Classic Gear: Guitar Amps
Young aspiring musicians won’t narrow their eyes on some guitar amp and dream of one day becoming a rock star. That inspiration will strike first from the gleaming make of some classic guitar or keyboard, not the big ugly box they’re leaning on. But without a proper tribute to the beastly speaker boxes that made the sound of rock come alive, our classic gear series simply cannot continue.
The first thing you should know about these amps is they run on vacuum tubes. Tube Amps produce a warmer sound than Solid-State amplifiiers. In my opinion this is almost as significant as the difference between analog and digital. You can tell if it’s a tube amp by looking in the back for those big light bulb-like tubes, or if it takes a little while to warm-up after you click the ‘on’ switch. There are merits to Solid-State technology of course, but early in the 60s you had no other choice but a tube, lending to its revered and classic status.
According to this history of the AC30, the Shadows had a mutally beneficial relationship with this amp during its roll-out in 1959/60. Here’s a cut from Britain’s most influential rock instrumental album:
The Shadows “Theme From A Filleted Place”
Fender Twin Reverb
Another legendary guitar amp, the Twin Reverb was often paired with a Rhodes keyboard as well. Better known in their silverface models, the blackface is pictured at right as these were produced first between 1963 and 1967. Other classic models from Fender include the Deluxe Reverb or the Princeton Reverb, but the Twin remains its most iconic, resting at the apex of perfect guitar amp design.
One of the great things about the Twin Reverb was the built-in spring reverb unit. If you were to kick the amp or pick it up and drop it or shake it, you get this awesome storm effect from the spring clanging around. Bands would often do this during the melt down of a live show; it’s a classic easter egg effect. You can hear Roy Nichol’s Tele & Twin combination on Merle Haggard’s Okie From Muskogee live album (source).
Spring Reverb Demo on Farfisa Compact by Brendan
Merle Haggard “Okie From Muskogee (Live)”
Sometimes a combo amp like those above had the right sound, but couldn’t visually communicate the ferocious roar contained within. Enter the Marshall Stack. A Marshall head amplifier resting atop a speaker cabinet (or two) has an image that immediately communicates “loud.” Legend has it that the Marshall stack was invented when Pete Townshend asked Jim Marshall to build him a “weapon” to overpower rowdy audiences. Marshalls from the mid to late 60s had plexiglass faceplate covers, which earned them the “Plexi” nickname. The Marshall stack is the preferred rig of guitar gods like Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend and the classic solution for the guitarist who wants it as big and loud as possible. As Spinal Tap fans know, Nigel Tufnel had his Marshall’s volume knob modded to go “up to 11.”
The Who “The Ox”
The Beatles with their AC30s “She Loves You”