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Category Archive1960’s Vintage Amps

1960’s Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

I’ve only owned two Kay tube amps, and they were both keepers. One was a pretty standard (for its era) dual 6V6 with tremolo (a really rich and deep tremolo). It had a tone pretty close to the Silvertone 1482, its Dano-made Airline counterpart, the rare 1964 Ampeg Reverberocket with 6V6’s (wow, what an amp!) Lectrolab 600B (though this is the best of the bunch, IMO) and any number of other cheapie versions/variations of a Tweed Deluxe. It’s interesting that all these Chicago and New Jersey bargain companies were churning out these amps that now get called a “poor person’s Tweed Deluxe”—these great 6V6 amps with tons of snarl and growl long after Leo Fender had left Tweed pastures for the cleaner, tighter sound of the Tolex models. By 1964, when Danos and Lectrolabs were still sounding like proto-Neil Young dirt, Fender had long left behind the loose sag and grit of the Tweed Deluxe, replacing it with the much tighter, much stiffer (though still a cool amp) Deluxe Reverb.

Don’t get me wrong. The Deluxe Reverb is a great amp. But the Fenders I love pretty much all fall in the tweed era, where there wasn’t a ton of great headroom and you got into a nice snarl pretty early in the sweep of the volume knob.

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

You don’t see a bunch of the dual 6V6 single 12” Kays. The models you tend to see the most are the little (and somewhat anemic) single-ended practice amp, the 703. And the Kay tube amp you tend to see the least is the VERY cool duel 6L6 (sometimes) Kay 507 Twin Ten.

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

As the name suggests, the amp pushes two (ALNICO) 10” speakers powered by a pair of 6L6’s. What’s weird is that a LOT have 7868’s as output tubes and use a 7199 in the circuit. 7868’s have a great tone, in general. They are, from what I’ve read, essentially the same tube as a 7591, but with nine pins instead of eight. 7199’s got used a lot in Ampegs and Sanos and they are very rare and they aren’t made anymore, so they tend to cost a lot of dough. So, buyer beware (especially about the 7199) on this amp. BUT, the model I have has what are obviously original 6L6’s and no rare or obscure preamp tubes (five 12AX7’s do the preamp and phase inverter jobs) and the old stand-by 5U4 for rectification. Mine is all original—as the schematic inside matches what’s in the amp. But there seem to have been some variations on the construction of the 507—so, ask the seller about/check the tubes when buying so you know what your 507 has in it.

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

Also, it’s one of the coolest looking amps you’ll see. It has two channels (two inputs per channel), a VERY snazzy chrome rear control panel with six knobs (tone and volume for each channel and speed and intensity for the tremolo). And it has a very 50’s-looking two tone appearance (even though it lists that they were made 1960-1963), brown rear and light brown front with a white swirl on brown cloth grill. It’s a great size—not too heavy and 24” wide by 20” tall.

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

OK, it looks cool, but how does it sound? Pretty freaking cool. It sounds a lot like the other great Chicago amps of the same period. And this is where things get kind of interesting—who made these Kay amps? It has a tone very much like the great Valcos (which ended up branded, at various times, Supro, Airline and, in the 400 series, Harmony). And, like a Valco, it has a tone a bit like some of the great Lectrolabs, too (I’ve seen Lectrolabs branded under their own name and also with Philharmonic and the 300 series of Harmony amps). But, it’s not made by either Valco or Lectrolab (I get this info from a friend of mine who knows more about off-brand amps than anyone I know and has a collection to prove it). It also doesn’t look like a Valco or Lectrolab under the hood. It’s simply made differently (though it is point-to-point like both of those brand—no hand stuffed circuit board like on a Tweed Fender). According to my friend, it was Kay who actually made these Kay amps over these years (go figure). As I say, this friend knows a lot more than me and has written several books on the Chicago giants. Plus, it’s easy to tell from looking that it wasn’t made by Valco or Lectrolab. So, if it isn’t easy to tell who DID make it, at least we know who DIDN’T.

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

Whoever made it, though, it’s a wonderful amp. At low volume, you get a VERY rich and textured clean sound. The two ten inch speakers sound great and the cleans are very complex, much like a Tweed Fender Super from the early 50’s. This is one of the richest, thickest (without being overly dark) cleans I have ever heard in a vintage amp. And when you add the tremolo, wow! It moves from a VERY slow, pulsing tremolo, to a pretty fast one—but it never gets totally choppy and helicopter-sounding like a lot of the late 60’s tremolos. Throughout the range of the “strength” control, the tremolo stays watery and smooth. Just a killer sound.

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

Turned up, it sounds more like a 6V6 amp than most 6L6 amps I’ve ever heard. Very Neil Young and Crazy Horse. If you push the volume on the channel you’re using to 6 or higher, it starts to really snarl and have a complex great sounding distortion. The volume and tone controls are interactive, too, so you can get some very nice textures of distortion by either coupling the channels with a short cord, or just playing with the volume of the channel you’re not using. Open it up full and put the other channel around 5 or 6 and it sounds VERY much like Neil Young’s tone on RAGGED GLORY—that opening of “Country Home” sounds spot on when this amp is cranked.

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

It’s a sleeper. And there don’t seem to be too many of them out there. I haven’t heard the 7868 output tube version of this amp, but I’d sure like to. In any case, if you see one of the 507 Twin Tens with 6L6 output tubes, I’d buy it in a heartbeat. I’m doing a MAJOR purge around here—selling at least five guitars and five amps. And I kept going back and forth on the Kay 507. Then I plugged it in to write this and I decided I’d be nuts to get rid of it. There simply aren’t that many of them. And I don’t want to feel like I felt about letting go of my 4X6V6 Danelectro Challenger with a 15 inch speaker. That was another super rare amp I let go of, and I still get angry at myself. From now on, I’ve vowed to only get rid of stuff I could easily replace if I truly regretted the sale. So this one stays.

1960’s Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

I wasn’t in the market for any more amps, but how could I pass up this Lafayette LA-75? A buddy of mine (thanks Rob S.!) sent me an email, letting me know that this baby was on eBay for a really good price and that I should snatch it up. “If you love the (Valco-made) Harmony 415,” he said, knowing it was one of my favorites, “you’ll love this one. Similar output and tone, only out of one 12” instead of two.” And he was right—and then some. I do love the duel EL84 Valco/Harmony 415, but I think I like this little sleeper even more.

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

What’s to love? First of all, its Jetson-era Mid Century Modern styling that makes it pretty as a piece of vintage furniture. It’s a classy looking little box—the only American made amp it resembles is the nearly-equally cool looking Dano-made Silvertone 1432 (itself a bit of a sleeper, as it was a predecessor to the classic and easier to find 1472 and 1482 series). But while the 1432 relies on the classic duel 6V6 setup for its bluesy grind, the Lafayette runs two 7189s for output.

What’s the difference? Not much, actually in the tone of the amp. The design of an amp has at least as much to do with its tonal makeup as does its output tubes, and this little Japanese combo sounds much like Danelectro’s and the Chicago beasts of its era (Valco, Lectrolab and so on). It’s got the familiar thick, dark, lush tone at under 4 on the volume knob, and it has an impressive and small gig volume when it starts to get into its grind around 5 and up on the volume knob. And it has two channels, which you can jump to enrich both the chewy grind and the thickness of the amp.

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

Mine seems to have the original ALNICO speaker (Japanese amps don’t always share our speaker codes, so it’s hard to say what make it is) that sounds very much like a Jensen ALNICO I have in a 1958 Ampeg Mercury (I switched them and the tones are nearly identical).

What makes this amp unique among some of the great Japanese made amps of the same era? Its tone is actually very Valco. Dark, chewy, biting and fat, fat, fat. While some of the Guyatone’s and Univox’s have a tone all their own (which, no doubt, is very cool), the Lafayette 75 really has that great thick grind that the Chicago (and New Jersey, in Dano’s case) amps had that is perfect for jump blues and, when pushed, unhinged overdrive into Neil Young territory.

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

And now that Valco’s have become increasingly expensive (though still worth it in many cases), it’s put the amp lover on a budget hunting for other great amps that are still super affordable. Brands like Premier (in some cases), Hilgen, Univox, Guyatone, Alamo, Lectrolab and some Danelectro’s can still be found in nice shape in the $300 range. For hand-made point-to-point (or hand stuffed circuit boards) amps with good iron and great tone, you’d have to pay a lot more for a new boutique amp. And these can be had needing only minor work (in many cases). What’s not to love?

But back to this model 75. The lush depth of the 7189s is apparent throughout the volume range of the amp. The tremolo is rich and VERY 60’s sounding. It has more of a rounded, gentle wave than a sharp cut-off helicopter tremolo, with no noticeable (or apparent) volume drop when the effect is engaged.

Also, one of the cool things about the 7189s is that they are not like the 7189A’s that are in some great amps, such as the killer Magnatone M10 (and most of the Magnatone Suitcase series). Whereas the very expensive (and increasingly rare) 7189A can’t be substituted with 7189s OR with EL84s (without modification), the 7189 CAN use a rugged EL84 with no modification.

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

So, an amp with rich clean tones and a super overdrive sound that looks rad and weighs well under 30 pounds. Keep your eye out for this amp (and other Lafayette models—some of which were made by the same factory that made Univox amps—some don’t seem to be. It’s a crapshoot with 60’s Japanese amps).

Are there any problems with this amp? The handle rattles. Annoying, but hardly the end of the world…just use a little form when you’re recording. Not so bad.

It also digs pedals. I’ve added a germanium boost to this and it positively blooms on the notes. Add some reverb and the lower volume cleans are lush and astounding. In an amp/tone world where so many players are looking for the tone and range of the classic Tweed Deluxe, there are so many great tonal options in the 15 to 20 watt range. Enjoy and explore.

1960’s Kalamazoo Reverb 12 Combo Guitar Amplifier

Last month, I was talking about the very cool little Guyatone 535 model that takes 2 EL84s (6BQ5s) for a clean, very chimey, shimmering tone. Plenty of British sounding chime and a great amp for 12 strings and clean tones. And this month, I’m going to talk about the Kalamazoo Reverb 12. Here’s another dual EL84 combo that gives further evidence that the circuit design has a lot (most everything) to do with the tone of an amp as, beyond sharing the same output tubes, it has very little in common with last month’s entry in the cheap amp chronicles. This amp has some great cleans, too, but they are nice dark, woody cleans—not the glassy chime from last month’s entry.

Kalamazoo Reverb 12 Combo Guitar Amplifier

Kalamazoo Reverb 12 Combo Guitar Amplifier

There are some great amps to be found in the Kalamazoo line (Gibson’s cheaper amp line in the mid to late 60’s). Among these are the Kalamazoo 1 and 2, which are single-ended EL 84 amps, the latter with a nice tremolo. These are killer little practice and recording amps with a nice clean and a good over-driven tone. If you’re looking for a good alternative to a Champ, here’s a frugal way you might want to go.

For giggable power, check out two of the real sleepers of the Kalamazoo line: the Bass 30 and Bass 50 models. These are pretty lousy bass amps, but pretty wonderful and affordable guitar amps (how many sub-par bass amps, from the Fender Bassman, to the Ampeg Bassman, to these Kalamazoo models have been used for an unintended purpose as guitar amps to stellar results?). The Bass 30, with its funky, very simple flip-out control panel, runs on 7591s and has two sweet sounding 10” Jensens in a closed back setup. Loud, with lots of nice crunch and not too heavy to lift. If you can find one, you’ll be surprised at what great tone you can get out of it—especially with single coil guitars.

The Bass 50 shares the cool flip-out panel and the closed back cabinet, but generates its output from two EL34s through two Jensen 12” speakers. Tons of grind—and great overdriven tones with single coils AND humbuckers. This is even more rare and hard to find than the Bass 30, but it’s definitely worth hunting down for some awesome overdrive tones on the cheap.

And in between the little practice amps and the converted bass amps? Well, there sits the tops of the Kalamazoo line (such as it is): the Reverb 12. This is often cited as Kalamazoo’s answer to the Fender Princeton and, it’s true, it shares several of that amp’s makeup on the surface: Both are low wattage (about 12 watts) push-pull amps with 10 inch speakers and tremolo and reverb. But, beyond the surface, the similarities end. The Kalamazoo is not as loud as the Princeton, for one, and you’d need a pretty quiet drummer if you were going to use it along (without an extension cab) on a gig (not impossible, but the drummer would have to play pretty light or with brushes). Also, the Kalamazoo doesn’t really start to get into overdrive until pretty late in its game (between 8 and 10 on its “Loudness” control)—whereas the Princeton starts singing a little earlier in its volume range.

What do you get in the trade-off? Some great tone in that wonderful zone between total clean and full-out distortion (think that early great Jimmy Bryant tone—slightly clean, but with a nice textured amount of grit and hair in the mix).

Also, the reverb and the tremolo are VERY nice for such a small amp. It’s a very versatile, great sounding little combo that’s great for bedroom playing, small band practices and, of course, recording.

Kalamazoo Reverb 12 Combo Guitar Amplifier

Kalamazoo Reverb 12 Combo Guitar Amplifier

What’s under the hood? It’s a pretty simple, easy to work on design. Three 12AX7s (running the reverb driver, the tremolo oscillator, and the preamp and phase inverter duties), solid state rectification and two EL84’s for the output into a 10” speaker. I replaced the tired original CTS speaker in mine with a very efficient Celestion, and this really brought the amp to life—bringing out a LOT more volume and clarity and tonal dynamics. It’s a great little amp.

It’s also surprisingly versatile, as a result of the extension speaker output on the back. Run this little “practice” amp into a 4X10” cab, and wow, you suddenly have plenty of power for a gig! The amp also has an odd (for the era) RCA mono phono input (if you want to play along with a CD or one of those old-fangled records you hear us old timers talk about from time to time).

The control panel is simple, but kind of fun and funky, as it has, from left to right Loudness (instead of “Volume”), Treble (which also serves as the on/off switch, Bass, Frequency (for trem), Depth (also for trem), and Reverb. It has two inputs, but only one channel, and the inputs are the same level (that is neither is hotter than the other). The cab is ½ plywood and the construction is true point-to-point (not the hand-stuffed circuit board that often, erroneously, gets called point to point). It’s an easy to follow point to point—easy to work on, which you’ll probably have to do to at least replace the filter caps on these (which were a good deal cheater than the ones used by Fender, and they tend to go bad).

So, you get great cleans…a sweet singling overdrive when pushed to its limit and you can actually gig with it if you run an extension cab. AND they frequently (at least for now) sell for between $200 and $300. What’s not to love? Get yours now, while you can. A very cool amp, with its own sound—and a very usable sound at that.

Vintage 1960’s Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

A few months back I talked about how great the Univox U-45 is. And I figured I’d talk about more vintage Univox’s this month—specifically the 305-B which is a really great amp with 6973 output tubes. And I will (promise) do a column about that model Univox, but I stumbled onto this rare Guyatone this month and wanted to share this rare bird with the My Rare Guitars world. So, while I am stepping away from the Univox models, I’m still stuck in Japan in the 60’s with this Guyatone GA-530A.

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Japanese-made tube amps from the 60’s represent, in general, one of the great values left in the vintage market. Frequently, you can pick up little combos like this Guyatone (or the Univox U-45B) for under $300. Real vintage tube tone for under $300 (and frequently even lower)? What’s not to love?

This Guyatone, along with coming cheaply and sounding great, is a looker. In white Tolex (or Tolex-like material), this is a stunning looking amp that was a popular model (though not for export) in the Mid-60’s Japanese “Group Sounds” movement. A great amp for chiming Beatles-inspired sounds or tremolo-drenched surf-styled instrumentals, the GA-530A is one to keep your eyes peeled for. It’s a classy looking amp, and one that probably looked just fine gracing the stage of the 60’s Japanese TV show Kachinuki Eleki Gassen (“Electric Guitar Tournament”—a highly-rated audience-participation guitar show…something of a Ventures-inspired proto-American Idol for guitar players—guitars were HUGE in the 60’s in Japan).

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

What’s under the hood? It’s a pretty simple and well-made amp. Three 12AU7’s (for preamp, tremolo and phase inverter duties), two EL84’s for output and a solid state rectifier and not much else. The speaker is labeled “Guyatone”, though I’m not sure if it was made by Guyatone or rebranded (there are no codes on it). Whatever its source, this is a sweet-sounding ALNICO speaker in the 20-watt range.

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

The sound of the amp is very cool and unique. Where most of the Univoxs I’ve heard are little blues and garage-rock machines, this amp is all about chime and cleans. Part of this, of course, comes from the low-gain 12AU7’s. A 12AX7 has, for instance, an amplification factor of 100. The 12AU7’s have an amplification factor of 17. The amp is voiced for cleans and isn’t (as you might guess from the tube line up) the loudest dual EL84 amp you’ll ever hear. Without mods, you can heat things up a bit with a 12AT7 in the preamp, but anything much higher than that makes it start oscillating and wailing a bit. Without some mods, it’s not going to be a high (or even mid) gain amp.

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

However, played clean (which it stays until about 7 on the volume knob), this thing really shines and sparkles. Byrds and Beatle type tunes sound incredible and it takes to a 12-string really well. Chords are articulate and well-voiced and the amp rings like a bell. Pushed into overdrive (from 7-10 on the volume), and the amp retains its trebly voice, but pushes the EL84’s into a Vox-like chime and grind (albeit at a lower overall volume than, say, an AC15).

And, while this combo may lack reverb for true surf tones, it’s got the awesome gritty sparkle to base your surf tone on, along with an absolutely KILLER tremolo. With tremendous range of depth and speed, it’s a very musical tremolo effect. One of the best I’ve heard in ANY amp. Add a ‘verb pedal, and you’re catching a wave!

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Issues? Well, you are going to have a few when you buy a mid 60’s amp for under two hundred bucks. First of all, unless you know how to do relatively simple work like cap jobs and basic trouble-shooting for bad resistors and so on, the trip to the tech could cost more than the amp is worth. So, it’s probably not a great deal unless you know some basic repair and maintenance.

AND, there is a design flaw on this amp. The tubes are not mounted separately on the chassis, as they should be, but, instead, they’re mounted on the printed circuit board. This is problematic for a few reasons—the main ones being that it’s not nearly as study or durable as the proper mounting on the chassis and that it’s much easier for microphonic issues to arise (whether from the tube or the circuit board and then amplified through the tube).

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Also, it’s not nearly as easy to modify a printed circuit board amp as it is on a hand-stuffed circuit board or a point-to-point amp. And you might want to modify this model for a little more gain on the preamp, via a nice 12AX7, pushing the rest of the signal down the chain. Or add a bypass cap to fatten up the sound. Both of these are still easy mods—just not quite as easy as if it were a point-to-point amp with a lot of space to be noodling around in the chassis.

Still, you want perfect for under two hundred clams? These are great-sounding, great looking little tone machines. And while the build quality may not equal Fender or Marshall (or even Univox), they are still pretty easy to fix and modify, and you can’t beat a little 12” combo with two EL84’s jangling and grinding for this kind of price. The Guyatone GA-530A is worth checking out—if you can find one!

1960’s Magnatone Custom 250 Guitar Amplifier

This month is the first part of a two-parter about Vintage Magnatone Amplifiers. This month, I’ll be focusing on one underrated and rare model, while next month I’ll break down the 5 distinct collectible (i.e. tube and mostly vibrato) periods of Magnatone Amps (from the late 40s to the late 60s before they went to Solid State models in the late 60s before going belly up in 1971).

Vintage Magnatone Custom 250 Guitar Amplifier

Vintage Magnatone Custom 250 Guitar Amplifier

A quick aside about the difference between Vibrato and Tremolo (and feel free to read ahead if you know all this inside out). Vibrato is a modulation of the pitch of the note. Tremolo is a modulation of the volume of the note. Why do they get confused so often? The main reason lies mainly on the mighty shoulders of Leo Fender (though others were guilty too, such as, among others, Nat Daniel in some of the early 50s Danelectro’s). On just about every Fender amp labeled “Vibrato”, the amp actually has Tremolo. To add even more to the general confusion, Fender insisted on calling the whammy bar on the Stratocaster a “synchronized tremolo system” when, in fact, a whammy bar (perhaps obviously) changes pitch—not volume.

So, in short: MOST amplifiers, no matter what they call it, have Tremolo. Many (though NOT all, and this will be covered more fully next month) Magnatones have true pitch-shifting Vibrato. (There ARE some brown Tolex Fenders and a couple of Ampeg models that have a Doppler-like type of Vibrato, too, but they are not the most common in those respective companies’ lines). So, what’s the big deal? Well, the two effects, while both sounding musical and beautiful, don’t sound much alike.

It’s very difficult to describe the Magnatone’s version of Vibrato (which is the most musical I know of—far more than, say, a Uni-Vibe or some other solid state outboard version of the effect). I need to start doing sound clips with this column—perhaps in the near future. But, back to the case at hand. The Magnatone vibrato can go anywhere from a subtle flutter to a truly intense amount of fluctuation, without ever giving you the sea-sickness than many vibe and chorus pedals can offer. And once you’ve heard it, especially with some Reverb and an extension cab (with you in between the two sets of speakers)? Wow. There’s not another guitar sound like it.

As I say, there will be more about various collectible models of Magnatones next month—the similarities and differences among the different periods of production and so on. But for this month—just one collectible rare gem: The Magnatone Custom 250.

Vintage Magnatone Custom 250 Guitar Amplifier

Vintage Magnatone Custom 250 Guitar Amplifier

One look at the control panel reveals a surprisingly minimal amount of controls (yet, paradoxically, it’s an amp with a LOT of tonal variation).

The control panel from left to right:

The first (High Gain) channel has two inputs for high and low gain, a volume knob, a tone knob and a “bright” switch. The 2nd (Low Gain) channel has only a volume knob and is a great for mellow, jazzy tones. Next are the speed and intensity knobs for the vibrato, with a foot-switch input for the vibrato and an extension speaker ¼” out. Except for the on/off switch and a VERY cool red jewel light with a “M” in the middle of it, that’s all there is across the front. And yet, as I say, you can coax a lot of usable tones from this for the studio or the stage. And, like with the great Magnatone 213 (again, to be covered next month) or, say a Fender Tweed Deluxe, the volume controls on the 250 are interactive. That is, you can turn the volume knob on the low gain channel 2 (when you’re plugged in to channel 1) and it will have a noticeable effect on the gain structure of channel 1. Very cool.

As best as I can tell from my catalog collection, the 250 was made between 1958 and 1961 or 1962 by Magna Electronics, which was based in Torrance CA at the time this amp (a 1959) was made. Like most Magnatones of the “brown” era (i.e., 57-62), it has an ALNICO Oxford speaker (mine’s in storage, while this model pumps through a higher efficiency Celestion for more gig volume). And, like many (though not all) Magnatones of this and later periods, it has some relatively unusual tubes—though all for this model are pretty easy to get, unlike some great Magantones in the suitcase line (to be covered next month). This amp pictured, just in the interests of historical accuracy, has a replaced handle, is missing its back panel, and has two chicken-head knobs (on Speed and Depth control) instead of those beautiful white ones on the rest of the amp.

Gear geek paragraph alert: In the preamp, pitch-shifting and phase inversion duties, the 250 has one 12AX7 2 6GC7s, a 12DW7 (which is actually HALF of a 12AX7 in the same bottle with HALF of a 12AU7). The 12AU7 side is the phase inverter, driving two 6973s. If you aren’t familiar with 6973s, they are the tubes that were used in many Valco products from the 60s—perhaps most famously in the Supro Dual Tone (24T). You also see them, frequently, in 1960s Univox amps, and their various re-brands such as Lafayette. The rectifier tube in the 250 is the unusual (for Magnatone) EZ81/6CA4. But back to the 6973s. While the circuit determines more of the tone than many people admit (thanks again to Mack Amps’ Don Mackrill for helping spread the word on how important design is—that’s a big reason why, for instance, a Gibson Minuteman, a Fender Blues Jr. and a Vox AC15 sound nothing alike, even though they all use 2 EL84 tubes for output), the 6973 tube has a very cool gain characteristic all its own.

It’s a very durable and a stunning clean toned tube (hence its use in so many jukeboxes of the 50s and 60s.) But push it hard, and it gets a real Vox-like chime on the high end and a wonderful Supro-like guttural midrange honk. It’s rated, in Magnatone literature of the time, at 20 watts. Mine pictured here gives my Silverface Deluxe Reverb (a plenty loud single 12” combo) a good run for its money, volume-wise. These are pretty rare, but they are WELL worth seeking out on the vintage market (as are many of the less rare models to be covered next month). In short, this is a very versatile tube that can give you beautiful blooming cleans and some very nice crunch, followed by some creamy lead tone the harder you push the volume. And, of course, it has the radical and head-spinning real Vibrato. Hard to beat in a gig-volume single 12” amplifier.

Hilgen Victor Model R2522 Amplifier

The big daddy out of New Jersey in the 60s was Ampeg. While they never made much of an inroads into the guitar market (though the Plexiglas was radical), they were the East Coast’s answer to Fender for much of the 50s and 60s in amplifiers. And, come flip tops and, later, SVTs and they actually surpassed the king of Fullerton in bass amplification.

But New Jersey had a few other great (albeit minor) amplifier companies of the 60s and 70s. You had, from various divorces from the Ampeg company, Stanley Michael’s great Sano company of amps and, later, Jess Oliver’s line of amps (under his name and briefly, a few rare ones under the “Sam Ash” brand in the late 60s). The solid state Andre amplifiers are a surprisingly good sounding series, founded by former Ampeg troubleshooter and designer Gene Andre. It seems like every great amplifier company in New Jersey had some ties, at some point, to the Ampeg Company.

Every one, except (perhaps, maybe—there’s not much written about them) the Hilgen company. Hilgen, by anecdotal evidence at least, did not make a lot of amps and they didn’t make them for very long. They did, however, make them very well, and they made (however briefly) some stunning looking and sounding guitar amps. Like late 60s and early 70s Sanos, many models of Hilgens sport great “swirl” paint grills reminiscent (surprise) of late 50s Ampegs.

They also sport circuits that could have been (and may have been) Xeroxed from Ampeg schematics.

While everyone in California was making amps with 6V6s and 6L6s, and everyone in Chicago and Michigan was using 6V6s and 6L6s and the occasional EL84 (Lectrolab and Gibson/Kalamazoo), it seemed the Jersey makers alone who were finding a good use for the 7591 output tube (although, Kalamazoo/Gibson DID use this one for a couple of models, notably, the super underrated BASS 30, a twin 10” amp that sings with a guitar).

After a few Jets and Reverberockets rolled off the line with 6V6s in 1964, Everett Hull (head of Ampeg) got complaints from Jazz players (his main clientele) that the amps were breaking up too much. From then on (until the monster early 70s amps that the Rolling Stones made famous), the Ampeg Jet and Reverberocket sported the sturdy (and cleaner, at least for a while longer, headroom-wise) 7591 tube. In between a 6V6 ad a 6L6 in output-wattage, the 7591 turns out (while rock-and-roll-hater Everett Hull spins in his grave) to be a fabulous sounding tube under breakup. In the right circuit (and, as Mack amps designer Don Mackrill so rightly points out, it’s the design, more than any other factor, including the tubes, that defines the tone….still, the tubes play a part and they do have different characteristics), a 7591 is a killer rock and roll tube. Push a Reverberocket past its intended operating point and you have yourself an amp that is just as great sounding (in its own way) as a Blackface Deluxe Reverb.

Unfortunately, the secret is out on the Reverberocket. What cost $350 two years ago and $450 last year is now up to around $600-700. Soon, I won’t be surprised to see Jets and R-Rockets going for a grand. They are amazing sounding amps—built like tanks.

But where does that leave all of us cheap, gear addicted tone freaks? Looking for Hilgens (or Sanos…see my earlier column about the Sano Twin Twelve in the archives…another awesome amp on the cheap), that’s where!

Want a great amp with sweet, blossoming distortion at gig-friendly volume? Want a nice pulsing output-biased tremolo? Deep, lush, jazzy Ampeg-style reverb (capacitor coupled, rather than the Fender transformer style…a different tone altogether…neither better, but both cool)? Want it in a small, relatively light package? Here’s your new (old) amp:

Hilgen Victor Model R2522 Amplifier

Hilgen Victor Model R2522 Amplifier

The Hilgen “Victor” Model R2522. For the tube geeks among us, this starts with a 5AR4 rectifier before running into a couple of 12AX7s for preamp and reverb send duties. Then comes the only expensive and hard to find (although not impossible) tube—a 7199 for ‘verb recovery. From the factory, it came with a 12AU7 for phase inverter, which I switched out to a 12AY7 for a little more drive on the output tubes. I tried going up to a 12AX7, but that made for too much gain and resulted in a mushy, compromised output. The 12AY7 gives it more heat than stock, but still retains the crisp, tight, articulate character of the amp, as intended.

Hilgen Victor Model R2522 Amplifier

Hilgen Victor Model R2522 Amplifier

The controls along the top (from L to R): Volume, Tone, Speed (tremolo depth is pre-set), Reverb. And it’s got that cool grill cloth with the odd crest (?!) in the lower right corner.

Up to halfway on the volume, it’s a lush, deep, rich, plumy clean amp (remember, it was designed for Jazz and clean headroom). Over half-way, pushed more that it was supposed to be, the amp comes alive at a sweet rock and blues machine. It’s a loud little amp—probably just a little bit under a Deluxe Reverb for gig volume. The distortion is rich and creamy, with a fair amount of grit, yet it still maintains the crispness and tightness for articulate chords and voicing. This is a fabulous amp, with one of the riches reverbs around. The tremolo is good—but not great. It lacks the depth of a classic Valco or Danelectro tremolo, but it still has a nice tone to it, overall.

Hilgen Victor Model R2522 Amplifier

Hilgen Victor Model R2522 Amplifier

Originally, the Victor came with a CTS ALNICO speaker. It’s a fine sounding speaker, but I replaced it with a more efficient Celestion Vintage 30 for a little better output and punch for gigs. For a loud show, I’ll run this and a Deluxe Reverb together—a monster sound out of two amps that weigh under 35 lbs each. Can’t beat that.

So, grab a Hilgen now, while they are still affordable. They tend, right now, to go for between $300—400 (though sometimes they can sneak in around $250 if they are poorly listed on eBay). They’re well worth it, work and sound-wise. It’s a beautifully made, hand-wired amp that would go for between two and three grand if it were being made in the boutique market today. Grab one for under $500 while you can. Start looking—they don’t come around often, but they’re well worth the hunt. Get yourself a Hilgen, and drop me a line when you do.

Rob’s Crazy eBay Finds: 1960’s Univox Amps

A lot of yesterday’s “sleeper” amps, the great secret tone machines that only a few gear-geeks knew about (such as Danelectros and the several-branded versions of Valcos—Supro, National, Airline and the like) are now pretty well known and, as a result, are not as cheap as they were say, ten years ago. But there are still some great deals to be found with some of the other lesser-known amps of the 60’s and 70’s.

Among the best deals out there are the Japanese-made Univox tube amps of the mid to late 60’s. There are some rare birds out there that are worth keeping an eye open for, but the one you see most often, among the low-priced, great sounding Univox tube amps, is the U-45B Model.

1960's Univox Guitar Amplifier

1960's Univox Guitar Amplifier

This is a small, incredibly light, and super simple and easy to work on amp that has a great garage and blues tone all its own. What’s not to love? And, while it does employ some oddball tubes, they are readily available and not at all expensive like some of the less common tubes from 1960’s amplifiers.

So, what’s going on with the U-45B? It actually has a lot to recommend it beyond some of the other cheaper vintage amps. The cabinet is solid, and the baffle is made of plywood, unlike, say the cheesy pressboard in an otherwise great amp like the Danelectro-made Silvertone 1482. So, you’ve got, in the U-45B, a fine Jensen 12” speaker that fits tightly and without rattle against some nice solid wood. A nice surprise in a cheapy. Also, the tolex (or whatever tolex-like material is used) on the later, front-controlled version of the U-45B is pretty durable, unlike some of the nice colored paper you might get on some Valco and Dano products.

The tube line up of the amp is the rather unusual 12AX7, 6BM8, 6BM8, 6X4. It’s rated at 10 watts. The 6X4 is an easy to find rectifier. What’s odd about this amp is that the 12AX7 isn’t used as a preamp tube but, rather, as the tremolo tube. The less common 6BM8s are used as both preamp and output tubes.

1960's Univox Guitar Amplifier

1960's Univox Guitar Amplifier

The control panel (on the top in early 60’s versions, on the front in later models—otherwise, they are the same amp) is about as simple as it gets. VOLUME. TONE and SPEED (for the tremolo, which has a nice deep set depth).

How does it sound? Well, pretty great. You can get some very fine clean tones when the volume is under half way, from a jazzy laid-back tone, to a twangy rockabilly sound. It’s great for recording. A quiet, smooth sounding amp on its clean settings, but where it really comes alive is when it’s pushed into overdrive. At 10 watts, with a 15 watt Jensen 12”, it really excels for recording rock guitar or for a quiet(er) jam with full-throttle tone. It’s around 15 lbs, yet it’s built solidly and it sounds great. It’s an amp you want, and you can find them, with stunning regularity, for under $250…frequently for a good deal less.

1960's Univox Guitar Amplifier

1960's Univox Guitar Amplifier

The tremolo is rich, with a nice range of speeds. The only possible downside to the amp? It has a rather dark voice which offers plenty of sparkle while using a Tele, but it can muddy up a bit with a darker voiced guitar like, say, a Supro Dual Tone. An easy, non-mod fix for this? Any boost pedal gives it plenty of sparkle. (My home-made OC71 Germanium boost gives it a rich, harmonic sparkly push…awesome). But if you want to totally retain the tone of the amp and the voice of the guitar, use a simple EQ pedal, and you can dial in a little more treble, while keeping the basic character of the amp.

This is a great amp. It was also (with the exact same components from the same factory) marketed/labeled as a Lafayette, a Cavalier—and also marketed by the Hilgen brand under the model name Meteor. Most Hilgens I’ve seen (hardly a scientific sampling, but, still…) were made in New Jersey, but, for a time, the company apparently imported SOME of their amps, and the one I’ve seen the most of, among the imported Hilgens, is their Meteor branded amp that is the same, guts-wise, as the Univox U-45B.

So why haven’t these caught on in the vintage market? Who cares, but why not take advantage of it while they’re still cheap?

Next month—more on some of the even more rare Univox’s, like the U305 with the 15” speaker, or some of the more rare 2X10” amps with 6973 output tubes and more! Meanwhile, search away.

Univox 202R Guitar Amplifier

Just a few years ago, some of the great bargains on the vintage amp market were the Valco-made Supro amps of the 50’s and 60’s. While their price has gone up for many reasons (the most justifiable one being a lot of them are GREAT sounding amps), the primary reason seems to be the Jimmy Page factor. Over the last couple of years, I’ve started casually tracking how many different models of Supro amps people CLAIM was the amp that Jimmy Page used on the first two Led Zeppelin albums. It’s a non-scientific and highly anecdotal study, to be sure, but so far I have counted NINE different models of amps that people claim (with the certainty that only stupidity mixed with arrogance can achieve) are THE MODEL that Page used.

It doesn’t really matter, of course. No one sounds quite like Jimmy Page (least of all Jimmy Page these days) and how an amp sounds on an album isn’t exactly how it sounds in a club, anyway. The difference between six inches of mic placement in a studio can make a great amp sound like crap and vice-versa. Yet, people pay through the nose for amps because they think they’ll sound like Jimmy Page if they buy them. Whatever.

But what’s missed in all this (sadly) is that there’s a reason Page dug the Supros in the first place. They sound great. Whether it’s the Thunderbolt, or the Corsica, or the Dual Tone (all claimed by various “experts” as THE AMP Page used), they, and many other models, are great sounding amps.

They are also, at this point, getting to be very expensive amps. And there’s nothing wrong with paying a grand for a Thunderbolt if you want one. They sound awesome for guitar, they’re loud enough for clubs, and they aren’t too heavy to carry. They are point to point (true point to point – not hand loaded circuit board like vintage Fenders. Not that either is better, but Fenders aren’t, technically, point to point). They’re well made, with good parts and, in general, tougher cabinets than other budget tone monsters like Danelectros.

But, some things have gone plain loco in the vintage market. Example A? People are paying over $4,000 for the Supro Dual Tone (AKA the 1624T). And while this is a killer amp, that’s just insane (unless I’m selling it, in which case, it’s worth every penny). Why are the prices so high for this model? You guessed it – it’s the latest that has been swept up by the “as played by Jimmy Page” tidal wave.

But let’s say you’re interested in tone. Not who played what. You want to sound like you, and you want a really cool amp to do it with, and you don’t have an extra 4 Large kicking around your wallet. What’s a tone freak to do?

Well, if you like the sound of that Supro (and it IS a sound worth having, no matter who owned, played, looked at or smelled the damn thing), try and find a circuit that’s similar and go from there. What gave that model Supro its unique and cool tone? Well, as they say, everything affects everything, but the main contributors to that tone machine are the pretty basic 12AX7’s in the preamp and the cathode-biased oddball output 6973 tubes. These have an overdrive all their own – not quite a 6V6; not quite an EL84. They definitely have their own thing going. Chime and midrange grit at the same time – and they’re largely responsible, I’d guess, for when people call these model Supros slightly Vox-like in their overdriven mode.

Univox 202R Guitar Amplifier

Univox 202R Guitar Amplifier

What’s an affordable, well made, very cool and not ridiculously expensive amp that’s like the 1624T? I’d say you might want to look at the Univox 202R. The early version of this amp is true point-to-point (before 66 or so, it seems – there’s not a lot of information on Univox amps). Later versions are printed circuit board, like the great little Univox U45 amps (they are mini tone MONSTERS). But the circuit and cap and resistor values stayed pretty much the same. If you can, it’s always better to find the point to point ones, as they’re easier to work on and tougher built – but the PCB ones are good amps, too. Univox amps were made in Japan (all the ones I’ve seen) – most of the ones I’ve been under the hood of were made at the Guyatone factory, and then imported to the United States and branded with various names (see below for some of the other names for this amp).

Univox 202R Guitar Amplifier

Univox 202R Guitar Amplifier

These are single 12″ combo amps with Reverb and Tremolo (both VERY nice – a good throbbing smooth trem and a cavernous verb). Chanel one has a Volume and Tone knob, plus the ‘verb and trem. Channel two has only volume and tone, but you can patch the two together for a fuller, raunchier sound. “Normal” and “Bright” inputs for each channel. Earlier models have the following tube lineup: 12AX7 (3), 6AN8, 6AV6, 6973 (2) and a 6CA4 rectifier.

I’ve seen them with ceramic Jensens that seemed original. Mine, a very early model, has a “Deerfield” ALNICO, (looks to be original) with no other markings or speaker codes (your guess is as good as mine – anyone know about “Deerfield”? Drop me a line). Most examples of the 202R have a gold control panel with big round black knobs that look like old Magnatone knobs. They are frequently two-tones, with a dark covering, then a white stripe in the middle, topped off by a handsome wheat-colored grille cloth. They’re lookers.

How does it sound? Pretty incredible. At low volumes it has a slightly dark, incredibly warm clean sound. Think of Peter Green’s tone on “Albatross.” Clean, but wooly. It can get bright, but you’ll need a Tele or a similarly bright guitar to coax that out of it. It’s got that classic mid-60’s budget American midrange-y tone to it that’s to die for.

Turned up and it really starts to release some beautiful overtones from the 6973s. These are a relatively strange output tube for a guitar amp. They were used mostly in old Wurlitzer Jukeboxes, but they make guitar amp appearances in some Supros, the awesome Magnatone 280s and 480s and a few Univox models. As stated above, they have their own thing going, and it’s a good thing at that. A very warm, yet raunchy and still creamy overdrive that cuts well through/with a band. Also, while 6973s were VERY hard to find for a while, and NOS examples were obscenely priced, Electro Harmonics is making a new version that sounds great and costs under 35 bucks a pair. The new EH tube is a lot like their highly respected 6V6 – nice and rugged with a very robust tone. So you won’t have to shell out ridiculous money to re-tube your new tone beast.

These are still available for under $400 with regularity. It will probably go up, as people find out more about the obscure brands (or, err, the MORE obscure brands) in their search for great 60’s tone on the cheap. But, even for a fair amount more than $400, these are great amps. For low volume work, they have a very impressive clean, and turned up they sound like garage heaven. Get yours now before Jack White or somebody discovers them. Or before I start a website saying Jimmy Page used it on EVERYTHING he EVER recorded!

Univox 202R Guitar Amplifier (with Apto badge)

Univox 202R Guitar Amplifier (with Apto badge)

A final note about Univoxes and their various rebrands. The same amp could (and will, on eBay) frequently wear several names. There is, of course, Univox. BUT, you could find the same amp with a “Lafayette” badge. Mine has an “Apto” badge (imported to New York by the “Apto” Accordion Company). I’ve seen one that looked just like these with a Magnavox badge. So, familiarize yourself with the basic look of this model and ask questions about the tube lineup, and you may find yourself with a very cool Univox 202R. No matter what the name on the faceplate, the tone is something special. Happy hunting.

Univox 202R Guitar Amplifier (with Apto badge)

Univox 202R Guitar Amplifier (with Apto badge)

Univox 202R Guitar Amplifier (with Apto badge)

Univox 202R Guitar Amplifier (with Apto badge)

Silvertone 1484 Guitar Amplifier

There’s a David Lodge novel where some characters, who are literature professors, play this game where they admit which books they haven’t read that everyone assumes they must have. One character names Ulysses. Another character mentions The Sun Also Rises. The main character says Hamlet and he gets fired.

The reason I bring this up is that my friends know me I’m a vintage amp geek. Not only a vintage amp geek, but an oddball vintage amp geek. Where other people pine for a Blackface Fender, I’d rather have a Valco, Dano or Magnatone any day. Except for the Tweed era Fenders, in fact, I’d much rather have any Airline (Valco made) over any Fender amp.

And yet, for a guy who loves obscure amps (I gig often in a PAC-AMP 660…which is really just a re-branded Magnatone 260, but still, I’m usually the only guy in the club with a PAC-AMP), there are a few I SHOULD have been really familiar with, but am not.

So, which amp am I admitting to not have played until recently (although I’ve played it a LOT for the last three months)? The classic Silvertone 1484 (aka one of many different amps known over the years as a Silvertone Twin Twelve).

Silvertone 1484 Guitar Amplifier

Silvertone 1484 Guitar Amplifier

One of the true major players in oddball amps, the Silvertone 1484 guitar amp is pretty well known. It’s so well know, that it may not actually qualify as an oddball amp. But it’s still from the great Nat Daniel, the man behind the awesome kings of Masonite and lipstick pickups and wallpaper-as-Tolex’ the Danelectro company, who designed and produced some of the greatest oddball amplifiers ever done.

It’s not like I was unfamiliar with Dano amps. I’ve owned several over the years, including an awesome 4 6V6 powered Challenger, a Champ-killing 1457 Amp in Case, and a classic Tweed Deluxe-sounding 1472. I’d also restored and owned one of the rare 1485’s’ the 4 6L6 head with the cabinet with six ten inch Jensens. This was the model that had languished in its rare pawn shop obscurity until Jack White re-introduced them to the ears of garage-rock fans. Now they cost a trillion dollars, last I checked.

So, I’d had plenty of Danos. But, oddly enough, until I bought one three months ago, I’d never played through the old standby of giggable-power Danelectros: The Silvertone 1484. I got one at a killer price and figured I could tune it up and turn a profit. I don’t know why, but I just assumed it would be an overrated amp (I’d always been a bigger fan of the low wattage 1472 than the higher watt 1485, and I assumed the 1484 would share the strong-but-not-incredible tone of its big brother).

Silvertone 1484 Guitar Amplifier

Silvertone 1484 Guitar Amplifier

And now? Now I can’t believe what I was missing out on all those years. This amp has a great, rich, textured clean. It has the distinctive warm, dark sound of all great Danelectros, but it has the ability to get treble and chime in a manner that no other Dano model I’ve played through does.

It’s a standard two channel amplifier with Reverb and Tremolo on channel two. The knobs are interactive, so you can thicken your tone just by playing with the knobs on channel one while you’re plugged into two. Or, you can add significant thickness and grit by bridging the channels with a jumper cable.

If you were to judge this amp on its clean tone and tremolo alone, it would be a keeper. But where it really shines and separates itself from the crowd is when the volume knob is up at Ten O’clock, or higher.

This is the best overdriven amp tone I have ever heard. Without pedals, this is one of the true stunning overdriven amps EVER. In fact, there are only a few amplifiers I’ve ever heard in its class for pedal-free overdrive. Those two? My buddy Ray’s modified Supro Thunderbolt, and my friend Orlando’s 1958 Tweed Deluxe. And the thing that the 1484 and the Thunderbolt share is that they have the power of their 6L6’s with the texture and breakup of a good 6V6 amp (the Tweed Deluxe being head of that class).

And since it’s rumored that Jimmy Page may have snorted some drug off a Thunderbolt before locking away a 14 year old groupie in a closet, using the Thunderbolt to jam the door closed, that amp has become a thousand dollars. Or, wait, did he record the first Led Zep album through a Thunderbolt? Or was that a Coronado? Another model? Well, the Supro Thunderbolt was in a room where Jimmy Page was breathing, surely, at some point, and it’s worth lots of money because playing one will make you more like Jimmy Page (thankfully, this wanting-to-be-like Page thing hasn’t led thousands of old men to start sleeping with 14 year-old groupies).

But, you know, the Supro Thunderbolt, Jimmy Page or no Jimmy Page, DESERVES to be a thousand dollar amp. It’s as good sounding as any of the boutiques I’ve heard, and those two 6L6’s breathing heavy through the 15″ Jensen is a wonderful sound.

The 1958 Tweed Deluxe needs little introduction – nor even a famous person rumored to have played it, and yet it goes for three grand (drink rings and cigarette burns tossed in for free!). Neil Young plays an earlier version of the Tweed Deluxe (and listen to Ragged Glory to get a sense of what one of those sounds like opened up and roaring).

So, for the five hundred to eight hundred these 1484’s are going for, they are still a relative bargain on a vintage amp. They cost less (WAY less, in fact) than a re-issued Bassman, for instance and they blow those away for tone. You would have to go the hand wired boutique route (which is a route worth going down – support these modern amp makers!) to get this kind of tone.

The overdrive in a 1484 is rich and complex. Deep, driving and with a sweet, singing sustain. And it cleans up VERY well when you roll off the volume on the guitar. Really, there’s no amp I’ve ever played (or heard) quite like it for touch and response.

And, the head tucks into the back (how cool is THAT design)? I run mine with its head into a single 12″ cab for small gigs and into its own twin twelve (Jensens) for larger shows. Adding this amp to a really efficient speaker (like the Private Jack – thanks, Don!) is an amazing experience. A lot of these old amps (Lectrolabs, Silvertones, and Valcos) are losing a LOT of their voice due to tired old speakers. Trying a new speaker, whether a copy of its original Jensen Alnicos, or a more Celestion-voiced highly efficient ceramic (like the Eminence Private Jack), is a cheap, easily reversible mod with a vintage amp that can really take it to gigging heights.

All this and Tremolo and Reverb, too! Actually, all this and Tremolo, too. The “Reverb” that comes with this is truly awful. It’s also some weird noise that is not, let’s be clear, like any reverb you’ve ever heard. It sounds like your reverb But, this isn’t a surf amp, and you’re not Dick Dale (unless of course you are Dick Dale – hey, it’s possible – Hi, Dick! Not the amp for you). For making noise in the garage (or bar or studio), there may not be a better amp out there. Go get yours now. Yes, they were two hundred bucks 5 years ago and there a lot more now. So what? They’re still worth it. The Silvertone 1484 is a tone monster.

1966 Lectrolab S 400 Guitar Amplifier

Recently, I was at a writer’s conference and there was another guitar player there and we started talking about amps and guitars and pedals and such, but mostly about amplifiers. And someone there (not a guitar player) asked me: “How many amplifiers do you have?”

I pride myself on only keeping equipment that I play, – I don’t have any collector’s-only pieces. Still, I have the cool gear disease. I did some quick math. “Five,” I said.

“What does your wife think?”

“Well, she has three amps,” I said.

“So, you only have two?”

“No,” I said. “Those are in addition to mine. She’s a bass player, so she doesn’t need as many. I have five.” Whoops. I’d forgotten my Deluxe Reverb. “Actually, six.” I said.

This non-guitar player turned to the other player. “How many do you have?”

He shrugged. “Four,” he said. “Right now, I think it’s four.”

The non-player looked confused.

“You need at least three,” I said. “You need your single-ended, your mid-power and your high-powered amps.”

“Right,” my guitar-playing new friend said. The third person shook his head, laughed and walked away.

“They all sound different,” I called after him. “You don’t understand!”

1966 Lectrolab S 400 Guitar Amplifier

1966 Lectrolab S 400 Guitar Amplifier

But you, dear reader with several amplifiers, you understand. And this month, I sing the praises of another obscure and beautiful amplifier, in this case a 1966 Lectrolab S 400. I’ve seen a few Lectrolabs over the years and they are all pretty cool amps. The 400 series seem to be (and this is based only on observation and scattered information. No one seems to know very much about these) all single-ended small amps with a single EL84 for output and one or two eight inch speakers. The 600 series are more in the 15-20 watt range with either two 6V6’s or two EL84’s (driving a twelve inch speaker), depending on the year. And the 800 series, which I’ve never seen in person, I haven’t been able to find much about, other than that they seem like later versions of the 600’s. The 900 series are El84-equiped heads (very rare).

So who was Lectrolab? As I say, there isn’t a lot of information out there about these. The chassis/labels tend to read “Lectrolab: Sound Projects, Chicago, Illinois/Venice, Florida.” The Chicago location leads some people to speculate that Lectrolab had something to do with Valco. And they do have a sonic texture much like the great Valcos (big midrange, great distortion, slightly dark sound). Yet, the rectifiers in these are usually a 6X4’s (not used much, if at all, in Valcos). The preamp tubes are frequently 6EU7’s (again, not often in Valcos), and the output tubes are often EL84’s (which most American amp companies didn’t use in the 1960’s’Gibson being the notable exception).

So, whoever Lectrolab was, we don’t know. But they probably were their own company, and almost certainly not Valco, or Gibson or any other well-known maker.

1966 Lectrolab S 400 Guitar Amplifier

1966 Lectrolab S 400 Guitar Amplifier

Whoever made these, they knew how to make an amp sound good. I have never heard a bad sounding 60’s Lectrolab. My S 400 has become my number one practice amplifier. I’m so in love with its tone, I added a ‘line out’ so that I can use it as a preamp for rehearsals and gigs. Coupled with a Magnatone 213, and it’s an awesome gig amp (and you get the added bonus of tremolo and vibrato’rad!).

This S 400 is from late 1966 and had two CTS 8″ alnico speakers. It’s got the 6X4 rectifier, a 6EU7 for the preamp and a single EL84 for output A 6AU6 takes care of the deep, pulsing tremolo. The control panel has four knobs: Volume, Tone and Speed & Intensity for the tremolo. This is a superb recording amp’a rich, complex overdriven tone that sounds huge with a mic. It reacts really well to the picking attack and cleans up as you roll off the volume. The tremolo is very musical and thick. For a small practice amp, it has a very nice bottom. With an overdrive pedal, it thickens and deepens even more and nails tones from the early 50’s Hubert Sumlin to the early 70’s Ronnie Wood Faces’ tone (one of the great, underrated guitar tones of the 70’s).

If you can find an original 60’s Lectrolab, you should snatch it up. I’ve played this next to a Supro Twin Eight and it held its own (and the Valco-made Supro Twin Eight is an awesome little amp). The twin eight inch speakers sound much fuller than your traditional single eight (like a Champ), and it’s got a superb tone for guitar or harp. A hard-to-find sleeper of an amp, but worth the hunt. And happy hunting!