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Ampeg is a manufacturer best known for its bass amplifiers. Originally established in 1946 in Linden, New Jersey by Everitt Hull and Stanley Michaels as "Michaels-Hull Electronic Labs," today Ampeg is part of the Yamaha Guitar Group. Although the company specializes in the production of bass amplifiers, it has previously manufactured guitar amplifiers, pickups and several instruments including, double basses, bass guitars, and electric guitars.
|Michaels-Hull Electronic Labs|
|Founder||Everett Hull, |
|Headquarters||Calabasas, California, US|
|Products||Bass & guitar amps|
Electric & acoustic upright basses
|Parent||Yamaha Guitar Group, Inc.|
Early years (1946-1959)Edit
Everett Hull (born Charles Everitt Hull), a pianist and bassist working with Lawrence Welk in Chicago, had invented a pickup for upright bass in an effort to amplify his instrument with more clarity. Hull's design placed a transducer atop a support peg inside the body of his instrument, inspiring his wife Gertrude to name the invention the "Ampeg," an abbreviated version of "amplified peg." On February 6, 1946, Hull filed a patent application for his "sound amplifying means for stringed musical instruments of the violin family," for which U.S. Patent 2,430,717 was awarded the following year. Hull and his wife relocated to New Jersey, and he met electrical engineer and amp technician Stanley Michael, who was selling a bass amplifier of his own design, the Michael-Hull Bassamp. Together, they established Michael-Hull Electronic Labs in Newark, New Jersey in 1946 to sell their two products. Michael left the company in 1948, leaving it to Hull, who relocated the company the following year to 42nd Street in Manhattan, above the New Amsterdam Theatre, renaming it "The Ampeg Bassamp Company."
Michael-Hull advertised in DownBeat magazine, listing bassists like Chubby Jackson and Johnny Frigo as endorsers. Additionally, Eddie Safranski signed on with Michael-Hull to promote their products and receive a royalty for each product sold. After Michael's departure, Hull continued to leverage connections with well-known musicians to increase awareness of his products within the New York jazz community, and Ampeg's new location between Carnegie Hall, NBC Studios in 30 Rockefeller Plaza, and the Paramount Theatre helped establish relationships with bassists like Oscar Pettiford, Joe Comfort, Amos Milburn and Don Bagley.
In 1955, local musician and electrician Jess Oliver visited Ampeg's offices to purchase an amplified peg, and upon easily installing the amplified peg himself, Hull offered him a job. Oliver didn't join Ampeg full time until 1956, the same year that Ampeg's name was simplified to "The Ampeg Company." In 1959, the company was incorporated as "The Ampeg Company, Inc.," with Everett Hull as President, his wife Gertrude as Secretary, and Jess Oliver as Vice president.
Growing pains and a changing market (1960-1967)Edit
In 1960, Ampeg introduced the B-15, a bass combo amp with closed-back reflex cabinet, double-baffle porting system, and an innovative flip-top function, invented and patented by Oliver. The B-15 was the first in Ampeg's Portaflex series, and after becoming the preferred studio amp of session musicians like James Jamerson and Chuck Rainey, went on to become the most-recorded bass amplifier in history. By 1963, the Portaflex series business had grown to 44% of Ampeg's amplifier sales. In 1962, Ampeg introduced the Baby Bass, a compact upright electric bass created from the Zorko bass, whose design Ampeg had acquired from the Dopera brothers, along with a unique Oliver-designed, Ampeg-patented pickup.
In 1962, Ampeg and its 40 employees moved to a new manufacturing space in Linden, New Jersey. At 8,000 square feet, it was three times larger than their previous home. In June of the following year, after continued struggles to meet production demands and maintain cash flow, Ampeg announced an initial stock offering and became a publicly owned company. By 1964 Ampeg had 100 employees and needed even more space, so it relocated to a larger space just one block away.
The combination of the rising popularity of rock and roll and the shift of bassists from upright bass to electric bass guitar during this time posed a challenge to Ampeg’s core business. The company's ads continued to feature prominent classical, jazz, and country artists, but with a notable absence of rock artists, and Hull strove to minmize the amount of time that rock musicians spent visiting Ampeg's facilities. Hull's distaste for rock and roll music was further compounded by the success of Ampeg's chief competitor, Fender, as they continually bested Ampeg in overall sales. But from the company's inception through the 1960s, Ampeg amplifiers were designed for "clean, undistorted sound", with Hull quoted as saying "we will never make anything for rock 'n' roll".
The company continued to experience growing pains - by October, 1966 with 200 employees and 40,000 square feet of space, Ampeg's production capacity had increased to $350,000 per month, yet had $3.5 million in unfulfilled backorders. Amidst company struggles related to growth and manufacturing, as well as disagreements with Hull, Oliver resigned from Ampeg. Hull began to seek potential buyers for the company.
Ampeg enters the rock market (1967-1970)Edit
In September, 1967 Ampeg became a subsidiary of Unimusic, Inc. when the newly formed investor group acquired a majority share of Ampeg stock. Unimusic consisted of investors interested in capitalizing on opportunities in the highly-fragmented music equipment manufacturing market of the time, not unlike CBS (which owned Fender and Rhodes), or later Norlin (which owned Gibson Guitars, Lowrey and Moog Music). While Hull was retained as President of Ampeg, Unimusic had purchased the company with the intention of using as a starting point for change. After a year of conflict between Hull and Unimusic, Hull tendered his resignation on October 3, 1968. Unimusic introduced a redesigned Ampeg logo and a new series of advertisements targeted at the rock market. In an effort to establish an Ampeg presence in key music markets, Ampeg opened regional offices: one in Chicago, another near the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, and another in the Hollywood Palladium in Hollywood.
Also during this time, Ampeg’s Chief Engineer Bill Hughes and Roger Cox, with input from Bob Rufkahr and Dan Armstrong (a New York session guitarist and guitar expert who Ampeg had hired as a consultant), were developing what Cox envisioned as the “biggest, nastiest bass amplifier the world had ever seen.” The Rolling Stones anticipated using Hiwatt DR-103 amps, as used during their 1969 Hyde Park gig, which they brought from England. One story is that when they began rehearsing in Hollywood, a power conversion failure blew up all of their UK amplifiers. Another story is that the UK amplifiers were stuck at U.S. Customs and would not arrive in time for the rehearsals and tour. Their road manager, Ian Stewart contacted Rich Mandella at the Ampeg office in Hollywood, and Rich arranged for the band to use five prototype amplifier heads of this new high-output model. These new amps employed a 14-tube design to generate 300 watts of power in an era when most tube amps generated less than 100. The Rolling Stones took these prototype Ampeg amps on tour along with Rich Mandella, playing all guitars and basses through them for the entire tour. After the tour, Ampeg put the SVT into production, introducing it at the NAMM Show in 1969.
After Armstrong and his amp tech Tom Duffy began modifying B-25 bass heads for rock guitar, the same Ampeg design team responsible for the SVT created the V series, introducing the V-3, V-2 and V-4 heads, VT-22 and VT-40 combo's in 1970. The V-2, V-4 and V-22 were adopted by high-profile guitarists like Ron Wood, who was working with Rod Stewart in Faces, as well as the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards. Both guitarist would continue to use Ampeg SVT heads and cabs until 1981, when they replaced the SVT's with Mesa Boogie Mark I and Coliseum 300 amps.
In addition to his contributions to the design of SVT and V series amps, Armstrong designed a clear Plexiglas guitar and bass for Ampeg, with the guitar being used by Keith Richards with The Rolling Stones during the same 1969, 1970, 1971 tours and some early shows of the 1972 tour, and by and Bill Wyman on the 1972 tour and some of the 1973 Winter tour shows. In 1971, citing lack of compensation for his V series contributions, Dan Armstrong left Ampeg, refusing to renew his guitar and bass agreement.
Changes in ownership (1971-1985)Edit
In 1971, Ampeg was acquired by Magnavox, which also owned the Band Instrument manufacturer Selmer, but was better known for televisions, radios and Hi-Fi systems. The following year, Magnavox dissolved Ampeg’s incorporation and moved Ampeg’s management to the Selmer-Magnavox offices in Elkhart, Indiana. In 1974, amidst economic struggles and production capacity surpluses, Magnavox closed Ampeg’s Linden plant, moving production to a portion of a Magnavox electronics factory there. In 1978, SVT designer Bill Hughes left the company.
In 1980, Ampeg was acquired by Music Technology, Inc. (MTI), a wholesaler specializing in amplifiers from Japan and keyboards from Italy looking to expand. Under MTI management, SVT and V series amps were prototyped for production in Japan (though V series were never produced). MTI also introduced five new solid state amps and six new tube amps for Ampeg., as well as a series of Ampeg effects pedals. But after struggling with production issues and substandard sales of its redesigned and new Ampeg products, MTI declared bankruptcy a few years later.
St. Louis Music and LOUD (1986-2018)Edit
In 1986, St. Louis Music (SLM) acquired the assets of Ampeg from bankruptcy court, including the rights to the Ampeg name and all remaining MTI inventory. SLM converted leftover MTI V5 heads into SVT-100s and set out to re-create the SVT, setting aside a room at SLM Electronics to establish the “skunkworks.” Armed with original SVT drawings and 1969 parts purchase orders, the team succeeded in creating a limited-edition run of 500 amps. These 1987 Limited Edition SVT-HD amps each included a brass plaque engraved with the unit's number within the production of 500 total units. After the skunkworks project, SLM re-established Ampeg manufacturing in its Borman Avenue factory in St. Louis, introducing fourteen new Ampeg guitar and bass amps and the world’s largest bass amplifier at the 1987 summer NAMM Show.
In 2005, LOUD Technologies Inc. purchased St. Louis Music and its brands (including Ampeg and Crate amps), ceasing production of Ampeg and Crate at the manufacturing facility in Yellville, Arkansas in March 2007 and subsequently outsourcing Ampeg and Crate amplifier manufacturing to contract manufacturers in Asia.
Ampeg holds six U.S. patents under the Ampeg brand name.
In the late-1950s Jess Oliver invented a combo amplifier with a chassis that could be inverted and tucked inside the speaker enclosure to protect the vacuum tubes. This combo bass amp was introduced in 1960 as the Portaflex, and remained a popular choice through the 1960s.
In 1961, Ampeg became the first company to incorporate reverberation (reverb) in an amplifier with its Reverberocket, which preceded Fender's Vibroverb amp by nearly two years. Despite Hull's distaste for rock and roll and resistance to distortion, the Reverberocket employed 6V6 -type power tubes which sounded "Fendery" and did break up in a way that rock and roll players could use.
After Ampeg was sold to Unimusic in 1968, Dan Armstrong would be brought on board, and along with the opening of regional offices in places like Nashville, and the West Coast, the company's previously stodgy image would be dealt with, once and for all, especially with the creation of the all-new SVT amp, which would be "field-tested" by the Rolling Stones during their 1969 concert tour. Additionally, Keith Richards would be playing (at least part-time) Dan Armstrong's newly designed see-through body guitar.
Super Valve TechnologyEdit
During the 1960s Ampeg only produced fairly low wattage combo amplifiers. Rock concerts were becoming increasingly large affairs and bigger amplifiers were needed. In 1969, Ampeg's Chief Engineer Bill Hughes designed the Super Valve Technology circuitry for the amplifier of the same name. At 85 lb (39 kg), the Ampeg SVT provided 300 watts of RMS power, considerably more than most other bass amplifiers of the era. The high power rating made the SVT a candidate for use in larger venues. The SVT saw widespread use by rock acts in the 1970s and is still considered by many to be the world standard reference bass amp. The SVT-VR (Vintage Reissue) is almost identical in design and construction and the closest thing to any of the original SVT models produced by Ampeg.
Recent amplifiers (after 1990s)Edit
In the mid-1990s, SLM issued several guitar amplifiers under the Ampeg name. Some of these, reissued under the "Diamond Blue Series" designation, used the names of vintage Ampeg amplifers (such as Jet and Reverberocket) and featured the bluish-colored diamond-checkerboard covering associated with Ampeg amps of the 1960s. The circuit designs of these amplifiers, however, were new. The Portaflex bass amp was also reissued, this time with updates to make them more appealing to modern-style bass players.
PF-350 (class D head)
Collectability and playabilityEdit
Compared to the major brands Fender and Marshall, the collectability and playability of the guitar amps is a mixed affair. While vintage Fender amps consistently command high prices, Ampeg guitar amps such as the Reverberocket can often be found for prices atypical of vintage amplifiers. In general, Ampeg guitar amps until 1964 are less desirable as they have a darker, cleaner sound even when pushed hard. With the introduction of the Galaxy line (Gemini, Mercury, Reverberocket) in 1964, treble boost circuits and spring reverbs were added, and higher wattage models (such as the 30 watt Gemini II) were made available. Original SVT bass amps are highly sought-after for their pleasing sound and because of their use by many professional bassists in the '70s. V series guitar amps (V2 and V4 heads along with the VT-40 and VT-22 combos) are sought after for the classic 70s crunchy but clean sound. The V4-B is another sought after bass amp head; it has the SVT pre-amp section mated to a 100 Watt power amp section.
vintage Ampeg amps
at RCA Studio B
Instruments and accessoriesEdit
Ampeg also manufactured (or had manufactured for them) lines of quirky but distinctive instruments to complement their amplifiers.
Baby Bass, introduced around 1962, was an electric upright bass with a full-size wooden neck and a cello-sized Uvex plastic body (not fiberglass, as is often stated). The design was purchased from Zorko, re-engineered by Jess Oliver, and manufactured in a corner of Ampeg's Linden, New Jersey factory. It appeared in Ampeg's price list until about 1970, and overall, weren't terribly popular; the exception being with some bassists in Latin Salsa-music bands, on account of the instrument's reputedly "thoompy" sound.
Guitars by BurnsEdit
In the early 1960s, Ampeg-branded guitars and basses were produced by Burns of London, but these instruments did not sell well, because the cost of importing the instruments made them too expensive compared to Fenders and Gibsons. Baldwin's purchase of Burns in 1965 ended the association with Ampeg.
Horizontal Bass and Devil BassEdit
- 1966–1969, designed by Dennis Kager, etc.
In 1966, Ampeg introduced their home-built line of long-scale "Horizontal Basses" (aka "scroll" or "f-hole" basses), both fretted and fretless (reputed to be the first production fretless electric bass). Some with different bodies were produced as the "Devil Bass" with distinctive horns, but the circuitry was identical. Originally using a transducer below the bridge, they were redesigned around 1968 to use a conventional magnetic pickup. At the same time, short-scale fretted and fretless basses, with magnetic pickups, were also produced.
Dan Armstrong "see-through"Edit
In 1969 the Horizontal Basses were replaced by the Dan Armstrong-designed and -built "see-through" guitars and basses (aka "Plexi, "Lucite" or "crystal" named after various brand names of acrylic glass). The guitars incorporated slide-in user-changeable pickups, and the short-scale basses used two stacked coils with a "pan" pot to gain a very wide range of tones. The transparent lucite bodies were Armstrong's original idea and contributed to long sustain but were very heavy. Ampeg's production of the "see-through" instruments ended in 1971 due to financial disagreements between Armstrong and Ampeg over amplifier designs. It was also during the Unimusic era that Ampeg became a distributor of Grammer acoustic guitars, a small company founded by country singer-guitarist Billy Grammer, probably best known for his 1958 crossover hit, "Gotta Travel On", and his appearances on entertainer Jimmy Dean's TV show.
In 1971, Ampeg was acquired by Magnavox, which led to a distributorship deal with the Swedish guitar company, Hagström. In the 1975, Ampeg and Hagström collaborated to develop their first guitar/synthesizer hybrid using the contact of the strings on the frets as electric switches: In 1976 the Swede Patch 2000 was released, which required Ampeg Patch 2000 Pedals and an external synthesizer (Steiner-Parker Microcon was designed for it).
In the mid-1970s, Ampeg had a line of Japanese-made guitars and basses under the "Stud" name. The guitars included the Stud, Heavy Stud, and Super Stud, and the basses included the Big Stud and Little Stud. The Studs were knock-offs of popular Fender and Gibson instruments (although the Fender copies sported rather incongruous 3/3 and 2/2 guitar and bass headstocks). Some of the Stud instruments were poorly built (e.g. the plywood bodies and necks on the Little Stud), while others had good-quality features (e.g., gold-plated hardware on the Super Stud).
Effects pedals & AccessoriesEdit
Ampeg also produced effects pedals, including stand-alone reverb units in the 60s, the Scrambler (distortion) from 1969 (a resurgence in interest resulted in an updated Scrambler being reissued in 2005 along with Sub-Blaster (octaver) that produced a note one octave down), the Phazzer (phaser) from the mid- to late-70s, and a line of nine stomp boxes produced in Japan in the mid-80s.
There were also Ampeg branded accessories that included covers, picks, strings, straps, polish, as well as two practice amps, the Sound Cube and the Buster (a Pignose clone). Currently, Ampeg mostly offers covers, some outerwear, and a few other accessories with their logo.
Recent instruments (after 1990s)Edit
In the mid- to late-1990s, Ampeg reissued the Baby Bass, the Horizontal Bass, and the "See-Through" instruments, as well as wooden instruments based on the "See-Through" design.
- Hopkins & Moore 1997.
- Hopkins, Gregg; Moore, Bill (1999). Ampeg: The Story Behind the Sound. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 175. ISBN 9780793579518.
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- Fjestad, Zachary (August 17, 2010). "Ampeg B-15N Portaflex". Premier Guitar."Much like all of Ampeg’s amps, the B-15 underwent constant change, and the B-15 was replaced by the B-15N in 1961. In 1962, Ampeg updated the B-15N with a solid-state rectifier called the B-15NB and introduced their famous “blue check” vinyl covering to their entire amp line. Ampeg went back to a tube rectifier and changed to a printed circuit board in 1964 (B-15NC). This model lasted until mid 1965, when they introduced the B-15NF with fixed bias tubes and a single-baffle cabinet. ...", "... Ampeg went through numerous ownership changes over the next two decades with Unimusic taking over in 1967, Magnavox in 1971, and MTI in 1980. / St. Louis Music bought Ampeg in 1985 and finally returned some stability and respect to the brand. The company also reissued the B-15N Portaflex with blue check covering in 1995. Ampeg was purchased by LOUD Technologies in 2005, and in 2010, they introduced the new Heritage Series that is produced in the US."
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