10 Classic Guitar Amps & The Songs That Made Them Famous

Hey everyone! Ben Fargen here from Fargen Custom Amps & Mods. I was asked to write a post for MyRareGuitars.com, so I thought I’d write about some famous songs and amplifiers. I’m really looking forward to your comments, so let me know which songs and amps you would include in this list. Thanks!

10. Fender Showman (Blonde Brownface)

Song: Miserlou
Artist: Dick Dale

The unmistakable sound of surf guitar was created by Dick Dale’s Fender stratocaster and a Fender Showman amp. One of the most important pieces of his signature sound was a custom Fender reverb unit (built by Leo Fender and given to Dick Dale as a prototype) driving a cranked up dual showman into 2 X 15-inch JBL D1 30 speakers. On the opening low E run from Dick Dale’s version of Miserlou you knew surf guitar was born, and that super cool reverb-laden sound would change the history of instrumental guitar music.

Dick Dale's 1965 Fender Showman Amp at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, AZ

Dick Dale's 1965 Fender Showman Amp at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, AZ

9. Marshall JTM 45 Combo (Series 2, Model #1962)

Song: Hideaway
Artist: Eric Clapton (John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers)

In the mid 60’s – after Eric Clapton left the Yardbirds – he joined with the John Mayall Bluesbreakers. Within one year earned a huge reputation and the nickname “Slowhand”. The Bluesbreakers recorded the Beano album in April 1966 and Clapton used a Marshall Series 2 1962 JTM 45 combo with KT 66 tubes. This amp coupled with the Les Paul guitar created a new kind of sound no one had ever heard before in blues. Some dubbed this the “woman” tone, and players have been chasing it for decades.

The Marshall Bluesbreaker: The Story of Marshall's First Combo

The Marshall Bluesbreaker: The Story of Marshall's First Combo

8. Fender Deluxe Reverb

Song: Sweet Dreams
Artist: Roy Buchanan

Roy Buchanan and his trusty, well-weathered 50’s telecaster never abused a finer vintage amp than the Fender Deluxe Reverb. Roy was known for cranking his Fender Deluxe Reverb full blast and facing it toward the back of the stage to cut the stage volume. Roy gave his fans one screaming note after another and some of the sweetest tear-jerking blues you’ve ever heard. If there was ever a player that could wring blood, sweat and tears from a guitar, it was the late, great Roy Buchanan.

1960's Blackface Fender Deluxe Reverb Amp

1960's Blackface Fender Deluxe Reverb Amp

7. Fender Bassman (Blonde Brownface)

Song: Rock This Town
Artist: Brian Setzer

Brian setzer is the king of cool when it come to rockabilly guitar style. He brought 50’s style blues/jazz guitar back in a time when AOR rock and new wave ruled the airwaves. One of the secret weapons in his tone is a Roland RE-201 Space Echo between his Gretsch guitar and two blonde Fender Bassman amps. That setup creates a great rowdy slap back echo which has become part of his signature tone.

Brian Setzer's Blonde Brownface Fender Bassman 6G6-B Amps setup with Roland Space Echo

Brian Setzer's Blonde Brownface Fender Bassman 6G6-B Amps setup with Roland Space Echo

6. Fender Tweed Deluxe

Song: Like A Hurricane
Artist: Neil Young

Neil Young is the godfather of grunge. bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana pay tribute to Neil’s wild, unleashed crunchy chords and ruckus feedback swirls in many of their songs. Neil sports his worn black beauty Les Paul, feeding his 1959 Tweed Deluxe on many of his classic tunes live and in the studio. One amazing part of Neil’s rig is the Whizzer. In order to access the Deluxe’s varying degrees of overdrive and gain, Young uses a custom-made amp-control switching device known simply as “the Whizzer,” which consists of 2 parts: the foot pedal and the mechanical switching device that physically turns the amp’s knobs. The Whizzer allows Young to stomp a footswitch on the floor to command the unit to twist the Deluxe’s volume and tone controls to any of a number of determined preset positions. This allows Neil to run a pure tone set up: guitar-cord-amp. No booster, overdrive, or distortion pedals are needed to achieve his classic agro-tone…just the little 50’s Fender Tweed Deluxe and the Whizzer.

Neil Young's 1959 Fender Tweed Deluxe Amp

Neil Young's 1959 Fender Tweed Deluxe Amp

5. VOX AC30

Song: Bad
Arist: The Edge (U2)

The Edge is one of my all time favorite guitarists. He created a signature sound early on in his career with a Fender Stratocaster, Electro Harmonix Memory Man delay pedal and a VOX AC30 on albums such as WAR and The Unforgettable Fire. This winning combination has served him well from the early days all the way through recent records and live work. The Edge creates complex echo manipulations coupled with the airy chime of the Vox AC30. The Edge has used a massive catalog of guitars and multi FX units over the years, but the AC30 has remained a staple regardless of the other changes. These gear details coupled with his brilliant parts make U2’s catalog of songs distinguishable with just one note of the Edge’s guitar. Very few guitar players in history have created such a powerful and recognizable signature sound like The Edge.

”]The Edge's 1964 Vox AC30TB (Top Boost) Amp ['64 chassis in a 70's cabinet]

4. Supro Thunderbolt

Song: Communication Breakdown
Artist: Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin)

There has been a lot of speculation over the years regarding the amps that Jimmy Page used in the studio during the groundbreaking debut release Led Zeppelin. Jimmy will neither confirm nor deny which amp(s) were used in the studio, and there are no known photos in the archives to corroborate my story. But…based on the tones heard on the record, it is entirely possible that the Supro Thunderbolt was used. So in keeping with the mythical ethos of Led Zeppelin, I added it in to the mix.

Supro Thunderbolt Amp (front)

Supro Thunderbolt Amp (front)

Supro Thunderbolt Amp (back)

Supro Thunderbolt Amp (back)

Now, just to add to the mystery, here’s the Supro amp that Jimmy page gave to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s actually a Supro 1690T Coronado, but the features of the amp do not match up with details Jimmy previously provided when questioned about the Supro amp he used on Led Zeppelin. And the mystery continues…

The Supro 1690T Coronado that Jimmy Page gave to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The Supro 1690T Coronado that Jimmy Page gave to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Supro 1690T Coronado Amp (catalog ad)

Supro 1690T Coronado Amp (catalog ad)

3. Marshall Bass 50w #1986 (Head)

Song: Statesboro Blues
Artist: Duane Allman (Allman Brothers Band)

Anyone that loves electric guitar cannot deny the impact Duanne Allman had on the legacy of blues slide guitar. His liquid lines and fluid tone seem to jump from the neck of his Gibson Les Paul without effort. He used a simple rig of two 50 Watt Marshall heads into two 4 x 12-inch cabs. His tone on the legendary Allman Brothers recording Live at the Filmore East is a destination for anyone wanting to capture the ultimate blues tone. Nobody plays it the way Duane did. If you don’t own a copy of this record, I recommend you head to the record store and pick it up immediately because you are missing out on a legendary sound and performance.

Marshall Bass 50w Head Model #1986

Marshall Bass 50w Head Model #1986

Duane Allman's Last Show (Oct. 1971, Los Angeles)

Duane Allman's Last Show (Oct. 1971, Los Angeles)

2. Dumble Overdrive Special

Song: Josie
Artist: Larry Carlton (Steely Dan)

During the 1970’s and 80’s Mr. 335 laid down over 500 tracks a year as a session player and on his own records. He is definitely one of LA’s guitar royalty. Armed with his trusty ’68 Gibson ES-335 and two Dumble Overdrive Special amps, his monster jazz fusion guitar line are unmistakable and can be heard all over popular music. Steely Dan’s 6th release, Aja, employed a huge jazz influence and was their most guitar heavy record to date. This was mostly in part to the amazingly tasty tones and licks from Larry Carlton. Aja is one of Steely Dan’s best and most popular records for sure. Mr. 335 obviously helped push that record to the top.

Larry Carlton's Dumble Overdrive Special Amps (2005)

Larry Carlton's Dumble Overdrive Special Amps (2005)

1. Marshall Super Lead #1959 (12,000 Series Metal Panel Plexi 100-Watt)

Song: Running With The Devil
Artist: Eddie Van Halen

With the release of Van Halen I in 1978, the world of rock was changed forever. Edward Van Halen hit the scene with a new guitar sound that was so fast and furious no one had ever heard anything like it before. Eddie was a do-it-yourself kind of guy, always tweaking around with modded guitar pickups, different fx pedals on the floor and different ways to drive his Marshall amplifier into saturated overdrive. In the legend of EVH, many myths about how he created his early guitar tone have run rampant for decades. Speculation about DIY mods like power resistors across the power tubes plates, AC variacs to raise or lower the input voltage of the amp, and large resistant power loads over the speaker out have spawned endless articles and arguments on forums about how the legendary early EVH sound was created. Sketchy details from the era and no solid proof of what was used from EVH or his camp during those days continue to feed the tone chasers fuel tanks. And to this day the holy grail tone from Van Halen 1 has players frothing at the mouth. But you and I know the only real truth: The tone is 95% in the hands, and Eddie’s legendary sound has more to do with the notes he played rather than the tone in which he played it with.

Eddie Van Halen's Marshall Super Lead #1959 100-watt Plexi

Eddie Van Halen's Marshall Super Lead #1959 100-watt Plexi

Eddie Van Halen's Marshall Super Lead #1959 100-watt Plexi

Eddie Van Halen's Marshall Super Lead #1959 100-watt Plexi

Eddie Van Halen's Marshall Super Lead #1959 100-watt Plexi

Eddie Van Halen's Marshall Super Lead #1959 100-watt Plexi

Comments

  1. Doug Pratt says

    For Ben Fargen,

    I just acquired (“acquired” means I’m very pleased) a little 1999 Danelectro HT50 from a pawnshop. You may know it’s called a Honeytone but it is not the plastic Honeytone currently available.

    Can’t find history or any specs on this amp. Searched pretty diligently…did see Eric Clapton has his up for sale for $4,300.00…and wonder if you can direct me to an article, literature or any source of more info in this little hottie.

    Cheers,

    Doug
    Atlanta, Ga.
    ppr_edp@bellsouth.net

  2. says

    It was always my understanding Roy Buchanan always used a ’64 Vibrolux Reverb on stage (pointed to the back of the stage as you indicated). At least that was what he used the two times I was fortunate enough to see him. Still, a great article!

  3. Ken says

    What a great article – love the embedded clips showing the sound that is signature to the amp and the artist. Would be fun to see a studio guy witht he top 10 amps in a studio – just the amp – but that requires a lot of gathering of rare amps. Anyway great article

  4. Chris says

    Great article! I’m glad you included Neil Young because he has the most distinctive sound in rock, think of his trumpet like tone on Like a Hurricane.

  5. Ric Vice says

    A very nice retrospective, if it weren’t for one oversight. You totally left out the Ampeg VT 22 and SVT that Keith Richards used with the Rolling Stones. It’s a very significant amplifier.

  6. says

    Hi Richard,

    You are correct…I’m sure Roy used plenty of great old Fender amps during his day. When writing an article like this, it is impossible to capture all the cool gear a player might have used over the course of their career. I have some old timer friends that knew Roy back in the day and the particular story that involved Roy was about a old Deluxe Reverb…so I went with that angle.It was my first introduction to the genius of Roy Buchanan and I have loved his playing ever since.

    All the best.
    Benjamin Fargen

  7. DaveG says

    What? No Magnatone? Chalk one of those up for Neil, SRV and Lonnie Mack…
    Also need an early Standel – used on countless country records by Chet Atkins, etc.

  8. Keith Matten says

    Absolutely loved this article. Clapton’s rendition of Freddy King’s Hideaway has always been my favorite Clapton solo just after “Crossroads”. Thanks to Larry Carlton who was so gracious to should us how to play “Josie”. Thanks you, thank you, so much for the effort you put into this articel. Well done!

  9. Bill says

    Great article Ben. you should do more of these. I never knew that such a thing as a “Whizzer” even existed!

  10. Bob Burkard says

    Please don’t forget the Fender Champ, (57 -63), that Clapton used for Layla. It is one of the sweetest amps around. I love mine, and with a Strat, WOW. You mentioned the Space Echo that Brian Setzer used. My Buddy Don Celenza just gave his up after over 40 years. He recommended to me a the Danelectro Danecho. I bought one, and I have to say, it is very versatile, and very small, and no tapes to mess with.
    Thank you for the info, and the walk down Memory Lane!!

  11. Dave E says

    How about the ’59 Tweed Fender Bassman, ’59 Tweed Fender Twin, and ’65 Fender Super Reverb used by blues players like Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, and SRV? There’s also the ’65 Fender Twin Reverb used as house amps in studios and on stages world-wide to play all genres of music.

  12. Funknbluezer says

    I once had the opportunity to play through BB King’s Lab amp with my Gibson Lucille. The amp was dialed in to Mr. King’s settings (by the way, he plays very loud) and I wailed my best blues licks. You know what? I sounded just like me. It’s not the amp, it’s not the guitar, it’s not the strings or anything else in the signal chain. It all comes from you, the player. Or in this case, the King of the Blues, Mr.B King.

    P.S. I got a very good visual inspection of THE Lucille too. You wouldn’t believe how high the action is and he has a huge wad of string wound around the tuning post.

  13. Bender Rodriguez says

    Great article!

    What about David Gilmour – Hiwatt DR103 and WEM 4×12” cabinets ??

    cheers!

  14. Craig Ruskey says

    Nice article about some very key amps. Well done. One small FYI about The Allman Brothers Band… the caption under the above photo says Duane Allman’s Last Show (Oct. 1971, Los Angeles). Duane’s last show was at the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh on October 15, 1971 – not Los Angeles.

  15. Roger Branton says

    I caught a Richard Lloyd show about 2 or 3 years ago. I guess what you’d call a gas-stop gig…I live in a fairly small town just east of Toronto and the show was in the tiniest club imagineable. There probably wasn’t more than 40 people there!
    But Richard’s amp is an old Supro Thunderbolt an I have to say, those things are magnificent! This was easily one of the best rock shows I’ve seen in 30 or so years of seeing bands! The guy is…um…shall we say, a little eccentric but as a guitarist, you couldn’t see better. What tone!

  16. Steve B says

    I think the Vox owes more to the Beatles and other Brit bands. Edge is a late comer to the Vox chime.

  17. elvis costanza says

    Clapton’s “woman” tone didn’t happen until Cream’s second album,Roy Buchanan played through a VibroLux

  18. Gary Carr says

    great article, Ben

    one small thing … I’d say that Clapton’s “woman tone” came with Cream, and after the Beano album.

  19. Jason says

    Nice article. Thanks for writing it. It is fun to see all the vintage gear that helped to shape so many of the sounds we all know and love. However, I agree with your last statement about Eddie and all the players mentioned for that matter. So much of it is in the hands and the heart and creativity of the player. I listen to Jeff Beck throughout the decades and his tones have changed here and there. He has also perfected his technique, but from the earliest stages you can hear the beauty of his playing and the purpose he places behind each note. He demands that you listen through his playing. I had the chance to see Robben Ford several years ago play to a packed house with nothing but his RF Fender guitar and a cranked Black Face Deluxe and he sounded as he always does, like Robben, Fantastic! Of course when a great player finds the sounds that inspire him or her you get some true magic.

  20. postmodulator says

    As long as we’re nitpicking, Old Black (Neil Young’s #1) is not a Black Beauty, it’s a ’53 Goldtop that someone painted black before he got it. (Apparently kind of a cheap paint job, too.) His backup is another ’53 Goldtop.

  21. Raist says

    The VOX AC 30 entry is a bit off, there are lots of more iconic songs. The Shadows, the Beatles, Brian May…

  22. Paddy says

    On the Jimmy Page amp subject. Having played through a few Supros myself, I would say it’s most likely that the 1690 Coronado would be a more likely candidate for Page’s signature early sound than the Thunderbolt. The Coronado uses 6973 power tubes, which have a very distinctive tone. I know this tone well, as it was the reason I purchased my Supro 1600. (same power tubes)

    The Thunderbolt, on the other hand, uses 6L6 power tubes. These have higher output and a somewhat clearer, though not-quite-clean tone. More of a George Thorogood sound than a Jimmy Page sound. Legend has it that Jimi Hendrix actually used a Supro Thunderbolt for some studio tracks like “The Wind Cries Mary” and such. Who knows?

    One consistent thing with most Supros, the nearly identical preamp design and the concertina phase inverter used in virtually all of their push-pull amp designs. Does make for a similar tone across the whole lineup.

  23. Robert Taylor says

    Very nice history lesson, especially with pics of these old amps, and especially the live videos of these players. The
    combination of all these, was an excellent way to really teach musicians about tone, and the evolution of amps and
    the musicians who chose them.

    Bravo to a job well done, boo to the nitpickers!

  24. Gary says

    I was surprised that Carlos Santana and his might Mesa Boogie amps weren’t mentioned. So I’m mentioning them ;-)

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