Collectible Guitar Amp Brands (USA)

The last two columns highlighted the things to look for and how to avoid pitfalls when buying vintage amps. Now to the fun stuff; an overview of collectible amp brands. We will go into further detail in future articles.
We collect amps for the same reasons we collect guitars. We want to recreate the iconic sounds our favorite players shaped in their prime when our musical tastes were formed. Or we want an arsenal of various tonal possibilities. Or we just like the way they look. This month will focus on some of the best US brands. From Fender to Ampeg to Gibson to Silvertone, Supro and Standel, each brand has its sonic, emotional and cosmetic signature.
Fender – the father and mother of guitar amp brands. Fender brought us so many great amps entire books have been written on the subject. Starting with the “Woodies”, then Tweed, then Blonde/Brown, to Blackface and even up to some of the Silverface amps, vintage Fender amps defined good guitar tone. Just about every guitarist either uses or used a Fender one time or another. Leo Fender worked with some of the best guitarists of the time to set the standard for jazz and country clean tones. Guitarists pushed them to achieve bluesy grind, or aggressive and biting Tele tones. Many Fenders are the best platform for pedals.
Ampeg – originally designed for jazz players, Ampeg evolved to something the originators never envisioned. The blue checkered amps were ubiquitous in the 1960s and were the East Coast alternative to Fender. Ampegs were the standard for recording in New York. Every studio had a B15 and still should! There was a club of studio guitarists who had exclusive access to the amps (with keys for the On/Off switches) which were provided by Ampeg to the NY studios. The later amps were used by numerous rock bands (maybe most notably the Rolling Stones) and the SVT bass amp became the defacto standard for touring bands.
Gibson – was there from the beginning. Some of the first amplified sounds were heard through a Gibson as played by Charlie Christian. There are many models in various shapes and sizes with numerous innovations. Some of them are fantastic sounding amps. The early EH series are great as novelties and from a historic perspective but Gibson started to come into its own with the brown and two tone amps that came after 1945. The GA5 and GA20 are two of my favorites. They are great overdriven amps and are found in many a studio. Some Epiphone branded amps and had the same exact circuits but with different names and cosmetics. Gibson started to lose it in the mid 1960s. Beware of Gibsons with white control panels and rough black tolex. There is a reason they are inexpensive.
Standel – Bob Crooks was a true innovator. Standel was ahead of its time and incorporated features before more famous companies. Some of the “firsts” include JBL speakers, controls on the front, piggyback, closed back cabinets and separate treble and bass controls. The earliest all-tube amps are the most collectible and for good reason. Some of them sound fantastic. They were used extensively by country artists.
Silvertone – the house brand of Sears, Silvertone amps were the first amps bought by countless fledgling guitarists. This was possible through the wide Sears distribution network with their multiple country-wide retail locations and ubiquitous catalog. They offered a range of reasonably priced guitars and amps. Silvertone recently had a resurgence when Jack White used them early in his career. Inexpensively made but nice sounding amps. Usually found with Jensen speakers.
Supro – Supro was Valco’s amplifier brand. Valco also made amplifiers for other brands such as Danelectro, Ward’s Airline, National and Harmony. Some of them were identical to the Supro products, some different. The early single and dual 6V6 models are still coveted for recording. One favorite is the Supro Thunderbolt. It is a two 6L6 bass amp with a 15” speaker and just one Volume and one Tone control. It is a great overdriven guitar amp. Some people claim that Jimmy Page used it on the early Led Zep records. Some say it was a different Supro.
Next month, UK brands…..