Last month, we left off with a team in place to design, prototype, test, and market the new line of Magnatone amplifiers. This month we look at each series and model of the new Magnatone line and the features of each, including the world famous pitch-shifting vibrato circuit.
Magnatone was started in 1946 by Art Duhamell, who purchased the Dickerson Musical Instrument Manufacturing Company. Dickerson was a small, Southern California builder who produced lap steels and amplifiers. Dunhamell changed the name to Magnatone a division of his Magna Electronics Company in Los Angeles. Magna also produced record players, speakers, radios and organs as well as amplifiers under brands such as ToneMaster, DaVinci, Pac-Amp, and Estey. The Estey organ’s vibrato circuit was integral in the birth of the famous Magnatone pitch shifting vibrato feature,(but more on that later). Though Magnatone had a good run of building some of the first, high fidelity, innovative, “boutique” amps to hit the market, the company was plagued by mergers and buy outs, poor business decisions, and bad investments. In the end, Magnatone was no more by the end of the 1960’s.
It wasn’t even a tour…just a few dates in the Midwest over a long weekend. But it sounded like fun. Even a short time on the road is usually a good time, and we’d be playing with our buds from Chicago, the fabulous Mannequin Men, for all three dates. And it proved to be the great time it promised to be. If you want a cure for the blues, hot the road with the Mannequin Men for a few days. They remind me while I love rock and roll—seeing them on a good night reminds me of when I got to see the Replacements on a good one. A band that’s at once tight and loose, with great songs and killer hooks. What’s not to love?
Case in point? This 1967 Fender Wildwood acoustic guitar. In the mid 60’s, with Roger Rossmeisl (who had earlier done some great designs for Rickenbacker) at the head of design, Fender tried to break in to Gibson and Martin territory with their Coronado models (aims at Gibson’s 335 and other hollow and semi hollow guitars) and their acoustic line (aimed at both industry standards in those fields: Gibson and Martin). The models included The Kingman, the Concert, the Malibu, Newporter, Palimino, Redondo, Shenandoah and the 12 string Villager. The Wildwood VI was essentially a top of the line Kingman with the Wildwood added.
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 NAMM show is incredibly HUGE. It’s fitting that it’s across the street from Disneyland, as you end up walking just as much as you would at the self-proclaimed happiest place on earth (not when there’s a million guitars across the street, Walt). On a further plus, there’s a lot less puke and fewer children at the NAMM show.
Bigsby’s first “commercial” design for Magnatone was the Mark III, a neck-through-body semi-hollow guitar, Bigsby’s take on a Ricky Combo. We know some of these were built because one turned up a few years back at an L.A.-area yard sale (how often have you had that fantasy!). But it appears that Magnatone’s production folks made some changes and almost all that are found with solid bodies and a glued-in neck with a “tongue” extension that slips in under the neck pickup. The formica pickguard and Daka-Ware knobs are a little dated now, but back in ’56 they were strictly the cat’s pajamas!
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