Saturday, January 30, 2010

Guitars With Built In Amplifiers

When the transistor radio was invented, a light bulb went off in the minds of electric guitar and amplifier designers.

This resulted in Fender introducing their first line of transistor amplifiers in 1965. These models had a very short fate and were pulled off of the market.

Of course other manufacturers jumped on the transistor design. It was cheaper and the need for those pesky tubes was eliminated.

For some of these manufacturers another idea occurred. Why not make an electric guitar with a built in battery powered amplifier. Transistors provided a way to house much smaller components in an amplifier chassis.

In 1956 the Eveready Corporation invented the small rectangular nine volt battery, eliminating housing 6 AA or AAA batteries which took up more room and were more expensive.

Some of the first guitars with built in amplifiers came from the Asian nations, specifically Japan and others were manufactured in Europe.

Teisco TGR-1
The Teisco Company of Japan got it’s name from the acronym for the Tokyo Electric Instrument and Sound Company.

Teisco produced their own products under the Del Ray name, which sounded Spanish.

Spain equated with guitars back in the 1940’s and 50’s that were not Hawaiian style guitars.

Teisco produced an odd shaped guitar designated as model TGR-1. The lower section of this guitar housed a low wattage amplifier that could be turned off an on with a slider switch. The amp section ran off of 2 nine volt batteries. The back of the speaker coil was slightly larger than the guitar, so a round metal cover was put on the back of the body. The front of the guitar’s scratchplate was metal and house twin pickups, volume and tone knobs, the slider switch and slats cut out above the speaker section.

There were three European models. Two were manufactured by Davoli. One was under the Wandre name which we have discussed previously with the post about Pioli Wandre.

The first and the oddest is the Davoli Bikini guitar.

During the time of its arrival the bikini was all the rage for beach wear and everyone was talking about the skimpy little outfits that left little to the imagination.

The Davoli Bikini derived its name from the fact that the amplifier section was not contain within the guitar, but was a separately housed round unit that attached to the guitars lower bout by a couple of metal brackets and a section to house the wiring. Hence it was in two pieces.

The amplifier section was housed in a large round plastic enclosure designed with a plastic grill, similar to the guard plate of an electric fan.

The amplifier was a German made Kraandal CT642.

The guitar section was oddly shaped and covered with a celluloid material, which seemed to be the case with many Italian made guitars. It had twin pickups attached to a chrome plate with pushbutton switches and an on/off slider switch.

Pioli Wandre had hooked up with Davoli and used Davoli pickups in most of his models. He created a guitar with a built in speaker that was named the Meazzi Hollywood. This guitar looked more like what one would image a guitar to resemble. However true to Wandre’s artistic design, it was very misshapen.

This instruments neck was made of wood instead of the aluminum used on most of his guitars and the body was made out of plastic. It had one Davoli pickup with a plastic cover, a volume potentiometer and an on/off throw switch. This guitar also purportedly used the same Kraadal CT642 amplifier.

Hofner, from Germany, had created an amp-in-guitar they named the Bat. I believe it was profiled in Vintage Guitar Magazine last year. It had an odd shape, but at least it was symmetrical.

The upper section of the guitar’s lower bout housed the amplifier. The top of the guitar had a fairly complicated design above the speakers grill. The bottom section housed the same control panel found on their Violin bass and other Hofner instruments.

The back access panel was made from part of the wood that had been carefully sawed off of the guitars back. This gave it a much classier look than just slapping a piece of plastic on the guitars back. The amplifier was designed by Hofner.

We have discussed a little bit about Kay guitars. This company started out in 1890 under the name Groeschl Musical Instrument Company. Henry Kuhrmeyer was an employee that rose through the ranks to become the owner of the company. They were the biggest musical instrument company in the world at one point.

They took their name from Mr. Kuhrmayer's middle initial. Kay produced a guitar called the Kay Busker. Although I cannot seem to find much information about this guitar, I do recall it being shaped somewhat like a Les Paul and contained a speaker in the lower bout.

Kay also produced a Busker that had a Telecaster-like appearance.

For the uninitiated Busking is a word that means playing as a street musician.

More recently there are about four models of guitars with built in amplifiers that can be deemed guitars as opposed to toy guitars.

The first is the Fernandez Nomad and Nomad Deluxe.

The Nomad’s body comes in a number of colors including red, white and blue.

Fernandez Nomad

The body has sort of a crescent shape with a cutaway design. The speaker is on the top bout. The headstock resembles a large banana and the maple neck is full sized. There is one humbucking pickup near the bridge. The bridge is a Fender adjustable style bridge. The controls are a volume knob and a two way throw switch. The amp produces 5 watts.

The Nomad Deluxe has all the same features and shape of the regular Nomad, plus a DigiTech multi-effects processor with drum machine.

The processor gives you 25 programmable effects (10 at once), 40 factory presets and 40user created presets, including amp, cab, pickup, and mic models.

This guitar comes with an input for an expression pedal input and contains a built chromatic tuner. Besides the built-in speaker this guitar has a headphone output jack.

The Synsonics Terminator features a built-in amp and speaker. I am not certain if this guitar/amp is still available. It wasn’t quite as well constructed as some of the previously mentioned models.

It came with a single coil pickup Asian made pickup and a tremolo bar. Some models had two single coil pickups.

These guitars were manufactured in Korea during 1989 through 1990.

A similar guitar may be sold today under the trade name First Act.

Finally Pignose Industries, the maker of those little battery powered amplifiers, has been offering a guitar with built-in speaker for sale since the late 1990’s.

The model PGG 100 houses a built in amplifier that produces 1 watt and runs on a nine volt battery.

The speaker is housed under the strings in the same place the soundhole would be on an acoustic guitar.

The guitar has a unique double cutaway design with a small body. The neck has a 24 ¼” length and a 3+3 headstock. The bridge is an adjustable Fender style unit.

Pignose recently introduced an upgraded model. The model PGG 100 Deluxe which has the same features, plus gold tone hardware, Binding on the neck body and headstock, plus block inlays on the fretboard. Both guitars have a single Pignose stacked humbucker and a volume potentiometer with the famous pignose knob.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Silvertone Amplifiers - Model 1483 Bass Amp and Model 1484 Guitar Amp

Although this blog is specifically about unique guitars, I figure every now and then I ought to mention amplifiers, since they are so crucial to the electric guitar sound.

When I was about 13 years old, I met a kid that lived a block away named Doug Abbott.

Doug became my best friend. We grew up learning to play music together.

Doug had just bought a single pickup Silvertone bass. This model was a single cutaway Danelectro model with the penquin headstock.

This was one of the Silvertone/Danos with the coke bottle headstock.

A few months later he had saved up enough of his lunch money to buy a Silvertone amplifier. The model he purchased was the 1483 bass amp.

The 1483 was a straightforward bass amplifier with the functions modeled after the 6G6 model Fender bassman (with head and cabinet 1961-64) and the 1965 blackface model.

The model 1483 took it lead from the model 1473 which had been discontined in 1963.

The 1483 was similar, but was a combo model. It was listed in the Spring/Summer 1965 catalog simply as "The Bass Amplifier."

The 1483 was easy to carry around with its amp-in-the-back storage. It had a respectable amount of power at 23 watts, which is similar to a Deluxe Reverb. And it came with a 15" Jensen speaker.

The amplifier was actually introduced in 1963, but may not have been available until 1964.

The original retail price was $119.95.

The 1483 was discontinued around 1966-67 and was replaced by a solid state model. The amp was designed by Danelectro and manufactured by Danelectro.

I had another friend named Rick Sears. I played with him in a band for a few years. Rick owned a Silvertone guitar amplifier. This was the mate to the bass model 1483 and was nicknamed The Twin Twelve. It was model 1484. It supposedly cranked out 60 watts, but I don't recall it being that loud. A Super Reverb is 40 watts and has a similar tube set up. This amp was built by Danelectro.

The catalog listing advertised this amp for guitar or bass usage, and had all the amenities you could want in a medium sized (and priced) package: reverb, tremolo, two channels, two matched 12-inch Jensens, and 25 feet of cable to separate amp from speaker to "end feedback."

The model 1484 was introduced in 1963 and sold for $149.95. It was discontinued in 1966 when the price had gone up $30 to $179.95. It was replaced by the larger, louder model 1485 that came with six 10" Jensen speakers and a quartet of 6L6 tubes.

My buddy Doug had a love/hate relationship with his 1483 due to the propensity to distort. In 1965 we were all looking for a clean sound. Leo Fender's goal was to produce amplifiers that produced a clean tone. Blues players, that usually could not afford an expensive Fender amp, got use to the distorted sound and used it to their advantage.

The Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds had some hit songs that used fuzztones or amps with torn speakers, since they were fans of blues songs and were attempting to emulate that tone.

Doug replaced the 15" Jensen with a Utah speaker. He changed the baffle to one made of solid wood and he stuffed the cabinet with fiberglass insulation. He finally gave up and saved up enough money to purchase a black face Bassman.

The 1483 cranked out 23 watts, so naturally it would distort at higher volumes as would a Fender Deluxe played with the gain up full. The 15" Jensen was an excellent quality speaker, but the amps baffling was made of the material used to create inexpensive subflooring and pegboards. I was flimsy and cheap. The amplifier components and chassis were well constructed and the wiring was point to point.

The chasis for the head amp and speaker cabinet were made of inexpensive medium density fiberboard and covered with a wallpaper type of material instead of tolex.

The tubes were a 5Y3GT rectifier, two 6L6GC power tubes and two 128X7 preamp tubes and either a 6CG7 or a 6FQ7 for a phase inverter.

During these days there was no standard for amplifier power. Most companies advertised by posting peak power. Today we use the more realistic RMS as a standard.

I have never tried this amplifier for guitar, but the 1483 would probably make an excellent jazz or rock guitar amplifier. It just wasn't loud enough to handle the music of the day, since we didn't mike amplifiers back then.

The 1484 was made of similar materials including the speaker baffle. The compliment of tubes were similar to the 1483 with the addition of a 12AX7 for the reverb circuit and a 12AX7 and a 6CG7 or 6FQ7 as a supply to the tremolo circuit.

Both amps cut down on the actual cabinet size for sound displacement because the bottom of the amp had a compartment to carry the amps head. I do not know how much effect this had on the sound, but the carrying compartment was a unique feature.

Reverb unit is behind the tubes
The reverb on the 1484 was not at all the quality of the Hammond units in Fender models. Hammond reverbs utilized a transducer for the driver that contained a coil to optimize sound. Silvertone reverbs used piezo units, somewhat like those used on acoustic guitars. The Silvertone unit sounded weak and flat compared to a Hammond unit.

The use of piezos is probably the reason you could get this sort of space sound by turning off the amps volume controls and turning the reverb all the way up. You could achieve a Dick Dale sort of tone.

The 1484 yeilded a much better clean tone than it's bass counterpart, possibly due to the headroom added by the twin twelve inch speakers. But if you crank it up it produces an excellent distorted sound.  Some bass players played through them.

The transformers in both amps were adequate, but not on par with Fender or Gibson amps.

These were excellent giggable amps back in the day for high school kids and are gaining popularity now. On the final Conan O'Brien show, Warren Haynes was playing his Les Paul through a Silvertone 1484. If it's good enough for him...

Hofner Model 500/1 The Beatle Bass

Karl Höfner GmbH and Co. KG* is a German manufacturer of musical instruments, with one division that manufactures guitars and basses, and another that manufactures other string instruments.
(*GmbH denotes what in the U.S. is called Incorporation. The owners/chief operating officers are called members and have limited liability in legal issues. KG is another form of limited corporate liability.
Both acronyms are German legal corporate law terms.)

The company was made famous through its association with The Beatles.

As I have mentioned before, there was a large import tariff on U.S. manufactured products during the 1950's and 60's, so British musicians primarily purchased their instruments from European manufacturers.

Fortunately for Höfner, Paul McCartney purchased a 500/1 model hollow-body electric bass during the era when the Beatles were living and playing in Germany in Hamburg clubs.

Höfner was started when Master violin maker Karl Höfnerfounded his own stringed and fretted instrument manufacturing in Schönbach, Germany in 1887.

Herr Höfner developed an excellent reputation for producing quality, finely crafted violin family instruments. Because of this reputation, Höfner soon became the largest manufacturer of stringed and fretted instruments in Germany.

His two sons, Josef and Walter, joined the company in 1919 and 1921 respectively. During WWII, the company had its difficulties, but managed to survive.

During the 1920's and 30's acoustic guitars were representing a significant part of the Höfner instrument production. As was true in the United States, the German guitar market was flooded with student quality instrument. Höfner guitars maintained it's reputation to build guitars of excellent quality that were on par with Gibson and Martin instruments.

In 1955 Walter Höfner, perhaps inspired by U.S production of electric bass guitar, invented the company's first model of the violin-shaped bass guitar. Just like Leo Fender, he got it right on the first try.

Beatles like basses from Fanconia
The model 500/1 bass was launched at the 1956 Frankfurt Music Fair.

In 1994, Höfner became part of the Boosey and Hawkes Group, and was able to expand and upgrade its facilities with the influx of cash.

After a near-bankruptcy in 2003 Boosey and Hawkes sold its musical instrument division (including the Höfner and Buffet Crampon companies) to The Music Group, a company formed by rescue buyout specialists Rutland Fund Management, for £33.2 million.

1997 saw Höfner moving from Bubenreuth to a new production facility near the village of Hagenau.

It is there the company continues to build fine quality, hand-crafted hollow-body and bass guitars for new generations of players.

Their archtop acoustic-electric jazz guitars have developed an excellent reputation and are favored by many famous players.

Höfner remained a part of this conglomerate until January 2005, when The Music Group sold the company to Klaus Schöller, who has been the General Manager of Höfner for many years.

In mid-2005, The Music Group (having lost many of its component manufacturers) stopped distributing Höfner in the USA, and the distribution was picked up by Chicago firm Classic Musical Instruments (CMI)

During his early years with the Beatles, Paul McCartney played two slightly different left handed 500/1 models. His first had a pickup below the neck and one in the center of the body. This was purchased in 1961. In 1964 he purchased a second model 500/1 manufactured in 1962 that had a neck pickup and a bridge pickup.

He purchase the second bass in the U.K. during the days The Beatles were playing at the Cavern Club while his first bass was undergoing repairs. He needed an immediate back up instrument. It is this backup bass that has become the one he still plays today and is most associated with him.

The original Höfner bass was used during the recording and video of Let It Be, on the song Revolution. Shortly afterward this bass was stolen.

Although we cannot be certain, perhaps McCartney gravitated towards the 500/1 since the Beatles first bass player Stuart Sutcliffe favored the model 500/5.

 This models body looked more like a guitar and less like a violin. It had a cutaway on the bottom upper bout.

In the days of the British Invasion other bass players decided this was a cool looking instrument and picked up this guitar or the model 500/5 as their choice of bass.

The Höfner bass is much different from any Fender or Gibson bass guitars. First of all, the 500/1 is extremely light. I would venture to guess it weighs in at a mere 3 lbs. The body is hollow. The neck is narrower.

The strings are attached to a trapeze tailpiece and go over a wooden, non compensated bridge. Perhaps it is this archtop-like string set up is what gives it a "woody" sound.

The bass has two single coil pickups.

The controls, like many other European electric instruments of the day, did not use rotary controls for the tone circuit. It came with dual rotary potentiometers to control the volume of each pickup.

Additionally a single tone slider switch to control a treble or bass capacitor, labeled Rhythm/Solo. There are also twin slider switches that control the on/off function assigned to each pickup.

All Höfner instruments are known for their beautiful finishes and the 500/1 is no exception.

In an effort to increase sales and thwart of the existing Asian copies of this bass, Höfner introduced it's Icon model a few years ago. It is now call the Hofner CT 500/1. There is a less expensive model known as the Hofner Ignition that sells for around $500 USD.

Wii has even produced a 500/1 controller for it's Beatles Rock Band program.

The Höfner 500/1 is definitely a most unique bass guitar.

This video is long, but it is worth watching. Hofner Craftsmen are building a 500/1 by hand


Friday, January 22, 2010

The Silvertone Amp in Case Guitar

In 1963 a fellow named Joe Fisher was the musical instrument buyer for Sears and Roebuck.

Sears was based in Chicago, so Joe had a lot of sources. Chicago was home to CMI/Harmony, makers of guitars and other musical instruments and The Kay Musical Instrument Company. There were a lot of importers of cheap Asian produced instruments too.

Nat Daniel, the founder and owner of The Danelectro Guitar Company. Fisher contacted Daniel and ask if he could produce a cheap electric guitar that came with a matching amplifier. This was done before by the Valco Company.  Daniels was building amplifiers years before he came up with the guitar made of Masonite.

And shortly after the request Nat Daniels came up with the Silvertone Amp-In-Case Guitar Combo.

Daniels came up a design that had a 3 tube amplifier and speaker built into the case, thus eliminating the need for both a case and a separate amplifier. A hinged case was manufactured out of medium density fiberboard and was covered with the same gray fabric he used for Silvertone amplifiers. One side of the case was routed out for the speaker and grill cloth was put in place. The case could then be opened and set on its end to get the sound up to ear level.

Nancy Sinatra plays one!
The guitar bodies were made of a plywood frame. The sides of the frame were wrapped with vinyl binding tape which was stapled in place. Pre-cut Masonite forms to match the guitars shape was glued to the guitars back.

A plywood block was strategically glued and screwed onto the back piece of Masonite to anchor the chrome plated adjustable bridge piece.

The bridge was merely a piece of rosewood that was glued onto the bridge piece at a slight angle for compensation.

Another sheet of preformed Masonite was cut a set aside to be glued on the guitar to form the guitars top. The older Danos had the plywood block going from the neck pocket to where the bridge attached.

The top was also pre-cut that had been routed for the pickups, toggle switch, volume and tone controls. A white pick guard was added to highlight the guitar. Daniel used concentric stacked potentiometers on double pickup models. This way there were only two controls, with the bottom stack controlling the tone and the top controlling volume.

His one pickup models utilized the same template. This was more efficient way of production. The wiring took place and the Masonite top glued to the frame.

Nat Daniel invented the lipstick tube pickup. It was an inexpensive method to create pickup housings. Rather than purchase plastic or metal covers, he discovered that the tubes used as lipstick containers were the right size to house the single coil pickups that his company made inhouse. They were cheap, shiny, cost-effective and at the time most people had no idea they were lipstick tubes.

Ingeniously, on two pickup guitars, he wired the pickups in series instead of parallel, as were found on most electric guitars of the day. By using this method his pickups had a hotter output due to doubling the ohm rating.

The model of guitar that came with the amp-in-the-case was designed with long, sort of Strat shaped horns and a dip in the bottom of the body.

The poplar neck was painted with a glossy finish and contained an adjustable trussrod. The fingerboard was Brazilian rosewood. The bridge was made of nickel. The tuners did not have a brand, but were most functional. The neck attached to the body in a pocket in the neck and was held in place by two large wood screws.

The Masonite used for the guitars top and back were black and contained a sparkly design. Other models came with a sunburst finish.

Back in the late 1960's I was in high school and paying more attention to playing guitar than academics. My buddy Ralph came over to my house one day with a new acquisition.

He had  just gota a Silvertone electric guitar with an amplifier that was built right into the case. Compared to my Deluxe Reverb, his amp was not very loud. It was essentially a student amp that was comparable to a Fender Champ.

The first version of the amp was 3 watts and came with a five inch speaker. The amp had 3 tubes, a rectifier tube, a power tube, a preamp tube and 3 (count them!) guitar inputs. This version came with a single volume (gain) control.

The in 1963 the amp was updated to 5 watts and came with volume, tone and a tremolo section with speed and intensity control. Both were Class A amplifiers just like a Fender Champ or a Vox amplifier.  In those days it was under appreciated as were Fender Champ amps.

These days the amp in a case is a wonderful tool for recording and just playing at home.

Note that some of the pictures show speaker with different baskets. I am not sure if this was a design change or Danelectro just chose whatever 5" speakers were cheap and available.