to cut them down for a nice neat installation.

On the back side of the cabinet the pieces simply wrap around and get glued down flat. Start by wrapping the piece around the edge and then mark it where you want to cut it. We cut it a little longer than the original to make sure it covered up the old glue line.

We used a straight edge to get a nice straight cut

Now you can glue it. You’ll probably find it easier to spread the glue on the tolex itself. We’ve got a scrap piece of cardboard underneath so we don’ t make a mess.

Now wrap the piece around, and press it down. Make sure to pull the tolex tight around the corners, and use a damp rag to clean up any excess glue at the edge. You can do the same with the other side of the cabinet and also the top. Then use the same basic technique to do the piece that wraps around the partial back panel.

Now use the same technique that you used on the bottom seams to cut the short seams on the back panel. Once you’re done with this the back of the cabinet should be all done.

Now moving to the front of the cab. These wrap around pieces are a little trickier. I sometimes use latex contact adhesive for these pieces which speeds things up a little but it’s not necessary, and I didn’t on this install. The bottom of the cabinet has a groove that the baffle board sits in. You’ll have to conform the tolex down into this groove. The two sides of the cabinet have ‘skirt’ boards which extend out.and the tolex will have to wrap around these boards. And the top of the cabinet has the fancy scalloped edge which is a little tricky.

Starting with the bottom of the cabinet. Cut this piece like you did the wrap arounds on the back of the cabinet, and begin gluing.

You might want to use your hair dryer or a heat gun to soften the tolex up to conform it to the groove. JUST BE CAREFUL IF YOU USE A HEAT GUN. THESE THINGS GET REALLY HOT AND CAN ACTUALLY MELT THE TOLEX!!

And now begin wrapping the tolex around the edge. I used a scrap piece of wood to push the tolex down into the groove. Just be patient and keep working at it until the glue begins to get tacky. If you want you could apply the glue to both surfaces and then let it tack up a little which will make the glue grab quicker.

And now for the sides of the cabinet. The tolex will wrap around these skirt boards but will not extend over the back of the side panels. You’ll need to use the little paint brushes to glue up these pieces. We’re using another scrap piece of cardboard to keep the glue off the side of the cabinet.

Now wrap the tolex around this board like so, and work it down tight around the edge, until it looks something like this.

Once the glue is set up enough you can run your knife along the edge and cut off the excess.

And now for the top. This is kind of tricky because of the scallopped edge on the front of the cabinet.You can start off by cutting the piece to length and then spread some glue on it. I've spread glue on both the tolex and on the underside of the front edge of the cabinet. Then let the glue set for a few minutes and it'll tack up and grab quicker.

You'll need to apply some heat to the tolex here to make it stretch and conform to the scallopped front edge. You'll have to make two cuts like this -one at the bottom of the curve and one at the apex of the curve. You might want to skip ahead to the next picture to get an idea of how to make these cuts.

Here's what it looks like from underneath.

Here's a view of the other side, keep working on it to get the tolex pulled nice and tight, so that it looks good from the top.

And here's the finished cabinet! Looks good as new doesn't it?

We'll let the glue cure overnight before we put everything back together.

Thanks for checking out the tutorial. Hope it was helpful. We'll soon be posting a tutorial on grill cloth installation, as well as a lot of general tips on cabinet construction. Please feel free to post your questions, comments, or suggestions. You'll have to sign up for an account to post on this message board, but it's free and easy!


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