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Vintage Ampeg Super Stud GE-500 Electric Guitar

Getcher Money Fer Nothing & Yer Chicks For Free! (Vintage Ampeg Super Stud GE-500 Electric Guitar)

Recently in a television interview, Linda Ronstadt was asked what it was like on a tour bus with an all-guy band. She started to give a politic answer and then changed her mind, admitting that “they were a bunch of cowboys.” I think we all know what she meant. It was the kind of macho gestalt that led a company like Ampeg to name its immediately post-Dan-Armstrong line of guitars the, uh, Stud series. Stud, eh?! Geddit?! Har, har.

Vintage Ampeg Super Stud GE-500 Electric Guitar

Vintage Ampeg Super Stud GE-500 Electric Guitar

Ok, it was the early 1970s so Ampeg can be forgiven for being well behind the curve in the politically correct category (I’m not even sure that political correctness had been fully invented yet at that time). Still, you gotta admire the chutzpah and it’s hard not to like any line of guitars called Stud. Sounds like it should be a Paul Newman movie.

Anyhow, all the yuks aside, the use of the Stud name was kind of eerily appropriate. These guitars were loosely speaking what we’d today call “copy guitars” in that they are based on American guitar designs popular at the time. They appeared just as the whole copy strategy was unfolding. Importers/distributors were producing copies mainly of Gibson guitars, since they yielded the most profit, but also of Fender and occasionally Guild guitars and basses. Even American guitar companies themselves hopped on the copy bandwagon. Gibson itself imported Japanese “copies” of some of its Epiphone models, and both Martin and Guild marketed lines of copy guitars until they wised up to the potential threats to their business.

Vintage Ampeg Super Stud GE-500 Electric Guitar

Vintage Ampeg Super Stud GE-500 Electric Guitar

The Ampeg Studs were part of this whole copy scene, but they were aptly named because, unlike many of their competitors—the Ibanezes and Arias of the world—these were really over the top. They really were Studs!

Ampeg has always been better known as an amplifier company, although the very name refers to an amplifying “peg” or leg for a doghouse bass fiddle. Indeed, Ampeg’s first stringed instruments were electric Baby Basses in the 1960s. In 1969 Ampeg struck a deal with then hot guitar designer Dan Armstrong, who came up with the idea for those wonderful Plexiglas “See-through” guitars and basses. These were made into 1971 when Armstrong left the arrangement over a financial disagreement.

While rough copies of Rickenbackers and Mosrites appeared in Japan as early as 1968, followed by some somewhat crude Les Pauls, it was really the Plexiglas Ampegs that the Japanese manufacturers pounced on, producing near and pretty exact copies by 1970. That kick-started the whole copy movement.

Vintage Ampeg Super Stud GE-500 Electric Guitar

Vintage Ampeg Super Stud GE-500 Electric Guitar

Around the time that the Plexiglas guitars and basses disappeared, Ampeg was sold to Selmer Band Instruments in Elkhart, IN. It was the Selmer incarnation of Ampeg that decided in 1973 to bring in the Studs.

The Ampeg Studs included 5 guitars and 2 basses. Three guitars, including this model, were based off of the twin humbucker Gibson SG: the Stud GE-100 with a stoptail, the Stud GET-100 with a vibrato, and this Super Stud GE-500. Two guitars were based off of the Fender Telecaster, the Heavy Stud GE-150 with two single-coil pickups and the GEH-150 with ‘buckers. Two Fender-style basses included the Little Stud GEB-101 with one single-coil pickup and the Big Stud GEB-750 with a single and mini-humbucker. Except for the Super Stud seen here, most of these had laminated bodies with either grained cedar, grained cherry, or a black finish.

This Super Stud has a one-piece maple body. It might have been better named as Heavy Stud because this is one hefty axe. The neck is bolted on rather than set in like a real SG, but, as much as I love set-neck guitars, you have to admit that it sure is easy to get a great set-up on a bolt-neck guitar, especially if it’s not premium grade. That said, this is a pretty darned good guitar. The abalonoid inlays look great on stage but are kind of cheesy up close, unless you’re like me and love any kind of bling. These ain’t DiMarzio pickups, but they’re quite adequate, especially if you’re going to pump this through a nifty Maestro effect pedal or two, and why wouldn’t you? And a little (or big) Ampeg amp.

There’s an illusion that 1970s Japanese copy guitars were legion. Twasn’t so. Most came in in relatively small batches and are nowhere as plentiful as some think. The Ampeg Studs don’t come around all that often, so they’re probably pretty rare. There’s no way to date these precisely because before 1975-76 most Japanese guitars did not have serial numbers, related to my previous point. They weren’t numerous enough to worry about returns and warranties. The Ampeg Stud line was only available from 1973-75, so you have a less than 2-year window to date with.

Linda Ronstadt’s “cowboys” certainly didn’t play Ampeg Studs, however apropos they might have been on that tour bus. Nevertheless, all of us who play guitar have a little bit of stud in our DNA and deserve to play a Super Stud! Plus, you getcher money fer nothing and yer chicks for free!

1973 Ampeg Guitars Ad (Stud Series)

1973 Ampeg Guitars Ad (Stud Series)

1973 Ampeg Guitars Ad (Stud Series)

1973 Ampeg Guitars Ad (Stud Series)

A Missing Link? (1969 Dan Armstrong Modified Danelectro Electric Guitar)

Sometimes you take a look at a guitar and the warning bells start ringing: bogus. Like those early “missing links” proposed by inventive amateur anthropologists who put gorilla skulls on anthropoid skeletons. That’s what happened to me the first time a dealer hauled this out and showed it to me. It was a Danelectro alright, but those pickups? Then I looked again. Who would stencil “Dan Armstrong Modified Danelectro” on an aftermarket pickguard? Then there were the pickups. Epoxy potted. Trademark of who, or is it whom? Dan Armstrong. Think his Ampeg see-through guitars. No, on second thought, this had the air of a mystery wrapped in an enigma with a generous dash of authenticity. So it proved to be. And so it came my way and all I had to do was put the links back together again.

1969 Dan Armstrong Modified Danelectro Electric Guitar

1969 Dan Armstrong Modified Danelectro Electric Guitar

Turns out Danelectro, like every other musical instrument company, got caught up in the corporate feeding frenzy of the 1960s. Danelectro had its origins in electronics work done for a department store by Nathaniel “Nate” Daniel (born 1912) in the Bronx in the 1930s. He came up with his own amplifier design and from 1934-42 made Epiphone’s Electar amplifers. After World War II Daniel moved to Red Bank, New Jersey, and founded Danelectro, building amps for Montgomery Ward (Airline), Sears (Silvertone), and Targ and Diner (S.S. Maxwell). In the early 1950s, when solidbody electrics demonstrated that they were more than a passing fad, Sears wanted more guitars than its subsidiary Harmony could produce and arranged for Danelectro to start making electric guitars. Danelectro and its Silvertone counterparts debuted in 1954.

The first Danos were solid, made of poplar. In 1956 the legendary “lipstick tube” pickups appeared and yes Martha they were purchased from a lipstick manufacturer! In 1958 the classic masonite hollowbodies took a bow, the same year Danelectro relocated to Neptune, New Jersey.

1969 Dan Armstrong Modified Danelectro Electric Guitar

1969 Dan Armstrong Modified Danelectro Electric Guitar

Fast forward to 1966. By then guitar companies could sell any guitars they could make. A number of large corporations, many with experience on the periphery of the entertainment business, started seeing dollar signs and began acquiring guitar companies. CBS purchased Fender in 1965. Norlin, whose interests including breweries (I guess that’s entertainment!), bought Gibson. Baldwin Pianos and Organs bought first Burns of London and then Gretsch. Even Westheimer Sales, importer of Teiscos, was purchased by King Korn trade stamps. Seaburg, the juke box folks, bought Valco/Kay. Avnet bought Guild. Danelectro was purchased by MCA, the company that owned Decca Records and Universal Pictures, among other properties.

Unfortunately for all the greedy corporations, the bloom started to fade from the guitar business almost immediately. According to the Music Trades magazine, guitar sales began to decline in 1967 followed by an even bigger drop in 1968. That year Valco/Kay went belly up. MCA wanted out, but there were no takers to buy the brand. In 1969, MCA simply locked the doors of the factory and that was it.

Which links up with this guitar. Dan Armstrong was a well-known repairman nee guitar designer who had a shop in New York. He and his then girlfriend Carly Simon came up with this idea for a plexiglass “see-through” guitar which would be sold through another area amplifier company, Ampeg in 1969. Armstrong was hired to personally inspect every guitar before it left the plant, but, reportedly, Armstrong was, shall we say, not very interested in showing up for a regular day job shift. Ampeg had trouble meeting demand for the plexiglass guitars and basses. There may have been other production problems.

In any case, a part of the Ampeg design was a series of interchangeable pickups that slid into a slot on the front. These were cast in epoxy to help cut back on feedback.

1969 Dan Armstrong Modified Danelectro Electric Guitar

1969 Dan Armstrong Modified Danelectro Electric Guitar

The rest of the story is a little murky. Some sources say that Armstrong purchased a bunch of leftover parts from the closed Danelectro factory and assembled between 650-700 guitars outfitted with his epoxy-potted pickups. Some stories link this to Ampeg’s supply problems, but why they don’t then say Ampeg is a mystery. Other stories have these guitars being sold out of Armstrong’s New York shop, which probably makes more sense, given the identification on the pickguard. One interesting clue is that Ampeg used Danelectro bridges on its see-through guitars. This has always struck me as odd, that such an advance guitar concept wouldn’t have a sophisticated bridge.

Somehow, this all ties up with the fact that Unimusic, Ampeg’s parent company, ran into financial troubles about this time. They couldn’t pay Armstrong. Had Ampeg purchased those Danelectro parts to use the bridges and save money? Did Armstrong get the parts to make these guitars as part of the pay Ampeg couldn’t give him? We may never know the whole story.

All this came tumbling down in 1971 when the Ampeg see-throughs bit the dust. Along with the company. Ampeg was sold to the consumer electronics giant Magnavox that year. Magnavox operated the company until 1980 when the brand went to Ernie Briefel’s Music Technology, Inc. (MTI), distributor of Westone and Vantage guitars from Matsumoku Moto in Japan, as well as Giannini from Brazil. In 1985 the brand was sold once again to St. Louis Music, where it still resides.

Following the see-through debacle and the brief fling with these Danelectros, Dan Armstrong moved to London where he produced some mahogany versions of the see-through designs.

So, that leaves us with these Dan Armstrong Modified Danelectros. As you can see, they do exist! I’m pretty sure these date from 1969, but that’s far from certain. The timing fits. They could date from slightly later, but probably not much.

Basically everything on these guitars is vintage Dano except for the pickups. They are smooth, rich and quiet. Unfortunately, a Dano really needs cheapo lipstick-tube single-coils to sound right. These high-tech units kind of leave the guitar with no soul. I have no idea what the three-way toggle is supposed to do. It may have already been installed!

Nevertheless, like those anthropological missing links, this Dan Armstrong Modified Danelectro fills in some curious connections between some of our most famous brand names and innovative guitar personalities. Maybe some day we’ll know the whole truth about this oddball.

A Gaggle of My Favorite Guitar Pedals, Effects Boxes, Units, Whatever!!!

Greetings to all in guitarland. A quick reminder to mark your calendar for next week’s WEBCAST. We are going to blow the speakers on your computer, so don’t be the guy saying, “Oh yeah, I forgot to tune in. How was it!?”. Info at the bottom of this page. This month’s column will feature some of my favorite vintage pedals and effects. These choices will be from my point of view and experience, and as I cannot with expertise speak about effects that I cannot use in the type of music I play (which is blues, old school country, classic rock and 50’s and 60’s R&B). I again welcome all suggestions for your favorite effects.

MXR Micro Amp Guitar Effects Pedal

MXR Micro Amp Guitar Effects Pedal

#1: MXR Micro Amp

This is by far the most useful pedal I have ever used/seen. What this pedal does is so simple yet so valuable to any guitarist playing any kind of music. What it does is makes your sound either a bit louder or much louder. Don’t sound like much, but think about it, how many times were you playing and thought gee I would like to be a bit louder without changing my sound.

So before I get all excited, let me tell you what this pedal actually does. The Micro-Amp is an FET preamp with a 0 to 20+ db gain structure that does not color your sound at all (aside from the fact that you are pushing your preamp section of your amp harder which usually causes your sound to be a bit darker). In my effects chain it is my last in line (btw I only use 4 pedals). Over the twenty-five plus years I have owned one I have used it not only as a boost but have also used it to boost line levels when using long cable runs to isolation booths when recording. I have also used it in a pinch when amplifying an acoustic guitar with a piezo pickup and no onboard preamp. One other comment about this pedal, the battery life (especially the early versions with no LED) is extremely long. Yipee!!! Check one out you will not be sorry.

Uni-Vibe Guitar Effects Pedal

Uni-Vibe Guitar Effects Pedal

#2: Uni-Vibe

Yeah I know Jimi Hendrix used one, and after he died Robin Trower used one on his post Procal Harum albums. There is a reason these cats used one, I think the reason is that there is a magic to the Uni-Vibe that you can’t put a finger on. The best way I can describe it is that it’s thick yet lets the guitars dynamics come through. I have also always believed that it works best with single coil guitars, again I believe this is due to its fatness. IMHO if you want a similar vibe (pun) for your Les Paul or SG use a flanger.

I recommend the original of course, they are not cheap and not too road worthy but they sound unreal. The Dunlop reissues sound okay but I believe the Line 6 Modulation POD Uni-Vibe sound is better and cleaner. I also recommend the FulltoneDeja-Vibe.

Ibanez Maxon AD9 Analog Delay Guitar Effects Pedal

Ibanez Maxon AD9 Analog Delay Guitar Effects Pedal

#3: Ibanez (Maxon) AD9 analog delay

The AD9 is a great sounding analog delay, with three controls, feedback (repeats), delay time, and mix. These pedals were made in the late 80’s if my memory serves me correct. Before my brief analysis of this pedal let me proudly say that back in the late 80’s when we all got sucked into the idea that “digital delay was so much cleaner” mentality, I remember saying to my friend Jimmy Agnello “I dunno I like analog delays alot better”. Well now I think we all know that if it’s a toss up between sounding like Chet Atkins or Big Country…. well you get the picture.

When comparing the AD9 to its predecessor the AD909 I think the AD9 sounds more guitar friendly and less science-fictionary. I think that the AD9 sounds more Echoplexy than the Boss DC-2, and lets face it isn’t that what we want.

Musitronics Mutron V Envelope Follower Guitar Effects Pedal

Musitronics Mutron V Envelope Follower Guitar Effects Pedal

#4: Musictronics Mutron Micro V Envelope Follower

I bought one of these little buggers back in the early 80’s when I was playing bass and wanted to funk up my sound a bit. It worked pretty good on the bass, but when I shifted over to guitar and finally got the nerve to plug it in it really started speaking in funky tongues. Although all it had was one button, dude that’s all it needed. It also sported a switch that went from high to low, which accentuated the higher or lower frequencies. I can’t say for sure whether Frank Zappa used the MicroV or the full sized Mutron for his auto-wah effect but this pedal cops his signature auto-wah effect perfectly.

I also love the Ibanez offering from their early small button series, but this one sounds even better. Another aspect of this pedal that I like is that it is a bit more touch sensitive than any other Envelope follower I have tried.

Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer Overdrive Pro Guitar Effects Pedal

Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer Overdrive Pro Guitar Effects Pedal

#5: Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer

What can you say about a pedal that sells for ten times its initial price only 20 years later. The 808 in its original form had a small square on/off button on top, three knobs (distortion/tone and volume) and an LED light.. For most of us that have used this pedal the best way to describe it is its warm sounding even at its most trebly setting and it compliments the sound of any guitar and amp combination it is used with.

The pedal has its own sound no doubt, but part of that sound is its ability to not color your sound so much. To me it’s the perfect distortion pedal if you are prone to go back and forth from a cleaner sound to a slightly dirtier sound. The 808 is virtually indestructible and its battery life is pretty good.

Now onto the reissues and clones, first I will say that I like the reissue Ibanez TS808 that is currently available. I have A/b’ed it with a few of my original 808’s and they sound almost identical. I wish the lED was briter as on the originals you could gauge your battery life with it. The Maxon version which is in a smaller, flimsier case is not roadworthy at all. It sounds similar but not as close as the Ibanez reissue. The on/off switch is noisy and the pots are too close together for that foot adjustment we all have gotten used to with the original 808.

I must also mention a fellow Vermonter and electronics whiz Mr. Denny Coleman make a great version of this pedal under the name Musicians Junkyard Screamer this pedal is very close to the original, although I will say that it has a texture that my 808 does not, a kind of barely audible octave overtone that I like very much. Check it out.

Vox Clyde McCoy WahWah Guitar Effects Pedal

Vox Clyde McCoy WahWah Guitar Effects Pedal

#6: The Vox Clyde McCoy wahwah pedal (model V848)

Yes my friends I know that there are many wahwahs that are classics and similar (Cry Baby’s etc.). I owned and used an original “Clyde” for years without knowing what a classic and valuable pedal it was. During this time I was using a Cry Baby also and was easily able to hear the difference between the two pedals.

Now I will also say that over the years I have had many guitar players complain about their wahs, and most of their complaints were based on the pedals not being setup right. The “throw” or the aperture (opening) needs to be set to your own taste, and that usually rights whatever problems you might have. (That adjustment is easily made by loosening the retainer screw which holds a plastic piece that comes down from the pedal and once this screw is loose you can adjust the throw on the potentiometer that controls the wah effect.

As far as the sound is concerned, I think that what separates the Clyde from the CryBaby is that it sounds a bit fatter in the low end and a bit less harsh in the open position. I also think that is has a nicer notch in the middle which helps for that wahwah sustain that Jimi used so well. I have never been a fan of the Morley pedals as their throw is too big and I can’t use them comfortably while standing.

Vox has reissued the Clyde with a true bypass and I own four of them and they are great, maybe even a bit cleaner than the originals which is a 50/50 aspect, some might like it, some won’t. I like these so much that I did sell my original Clyde for an insane amount of money.

Dan Armstrong Purple Peaker Plug-in Guitar Effects Pedal

Dan Armstrong Purple Peaker Plug-in Guitar Effects Pedal

#7: Dan Armstrong Purple Peaker Plug-in effects

These very cool little pedals were designed by Dan himself. They plugged right in the guitars output, which makes them IMHO a more studio friendly effect, but with a very simple reverse wiring you can plug them into the amp, and you’re good to go. The real winners of the line were the Orange Squeezer and Purple Peaker. Both of these add-ons were used by RyCooder, and David Lindley, and Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo used the Blue Clipper Fuzz duct taped to his guitar.

Here’s some really good news, after some really poor quality Korean copies of these high quality units were made back in the 90’s, these great little units are being handmade again in the USA using the original designs, and they sound great!!! Rumor has it that there will be some stomp box versions out soon too!

Now here’s some quickies….

  • Vox Tonebender: classic 60’s fuzz box
  • Boss pitch shifting delay pedal: very cool pedal for that quick harmony
  • Ibanez Phase Tone: early script lettering one button, one pot, not the most versatile phaser but a great one
  • MXR Dyna Comp: great compressor, can be very subtle as well as a real scwelcher. Also a great combo with any Chorus/phaser/flanger
  • Boss Distortion (Orange Box): great direct into the board distortion effect, used it many times in the studio always with a shocked look from the engineer.
  • Boss CE-3 Chorus: “the” chorus pedal as far as I can tell, it has the sound. It’s versatile, not very noisy and sturdy as a Tonka Toy.
  • DeArmond Volume Pedal: until the Morley volume pedal strolled onto the scene this was the only show in town. The DeArmond was the industry standard throughout my formative years in this business. Keyboard players used it as well as horn players as well, but as a guitar player it affords you the luxury of leaving your guitar full out taking advantage of its full tonal voice.
  • MXR Phase 90: another industry standard, sturdy, sounds great how can you look yourself in the mirror knowing you don’t have one kicking around your effects bag.
  • Sam Ash fuzz box: red box probably made by Unicord, anyway old school fuzz box and ugly as a monkey’s rear end.

Some many effects so little time….

Please send me your favorite effects and I will add them in future columns.