Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Pignose Amp

Did you know that Pignose Industries, the company that makes that cool little amplifier, was originally started by Chicago guitarist Terry Kath and Chicago’s record producer Jimmy Guercio in 1972? 
The beloved Pignose 7-100 amplifier, was conceived, invented, and patented by Richard Elund and Wayne Kimbell.

They built a low watt amplifier inside a wooden English Leather Cologne box that distorted like all get out.

Impressed with this amp, Terry Kath took their idea to the Summer NAMM show in 1973. In the style of P.T. Barnum, Kath marketed it as The Legendary Pignose Amplifier. A star was born. The first year sales were over 50,000 units.

Pignose was THE first portable, battery-powered amplifier made specifically for guitar.

It sounded like an over-driven Marshall 50 stack, but could be put on a guitar strap and slung over your shoulder.

The amp had that same gritty, dirty distortion of refrigerator-sized amps, but only pumped out 3 to 5 watts and weighed in at around 5 pounds! The Pignose represented The Counter-Culture thumbing their nose at the status quo of the day. Namely, when it comes to amplifiers, bigger is better.

The popularity of the Pignose soared. It was cute, with its one pig nose volume knob and tan vinyl covering. In addition, it was not expensive. It was originally priced at $79.95. Due to manufacturing costs, the price jumped to $159.95.

However, it is once again selling for $79.95. Clapton, Joe Walsh, Zappa, and Led Zeppelin used the Piggy for recording.

The Eagles joked about having a wall of Pignose amps in concert.

The origin of the name is questionable and may have its origin in a drug-induced conversation.

The amp looked like a small valise. The Pignose was a 5” speaker, mounted in a hinged box that contained a solid-state battery powered amplifier and six AA batteries. The box can be used for storage as well. The only control is for volume; however, tone can be controlled by opening or closing the box. When the Pignose is un-hinged, the tone turns into screaming treble. A closed cabinet provides more midrange and bass. By having a friend rapidly open and close the amp, it can produce a wah-wah type sound.

The amp comes with a pre-amp output jack on the back allowing it to overdrive a larger amp. To emphasize the pig-nose joke, a molded metal knob that bore (or boar) resemblance to a pig’s snout was used as a volume control. The amp was covered in tan vinyl to give it the appearance of pigskin.

By 1974, Chicago’s accountant purchased the rights to Pignose Industries and held on until ownership passed.

In 1985, Howard Chatt purchased the company and has been running it ever since under the name Pignose-Gorilla. (There was a budget line of low powered solid-state amplifiers under the brand name Gorilla.)

Elund and Kimbell are also responsible for the design of two other Pignose Industries products. These are the Hog 20 guitar amp and the Hog 30 bass guitar amp. Both are powered with rechargeable batteries.

I am not certain who designed the Pignose 30/60 amplifier. This was Pignose Industries first attempt at a larger amplifier, which was offered for sale in around 1977. The 30/60 put out a respectable 30 watts RMS and 60 watts peak power into a 12” Eminence speaker. The advertising states it goes from clean to dirty. Most reviews emphasize its distorted tone.

In 1997, Pignose Industries introduced a tube amplifier, The Pignose G40V. It was designed by Dennis Kager to have a similar schematic to a Fender Bassman. This amplifier was among the first to be manufactured in China, perhaps accounting for some criticisms and lack of acceptance. As of now, many guitar and bass amplifiers that carry famous USA and European trade names are being exported from China and have gained acceptance. This was not true in 1997.

The G40V had a tube compliment of twin 6L6 power tubes and three 12AX7 preamp tubes. Like many Fender amplifiers, the rectifier was solid state. It cranked out a very loud, 40 watts.

Unlike the original tweed Bassman, the G40V came with a preamp volume and master volume control. Like the Bassman, it had treble, middle, bass and presence potentioments. There was no standby switch. The stock 8 ohm, 10” speaker was rated at 80 watts. The tube sockets were ceramic, which was a very unusual feature for a low priced amplifier.

The amp was originally offered at $199 and as the years went on the price got up to $329. This was all housed in a 14” X 9” X 11” package that weighed around 28 lbs. When played through a larger speaker cabinet, the bass and midrange perk up and gave this amp some very nice bottom. It had speaker jacks for 4 or 8 ohms. Interestingly, the cabinet is very similar in size and shape to the one used for the 30/60.

A few years later Pignose furthered their adventure in tube amps by introducing the G60VR (60 watt valve with reverb) and the B100V (100 watt bass tube amplifier).

I have never seen the B100V. I assume very few were manufactured. The G60VR was an improvement over the 40-watt model. It came with a 12” speaker, which provided more headroom. The tube compliment was similar, except it had an additional 12AX7 preamp tube. The reverb was a plus. The tolex covering was black and thicker than the tan vinyl on the G40V. The B100V was 100 watts with a 15" speaker.

Dennis Kager

Pignose enlisted Dennis Kager to design all these amplifiers. Kager is a legend in the industry. As a young man, he hooked up with Ampeg and Jess Oliver in designing and building Ampeg amplifiers.

Sundown A-50
Kager launched his own brand called Sundown Amplifiers, which had a brief following. He was the force behind Reverend Amps. He has consulted for Fender, Yamaha, Mesa Boogie, Tone King, and Soldano. Kager runs an electronic repair company in New Jersey known as Central Jersey Music Service.

Reverend Goblin
If you check out the picture of him you may note that one of his small Sundown combo amps looks surprisingly similar to the Pignose G40V and an amp that Reverend Guitars used to offer.

When my Pignose G40V was experiencing an unusual hum, my local tech spoke directly with Mr. Kager who resolved the problem.

He was very impressed to speak to the man that modified amplifiers for the Allman Brothers, Bruce Springsteen, Peter Frampton, Rick Derringer and many others.

PB-30 Bass amp
Pignose Industries venture into tube amplification lasted for about ten years. Their corporate action dictated they concern themselves only with solid-state amplifiers.

They have since offered a few new models of guitar amplifiers; some housed in a cabinets very similar to the G40V.

The original Legendary Pignose 7-100 is still the company’s mainstay. Over the years, it has indeed become legendary.


Guitar Man said...

Great article on Pignose. I was well informed after reading it. I too have a guitar oriented blog, though I have been at it less long. Please consider being my "first to join?" I would be appreciative. Take care

RamblinHusky said...

I have the pleasure of announcing that I am the proud owner of one of the first 7-100 ever made. The serial # is 0111.........I am being told that it was manufactured in 1972 and then read that it wasn't even brought out until 1973 publicly at the '73 NAMM Show!
Anyone have any idea what this amp is worth? I have had it since 1987 and got it in trade for a 1/2 ounce of pot!

Anonymous said...

I bought #0871 on eBay about 5 years ago for about US$40, another early one.

They're worth nothing, which is fine as I love mine and will be keeping it for a long time yet.

mf76 said...

GREAT post re Pignose Amps! Thank you so much. I bought a G40v in '98 which I LOVE, but has been in and out of various repair shops. Nobody seems to be able to fix it for real. Thanks to your blog I now know about Kager's Central Jersey Music Service which happens to be 1/2 hour from my job!!! I'll just bring Piggy into his shop and have the man (or his well trained staff) work on the amp that he created. So cool. Thanks again for your great blog! Oh, I also own a Kager designed Reverend Hellhound, so if anything goes wrong with that I know where to bring it.

James Robinson said...

Thanks for the good info. I had some tech questions about the G40V that I just bought. I called up Central Jersey Music Service and talked to Dennis Kager himself--pretty freakin' cool!! He's a super nice, down to Earth guy who is not only an amp guru but also a guitar player. ~Cheers~

Anonymous said...

Well done - I learned some new tidbits about an amazing little amp whose tone gave us some of our guitar legends - I will be calling Dennis to repair my 150 Crossmix - tnx much for your time and thought to honor this awesome brand

Bruce Pigeon said...

I just got a Pignose 7-100 a couple months ago...handy for practice but what I really wanted to do with it is use it as a preamp.
As I was trying it out at home, I noticed that the speaker was still active when using the preamp out jack in the back.

For my use I wanted the speaker off. So I did a slight mod... so I put a small toggle switch inside with an 8 ohm 50 watt (couldn't get a smaller value) resistor to simulate the speaker when the switch it thrown to disonnect the speaker, and voila. So, in one position the switch connects the speaker, and in the other position, the load is connected to the amp circuit. so I can play to my hearts content. I put the pignose volume on full, then feed it into my BOSS pedal compressor (CS-2) then to my other effects pedals, then to my BOSS GT-* steroe multieffects, and come out in wstereo into my mixer, and into my headphones....the use of the volume on the guitar is paramount....keep the vol below 5 for clean sound, and 6-9 to get the legendary overdrive sound of the pignose....Awesone setup...not too many people use a setup like this on stage I would guess...but it sounds great.

Chris said...

That mod you mentioned sounds awesome and is just what I need. Any more details on how you did it?
Thank you!

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