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.
Among the most unique guitar they made was 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.

Switchmaster & Zephyr

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.

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 began using what they called “Torque-Lok Adjustable Neck Reinforcing Rods.” The neck scale was 24 ¼”; somewhat shorter than Gibsons normal length.

We don’t know what wood was used for the body. The catalog say "hardwood body." Many Harmony guitars 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.

Harmony Guitars have recently been reintroduced, this time they are manufactured in Korea. They only offer the H54, which was the two pickup version with a retail price of $895.00 USD.

Eastwood guitars offers the Airline H77, which is based on the Harmony H77. Eastwood's direct price is $669.00 USD.


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.)

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

Dumble Overdrive Special
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 Dumble amp is he 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.

The Dumble Overdrive Reverb 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 one above belongs to Carlos Santana.

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.

Dumble Winterland
This is 220 watt bass amplifier is named Winterland after the San Francisco dance hall run by Bill Graham and home to many outstanding concerts.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)

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. During its glory days it was manufactured by the Jennings Organ Company aka The Jennings Company and started in 1958.

Dick Denny & Tom Jennings
Due to financial issues Vox JMI was sold in 1964 to a UK conglomerate called The Royston Company. Tom Jennings, the founder retained a post as did Dick Denney. It was Denney that actually designed Vox amplifiers. In 1967 both men parted ways from Royston.

The following year, 1968 Royston filed for bankruptcy. Some former employees of JMI (Jennings Musical Instruments) cut a deal with the bank that held the assets and procured the Vox name. They began building Vox under the name of Vox Sound Equipment. This venture was shut down and bankruptcy proceeding took place in 1969.

Another British company, Birch Stolec Industries, purchased Vox from the holding company. On a side note, Rick Huxley, bass player for the Dave Clark Five, was their sales manager. This company began building Vox amps that utilized printed circuit boards. They also manufactured solid state models.

Dallas Musical Industries purchased Vox in 1973. They were formerly Dallas Arbiter. They went back to building Vox amplifiers using handwiring techniques.

By 1978 the company was once again purchased by Rose Morris. Rose Morris was the distributor for Marshall Amplifiers and the Vox purchase was a hedge against losing the Marshall business.

In 1993 the Korg Company, a Japanese multinational company, bought the Vox trademark and has continued the tradition of manufacturing Vox amplifiers including their version of the AC-30. Interestingly enough, Korg also distributes Marshall Amplifiers.

Vox 1959 AC15
Let us go back to the beginning when Vox amps were made in Britain by the JMI corporation and were used exclusively by the Beatles and many other British Invasion groups. Tom Jennings founded the Jennings Organ Company in Dartford Kent. His first successful product was called the Univox. This was a powerful electronic keyboard with a built-in amplifier and speaker.

In 1956 Jennings met Dick Denny. Denny was a big band guitarist and was going deaf. He invented an amplifier to let him hear the music he was playing on the guitar. He took the design to Jennings and Jennings. This was the first Vox AC15 which gained popularity when the Shadows used it.  Next was an amplifier that was twice as powerful, the AC30.

The Vox amplifiers ran on a class A circuit. This meant the power tubes were always on which gave the sound better frequency output and smoother distorion. This is one of the reasons a Vox AC 30 watt amp seems to sound louder than a class AB 30 watt amplifier such as the Peavy 30.

So the Shadows, which were huge in Britain used Vox, so it was obvious that other UK bands would desire them.  So many of the British Invasion bands of the mid-1960's chose Vox. It was what was available.

Vox was not prepared for the screaming crowds that the Beatles and other touring bands faced. They realized the AC30 at full volume was not going to cut through the screams of the female fans.

So they investigated producing a larger version. What they came up with was the Vox AC100 aka the Vox Super Deluxe.

One interesting feature on the AC100 and other Vox amplifiers was the step up/step down transformer which allowed the amp to accept differing currents.

In late 1964 JMI proposed that the Thomas Organ Company be the sole US distributor for Vox. It may have been short-sighted of the former Jennings Organ Company to believe a US organ manufacturer would be a great vehicle to distribute Vox amplifiers.

Once Thomas Organ inked the deal they realized that JMI/Vox was not capable of manufacturing an adequate number of amplifiers to make the deal profitable.

Thomas Organ, not at all happy about the situation and proposed a deal that they become licensed manufacturers of Vox amplifiers in the United States and Canada. Probably due to the financial situation at JMI, they agreed.

This is how the Vox Super Beatle and other products came to be made by the Thomas Organ Company aka Vox US.

Once the legal wrangling was finished, Thomas Organ hired a solid state electronics engineer named Sava Jacobsen and gave him the task of building a solid state amplifier that sounded like "a Vox." Jacobsen did a tone analysis of a Vox AC30. He then went to work to build a 3 channel solid state preamplifier, which included a top boost, mid-range boost, reverb and tremolo in its circuitry.

Vox Viscount
He paired that with a modular 35 watt solid state amplifier to connect to the preamp. Vox/Thomas gave this amp the British sounding title the Vox Viscount. Jacobsen went on to develop 60 and 120 watt modular amplifiers.

The 120 watt power amp that was connected to his 3 channel preamp was known as the V-14 Super Beatle amplifier. It was mounted in a trapezoidal style cabinet. To go along with this a speaker cab was created. The speaker cab was unique as it was mounted in a chrome-plated steel trolley.

The original Vox Super Beetle, the V-14 came with a normal channel, a brilliant channel and a bass channel.

The normal channel featured a top boost rocker switch, the brilliant channel featured a midrange boost rocker switch and the bass channel came with a sweepable frequency tone control that Jacobsen called Tone-ex. The amp was rated at 120 watts RMS and 240 peak power all into a 2 ohm load. The cabinet was loaded with 4 Vox 12" speakers.

The amps rear panel featured controls for tremolo, repeat percussion, midrange effects and reverb. Repeat percussion was an effect that Thomas included on their organs.

This was sort of a tremolo effect in that it turned the signal on and off, but rapidly and at differing speeds. Thomas used this effect to get a banjo sound on their organs.

Vox 1141 head
Between 1966 and 1967 the Super Beatle head went through two more designs. The second inception was known as the Vox V1141 and the Vox V1142. The amps were similar and had all the accouterments of the V14 plus the addition of Fuzztone. There was no controls for the Fuzztone on the amps panel. Instead it was controlled by a four button footswitch that also controlled the MRB or Mid Range Boost.

These amps were introduced just in time for the Beatles final American concerts. Though the amplifiers features were not much different than the original V14, the V1141/V1142 had internal improvements in design.

Vox V1143

The new V1143 was introduced in 1967 and the name Super Beatle was no longer advertised due to the Beatles objections. This amp utilized FET's or Field Effect Transistors which were designed to reduce noise.

This amp had a feature called an E-tuner. This was also found on later model V1141's and V1142's.

It was a switch that activated an oscilating circuit that emitted an E note equivalent to the first string of a guitar. This was a poor mans tuner that carries on on the Roland Minicube. The chassis of the new amp and speaker cabinet were made of particle board instead of wood.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the Thomas Organ Vox story is the fact that the preamp used for the Super Beatle was the same one used on the Viscount, the Buckingham, the Royal Guardsman and the Westminster amps. The main difference was the power amp. The design of these amplifiers utilized transformer coupling, which increased the amplifiers efficiency. Some of these amps made use of germanium transistors.

Another amplifer produced by Thomas Organ was known as the 7120 Vox Beatle Super Stack. This beast was over six feet high and had two semi-opened back cabinets with two ten inch and two twelve inch speakers each with the North Coast design label. The whole thing was mounted on a huge chrome steel trolley. The amplifiers controls were all mounted on the front panel of the head. This was Vox USA's answer to the Marshall double stack.

For the Beatles final US tour in 1966, JMI provided them with Vox AC 100 amplifiers. The Beatles never utilized the Thomas Organ solid state creations.

Although it is said that The Who used the US Vox Super Beatles on their 1967 concerts. I attended the August concert at Cincinnati Music Hall, the Who was playing, but the headliner was Herman's Hermits. The Who used rented Fender Dual Showman amps at that venue

I have a  friend is involved with a local band that plays Beatle tributes. His band member use 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.