3 Classic Guitar Amps Worth Re-Amping Through
Salvaged, cared for and restored in all their glory, here are three very special amps from the early days of audio amplification technology.
The EH-150 might be considered ‘boutique’ by today’s standards, but in the pre-WWII era, it was one of the most influential and recognizable amps ever built.
For its time, the early EH-150 models dating back to 1936 were specifically designed for the early electrified guitars such as the Gibson E-150. They were the first amplifiers to promote the idea of tone manipulation, as opposed to simply amplifying the incoming signal. Gibson pioneered the tone knob on the aluminum-bodied Hawaiian lap-steel guitars, which allowed the roll-off of high frequencies. The company had complemented this feature with a simple tone switch on the EH-150 amplifier. Both the knob on the guitar and tone switch on the amp were meant to allow the musician to create a wide palette of sounds using the two controls – a revolutionary idea at that time.
Throughout its lifetime, the EH-150 saw several revisions which added a larger speaker (from 10” to 12” in 1937) more functionality, more tubes and improved on the basic design of 1935. The most common version is the post 1940s EH-150 (available for remote re-amping via The Audio Hunt), which features a tone potentiometer knob (as opposed to a simple switch available on previous models), a tube phase invertor with a twin-triode 6N7 replacing the transformer, three 6SQ7 high-mu triodes, as well as a 5U4 rectifier tube.
While the EH-150 has clearly made its mark on the history of guitar amplification systems, its unique tone will always be loved for its distinctive qualities. Many great players have had fruitful relationships with the Gibson EH-150, especially the 12″ model, which was most notably made famous by Charlie Christian.
Widely regarded as one of the most unusual guitar amplifiers in many respects, this 1950s Premier 88 produces a wide variety of sounds.
Instead of the conventional rotary knobs on the control panel, the Premier features five organ-style levers which act as bandpass filters. That's to say that if you depress all 5 levers, you get the full tonal spectrum. If you depress none of the levers, you get silence.
But the oddities of this model go a step further. The unit consists of an amplifier and a speaker cabinet joined together in a suitcase-style configuration which reminds of early portable computer designs – perhaps the Premier 88 acted as inspiration for the 1983 Compaq I PC. The amp and speaker cabinet sit side-by-side and are held in place using luggage latches.
In terms of sound, apart from the lever-controlled bandpass filters, the Premier 88 also features a great-sounding tremolo circuit capable of achieving extreme effects. Overall, this amp is yet another classic example of early guitar amplifier design, boasting a unique design and an equally unique warm and smooth sound.
Ten years after the introduction of the final series of Gibson EH-150s amps, Magnatone releases model 460, a continuation to the widely popular model 260.
This 1962 Magnatone 460 is a two-channel amplifier which uses ten vacuum tubes. Early models made use of 6EU7 tubes in the preamp stage, before eventually being replaced by the 12AX7, in later models. The power section featured a 6L6GC complement, while the rectifier is built around the 5U4GB valve. Together with the rest of the tube complements, these are the secret ingredients for the thick and unmistakably musical sound of vintage Magnatone amplifiers.
But perhaps one of the most impressive features of the Magnatone 460 was the built-in effects section. The amp features a cavernous reverb unit which predates Fender's in its implementation – believe it or not, there was guitar reverb before Fender. The 460 model also features a true pitch-shifting vibrato section inherited from its predecessor, model 260. The pitch-shifter has widely been considered one of the best sounding vibrato modules ever built into a guitar amplifier. Check it out below.