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Magnatone Amps

Magnatone Amps – The Evolution of Boutique Tone, Yesterday & Today (Part 2)

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.

Let me start off by saying that the new Magnatone line of amps is no less than stellar! There are three series: the Studio Collection, Traditional Collection and the Master Collection. All exude tonal quality and craftsmanship, and that is before we consider the features of stereo pitch-shifting vibrato or tube-driven reverb. Between the three series or “collections,” Magnatone manages to offer something to meet just about every player’s needs. From five-watt studio amps to 6V6, American-voiced combos to EL34 British-inspired heads and cabs, Kornblum, Khan and the rest of the crew at Magnatone have produced a line of models that covers all of the bases.

Magnatone Amps

Magnatone Amps

Each collection includes three models. In the Studio Collection, Magnatone offers up three lower-wattage, class A tube amplifiers housed in solid pine, finger jointed cabinets covered in either black or burgundy faux crocodile covering.

The Lyric is a no-frills, 10 watt, Class A combo featuring one 12AX7, one 6L6 power tube and a 10-inch speaker. It’s perfect for studio, rehearsal and small club performances.

The Varsity is the big brother to the Lyric. A 15 watt, push-pull class A amplifier featuring two 12AX7 preamp tubes, two EL84 power tubes and a GZ34 rectifier, the Varsity is the perfect size for stage and studio. The combo houses a 75 watt, 12″ custom Magnatone speaker in a box that’s a bit larger than you might expect. The result is an amp with enough power and bottom end to blow the doors off of most joints. One of the coolest features of the Varsity is the Negative Feedback Switch, which acts as a 8db boost/cut, allowing the amp to take on two unique sonic personalities.

The third model in the Studio Collection is the new Panoramic. Debuted at the 2014 NAMM trade show, the Panoramic is a stereo, 5 watts per side, single-ended class A amplifier with two 12 AX7s, a 12AU7 and a duet of 6V6 power tubes. The Panoramic offers the famous Magnatone pitch-shifting, varistor stereo vibrato. Cabinet options include a 1×12″ or stereo 2-10″ speaker cab.

The Traditional Collection showcases the Twilighter, Twilighter Stereo and Single V models. Encased in a classy, brown tolex with retro style, the Traditional series amplifiers would look equally great on stage, in the studio or as a fine piece of furniture in your living room! All three models are American-voiced, push-pull class AB amplifiers featuring either 6V6 or 6L6 power tubes. All Traditional series amps also feature a tube driven, long pan reverb and true pitch-shifting, varistor vibrato which can be switched to conventional tremolo via the FM-AM switch. Each member of the Traditional Collection is an outstanding, boutique, American-voiced tube amp with a warmth and bloom usually only heard in the finest vintage tube amps of the 1960’s.

The Vibrato effect departs from the original vintage design by producing a much more lush and three dimensional quality that can be slowed much slower than it’s ancestors. The result is unsurpassed, dynamic fidelity with a modulation that is mesmerizing.

The Master Collection offers three models inspired by the British amp companies of the ’60s. The Super Fifteen and Super Thirty are 15 watt and stereo 15 watts per side, respectively. They are EL 84, push-pull class A amplifiers designed with sparkly, British styled clean tones as well as full throttle A class overdrive capabilities. Pair that with the option of Magantone’s true pitch-shifting vibrato and you have an amp that will please any die-hard, class A, British-tone purist!

The Super Fifty-Nine head is a unique model, even though it is listed as part of the Master Collection and aesthetically has the same black tolex and white satin grill cloth as its A class siblings. The Super Fifty-Nine is a British behemoth that features a two EL34, 45 watt, push-pull class AB power section. With two channels, the Super Fifty-Nine has the ability to straddle vintage British tones as well as more modern, gainy rock tones of the ’70s and ’80s. With an input layout similar to a vintage Bassman and the pitch-shifting vibrato circuit available in the classic channel only, one can bridge the two channels to produce a warbley, uni-vibe effect that conjures the soul of Hendrix and Trower. After hearing the Super Fifty-Nine, it comes as no surprise that the model was developed in conjunction with Billy Gibbons and has been the Reverend’s go to rig for the last year or so.

Each model is unique yet consistently voiced in the new Magnatone tradition. Most models come with either Magnatone branded, WGS designed speakers, or Celestion Gold Alnicos (Lyric is supplied with a Jensen P10R). Some models include a two button footswitch, and a 20k expression pedal is also optional for hands-free control of the vibrato speed.

Although Magnatone is currently offering amplifiers only, plans are underway to offer high end Magnatone guitars with the help of Boise-based luthiers John and Jake Bolin of Bolin Guitars.

So while we currently live in the golden age of boutique gear, it may seem an impossible feat to offer up something unique both in aesthetic style and high fidelity that balances the much sought retro tones and looks of the great classics with the needs of modern players. Yet Ted Kornblum, Obeid Khan, and the team at Magnatone have managed to do just that! With great tone, vibe and style, the Magnatone line of amplifiers is a home run, and the redesigned, true pitch-shifting, varistor vibrato is just the icing on the cake.

Magnatoneusa.com

Written by: David Anderson

Magnatone Amps

Magnatone Amps – The Evolution of Boutique Tone, Yesterday & Today (Part 1)

Magnatone Amps

Magnatone Amps

As a person who has worked in the music retail industry for more than 20 years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard about how a quality manufacture was acquired by a larger corporation and imploded from bad “business” decisions, ruining the brand in the process. While not the rule, it happens more often than not in most every industry.

So imagine you work for a family-owned company that distributes music equipment. One day, you are looking through some of the old family catalogs and discover that a very cool, unique brand, which has been out of production for years, has a trademark that has expired and is just sitting there for the taking. What would you do?

Magnatone Amps

Magnatone Amps

Ted Kornblum’s grandfather founded St. Louis Music Supply Co. in 1922. Among the many brands that SLM has distributed are Ampeg, Crate, Alvarez, and Knilling. Also on the company’s distribution list: Magnatone.

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. Duhamell 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.

Magnatone Amps

Magnatone Amps

Fast forward to the early 2000’s, Ted is sitting at his desk one day and he discovers that the Magnatone trademark was abandoned — there for the taking! So Ted quietly makes some inquiries and soon finds himself the owner of the Magnatone brand. He doesn’t tell anyone. Not even his buddy, the Rev Billy Gibbons. He just… waits.

After some years the tables turned, and SLM was that company that ended up being acquired by a larger corporation. We won’t get into the details, but Ted Kornblum eventually found himself free to do what he pleased. Maybe start his own company… maybe do something with his secret acquisition, Magnatone.

Now you have to understand, back when Magnatone amps were made, Fender was the utility amp of time, and Ampeg appealed to the jazz market. Magnatone, by contrast, was known as a boutique amplifier, decades before the boutique craze began. Magnatone amps were not cheap. They had great fidelity, reverb and that famous, pitch shifting stereo vibrato. Fender’s dedicated vibrato channel was actually tremolo, not vibrato, changing the amplitude or volume of the signal, not the pitch. To further muddy the waters, Fender incorrectly labeled its guitars’ vibrato unit a tremolo.

Magnatone Amps

Magnatone Amps

So Ted had been sitting on this brand a while. He had a long time to think about how to revive the Magnatone line. The first step would be putting together a design team that could make the amps a reality. While Magnatone was ahead of its time as far as amp design is concerned, it did have its flaws. For one, the amps were fragile, not up to par to today’s rigorous standards. They also had limited power output — not conducive to today’s rock ‘n roll needs. So the new Magnatones would have to have a balance of both worlds. That luscious, true pitch shifting vibrato, tremolo (yes that FM-AM switch allows for either effect) and a deep, well-like reverb — but with more under the hood, some rock ‘n roll torque for the heavy hitters!

To put this plan in motion, Ted had an ace in his pocket… a guy right here in St. Louis who was responsible for designing practically all things tube that came out of SLM, including the revered Crate Vintage Club series amps. Obeid Khan is not just an engineer with a soldering gun, he’s a player…a serious player! Ask anyone in town, they’ll tell you, Obeid Khan is a monster when it comes to amps and blistering guitar. Khan, splitting time between his own company, Reason amps, and a position repairing vintage tube amps for local vintage gear gurus, Killer Vintage, decided he was up to the challenge of working on the foundation and design on the new Magnatone amps.

Ted and Obeid enlisted a team of engineers including Ken Matthews, Greg Geerling, Dan Ryterski, Chris Villani, George McKale, and the famous Neil Young tech, Larry Cragg to make the Magnatone line a reality. Another ace in the hole was having local cabinet builder and owner of Vintage-Amp Restoration, Gregg Hopkins, involved in the design of the amps, making sure to pay homage aesthetically to Magnatone’s retro look.

Magnatone Amps

Magnatone Amps

So with an all-star team of engineers and the discriminating ears of players like Billy Gibbons, Khan, and Larry Cragg, the team began to prototype the first models of the new Magnatone amplifier and guitar company. Once the first models began rolling off the bench, the decision was made to bring Dave Hinson, owner of Killer Vintage (June 2012 myrareguitars.com) on as sales manager in order to help with dealer placement.

Next month we’ll take a look at the models and features including the magic of the Magnatone Varistor Vibrato!

Written by: David Anderson

Keith Richards with the Ampeg VT 22 Amp

10 Classic Guitar Amps & The Songs That Made Them Famous (PART 2!)

Today, we have the long overdue follow-up to the “10 Classic Guitar Amps” article by Ben Fargen of FargenAmps.com. Ben’s first post has become one of the most popular articles ever published on this site, so we asked Ben another list of definitive amps and songs. Be sure to let us know what you think in the comments section below!

11. Ampeg VT 22

Song: All Down the Line
Artist: Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones)

Ah, Keith Richards and his Les Paul + Ampeg VT 22 combination. It’s like chicken soup/comfort food for the soul of tone. Holed up on the coast of France during 1969/70 to avoid arrest for tax evasion changes back in the UK, Keith and the boys recorded one of my all time favorite albums. Check out anything off Exile on Main Street for reference. The riff and tone on “All Down the Line” is a standout track to me. PURE KEEF!

Keith Richards with the Ampeg VT 22 Amp

Keith Richards with the Ampeg VT 22 Amp

Keith Richards with the Ampeg VT 22 Amp

Keith Richards with the Ampeg VT 22 Amp

12. Carvin X100B

Song: Blue Powder
Artist: Steve Vai

I’ll never forget the first time I heard Steve Vai’s “Blue Powder” on his breakout give away flexi-disc record that was included in the October ’85 issue of Guitar Player Magazine. The sheer melodic content vs. guitar prowess was beyond insane for the time. Steve Vai houses genius, melody and lighthearted feeling in a way that no other guitar player can. The tone and technique offered in the thin piece of vinyl was a small viewing glass into what was soon to become a new era in instrumental guitar technique.

Steve Vai & the Carvin X100B Amp (1986)

Steve Vai & the Carvin X100B Amp (1986)

Steve Vai & the Carvin X100B Amp (1983)

Steve Vai & the Carvin X100B Amp (1983)

13. Marshall 6100 30th Anniversary

Song: Up in the Sky
Artist: Joe Satriani

I had the opportunity to take my stepfather to see Joe Satriani at the memorial auditorium in Sacramento, CA for his birthday on October 29, 1998 during the Crystal Planet Tour. I’ll admit I had stepped outside my earlier hard rock guitar roots at that time and was listening to more alt country and pop stuff then. Seeing Joe on that tour blew my mind and reminded me of why Joe is the KING of all things instrumental rock guitar. I soon went out and purchased the Crystal Planet cd after the concert and was given a heavy dose of all things that inspire rock guitarists to play – including but not limited to – amazing instrumental guitar songs with pure tone and heartfelt performances. In the strange mystery that is life, Joe would later become a client of mine and a good friend. We have talked about how that album was recorded mostly live at “The Plant” in Sausalito. The majority of the core tones were captured with single channel tube amps, including the Joe Satriani staple: Channel One of the Marshall 6100 Anniversary Edition with a Japanese Boss DS-1 pedal pushing the front for the gain. In the hands of the master, even this simple setup can be considered legendary. Check out “Up in the Sky” as a standout track, but every track on this album is pure gold. One of my top ten instrumental albums of all time.

Joe Satriani's 1992 Marshall 6100 30th Anniversary Amp

Joe Satriani’s 1992 Marshall 6100 30th Anniversary Amp

1992 Marshall 6100 30th Anniversary Amp

1992 Marshall 6100 30th Anniversary Amp

1992 Marshall 6100 30th Anniversary Amp

1992 Marshall 6100 30th Anniversary Amp

14. Hiwatt DR103

Song: Comfortably Numb
Artist: David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)

David Gilmour of Pink Floyd has always conjured up jaw dropping juicy tones of mythical proportion for decades. The Wall album feature many classic songs and some of my favorite recorded solo guitar tones ever. It seems Mr. Gilmour’s go-to amp on stage and in the studio is the Hiwatt DR103 100W head with WEM Super Starfinder 200 cabinets loaded with Fane Crescendo speakers. In this case I would say that David’s core tone is crafted from his hands, guitar and the highly elaborate Pete Cornish pedal board that is fed into the amp. More so than the amps stand-alone sound, his DR103 acts more as a clean full range power amp in this setup but is still noteworthy. Check out the solo in “Comfortably Numb” as my standout track. For more great info on David Gilmour and his gear, check out www.gilmourish.com as well.

David Gilmour's Custom Hiwatt 100 Amp

David Gilmour’s Custom Hiwatt 100 Amp

David Gilmour's Custom Hiwatt 100 Amp

David Gilmour’s Custom Hiwatt 100 Amp

David Gilmour's Custom Hiwatt 100 Amp

David Gilmour’s Custom Hiwatt 100 Amp

David Gilmour's Custom Hiwatt 100 Amp

David Gilmour’s Custom Hiwatt 100 Amp

15. Fender Eighty-Five (Solid State)

Song: Creep
Artist: Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead)

When the band Radiohead hit the scene in the early 90’s, I was immediately impressed with the songs and the two unique and original guitar parts on every song. Both guitarists (Jonny Greenwood & Ed O’Brien) seemed to cover so much tonal spectrum, yet always giving way to complimenting the song and never walking over the other players parts. I was surprised to find out at a much later date that Johnny Greenwood used a solid state Fender 85 amplifier as his main set up with pedals (including a Marshall Shredmaster pedal) driving the front of the amp to get his signature overdrive sound. Very early in Radiohead’s career, Jonny’s only amp was his Fender Eight-Five, which he used for both his distorted and clean tones. By late 1993, however, Jonny had bought his first tube amp: a Fender “The Twin” – which is the version Twin Reverb produced at the same time as the Eighty-Five. I think Radiohead is one of the most important and truly original groups to come out in the last 20 years.

Jonny Greenwood's Fender Eighty Five Amp

Jonny Greenwood’s Fender Eighty Five Amp

Jonny Greenwood's Fender Eighty Five Amp

Jonny Greenwood’s Fender Eighty Five Amp

Jonny Greenwood & his Fender Eighty Five Amp (Radiohead)

Jonny Greenwood & his Fender Eighty Five Amp (Radiohead)

Jonny Greenwood & his Fender Eighty Five Amp (Radiohead)

Jonny Greenwood & his Fender Eighty Five Amp (Radiohead)

16. Vox AC30

Song: Apache
Artist: Hank Marvin (The Shadows)

Across the pond in the late fifties & early sixties, The Shadows were cranking out pop and instrumental hits left and right. They achieved over 60 UK chart topping singles during there long and successful carrier. As a result of their success at the start of the 60’s, Hank Marvin had an interesting influence on the current VOX amplifier designs of the day as noted in this interview:

Along with the Fender guitar, another cornerstone of the Shadows sound was the Vox amplifier. According to Hank Marvin:

“Vox was one of the first companies to get onto artists and groups so they could promote their amplifiers. In fact, I tried Fender amplifiers first, but preferred the sound of the Vox with the Strat, because I think it was more of a raw sound. The Fender amplifier, to my ear sounded a little too smooth with a Strat, and I seemed to get more guts out of a Vox.”

Reg Clark worked in the Vox store in London’s Charing Cross Road in the early 60’s, and credits Hank with instigating a major Vox development:

“He suggested we made one with two speakers and it was from that comment that the AC30 came.”

The Shadows had tried the more powerful Fender Twin, but the Vox AC15 provided the sound they wanted, albeit with insufficient volume. Using two amplifiers each was rejected, and Vox finally came up with the legendary AC30, with the group taking delivery of four in late 1959. The AC30 was a 30-watt model with 12″ twin speakers and EL84 output valves. Hank’s amp was modified with a treble booster to provide a cleaner sound at high volume levels and this model was later sold commercially as the AC30 Top Boost.

Soon after, Hank changed his echo unit to the Binson Echorec, and a true legendary combination was solidified!

The Shadows & their Vox Amps

The Shadows & their Vox Amps

Vox AC30 Amp played by The Shadows

Vox AC30 Amp played by The Shadows

17. Gibson EH-150

Song: Stomping at the Savoy
Artist: Charlie Christian

Charlie Christian is the modern godfather of amplified electric jazz guitar. He is credited as a pioneer for taking the humble roll of the rhythm jazz guitar player in non-amplified form and pushing the boundaries to the point where other musicians respected the guitar. He proved the amplified guitar as a viable lead and solo instrument in the context of a large jazz ensemble. The Gibson ES-150 guitar coupled with the very rudimentary Gibson EH-150 tube amplifier paved the way for the future of modern electric guitar. Check out Charlie on the track “Stomping at the Savoy” and think back to how amazing that must have sounded live in the room in 1941 NYC.

Charlie Christian & his 1930's Gibson EH-150 Guitar Amp

Charlie Christian & his 1930’s Gibson EH-150 Guitar Amp

1930's Gibson EH-150 Guitar Amp

1930’s Gibson EH-150 Guitar Amp

18. Modified Marshall 100W Super Lead Plexi (The “Pete” Amp)

Song: Welcome to Paradise
Artist: Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day)

When Green Day hit the big time on their chart topping Dookie album in 1994, I was immediately intrigued. Dookie was the band’s third studio album and its first collaboration with producer Rob Cavallo – and its major record label debut. Green Day seemed to come out of nowhere with their punk and thrash attitude, yet the songs were tight & concise hit pop/AOR sensations. Not only is Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day a killer songwriter and performer, his guitar tone is super fat and chunky. Wielding his bastard green Fernandez Stratocaster copy and a modified Marshall Plexi Super Lead 100-watt amp head (with the name duct-taped out), Billie Joe has perfected that tight right-hand rhythm and is so locked in with Trey Cool and Mike Dirnt. They create a modern power trio that is highly underrated IMHO. Check out the opening riff to “Welcome to Paradise” and you realize right then and there – this is the fundamental core sound of modern alternative rock as it stands today.

Billie Joe Armstrong on-stage at Woodstock 1994 with his 'Dookie' modified Marshall Super Lead

Billie Joe Armstrong on-stage at Woodstock 1994 with his ‘Dookie’ modified Marshall Super Lead

Billie Joe Armstrong on-stage at Woodstock 1994 with his 'Dookie' modified Marshall Super Lead

Billie Joe Armstrong on-stage at Woodstock 1994 with his ‘Dookie’ modified Marshall Super Lead

19. Kustom K200A-4 (aka the ‘A4’ or the K200A Model 2-15L-4)

Song: Born on a Bayou
Artist: John Fogerty (CCR)

Another solid state transistor amp to make the list! The Kustom A4 amplifier with 2 x 15″ cab. This was John Fogerty’s main live rig for the classic CCR years, but there is also proof that he did use a a silver face Fender Vibrolux Reverb on many of the CCR studio recordings. The Fender provided more of a natural distortion that the transistor-based Kustom just couldn’t provide. John’s Kustom amps on stage always had the Trem / Vib set at one o’ clock as seen in many photos. Check out this classic performance and tone from Woodstock with the Rik in hand. There’s no doubt in any guitarists mind who the player is when the intro riff of this classic rock song comes through your radio dial.

CCR with the Kustom Amp in the background

CCR with the Kustom Amp in the background

John Fogerty's K200A-4 Amp

John Fogerty’s K200A-4 Amp

John Fogerty's K200A-4 Amp

John Fogerty’s K200A-4 Amp

1968 Kustom Ad for the K200A Amp

1968 Kustom Ad for the K200A Amp

20. Standel Amp

Song: Mr. Sandman
Artist: Chet Atkins

In the mid to late 50’s, all the top guitar players and band leaders of the time were custom ordering Standel amps from Bob Crooks in CA. From StandelAmps.com:

Bob Crooks built approximately 75 amps with the first design (knobs on top of the amp), all out of his backyard workshop at 10661 Freer Street in Temple City CA. Chet Atkins couldn’t order one himself because of his endorsement deal with Gretsch, but he bought one from a guitar player friend and used it on thousands of recordings. You can hear the amp during Chet Atkins appearances on “Classic Country” originally from 1957 but rebroadcast in the mid-80’s on TNN, Chet’s White Standel can be seen behind him on a bale of hay on about half of the performances).

Chet Atkins is arguable the most accomplished and amazing guitar player in US history. This performance of “Mr. Sandman” shows his effortless touch and command of the instrument.

Jim Reeves & Chet Atkins with a Standel 25L15 Amp

Jim Reeves & Chet Atkins with a Standel 25L15 Amp

Chet Atkins with a Standel 25L15 Amp

Chet Atkins with a Standel 25L15 Amp

Standel 25L15 Guitar Amp

Standel 25L15 Guitar Amp

1960’s Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

I’ve only owned two Kay tube amps, and they were both keepers. One was a pretty standard (for its era) dual 6V6 with tremolo (a really rich and deep tremolo). It had a tone pretty close to the Silvertone 1482, its Dano-made Airline counterpart, the rare 1964 Ampeg Reverberocket with 6V6’s (wow, what an amp!) Lectrolab 600B (though this is the best of the bunch, IMO) and any number of other cheapie versions/variations of a Tweed Deluxe. It’s interesting that all these Chicago and New Jersey bargain companies were churning out these amps that now get called a “poor person’s Tweed Deluxe”—these great 6V6 amps with tons of snarl and growl long after Leo Fender had left Tweed pastures for the cleaner, tighter sound of the Tolex models. By 1964, when Danos and Lectrolabs were still sounding like proto-Neil Young dirt, Fender had long left behind the loose sag and grit of the Tweed Deluxe, replacing it with the much tighter, much stiffer (though still a cool amp) Deluxe Reverb.

Don’t get me wrong. The Deluxe Reverb is a great amp. But the Fenders I love pretty much all fall in the tweed era, where there wasn’t a ton of great headroom and you got into a nice snarl pretty early in the sweep of the volume knob.

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

You don’t see a bunch of the dual 6V6 single 12” Kays. The models you tend to see the most are the little (and somewhat anemic) single-ended practice amp, the 703. And the Kay tube amp you tend to see the least is the VERY cool duel 6L6 (sometimes) Kay 507 Twin Ten.

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

As the name suggests, the amp pushes two (ALNICO) 10” speakers powered by a pair of 6L6’s. What’s weird is that a LOT have 7868’s as output tubes and use a 7199 in the circuit. 7868’s have a great tone, in general. They are, from what I’ve read, essentially the same tube as a 7591, but with nine pins instead of eight. 7199’s got used a lot in Ampegs and Sanos and they are very rare and they aren’t made anymore, so they tend to cost a lot of dough. So, buyer beware (especially about the 7199) on this amp. BUT, the model I have has what are obviously original 6L6’s and no rare or obscure preamp tubes (five 12AX7’s do the preamp and phase inverter jobs) and the old stand-by 5U4 for rectification. Mine is all original—as the schematic inside matches what’s in the amp. But there seem to have been some variations on the construction of the 507—so, ask the seller about/check the tubes when buying so you know what your 507 has in it.

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

Also, it’s one of the coolest looking amps you’ll see. It has two channels (two inputs per channel), a VERY snazzy chrome rear control panel with six knobs (tone and volume for each channel and speed and intensity for the tremolo). And it has a very 50’s-looking two tone appearance (even though it lists that they were made 1960-1963), brown rear and light brown front with a white swirl on brown cloth grill. It’s a great size—not too heavy and 24” wide by 20” tall.

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

OK, it looks cool, but how does it sound? Pretty freaking cool. It sounds a lot like the other great Chicago amps of the same period. And this is where things get kind of interesting—who made these Kay amps? It has a tone very much like the great Valcos (which ended up branded, at various times, Supro, Airline and, in the 400 series, Harmony). And, like a Valco, it has a tone a bit like some of the great Lectrolabs, too (I’ve seen Lectrolabs branded under their own name and also with Philharmonic and the 300 series of Harmony amps). But, it’s not made by either Valco or Lectrolab (I get this info from a friend of mine who knows more about off-brand amps than anyone I know and has a collection to prove it). It also doesn’t look like a Valco or Lectrolab under the hood. It’s simply made differently (though it is point-to-point like both of those brand—no hand stuffed circuit board like on a Tweed Fender). According to my friend, it was Kay who actually made these Kay amps over these years (go figure). As I say, this friend knows a lot more than me and has written several books on the Chicago giants. Plus, it’s easy to tell from looking that it wasn’t made by Valco or Lectrolab. So, if it isn’t easy to tell who DID make it, at least we know who DIDN’T.

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

Whoever made it, though, it’s a wonderful amp. At low volume, you get a VERY rich and textured clean sound. The two ten inch speakers sound great and the cleans are very complex, much like a Tweed Fender Super from the early 50’s. This is one of the richest, thickest (without being overly dark) cleans I have ever heard in a vintage amp. And when you add the tremolo, wow! It moves from a VERY slow, pulsing tremolo, to a pretty fast one—but it never gets totally choppy and helicopter-sounding like a lot of the late 60’s tremolos. Throughout the range of the “strength” control, the tremolo stays watery and smooth. Just a killer sound.

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

Turned up, it sounds more like a 6V6 amp than most 6L6 amps I’ve ever heard. Very Neil Young and Crazy Horse. If you push the volume on the channel you’re using to 6 or higher, it starts to really snarl and have a complex great sounding distortion. The volume and tone controls are interactive, too, so you can get some very nice textures of distortion by either coupling the channels with a short cord, or just playing with the volume of the channel you’re not using. Open it up full and put the other channel around 5 or 6 and it sounds VERY much like Neil Young’s tone on RAGGED GLORY—that opening of “Country Home” sounds spot on when this amp is cranked.

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

It’s a sleeper. And there don’t seem to be too many of them out there. I haven’t heard the 7868 output tube version of this amp, but I’d sure like to. In any case, if you see one of the 507 Twin Tens with 6L6 output tubes, I’d buy it in a heartbeat. I’m doing a MAJOR purge around here—selling at least five guitars and five amps. And I kept going back and forth on the Kay 507. Then I plugged it in to write this and I decided I’d be nuts to get rid of it. There simply aren’t that many of them. And I don’t want to feel like I felt about letting go of my 4X6V6 Danelectro Challenger with a 15 inch speaker. That was another super rare amp I let go of, and I still get angry at myself. From now on, I’ve vowed to only get rid of stuff I could easily replace if I truly regretted the sale. So this one stays.

1960’s Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

I wasn’t in the market for any more amps, but how could I pass up this Lafayette LA-75? A buddy of mine (thanks Rob S.!) sent me an email, letting me know that this baby was on eBay for a really good price and that I should snatch it up. “If you love the (Valco-made) Harmony 415,” he said, knowing it was one of my favorites, “you’ll love this one. Similar output and tone, only out of one 12” instead of two.” And he was right—and then some. I do love the duel EL84 Valco/Harmony 415, but I think I like this little sleeper even more.

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

What’s to love? First of all, its Jetson-era Mid Century Modern styling that makes it pretty as a piece of vintage furniture. It’s a classy looking little box—the only American made amp it resembles is the nearly-equally cool looking Dano-made Silvertone 1432 (itself a bit of a sleeper, as it was a predecessor to the classic and easier to find 1472 and 1482 series). But while the 1432 relies on the classic duel 6V6 setup for its bluesy grind, the Lafayette runs two 7189s for output.

What’s the difference? Not much, actually in the tone of the amp. The design of an amp has at least as much to do with its tonal makeup as does its output tubes, and this little Japanese combo sounds much like Danelectro’s and the Chicago beasts of its era (Valco, Lectrolab and so on). It’s got the familiar thick, dark, lush tone at under 4 on the volume knob, and it has an impressive and small gig volume when it starts to get into its grind around 5 and up on the volume knob. And it has two channels, which you can jump to enrich both the chewy grind and the thickness of the amp.

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

Mine seems to have the original ALNICO speaker (Japanese amps don’t always share our speaker codes, so it’s hard to say what make it is) that sounds very much like a Jensen ALNICO I have in a 1958 Ampeg Mercury (I switched them and the tones are nearly identical).

What makes this amp unique among some of the great Japanese made amps of the same era? Its tone is actually very Valco. Dark, chewy, biting and fat, fat, fat. While some of the Guyatone’s and Univox’s have a tone all their own (which, no doubt, is very cool), the Lafayette 75 really has that great thick grind that the Chicago (and New Jersey, in Dano’s case) amps had that is perfect for jump blues and, when pushed, unhinged overdrive into Neil Young territory.

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

And now that Valco’s have become increasingly expensive (though still worth it in many cases), it’s put the amp lover on a budget hunting for other great amps that are still super affordable. Brands like Premier (in some cases), Hilgen, Univox, Guyatone, Alamo, Lectrolab and some Danelectro’s can still be found in nice shape in the $300 range. For hand-made point-to-point (or hand stuffed circuit boards) amps with good iron and great tone, you’d have to pay a lot more for a new boutique amp. And these can be had needing only minor work (in many cases). What’s not to love?

But back to this model 75. The lush depth of the 7189s is apparent throughout the volume range of the amp. The tremolo is rich and VERY 60’s sounding. It has more of a rounded, gentle wave than a sharp cut-off helicopter tremolo, with no noticeable (or apparent) volume drop when the effect is engaged.

Also, one of the cool things about the 7189s is that they are not like the 7189A’s that are in some great amps, such as the killer Magnatone M10 (and most of the Magnatone Suitcase series). Whereas the very expensive (and increasingly rare) 7189A can’t be substituted with 7189s OR with EL84s (without modification), the 7189 CAN use a rugged EL84 with no modification.

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

So, an amp with rich clean tones and a super overdrive sound that looks rad and weighs well under 30 pounds. Keep your eye out for this amp (and other Lafayette models—some of which were made by the same factory that made Univox amps—some don’t seem to be. It’s a crapshoot with 60’s Japanese amps).

Are there any problems with this amp? The handle rattles. Annoying, but hardly the end of the world…just use a little form when you’re recording. Not so bad.

It also digs pedals. I’ve added a germanium boost to this and it positively blooms on the notes. Add some reverb and the lower volume cleans are lush and astounding. In an amp/tone world where so many players are looking for the tone and range of the classic Tweed Deluxe, there are so many great tonal options in the 15 to 20 watt range. Enjoy and explore.

1960’s Kalamazoo Reverb 12 Combo Guitar Amplifier

Last month, I was talking about the very cool little Guyatone 535 model that takes 2 EL84s (6BQ5s) for a clean, very chimey, shimmering tone. Plenty of British sounding chime and a great amp for 12 strings and clean tones. And this month, I’m going to talk about the Kalamazoo Reverb 12. Here’s another dual EL84 combo that gives further evidence that the circuit design has a lot (most everything) to do with the tone of an amp as, beyond sharing the same output tubes, it has very little in common with last month’s entry in the cheap amp chronicles. This amp has some great cleans, too, but they are nice dark, woody cleans—not the glassy chime from last month’s entry.

Kalamazoo Reverb 12 Combo Guitar Amplifier

Kalamazoo Reverb 12 Combo Guitar Amplifier

There are some great amps to be found in the Kalamazoo line (Gibson’s cheaper amp line in the mid to late 60’s). Among these are the Kalamazoo 1 and 2, which are single-ended EL 84 amps, the latter with a nice tremolo. These are killer little practice and recording amps with a nice clean and a good over-driven tone. If you’re looking for a good alternative to a Champ, here’s a frugal way you might want to go.

For giggable power, check out two of the real sleepers of the Kalamazoo line: the Bass 30 and Bass 50 models. These are pretty lousy bass amps, but pretty wonderful and affordable guitar amps (how many sub-par bass amps, from the Fender Bassman, to the Ampeg Bassman, to these Kalamazoo models have been used for an unintended purpose as guitar amps to stellar results?). The Bass 30, with its funky, very simple flip-out control panel, runs on 7591s and has two sweet sounding 10” Jensens in a closed back setup. Loud, with lots of nice crunch and not too heavy to lift. If you can find one, you’ll be surprised at what great tone you can get out of it—especially with single coil guitars.

The Bass 50 shares the cool flip-out panel and the closed back cabinet, but generates its output from two EL34s through two Jensen 12” speakers. Tons of grind—and great overdriven tones with single coils AND humbuckers. This is even more rare and hard to find than the Bass 30, but it’s definitely worth hunting down for some awesome overdrive tones on the cheap.

And in between the little practice amps and the converted bass amps? Well, there sits the tops of the Kalamazoo line (such as it is): the Reverb 12. This is often cited as Kalamazoo’s answer to the Fender Princeton and, it’s true, it shares several of that amp’s makeup on the surface: Both are low wattage (about 12 watts) push-pull amps with 10 inch speakers and tremolo and reverb. But, beyond the surface, the similarities end. The Kalamazoo is not as loud as the Princeton, for one, and you’d need a pretty quiet drummer if you were going to use it along (without an extension cab) on a gig (not impossible, but the drummer would have to play pretty light or with brushes). Also, the Kalamazoo doesn’t really start to get into overdrive until pretty late in its game (between 8 and 10 on its “Loudness” control)—whereas the Princeton starts singing a little earlier in its volume range.

What do you get in the trade-off? Some great tone in that wonderful zone between total clean and full-out distortion (think that early great Jimmy Bryant tone—slightly clean, but with a nice textured amount of grit and hair in the mix).

Also, the reverb and the tremolo are VERY nice for such a small amp. It’s a very versatile, great sounding little combo that’s great for bedroom playing, small band practices and, of course, recording.

Kalamazoo Reverb 12 Combo Guitar Amplifier

Kalamazoo Reverb 12 Combo Guitar Amplifier

What’s under the hood? It’s a pretty simple, easy to work on design. Three 12AX7s (running the reverb driver, the tremolo oscillator, and the preamp and phase inverter duties), solid state rectification and two EL84’s for the output into a 10” speaker. I replaced the tired original CTS speaker in mine with a very efficient Celestion, and this really brought the amp to life—bringing out a LOT more volume and clarity and tonal dynamics. It’s a great little amp.

It’s also surprisingly versatile, as a result of the extension speaker output on the back. Run this little “practice” amp into a 4X10” cab, and wow, you suddenly have plenty of power for a gig! The amp also has an odd (for the era) RCA mono phono input (if you want to play along with a CD or one of those old-fangled records you hear us old timers talk about from time to time).

The control panel is simple, but kind of fun and funky, as it has, from left to right Loudness (instead of “Volume”), Treble (which also serves as the on/off switch, Bass, Frequency (for trem), Depth (also for trem), and Reverb. It has two inputs, but only one channel, and the inputs are the same level (that is neither is hotter than the other). The cab is ½ plywood and the construction is true point-to-point (not the hand-stuffed circuit board that often, erroneously, gets called point to point). It’s an easy to follow point to point—easy to work on, which you’ll probably have to do to at least replace the filter caps on these (which were a good deal cheater than the ones used by Fender, and they tend to go bad).

So, you get great cleans…a sweet singling overdrive when pushed to its limit and you can actually gig with it if you run an extension cab. AND they frequently (at least for now) sell for between $200 and $300. What’s not to love? Get yours now, while you can. A very cool amp, with its own sound—and a very usable sound at that.

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.