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Vintage Electric Guitar Amplifiers

By Edited Aug 15, 2015 0 0

Vox AC30

Amplification for guitars originally developed in the 1930s and was based on radio and high-fidelity (hi-fi) technology of the day. However, the first major advances were made in the 1950s, with the dawning of rock'n'roll in the US, and the "beat boom" in the UK.

Many Fender and Vox amplifier models from this era are now vintage items, prized for their tone and quality of distortion, Sort of like the hissing and popping from a 45 inch vinyl- record or album, compared to a compact disc recording. One has character and soul in its sound, distortions and delivery, the other is filtered and clean through all the ranges. Surely, the manufacturers didn't mean to include the harsh "edge", "distortion" in its amplifier designs to begin with.

The 1960s saw the Marshal Stack –a power full amplifier with ether one or two 4 x 12 inch speaker cabinet –where distortions at high levels are purely intentional. Techs continually squeezed more gain and greater distortion from the Marshal and Fender designs. By the end of the decade, all major brand amplifiers had a master volume switch to control distortion at any volume level and many other innovations as well.


If a very high-level signal is fed into an amplifier, for instance when playing a humbucker-equipped guitar, the early preamplifier stages distort to give a fussy, sustaining edge. Using the amplifier on full volume pushes the power stage to the limit, producing a different kind of distortion and in classic valve designs a loose, warm sound. Overworked speaker cones also contribute to this effect.

polytone mini-brute

Small Amplifiers

One might think that a large heavy combo, or a powerful amp-top plus 4x12 must be better than a small old-fashioned combo with a modest power rating. Many older models, through, are prized for their distinctive tone, classic good looks, fine build-up quality and the fact that they can be wound up loud for natural tube distortion and compression at clubs and gigs.

Tube or Solid state

Tube and transistors type amplifiers both amplify guitars signals but the two technologies produce very different sounds. Solid state models tend to be small and cheap to produce. They offer wide-band sound at low frequencies but may lack harmonic richness. Tube amplifiers give interesting tones and tasteful overload but are less effective for producing high –gain sound.

Hybrid amplifiers

There are two types of hybrid amplifiers. The first has tubes in the power-stage; the second combines a solid-state front end with a tube power state. The tubes are often included as an option on certain models.

Some Vintage Amplifier Models

Polytone Mini-Brute 1…1978

The Marshall Stack...1960s..

Fender Vibrolux…1960s..

4 x 10 Fender Bassman...1957..

Vox AC15…AC30…1950s..

Mesa/Boogie Sound…1970s, 80s..

Fender Tin Reverb ...1950s..

Getting the Most from your vintage amplifier

Vintage amplifiers can be sometimes seem unyielding. They often have to be played at full volume to produce the right distortion and compression, while the dry sound and lack of reverb may be unattractive in a confined space. One solution involves using a speaker simulator. These soak up the excess power of the amplifier, turn it into heat and leave a signal that may be sent directly to a speaker, mixing desk, or cd / recorder. The major drawback is that old style power-tubes and output transformers are heavily stressed by regular use at full volume. Older speakers should last for a long time

Solid state technology- programmable pre-amps, digital effects, midi control, FETs, ICs MOSFETs and so on were meant to phase out the 'old Fashion" tube amplifiers but this has not succeeded, even after decades of innovation. Many vintage models have been re-issued back into production.


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