Friday, June 25, 2010

The Harmony "Hollywood" H59 Rocket Model Guitar

At the start of the 50’s due to the popularity of electronic guitars and amplifiers,Chicago Musical Instrument Company introduced many different models under the Harmony brand name in all price ranges.

Today we are concentrating on the model H59 or Rocket H59.  The guitar was Harmonys answer to the Gibson Switchmaster.

The guitar was equipped with 3 DeArmond Golden Tone pickups with a neat row of tone volume potentiometers along the guitars lower bottom bout.

As on the Gibson Switchmaster and it's Epiphone cousin, the Zephyr Emperor Regent.

Both guitars had a volume and tone potentiomers for each pickup (The Zephyr Emperor had a single volume and tone pot for all three pickups.)

ES-5 Switchmaster

The H59 Rocket and the Switchmaster utilized a 4 way switching system mounted on the lower cutaway. (The Epiphone came with 6 pushbuttons on the lower bout.)

The H59 allowed the player to choose to turn on a single pickup or all three pickups at once.  By utilizing the volume controls a player could get seven different pickup combinations.

The Harmony H59 was built from 1960 to 1967 before it was replaced. The catalog described it as the Rocket 3 Pickup ultra-thin cutaway electric.

The H59's body was bound in celluloid. The neck was not bound.

Harmony's literature stated the guitar came with an ultra-slim neck with "uniform feel”, whatever that means.

Necks on many Harmony guitars did not have adjustable truss rods, but did have a steel rod within to prevent warping. In 1966 Harmony got with the program and began using what they called “Torque-Lok Adjustable Neck Reinforcing Rods.”

The neck scale was 24 ¼”, so it was rather short. We don’t know what wood was used for the body. Some Harmonys were made of birch.

The catalog states it is made from Hardwood. During its run this guitar sold for $139.50! The chipboard case was only $14.50. By 1966 the price went up eight bucks to $147.50 and the case was a dollar more.

In 1968 Harmony redesigned the guitar and dubbed it the H59/1. Essentially it was the same guitar but with double cutaways. The cost went up twenty bucks to $159.50, but the case remained at $15.50.

Some of Harmonys more expensive guitars were quality instruments. And this model is no exception.

Both guitars have recently been reintroduced, although it is manufactured in China. The price for the new version is suggested at $799.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dumble Amplifiers

While the rest of us were learning about first year algebra, a very young Howard Dumble was assembling homemade transistor radios and selling them to classmates for five bucks a pop. He states that he came from an engineering family and could read circuits about the same time he was reading sixth grade English. He built a 200 watt public address system for his schools junior baseball team. (If it’s still in operation it may be worth a small fortune.)

He grew up in Bakersfield, California and as an 18 year old kid built amplifiers for Semie Mosely. And the Ventures used his amplifiers!

Along the way, he changed his name to Alexander and went on to build some of the most desirable and expensive guitar amplifiers ever made. He was modifying Fender amps and began making his own guitar amplifiers in the late 1960’s in Santa Cruz. Dumble was one of the first boutique amplifier manufacturers. There are possibly only 300 Dumble amplifiers, so the prices are at a premium.

Dumbles are used by such artists as Carlos Santana, John Mayer, Robben Ford, Larry Carlton, Eric Johnson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ben Harper, Lowell George, Steve Lukather, Sonny Landreth, Jackson Browne and David Lindley.

In a 1985 Guitar Player article it was stated that Dumble amplifiers were selling for as much as $5,000. You couldn’t touch one today for $15,000.

They are manufactured for rock music and are tweaked to have a very sweet sounding distortion. Dumble uses only the best electronics in his amplifiers. I read that he often covered the plate resistors and capacitors in silicon or epoxy to prevent others from mimicing his proprietory technology. Despite these precautions, there are a handful of companies that provide Dumble DIY clones. And other companies sell guitar amplifiers based on Dumble’s circuits.

The amps are made using aluminum chasis. The finest shielded wiring is utilized.  The lead dress is perfect on the eyelet boards. Dumble uses the best transformers.  For speakers he prefers ElectroVoice, Altec Lansing and JBL speakers.  These are top of the line.

Dumble makes different models and will customize the amp to fit the artist.

The most well known is:
The Overdrive Special. 

The 50 watt Overdrive Special Combo features two inputs. One is normal and the second is a FET input. This input sends the signal through a J-FET line-level preamplifier before entering the first tube stage.  The intended purpose of this was for use with acoustic guitars or low impedence signals. 

Controls include Bright, Deep, Midrange, Boost (by disconnecting the treble and bass potentiometers, this gives the preamp more power.)  A Rock/Jazz switch changes the voicing.  Through the use of differing preamp circuits, Dumble amps can provide a clean tone or a singing distorted tone. Think David Lindley with Jackson Browne.

Overdrive Reverb

It has similar circuitry to the Overdrive Special, however the reverb section utilizes 3 tubes in a method that would be similar to Fender's stand alone unit, however it is more advanced since the reverb send and reverb return mix with a clean dry signal.  This provides much more control than other amplifiers.

The Steel String Singer

Stevie Ray Vaughn used a specially made model of this amp as a clean amp. It was rated at 150 watts with 4 6L6 power tubes pushing it. It was very loud.

The Dumbleland
This 300 watt amplifier known as the DUMBLELAND 300SL use unusual tube combinations. Six 6550A beam power pentode output tubes) power tubes were driven by a 12BH7 as a direct coupled cathode follower. The features and inputs are similar to the Overdrive Special, however the front panel controls include two rotary switch controls labeled as tone expander/ tonefilter and controls for reverb. 

Depending on specifications, the rear panel may include a bias and dynamic balance controls. A speaker ohm control for 2, 4 or 8 ohms.  Some Dumble amps come with tremolo.

The Winterland

This is 220 watt bass amplifier is named after the San Francisco dance hall run by Bill Graham and home to many outstanding concerts.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Vox Super Beatle

The most desirable Vox Amplifier is undoubtedly the Vox AC-30 with top boost manufactured in the U.K. The Korg Company bought the Vox trademark and has continued the tradition of manufacturing Vox amplifiers including their version of the AC-30. I seriously doubt if they will revive the mid-60's Vox amps made by the Thomas Organ Company. I certainly recall these bulky creations and have utilized the Vox AC 100.

A friend of mine was discussing, the one that got away, with me last week, and his was a Vox Super Beatle.

For the unfamiliar around 1965, Thomas Organ started building Vox amplifiers in the USA. Their first model was a large version of the British Vox amp called The Vox AC-100 aka The Super Beatle. I was fortunate to play through one of these and recall it was a speaker cabinet and a head that came with the usual Vox chrome trolley I believe the speaker cab had two twelve-inch speakers.

The head was 100 watts of tube power through one channel. The controls were very simple, volume, treble, bass, on/off, and standby. There was also a rotary switch for different European electric standards.

It was a very nice, very loud amplifier, but rather plain. My thoughts are this amp was suited for large halls or stadiums back in the day when you could not hear the band over all the screaming. Many players and/or sound people did not use reverb since the large arenas were so cavernous and subject to echo. This was also during the pre-distortion era.

Thomas redesigned The Super Beatle using their organ technology. What emerged were transistors. Very large solid state. The Super Beatle amps went through several revisions from around 1965 to when manufacturing ceased in 1970. The first three versions were known as The Super Beatle and the fourth was dubbed the Beatle Super Stack.

The initial model featured most of the bells and whistles we would expect on an amplifier of this era such as reverb and tremolo. It also included a distortion effect, based on the popular Vox fuzztone.

The next version included everything except the distortion effect. The third incarnation had it all; reverb, tremolo, distortion, a percussion effect and a "G" tuner that utilized an oscillator to produce a "G" note.

The third model was manufactured using FET's or Field Effect Transistors which were popular at the time. This entire series of The Super Beatle featured a trapezoidal shaped head with a rectangular large speaker cabinet. It came with a chrome trolley manufactured to hold the head at the top, while the cabinet was held in place by large bolts on either side. The head of each bolt was a very large chrome knob that could be twisted to hold the cabinet at different angles. The whole thing was on wheels. The grill cloth was the typical Vox design.

The fourth version was known as the Vox Beatle Super Stack was unique in that it had 4 twelve inch speakers with the North Coast design label.

Each of these amps came with three channels. Each channel had differing features.

This was before the days of channel switching. Channel 1 had reverb, tremolo, and fuzz.

Channel two had reverb, tremolo and a unique feature known as the Mid-Range-Boost or MRB which sort of acted as a wah-wah emphasizing the mid-range frequencies.

This channel had three positions for the MRB. The final channel had reverb, tremolo, and something called Tone-X, which sounded sinister although it was merely capacitors to emphasize bass and treble, similar to the deep and bright switches on Fender amps.

On the amps backside was the percussion effect and controls for the effects.  Musicians that used these amps often turned the heads backwards, so they could easily get to the controls.

The Beatles played through The Super Beatle amplifier during their last few US concerts in 1966.

There is no evidence to show they endorsed the amplifier of use it for recording. The Super Beatle was solely a USA made amplifier geared to USA players.

It should be noted The Who used these amps for the 1967 US tour. Although when the Who played Cincinnati that year, the used rented Fender Dual Showman amps at that concert.

The amps were equipped with a large footswitch to control most of the effects.

There were other amplifiers in the series that had less power; The Viscount, The Royal Guardsman, and The Beatle all had the same control panel layout and effects features. These went from 30 watts to the 100 watt Super Beatle.

The driver section of this amp utilized transformer coupling, which increased the amplifiers efficiency. Some of these amps used germanium transistors.

My friend is involved with a local band that runs through Vox Berkley amps.

He tells me these amps are prone to problems and spend a lot of time in the shop. However they are excellent sounding amplifiers; loud and clean that have a great retro-look.