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Peavey T-15 blog

Peavey T-15: the “Mississippi Mustang”

Some players seem to have a natural dislike for Peavey amps, which is often unfair. But what about… the Peavey T-15 guitar??? Now here’s an  obscure little gem! In this guest article, Rob Roberge reminds us why this guitar and Peavey itself deserve a bit more love…

Peavey T-15 guitar - sunburst

Peavey T-15 guitar – sunburst

I was talking to my buddy – a professional blues player – a great player who has an impeccable ear for tone, telling him about my new (well, used…but new to me) really outstanding amp, a Peavey Delta Blues. He said to me, “you lost me when you used Peavey and Blues in the same sentence.” And while I could have gone on about some of the southern blues players that, in fact, did and still do use Peaveys (both guitars and amps), I kept my mouth shut. I could have even gone into a minor history lesson about Lynyrd Skynyrd using the very powerful and tuneful competition for the 70’s Fender Twin Reverbs – the Peavey Mace (with SIX 6L6 power tubes inspiring all those Zippos to flame up every night during “Free Bird”).

But if you think many guitar players’ reaction to Peavey amps is dismissive, just try selling them on the brilliant (Yes. Brilliant. There. I said it.) T-Series of Peavey guitars (many made from the late 70’s-mid 80’s, though most dying a quiet death in the early 80’s). At best, you may get a chuckle that suggests you know nothing. Or a comment about how ugly they are (not an uncommon thought…and actually, with some models, perhaps the most valid criticism of the series). Or even an incredulous reaction: “Are you kidding? Peavey? Peavey guitars? Please.”

But why this reaction to Peavey guitar equipment? Especially the guitars themselves. So long as we’re not talking about an abomination like the pink Adrian Vandenberg signature model of the late 80’s…ouch. Yes…Peavey deserved all mocking and humiliation for that clunker.

One of my main theories for why Peavey is taken most seriously for their PA’s and audio equipment, and at times very seriously for their amps, and almost not seriously at all for their guitars (especially, paradoxically and oddly, for what is their classic period when they were making as good or better guitars than either Fender or Gibson) is for one unfortunate reason: they had almost no recognition at the time as a guitar builder. And they committed a cardinal sin in the guitar business: they were (and still are, for many players) pretty uncool and, at best, aesthetically boring. No way to get a new line of guitars off the ground.

Peavey T-15

Peavey T-15 and some better-known models

And while we guitar players tend to think we are somewhat radical and hardly conservative, consumers in the guitar market are like consumers in most other markets – they go with brand names they know other people think highly of. And in the late 70’s, that meant—more or less—Fender and Gibson. Even if those companies were producing, it is now widely agreed, some of the worst instruments they have ever made.

Of course, this is an oversimplification—the very existence of Eastwood Guitars points to the fact that there is a market for guitar players who want to stand out from the Strat, Tele, and Les Paul crowd. But, I’d argue, that market was pretty much absent in the late 70’s. It’s only over the last 15-20 years that we have seen a steady growth of interest in some of the most interesting and wild guitars of the 60’s.

The Rare Guitars Revival

The (steadily over the last fifteen/twenty years) increasing interest in Harmonys, Danos, Valcos, some of the best Kays, and others has been caused, I’d argue, by a two-prong desire among guitar players:

  1. As vintage Fenders and Gibsons—and brands Guild, Gretsch, and Epiphones and others—started to skyrocket in price, players on a limited budget still wanted to get their hands on a piece of guitar history and vintage gear. And,
  2. Players discovered (or rediscovered, as many baby boomers first instruments were affordable 60’s models) that a lot of these budget/catalog guitars from the garage boom of the mid 60’s just happened to be pretty great guitars.

And they were—and this is not to be minimized—cool. In 1979, just about everyone was playing a guitar by a major company. And many of these were the traditional, yet boring designs that hadn’t changed much from the 1950’s.

Even before players such as Jack White brought his radical, funky red resolglass Airline to the masses, you’d had a quiet, yet growing groundswell of underground 80’s and 90’s bands playing inexpensive guitars that are now classics—but were, at the time—simply affordable, weird guitars that set them apart from mainstream bands. Hey, if your band wasn’t mainstream, why play a mainstream guitar? This was even true of some of the higher profile players/bands, with people like Elvis Costello and Tom Verlaine and Steve Wynn dusting off Jazzmasters—which, by the late 70’s, were considered pawn shop crud. Or, if not crud, hardly a guitar that had been by far Fender’s most expensive guitar in the 1963 catalog. By comparison, Strat was very fairly priced (by comparison…it was still pricey for the day), and Teles and Esquires (not to mention, later, Mustangs) were positively relatively cheap.

But even lower on the food chain were the Airlines, the Silvertones, the Harmonys, the Danos. In the early 80’s, Karl Precoda used a Silvertone-branded Harmony H78 (with a missing middle goldfoil) on the Dream Syndicate’s classic The Days of Wine and Roses, an album that was widely praised at the time for bringing back long and aggressive duel guitar to underground rock—with a band that owed more to, say, Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Velvet Underground than to any South Bay Hardcore. All of this with Precoda’s feedback-laden killer tone out of his Harmony.  East Bay Ray, from the Dead Kennedys, was famous for using off-brand guitars, often seen with then forgotten/unknown various Valco/Airline resoglass models over a decade before Jack White hit the national stage. No one was like him in bands of the time.

And then perhaps the band who perhaps most single-handedly showed their audience a plethora of cool 1960’s rare and funky and (at the time) forgotten guitars: Anton Newcome’s hollowbody Vox Cheetah he uses this day…over the years, he’s also used a Silvertone 1454L (the Silvertone model number for the Harmony/Airline H78—one of Eastwood great Airline reissues), Vox 12 strings…while brilliant former lead guitar player Jeff Davies was seen on stage with Hagstroms and Harmonys, and sometime bassist/sometime guitarist Matt Hollywood was often seen with a two pickup Rocket.

Brian Jonestown Massacre live

Brian Jonestown Massacre, dusting off vintage guitars…

Peavey T-Series

But, back to the Peaveys of the early 80’s. In some ways, picking a guitar (at least in part…no one plays a piece of crap just because it looks radical and unique) because it looks cool seems like a pretty shallow reason for picking you main/stage guitar. Because it is.

Still, I can understand why players might have shied away from the T-Series at first. The flagship and top of the line, the T-60, is a pretty unattractive guitar. While some people who LOVE them tend to say things on forums like, “it’s so ugly, it’s beautiful.” And while there are some people who do actually think the T-60 is a good looking guitar, they are in the vast minority. And remember, these are on forums for people who absolutely love these guitars. The general guitar playing public, if they are at all familiar with the T-60, tend to think of them as pretty uninspired designs at best, and pretty damn ugly at worst.

Peavey T-60

Peavey T-60: ugly, or so-ugly-it’s-beautiful?

But the T-Series was built in a way that revolutionized the guitar making industry. Peavey was the first to construct necks with a computerized copy lathe. By using computers, every neck came out exactly the same for the first time in guitar making history. This is now used throughout the guitar industry. This technology also allowed Peavey to produce guitars that were at least the equal to the quality of Fender and Gibson, yet significantly lower their production costs.

In 1978 (the first year of the T-60’s production), these were the prices of Fender’s Strat, Gibson’s Les Paul, and Peavey’s T-60:

Les Paul: Nearly $1,000

Stratocaster: $790

T-60: $375

And maybe that was another problem for Peavey. Maybe guitarists had the perception that a guitar that sold for so much less couldn’t possibly be the equal of the big names. But that simply wasn’t true (even if they weren’t nearly as good looking).

But the best—or most compelling and surprising—guitar in the T Series may be the T-15. This was a guitar that Peavey marketed as a beginner’s guitar, or a professional guitar for “players with smaller hands.” It’s become known over the years as the “Mississippi Mustang”—a reference, obviously, to Fender’s much more famous short scale classic—the Mustang.

Peavey T-15 in sunburst

Peavey T-15 in sunburst

The Fender Mustang had/has a 24” scale and a fast, comfortable neck that not only makes single note runs easy to speed up, but also offers a comfortable reach for more complex chords than many longer scale guitars allow and, lastly, makes bending easier up and down the neck. 

If you’re a player who enjoys playing the Mustang’s 24” scale, you might well love the T-15’s 23.5” scale. This, combined with a thin, flat, very fast neck, makes for an ease of playing that’s hard to describe. I’ve never player another guitar quite like it. It not only allows all of the benefits I mention above with the Mustang, but it makes double country bends enormously easy once you get used to the effortlessness of the bends. It may be why the guitar found early popularity with country players—with its ability to lend itself to complex country pedal steel-like bends. I have fallen in love with the 23.5” scale—which happens to be very rare and the same scale as the Gibson Byrdland (a short scale that’s also a favorite of Ted Nugent, which I pray is the only thing he and I have in common with the exception that we are both carbon based life forms).

Though, while the whole T Series of Peaveys first found the majority of their players in the country field, the T-15 is becoming more and more popular in indie rock. Some of the big reasons for this could be the one of a kind Peavey Super Ferrite pickups, which sound like a powerful cross between P90’s and some of the twang of a bridge Tele. But they have a sound all their own. Peavey also has the nice feature of there being no treble loss when you roll off the volume knob—the guitar keeps its tone no matter how low you roll off the volume.

Peavey T-15 in natural

Peavey T-15 in natural

Other features of the guitar are a three way pickup switch and a single tone and volume knob that controls both pickups. There’s a metal nut much like some of the classic Danelectros, which is nice because they never seem to wear down like many of the plastic ones that need to be replaced after many years of work. And while some of the higher end models, like the T-60, are famous for their excessive weight (some are reported to weigh more than a Les Paul—though the colored and sunburst ones supposedly weigh less than the more common natural wood finish), the T-15 is a very light and comfortable instrument. It, too, came most often in a natural wood finish, with much more rare versions made in both sunburst and walnut. According to Peavey’s literature at the time, the T-15’s body is made of “southern hardwood” whatever that might exactly be. The radius is 12”. And the neck is made of hard rock maple. It all adds up to a first-rate guitar. A Mississippi Mustang, indeed.

Lastly, while most of the T-15’s came with Peavey’s custom fit plastic cases, some (hardly all, but some) came with a 10 watt solid state amplifier in/with the case—harkening back to the classic Silvertone (made by Dano) Amp-in-Case of the 60’s.  The better one, of course, being the one that came with the two pickup 1457. Complete with a deep tremolo and a great tube sound driven by a single 6V6. While the T-15’s Peavey solid state amplifier hardly comes close to the greatness of the Silvertone Amp-in-Case, it does have some beautiful cleans and serviceable overdrive. But it’s hardly the same, even if it’s a cool and nostalgic feature.

For now, the T-15’s are still pretty affordable for such a great, professional grade guitar. They play like butter, and they have pickups like you’ve never heard, but will want to her a lot more once you do. Grab one before the price starts going up. The T-60’s have already been discovered. Grab the T-15 while you can.   

– guest article by Rob Roberge.

WATCH: PEAVEY T-15 DEMO 

Neil Young's 1959 Fender Tweed Deluxe Amp

10 Classic Guitar Amps & The Songs That Made Them Famous

The importance of the choice of guitar amp in a recording session can’t be underestimated. In this article, Ben Fargen picks a Top 10 list of legendary songs that were greatly shaped by the guitar amp used to record them.

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]

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

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.

1970’s Alamo Futura Reverb Guitar Amplifier

The Alamo is famous for lots of things. There’s the ass kicking and horrific bloodbath we all had to read about in school back in the day. There’s the present-day tourist trap where said bloodbath occurred (odd when you think about it, really. “Here’s where 50 men were gunned down with as much chance as those quail Cheney “hunts”. And here’s a gift shop!).

There’s the truly great moment of American Popular culture where Pee Wee Herman has to go to the Alamo to find his beautiful and prized bicycle (which, he has been told, is in the Alamo’s basement only to find, sadly, there is no basement at the Alamo). There’s the time Ozzy Osborne was arrested for public urination. The list is nearly endless.

Alamo Futura Reverb Guitar Amplifier

Alamo Futura Reverb Guitar Amplifier

But that’s not the Alamo I’m talking about. No, our Alamo in question is the minor, albeit very cool, guitar and amp company that was out of San Antonio Texas from the late 40’s until their demise in the early 80s. Remember THIS Alamo, because they made some great stuff gear geeks might want to get a hold of.

Exhibit A: This twin twelve Alamo Futura Reverb is a true sleeper of a vintage amp classic. This is one of the greatest amps I’ve ever owned (or heard), and they are out there at still very reasonable prices on the vintage market.

When you’re looking at Alamo amps, it’s a good thing to know that there are three distinct periods:

  • The late 40’s-1973: Amps are all tube, including tube rectifiers for most models.
  • 1973-1980: Along with Music Man, Alamo starts using solid-state preamp sections with tubes for the output section.
  • Post 1980: All solid state.
Alamo Futura Reverb Guitar Amplifier

Alamo Futura Reverb Guitar Amplifier

The Alamo Futura Reverb pictured here is one of the hybrids. If you’re going to do a hybrid tube amp, solid state preamp and tube output is the way to go, as you can still get that classic output tube distortion we all know and love. This amp has a 12ax7 phase inverter, and, once the volume is about half way up, the amp drives the 7868 output tubes into a sweet, creamy, lovely overdrive. 7868s aren’t the most common tube but there are plenty of not to expensive NOS ones out there. ALSO, Electro Harmonics has a new one. While I haven’t heard the new one, if it’s anything like Electro Harmonics 6973, it’ll be a winner.

What do 7868s sound like? Well, they are a nine-pin version of the eight pin classic 7591. Electronically, they’re identical to the 7591, which is one of the truly underrated tubes for blues and garage, rock guitar overdrive tones. They are between (both tonally and wattage) a 6V6 and a 6L6, so this Alamo puts out about 25 watts , plenty for small gigs without too loud a drummer or bass player.

You can tell by the control panel that they were looking to look like a Fender Twin Reverb. You’ve got channel one on the left. Then, there’s the Tremolo/Reverb Channel two. The reverb can give you a subtly jazzy ambience and go all the way up to cave-swelling psychedelic, with some fine surf tones in the middle.

The tremolo is among the best I’ve ever heard in an on-board tremolo section. At lower, more subtle settings, you can get 50’s R&B tremolo, but turned up you can get that radical throbbing musical tone from The Smith’s “How Soon is Now?’ It’s a smooth wave not so much of a harsh square wave tremolo that tends to get choppy and helicopter-sounding at the highest intensity setting. This one always sounds musical even at the highest setting. There’s a fine sweep in speed, as well.

Both channels have volume/treble and bass knobs that are very responsive. The verb/trem channel, of course, has added knobs for speed & intensity and depth of reverb.

And while the all-tube Alamos are great sounding (and more expensive) amps, these solid-state/tube output models are incredible sounding and brilliantly designed amps. Because the rectifier, like the preamp, is solid state, the designers intelligently put in a stand-by switch that keeps your power tubes from getting zapped with all the B+ voltage from the get go.

Information on these is pretty scarce. Mine has one alnico CTS and one Jensen Ceramic (which sound pretty nice together, by the way). If anyone knows the original speaker, feel free to drop me a line at: www.myspace.com/robroberge

This is an incredible amp, and still a relative bargain on the vintage market. I plan on getting some of the other models and seeing what else if out there. Here’s yet another great vintage amp that will keep you from getting into that Fender/Marshall everyone sounding alike kind of tone. Dig the Alamo Futura Twin Twelve Reverb model #2567

OK, now I got mine, so I can tell others about it. I was tempted to but three or four more of these before ever writing a column about them, just so I’d have a stash before word got out. But one’s enough. Well, maybe I’ll get a second, but anyway, here is an amp you should own! Start spreading the news.

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.

Sano Amplifiers (Like the Ampeg Reverberocket Amp)

In Dave Hunter’s great book, The Guitar Amp Handbook, he asks several respected boutique amplifier makers about any sleepers out there on the vintage market (i.e., any great sounding amps that aren’t going for the at-time obscene money that even a Silverface Fender is fetching on the market these days’ though many of them are, of course, fine amps.). Ken Fischer (of Trainwreck fame) talks about a couple of amps that he claims compare favorably to a Marshall 18 Watt Model & the Early Ampeg Reverberockets (AKA Reverbrockets to some), and the Harmony 415, made by Valco in the mid to late 1960’s.

Sano Amplifiers

Sano Amplifiers

I’m going to start with the Ampeg, go Ken Fischer one up in sleepers, and save the amazing 415 for a later column (I was recently lucky enough to trade for a beat up 415, and it is truly THE sleeper 18-watt amp out on the vintage market… more in the next couple of months on that one).

To the Reverberocket. Along with having one of the coolest names ever (don’t ya love all the late 50’s and early to mid-60’s Space-Race names? Harmony’s Rockets, Ampeg Jets…the Atom symbol on everything from Gibson amps to Stratatone headstocks to breakfast cereal…remember Quisp, anyone?), it is a great amplifier. The early (1963 and some 1964) models used the nice and gritty 6V6 tube for output. This, according to legend, had them breaking up considerable quicker than the largely Jazz-centered Ampeg crowd (an image fostered by founder and, in 1964 still head honcho, Everitt Hull) wanted, and the design quickly shifted to the one most listeners are familiar with (with the clean fat-bottomed 7591 output tubes). Most had a single 12″ speaker with the early ones sporting big octal preamp tubes, and the later ones the more commonly scene (today, at any rate) 12ax7’s and the like.

Sano Amplifiers

Sano Amplifiers

I first heard one of these at an NRBQ show in the early 80’s and was hooked. Reverberockets have a reputation for being clean amps, and that’s true enough (though they can break up nicely when pushed). They do have a great clean (and crunchy) tone. But what, perhaps, doesn’t get enough play is their reverb. It sounds to me (ears being subjective, after all) to be a much deeper and more lush verb than the Fenders of the time. Jazzier and less surf-y (though Reverberockets may be THE most underrated surf amp ever) than the traditional Fender surf sound. Also, for your early Dick Dale tremolo rolling tone, Reverbrockets have it wired.

They are awesome amps. And you’re still able to catch one for under 500 bucks on the Ebay market (sometimes in the $250.00-300.00 range, depending on physical condition).

BUT, if you’re really in love with the Ampeg sound and want to stand apart from the crowd (or, err, stand apart from the dinky cluster who is standing apart from the crowd), you, my friend, want a SANO twin twelve. Check out the photos.

These are not, as some websites (and Ebay listings) made by people who worked at Ampeg, but a separate and consecutively running company right down the road (both located in New Jersey at the time). They might have been reading each other’s mail (or amp designs), though, because this SANO is a LOT like a Reverberocket with an extra speaker in the cab.

The Sano is a great and affordable way to get that super Ampeg Reverberocket tone at about 60% of the price (mine cost $300 and, as I said, has 2 twelves to the Ampeg’s one). This is a twin 12″ amp (around 30 watts) with Oxford Alnico speakers. The AMAZING reverb (same sound and circuit as the Ampeg talked about earlier). Good, if not incredible tremolo, topped off by a SUPER cool swirly grill.

Sano Amplifiers

Sano Amplifiers

And, yes, icing on the cake, it has the 60’s spaceman swirly atom graphic on the control panel. YES!

The guts? 3 12axy’s for the preamps and reverb with a 6sc7, for the tremolo. And two 7591’s for clean, bottom-rich output…an incredibly clean full sounding amp that when cranked, can garage rock with the best of them. Not so loud, but plenty for mid sized and below gigs. It has two channels, which you can bridge with the convenient, though mis-labeled “stereo” input.

If you see them on Ebay, you should be able to snatch a minty one for under $350. A great deal for a vintage amplifier built like a tank. And now that there are new 7591’s on the market, there’s really no good reason (as there was ten years ago) to avoid Ampegs and Sanos that use these underrated output tubes, or to switch their circuitry to accommodate 6L6 tubes.

Be aware, though, there are a lot of Sano amp models. (For info on some other Sano amplifiers, and a history of the company, check out singer-songwriter Larry John McNally’s website: http://larryjohnmcnally.com/sano_amps.html) Some have a duel EL84 output and a single 12″ speaker (never heard it, but would like to), and SEVERAL that look a lot like this model are solid state. Ask questions, as always, before you buy. There are also models with a single 15″ and two 8″ speakers (for the accordion amplifier market…which has, well, dwindled since the mid 60’s).

So there you have it. Two sleepers in one (three, if you count the early 6V6 output Reverberockets). Surf is, indeed, up. New Jersey surf, that is.