There’s more to Gibson than some legendary guitars! Guest blogger Rob Roberge writes about a great little vintage amp – the The Gibson Minuteman GA-20 RVT. Gibson electric guitars, it’s hardly a secret, have been the dominant rival of Fenders since the early 1950’s. But that’s pretty much where the companies competitions part ways as far […]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Among the best deals out there are the Japanese-made Univox tube amps of the mid to late 60’s. There are some rare birds out there that are worth keeping an eye open for, but the one you see most often, among the low-priced, great sounding Univox tube amps, is the U-45B Model.
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