Ampeg

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Ampeg Portaflex B-15N (early 1970s)

Ampeg is primarily a musical instrument amplifier manufacturer headquartered in Woodinville, Washington, though they also manufacture guitars to a small extent. Although the company specializes in the production of bass guitar amplification, Ampeg also manufactures electric guitar and double bass amplifiers.

History[edit]

Ampeg was first named in 1946 as "Michaels-Hull Electronic Labs", a partnership between Everett Hull, a pianist and bassist, and Stanley Michaels. The first products were a pickup designed by Hull for upright bass, and instrument amplifiers that had minimal output distortion, which jazz musicians favored. The pickup was called the "Amplified Peg", which became "Ampeg". Michaels left the company to Hull, who named it "Ampeg Bassamp Company".

In 1986, St. Louis Music (SLM) bought the company. SLM was subsequently bought by Loud Technologies in 2005.

Ampeg SVT Classic
Bass rig with Ampeg SVT-6 Pro

Ampeg now[edit]

The current Ampeg company is mainly successful in the field of bass amps. They also have a line of guitar amplifiers and a remake of the Dan Armstrong guitar and bass.

In 2005, Ampeg, and its parent company, St. Louis Music (also makers of Crate amps) was purchased by LOUD Technologies Inc., an umbrella company name given to describe the family of brands now consisting of Mackie brand of mixers, pro audio and recording equipment, Crate amplifiers, Alvarez Guitars, Martin Audio U.K., and Eastern Acoustic Works. In March 2007, Loud ceased production of Ampeg and Crate at the manufacturing facility in Yellville, AR, outsourcing the manufacture of Ampeg and Crate to contract manufacturers in Asia.

A major selling point for Ampeg in the past was that it was designed and made in America, and its brand image and history (stretching back over 65 years) is considered among the most iconic and great American brands such as Harley Davidson. Today, the Ampeg Heritage Series, and Pro Neo cabinet line are still built in the U.S.A. and all new products are designed in Woodinville, WA, by U.S. musicians/engineers.

Amplifiers[edit]

Ampeg SVT VR "Vintage Reissue"

Innovations and characteristics[edit]

Ampeg holds six U.S. patents under the Ampeg brand name. In 1960 Jess Oliver created a combo amplifier with a chassis that could be inverted and tucked inside the speaker enclosure to protect the vacuum tubes. This combo bass amp became known as the Portaflex and remained a popular choice through the 1960s. In 1961, Ampeg became the first company to incorporate reverberation (reverb) in an amplifier with its Reverberocket, which preceded Fender's Vibroverb amp by nearly two years.

A particular characteristic of Ampeg amplifiers of the 1960s is that they were designed to be used for jazz and other types of music where distortion was not sought after—as Everett Hull had a major contempt for rock and roll music, and his hope that it being merely a "passing fancy" never materializing, only manifested his dismissive attitude towards the genre. Not only did he loathe the presence of rock musicians visiting the (then) New Jersey-based facility, but his narrow-minded bias served as something of a corporate liability, in his apparent unwillingness to market Ampeg amps to rock musicians, as Ampeg didn't go out of its way to seek endorsements from pop/rock bands and musicians, despite plenty of them using Ampeg products at one time or another (the closest they came to a rock'n roll endorser at one point, was by way of Joe Long, a left-handed bass player with the Four Seasons, who played the company's "Horizontal" Bass, with its unique f-holes that went completely through the body, and it's "bass fiddle" scroll-type headstock and tuning keys). This was further compounded by the one chief competitor Hull disliked the most; Fender, as they continually bested Ampeg in overall sales.

Hull also naively believed that the accordion was just as popular as ever, and denoted "accordion" jacks on certain amp models. Hull would grudgingly acknowledge rock'n roll music, via advertising copy for Ampeg's "Supercombo" bass amp, introduced in 1959. The Reverberocket would become another exception to that rule, as an amplifier with 6V6 tubes which sounded "Fendery" and did break up in a way that rock and roll players could use.[1]

Hull sold Ampeg in 1968 to Unimusic a company consisting of investors who, not unlike the "brain trust" at CBS, which owned Fender; and later, Norlin which owned Gibson Guitars, were not well-versed in musical instrument/amplification manufacturing. Even more telling, was that Everett Hull was wrongly under the impression that the new owners would act more as a "partnership"; instead, his role within the company was slowly, but noticeably being usurped from him; he tendered his resignation soon after.

It was during Unimusic's reign, that Dan Armstrong would be brought on board, and along with the opening of regional offices in places like Nashville, and the West Coast, the company's previously stoggy image would be dealt with, once and for all, especially with the creation of the all-new SVT amp, which would be "field-tested" by none other than the Rolling Stones during their 1969 concert tour. Additionally, Keith Richards would be playing (at least part-time) Dan Armstrong's newly designed see-through body guitar.

The Ampeg GVT series, introduced ca. 2010, is a series of tube amplifiers built in South Korea, noteworthy because they employ the Baxandall tone circuit.[2]

Super Valve Technology[edit]

During the 1960s Ampeg only produced fairly low wattage combo amplifiers. Rock concerts were becoming increasingly large affairs and bigger amplifiers were needed. In 1969, Ampeg's Chief Engineer Bill Hughes designed the Super Valve Technology circuitry for the amplifier of the same name. At 85 lb (39 kg), the Ampeg SVT provided 300 watts of RMS power, considerably more than most other bass amplifiers of the era. The high power rating made the SVT a candidate for use in larger venues. The SVT saw widespread use by rock acts in the 1970s and is still considered by many to be the world standard reference bass amp. The SVT-VR (Vintage Reissue) is almost identical in design and construction and the closest thing to any of the original SVT models produced by Ampeg.

Collectability and playability[edit]

Compared to the major brands Fender and Marshall, the collectability and playability of the guitar amps is a mixed affair. While vintage Fender amps always command high prices, Ampeg guitar amps such as the Reverberocket can often be found for a decent price.[1] In general, Ampeg guitar amps until 1964 are not very much wanted as they have a dark, moody sound and remain very clean, even when pushed hard. With the introduction of the Galaxy line (Gemini, Mercury, Reverberocket) in 1964, treble boost circuits and spring reverbs were added, and higher wattage models (such as the 30 watt Gemini II) were made available. Many of these models are underrated, take pedals well, and are the best buys for guitar amps from that time period. Original SVT bass amps are very much sought-after for their fat, clear, punchy sound. V series guitar amps (V2 and V4 heads along with the VT-40 and VT-22 combos) are sought after for the classic 70s crunchy but clean sound. The V4-B is another sought after bass amp head; being it has the SVT pre-amp section mated to a 100 Watt power amp section.

Instruments and accessories[edit]

Zorko Bass
Ampeg Baby Bass

Ampeg also manufactured (or had manufactured for them) lines of quirky but distinctive instruments to complement their amplifiers. This began around 1962 with the Baby Bass, an electric upright bass with a full-size wooden neck and a cello-sized Uvex plastic body (not fiberglass, as is often stated). The design was purchased from Zorko, re-engineered by Jess Oliver, and manufactured in a corner of Ampeg's Linden, New Jersey factory. It appeared in Ampeg's price list until about 1970, and overall, weren't terribly popular; the exception being with some bassists in Latin Salsa-music bands, on account of the instrument's reputedly "thoompy" sound.

In the early 1960s, Ampeg-branded guitars and basses were produced by Burns of London, but these instruments did not sell well, because the cost of importing the instruments made them too expensive compared to Fenders and Gibsons. Baldwin's purchase of Burns in 1965 ended the association with Ampeg.

Ampeg AEB-1 Horizontal Bass
Dan Armstrong Plexi (1970)

In 1966, Ampeg introduced their home-built line of long-scale "Horizontal Basses" (aka "scroll" or "f-hole" basses), both fretted and fretless (reputed to be the first production fretless electric bass). Some with different bodies were produced as the "Devil Bass" with distinctive horns, but the circuitry was identical. Originally using a transducer below the bridge, they were redesigned around 1968 to use a conventional magnetic pickup. At the same time, short-scale fretted and fretless basses, with magnetic pickups, were also produced.

In 1969 the Horizontal Basses were replaced by the Dan Armstrong-designed and -built "see-through" guitars and basses (aka "Plexi,[3] "Lucite" or "crystal" named after various brand names of acrylic glass). The guitars incorporated snap-in replaceable pickups to change the sound, and the short-scale basses used two stacked coils with a pan pot to gain a very wide range of tones. The transparent lucite bodies were Armstrong's original idea and contributed to incredibly long sustain but were very heavy. Ampeg's production of the "see-through" instruments ended in 1971 due to financial disagreements between Armstrong and Ampeg over amplifier designs. It was also during the Unimusic era, that Ampeg became a distributor of Grammer acoustic guitars, a small company founded by Country singer-guitarist Billy Grammer, probably best known for his 1958 crossover hit, "Gotta Travel On," and his appearances on (American) entertainer Jimmy Dean's TV show.

In the mid-1970s, Ampeg had a line of Japanese-made guitars and basses under the "Stud" name. The guitars included the Stud, Heavy Stud, and Super Stud, and the basses included the Big Stud and Little Stud. The Studs were knock-offs of popular Fender and Gibson instruments. Some of the Stud instruments were poorly built (e.g. the plywood bodies and necks on the Little Stud), while others had good-quality features (e.g., gold-plated hardware on the Super Stud). In the early '70s, Ampeg was acquired by Magnavox, a company better known for televisions, radios and Hi-Fi systems, which also owned Selmer, the Band Instrument manufacturer. This would lead to a distributorship deal with the Swedish guitar company, Hagstrom. In the late 1990s, Ampeg reissued the Baby Bass, the Horizontal Bass, and the "See-Through" instruments, as well as wooden instruments based on the "See-Through" design.

Ampeg also produced effects pedals, including stand-alone reverb units in the 60s, the Scrambler (distortion) from 1969 (a resurgence in interest resulted in an updated Scrambler being reissued in 2005 along with Sub-Blaster (octaver) that produced a note one octave down), the Phazzer (phaser) from the mid- to late-70s, and a line of nine stomp boxes produced in Japan in the mid-80s. In the mid-'90s, classic Ampeg guitar amps like the Jet and the Reverberocket were reissued under the "Diamond Blue Series" designation; complete with the classic bluish-colored checkerboard covering synonymous with their amps in the '60s. The venerable Portaflex bass amp was also reissued, this time with necessary updates to make them more appealing to modern-style bass players. There were also Ampeg branded accessories that included covers, picks, strings, straps, polish, as well as two practice amps, the Sound Cube and the Buster (a Pignose clone). Currently, Ampeg mostly offers covers, some outerwear, and a few other accessories with their logo.

References[edit]

  • Hopkins, Gregg; Moore, Bill (1999). Ampeg: The Story Behind the Sound. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard. ISBN 0-7935-7951-1. 
  • Fjestad, Zachary R. (2009). "Ampeg/Dan Armstrong Ampeg". Blue Book of Electric Guitars (12 ed.). Blue Book Publications. ISBN 978-1-886768-93-2. 
  • Fjestad, Zachary R. (2010). "Ampeg". Blue Book of Guitar Amplifiers (4 ed.). Blue Book Publications. ISBN 978-1-936120-05-5. 
  1. ^ a b Hunter, Dave (January 2013). "The Ampeg R-12-R Reverberocket". Vintage Guitar. pp. 58–60. 
  2. ^ Thompson, Art (December 2011). "Ampeg GVT5-110, GVT15H, and GVT52-112". Guitar Player. pp. 96–102. 
  3. ^ "New Ampeg Dan Armstrong Plexi Bass". Ampeg. March 10, 2008. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]