Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Acoustic Control Corporation Amplifiers and The Black Widow Guitar and Bass

The Acoustic Control Corporation manufactured some of the biggest and loudest amplifiers that were ever produced. The company was founded by Steve Marks and based out of Van Nuys California.

John Paul Jones rig
Most of the company’s amplifiers were solid state although they produced a few tube models. Perhaps the best remembered model was the Acoustic 360, which was actually a preamp for bass guitar designed to be combined with the Acoustic 361 W-bins which contained a rear facing 18” Cerwin Vega speaker and a folded horn (similar to the old Voice of the Theater speaker cabs.) and a 200 watt power amplifier.

The normal configuration was two of these monster amp/cabs with the preamp which was enough to power a coliseum. This was a huge amplifier that produced nearly 400 watts RMS.

Some of the company’s other versions would include the Acoustic 260 head and 261 powered cabinet and the model 270 amplifier, the Acoustic model 134 and the model 371 (which was a combination of the model 370 amplifier and 301 bass cabinet).

The company went out of business in the 1980’s and the trade name was sold to True Tone Audio. Steve Marks founded SWR amplification and sold it to the Fender Musical Instrument Corporation. Fender then sold SWR to Raven amplifiers in the late 1990’s.

Acoustics’ design did not contain any IC chips, but used only transistors, much like Kustom amplifiers. Acoustic was able to produce a huge and loud bass amp with nearly no distortion at extremely high volume.

Acoustic made a come back in 2007 and in 2011 launched a revamped version of it's 360/361 amplifier. The 360 is the pre-amp unit and the 361 is a 400 watt powered speaker cab. It features an 18" bass driver and a HF speaker done up as a horn driver with a 2" coil.

Get a roadie, because this beast weighs about 150 pounds.

During the 1970's the Church I attended brought in a Gospel singer to perform. Her name was Lily Knauls. Ms. Knauls was one of the Edwin Hawkin's group that had a hit record at the time.

The group also backed up Melanie on her song, Candles in the Rain.

Lily brought with her a pianist and bass player. I was enlisted as the chauffer and got to drive Ms. Lily around all day. This meant I got to attend her rehearsal. The bass player had this unusual instrument which had a black, glossy finish and no frets. This was the first time I'd seen a fretless bass. I looked at the headstock and it said Acoustic. Being curious I discovered that

Acoustic Amplifiers aka the ACC produced the bass and a guitar.

In looking back on the company's history the bass and guitar production only lasted a few years, from 1972 through 1975. Both instruments were built in Japan and based on designs by Paul Barth.

Barth was the son of one of the National Guitar Company foremen. He was born in 1908 and by 1931 was elected to the board of directors of National Guitars and was with Ro-Pat-In string instruments, which became Electro String Instruments. He stayed on with the company until 1957. In later life he opened a small store and made guitar pickups. He made guitars and basses for other companies but under the name Bartell. Some of the electric guitars that Paul Barth made under the name Bartell look surprisingly like the Black Widows.

Semie Mosley claims that he built several hundred of the guitars for the company’s final run.

Both the Black Widow guitar and bass had a familiar body style similar to the Les Paul Junior only larger. The double cutaway horns had more of a flared shape. The bodies were made of maple and had a high gloss black lacquered finish.

Both guitar and bass had a German carve around the edges (as did Moseley’s guitars). The two octave necks were bolt-on, the headstocks were triple bound. The necks had a zero fret (as did Mosrite) and miniature dot fret markers. The strings went over a tune-able bridge and were held in place by a tailpiece that was set rather far back and was designed to increase sustain.

The fingerboard was made of rosewood. The scale length from the nut to the bridge was an incredible 27”. Although not uncommon for classical guitars, this was much longer than Gibson’s 24 ¾” or Fender’s 25 1/2” scale. Oddly enough, the Black Widow bass was short scale of 31” with 20 frets”

The guitar had 2 single coil pickups with chrome sides and 6 poles hooked up to a 3 way selector switch with twin volume and tone controls.

The bass came with one humbucking pickup that had 8 pole pieces and was mounted in the center of the body. The jack was mounted on the top of the body. The bass came in a fretted or non-fretted version (that had lines for position markers). The pickups output was higher than most produced during this era.

Originally the guitar and bass were equipped with Grover tuners, however by the end of the run the bass tuners were changed to Schallers. One of the most interesting features was the red pad on the back of each instrument.

This snapped on to the body just like some Gretsch guitars. On the pad was the design of a black widow spider.

The guitars were awesome instruments. The guitars (and basses) were based on a design by Paul Barth. The guitars were ahead of their time. Though the pickups were single coil and looked like DeArmonds, Barth designed them. They sound stunning. The guitar with its black, shiny finish is visually awesome.

The guitars manufactured by Bartell feature 3 bolts securing the neck to the body. The Black Widows made by Moseley have a sort of a wavy chrome neck plate with 4 bolts. There were also some that were built in Japan.  The Japanese Black Widow have a 4 digit serial number sometimes starting with the letters BA. The Moseley Black Widows start with BC for the guitars and BD for the bass guitars.

The guitars were ahead of their time and somewhat reminiscent of Schecter guitars produced today.

By 1975 the company went back to what it did best...produce amplifiers.


Anonymous said...

Hey there, just thought I'd point out that no Black Widow has ever been seen with a 27" scale length. And Harvey Gerst hasn't confirmed any were ever made. It's been printed in books, but no research has proven it.

Anyway, if you're interested, I run what is so far the most comprehensive site specifically on Black Widows. It's a labor of love, and built on continual research with a foundation of info from Gerst and other owners. Check it out

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