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Collectible Guitar Amp Brands (UK)
UK amps – Last month we discussed the main vintage USA brands. This month is an overview of vintage UK guitar amps. There were a lot of different companies in the UK making guitar amps. Most of them were lower powered amps for home and small club use; that is, until Marshall came along. Guitarists in the UK, including those in the UK bands who became famous, grew up playing EL84 based amps from Watkins and Selmer. When they got a little more famous, they graduated to VOX, HiWatt, and Marshall.
Marshall: Marshall started life as a variation of the Fender 5F6-A Bassman. The Bassman was a 4 x 10” combo. The Marshall JTM45 was a head with small circuit variations and had a separate 4 x 12” cabinet (later available as a combo). Originally around 35 watts clean, the JTM45 quickly morphed into more aggressive and powerful amps. 35 watts became 50 and Marshall developed 100 watt amps for the guitarists who were playing large venues and in bands with louder bassists and drummers. Most of the early original 50 and 100 watt amps all had two channels and four inputs and were known as “plexis” (for the clear front and back plastic panels), which changed in to metal panels mid 1969. These were manly amps without master volume controls so you had to play loud in order to get them to crunch. Marshall also offered great sounding 18 watt combos which were based on the Watkins Dominator (more on that later). I prefer the 1×12” and 2×12” versions over the more ubiquitous 2×10” amp. The 20 watt heads while different, also sound great. All of the above are highly collectible. Somewhat less desirable but still good sounding early Marshalls include the Popular, a 10 watt combo that looks like the 18 and 20 combos but sounds very different. If you are looking for tone stay away from the Mercury and Specialist combos.
VOX: their first guitar amp was a 15 watter designed by Dick Denney and perfected in the third version. They also made a 30 watt version which as time went on and the circuits refined the AC15 and AC30 defined many of the classic sounds of the 1960s which are still used today by many. Just about all of the great bands which came out of the UK in the 1960s played VOX at one time or other. The key to the AC15/30 is the combination of an EL84 power amp with no negative feedback and a relatively simple preamp. VOX also made lower powered great sounding amps such as the AC2, AC4 and AC10, as well as the robust AC50 and AC100. All of these are highly collectible.
VOX was on the cutting edge of technology and one of the first amps to incorporate solid state devices (in both UK and USA designed and marketed amps). They also offered what turned out to be a very limited hybrid line of amps from the UK. The solid state and hybrid VOX amps are appealing because they look amazing and were used on classic recordings, especially by the Beatles. These amps are collectible but in my humble opinion, the tube amps sound much better.
There is an amazing book on VOX called “The VOX Guidebook, The JMI Years” by Jim Elyea. It may be the best and most comprehensive book ever written on musical instrument products.
Hiwatt: The brick-“s”-house of guitar amps. Hiwatt amps were built by Dave Reeves to military specs with perfect solder joints, wire angles and over speced Partridge transformers. He used circuits new to guitar amps which had plenty of headroom. These amps were loud! Various bands used Hiwatt amps over time but the most famous was the Who. Pete Townshend is one of the main reasons for their collectability today.
Watkins: Charlie Watkins made some great sounding and collectible combo amps. The most sought after is the Dominator, because it sounds great and looks amazing in the two-tone V front design. Other great sounding Watkins amps include the Westminster, Scout, Clubman, Warrior Bass, Custom 15, Mersey Super 15 and the very rare Joker which included a Watkins Copycat tape echo built in!
Avoid the later Dominator II and III as well as the Westminster amps from the 1970 which had very different circuits.
More info at: http://www.vintagehofner.co.uk/britamps/watkins.html
Selmer offered a wide variety of great sounding heads and combos. Their cosmetics changed over the years and all of them are striking in appearance. My favorites are the crocodile covered Constellation (especially with twin silver Alnico speakers) and the Zodiac Twin 30.
More info at: http://www.vintagehofner.co.uk/gallery/gallery3/selm.html
Much more on these great brands in future articles.
New dtb feature! Clean channel boost!
A new, extremely useful feature has been added to the “dual tone booster”. It’s a full-range boost on the clean channel. It is controlled by the Boost 2 foot and front panel switches. This is an often requested feature that can be used to increase volume when playing at low levels, push the clean channel into mild overdrive when playing a mid levels or to provide crunch when already pushing the clean channel into power amp distortion.
Park amp review in ToneQuest magazine
The new issue of the ToneQuest Report has an interview of Mitch Colby and a review of the Limited Edition Top Mount Park 45 head. “Colby’s Park head sounds as if it were a virgin time capsule. Highly recommended for the ultimate “M” tone. $3,500 and worth it”
Check out the ToneQuest Park 45 review.
Colby amps introduces Park amplifiers
Colby is proud to announce the addition of Park amps to its product line. Park amps are newly built British style guitar amplifiers made the old fashioned way. The organic tone of these beautifully built amps is both inspiring and fun to play. Check out the new amps at the Park website.
ToneQuest Review Post
Check out the latest issue of “the ToneQuest Report“. Included are interviews with Mitch Colby, Jim Weider and a review of the dtb50. Click here to view the latest issue of the “the ToneQuest Report“.