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.
Check out, for instance, this rare bird. A 1966 Wurlitzer Gemini, made at the Hollman-Woodell guitar factory in Neodesha, Kansas. Part of Wurlitzer’s THE WILD ONES series (which included the more pedestrian-looking, but still pretty rad Cougar and Wildcat models), these were made to compete with the best of the domestic market. High end tuners (Klutsons), a wonderful chunky bound neck (like a Fender V shape, but a bit thicker), and a great look highlight the Gemini.
And this month, I sing the praises of another obscure and beautiful amplifier, in this case a 1966 Lectrolab S 400. I’ve seen a few Lectrolabs over the years and they are all pretty cool amps. The 400 series seem to be (and this is based only on observation and scattered information. No one seems to know very much about these) all single-ended small amps with a single EL84 for output and one or two eight inch speakers. The 600 series are more in the 15-20 watt range with either two 6V6’s or two EL84’s (driving a twelve inch speaker), depending on the year. And the 800 series, which I’ve never seen in person, I haven’t been able to find much about, other than that they seem like later versions of the 600’s. The 900 series are El84-equiped heads (very rare).
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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