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I have often heard/read people mentioning a "death cap" when talking about older Fender amps.

Is this a capacitor?

What does it do?

Why is it called the death cap?

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    A "death cap" is an Amanita phalloides, or one of the related species of poisonous basidiomycete fungus, common to North America and Eurasia. This is one of mushrooms responsible for the saying "there are old mushroom hunters, and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old bold mushroom hunters." It should also be pointed out that there's a great webforum, Badcaps, exclusively dedicated to bad capacitors. They helped me fix my washing machine. badcaps.net/index.php Sorry, I'll delete this presently. – Scott Wallace Jan 28 at 12:04
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On older, two prong power cord Fenders, there's a 0.047 uF cap that you can switch in across one of the power leads and ground. It filters out some high frequency noise on the line. If the cap fails it can result in your amp's chasis, and your guitar, being connected directly to the mains. Possibly resulting in death.

Here's a diagram for converting a 2-prong Fender to a 3-prong setup with a fuse, getting rid of the cap in the process. 2 to 3 prong conversion

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  • In your diagram, the capacitor does not go across the two leads, it goes between one of the leads and the chassis. – Anthony Jan 26 at 16:14
  • @Anthony good catch. Fixed text. – Ian C. Jan 27 at 17:08
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All caps should be properly discharged, but that's not why it's the death cap. As said above, when it fails you're really rockin' with fire. In fact, I believe the history of rock n roll is rich with anecdotes of guitarists electrocuting themselves on stage. As a passive consumer of these rock myths, I always felt it added a certain romantic quality to the music. But, nah...a cheap amp from yesteryear can, and has, killed. The Death Cap!

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The above is wrong.. although it adds a ground to an otherwise ungrounded unit. Many old tube radios and amps, the chassie itself is part of the circuit. The "death cap" is a large capacitor in the amps circuit that can store thousands of volts like a battery even when unplugged. Touching the connections to it can result in a very unpleasant shock. It must be safely discharged before repairs can be made.

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    Hi, welcome to music, and thanks for contributing. Are you saying that @Ian C. is incorrect that a failure of the 0.047 mfd cap would be dangerous? I agree with his answer that it would be dangerous: If that caps fails "short," then it looks to me like it will put line voltage on the chassis (which is ground in that old equipment). Or are you just saying that the "death cap" is not that 0.047 mfd cap, but a larger capacitor somewhere else in the circuit? It is true that large caps must be treated with respect and caution. Is there one in the old Fender amps? – Wayne Conrad Nov 10 '18 at 13:28
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    Mark - your comment is incorrect. A capacitor in a mains circuit will only store charge based on the voltage that was across it. So no, you will not store thousands of volts. Sure, a big cap can kill - I have used them to demonstrate arc welding - but that's not what is going on here. – Doktor Mayhem Feb 8 '19 at 16:45
  • Mark, you are confusing the death capacitor with a normal PSU capacitor. And neither will store thousands of volts. The chassis is part of the circuit of most electronics before double-insulation became a thing. – user207421 Aug 15 '19 at 2:19

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