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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.
Ampeg first named in 1946" 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 to have minimal output distortion that 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.
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.
Innovations and characteristics
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 the early 1950s, 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--designer Everett Hull reportedly hated rock and roll. The Reverberocket was one 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.
Super Valve Technology
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
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. 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
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.
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.
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, "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.
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 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. 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.
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (February 2008)|
- 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.
- Hunter, Dave (January 2013). "The Ampeg R-12-R Reverberocket". Vintage Guitar. pp. 58–60.
- Thompson, Art (December 2011). "Ampeg GVT5-110, GVT15H, and GVT52-112". Guitar Player. pp. 96–102.
- "New Ampeg Dan Armstrong Plexi Bass". Ampeg. March 10, 2008.
- Hopkins, Gregg, Moore, Bill, "Ampeg Horizontal Basses: From Liden, NJ. to Linden Avenue, Burbank, CA.", Vintage Guitar (magazine), March 1997.