Ever since electric guitars and amplifiers were invented in the 1930s, certain folks have been interested in cutting down the amount of gear you have to schlepp to a gig. You gotta have a guitar. It’s gotta have a case to carry it in. And the amp electronics have to be housed in some sort of a cabinet. I know! Let’s combine the case and the amp electronics: Amp-in-case guitars. The primary “certain folk” was the brains behind probably the first amp-in-case guitar and the iconic version seen here, Mr. Nate (or “Nat”) Daniel, namesake of the Danelectro company.
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.
Last year at NAMM, Eastwood grand poobah Mike Robinson and I were talking about hot rods and custom jobs. He’d said one of the truly fun things he dug about motorcycle riding was tripping out your bike with custom touches that made it your own. This led into talk about custom guitars and some of his favorite custom shots people had sent in to him with their modified Eastwoods and Airlines. He sent me a couple of cool pictures at one point of wild things people had done to their guitars, and it got me thinking about a long-neglected project of mine with an old Silvertone/Danelectro. Most of the mods I do are on amps—and they tend to be unseen, unless you look under the hood—but here was a guitar job that would be obvious to anyone who saw it.
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 collectable (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).
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.
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.
Rare is, of course, a relative term when you’re talking about anything made by Danelectro for Sears. This ain’t a hand carved arch-top by one of the D’Whoever’s in New York, or a prototype KOA wood, only ever seen by Ted McCarty and the 33rd-level Masons who know the secret Skull & Bones handshake and Vulcan death grips, after all.
Since its inception, legions of surf guitar players have engaged in heated debate about gear. Suffice it to say, everyone has an opinion. However, newbies often want a simple answer to the question, “What do I need to get going?” Below, I lay out the answers, based on the classic traditional surf sound of the Sixties. Whether you want to nail the sound with vintage gear, or whether you are on a budget, you’ll find useful guidelines here.
I was determined to find something that would allow for my inner bass player to come out – and then I discovered the wonderful world of baritone guitars. You know, those extended scale things with strings as thick as a bass that are an octave lower than a regular guitar. Yes, Nirvana was at hand!
Possibly no other single event inspired the creation of more garage bands than the first Ed Sullivan show featuring the Beatles. And likewise, probably no single company furnished more of the guitars and amps for young musicians than the Sears & Roebuck Company. While most of us would rather have started out with the Gretsch, Rickenbacker, Hofner, Vox and Ludwig gear we saw the Fab Four using, due to price and availability, it was the Sears catalog that supplied our first six-string.
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