Saturday, February 27, 2021

 It's been many years since I posted here, but I wanted to let anyone who comes here looking for a particular story know that I am slowly but surely moving all of these stories over to my personal website. So, if the link you clicked for a particular amp or guitar didn't work, you might try my website. You can read many of the stories that have already been moved here:

Mostly I have been worried that they will eventually shut down this Blogger format and these stories will simply disappear. So...thanks for enjoying them through the years and be sure to click that link and visit the new The Ones That Got Away. 



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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gibson GA-19RVT Falcon Amplifier

Today at work I received an email from one of the guys I play music with in The Small Pox Mountain Boys. Oliver is also the singer/guitarist in a great band that deserves some recognition called Deliverance Machine. Okay, now that I've gotten the "props" out of the way, the reason he emailed me was to let me know there was a cool vintage Gibson amp on Craig's List. I clicked on the link and, lo and behold, it was exactly like an old amp I'd found at the swap meet and completely forgotten about. Well, you know that means there's a new story to tell on the ol' blog.

The Gibson Falcon I used to own pretty much sucked.

There, I said it. Start with the truth. I found it at the local swap meet, back on the back row. Some guy had quite a few guitar related items including this amp. They don't just have power cords running all over the place, so I asked the guy how much it was and if it worked properly. He said $50 and yes, it worked perfectly. I decided to take him at his word and not try to lug the thing around to some outlet and to see if it came on. He didn't really have a guitar to plug into it for testing, so the best I could have done was plug in and see if the light came on. I got it home and it did all that just fine.

What it didn't do was sound good. I think if I were an amp tech I could have tweaked on it, changed out some amp parts stuff (whatever that is in there) and probably ended up with a pretty sweet little amp. I've often heard that many older Gibson amps are underrated and pretty nice. These Falcons were made from '62 to '67 and pumped out 15 watts. They had one 12" speaker and reverb and tremolo according to this website. The one I had came with the original footswitch, just like the one pictured (I stole the photos from the listing on Craig's List). I checked out the reviews on Harmony Central and there were some "sounds awesome" type reviews, so mine probably just needed some TLC.

I eventually traded it in on a Strat at Guitars West and everybody was happy. Even the douche at the swap meet who sold me an iffy amp under false description.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Magnatone High Fidelity Custom 480

This one will make you feel like throwing up in your mouth just a little. There is an Amvets thrift store somewhat near my house that used to always have pretty good stuff (not so much any more). Weird swirly bowling balls and cool vintage bags, interesting furniture, cool western shirts before everyone including surf companies started making western shirts, and I even found a couple of lap steels here. One day I walked in and sitting in the middle of some dog cages and fake plants and old people's walkers was a Magnatone Custom 480. I walked over to it very quickly so as not to draw attention to myself, but not let anyone else get there though that was going to happen.

To be honest, from a distance I wasn't 100% sure it was an amp at all. I thought maybe it was one of those old style console stereos or something. But as I got closer I knew it was an amp. I didn't know much about Magnatones, but in the back of my mind I sort of remembered something about Robert Cray playing one. I plugged it in and got nothing. I noticed that the fuse was missing. This would be obvious to anyone with some amp knowledge because it was right there on the control panel. I went over and sweet talked my way down to $25 for the amp and it was a done deal. I picked it up...I should say I tried to pick it up...and, man, it was heavy. Finally lugged it out to the car and headed to Moonlight Music, which was a local guitar store. He actually had the correct fuse with the screw on cap built in, which was a very lucky score.

We turned it on and, SWEET. It worked!

It had inputs for guitar and accordion and maybe something else. For you geeks I found this info and the photos at (a very cool amp site): The Custom 480 originally sold for $499.95. It has 13 tubes, 1 transistor. The 2 input channels (each with high & low gain) are preamp'd by 6EU7's. Each has a Loudness, Bass, and Treble control. There is also a stereo input. Stereo vibrato is handled by 6CG7's and a 12BH7 to amplify the oscillator. A 6DR7 drives the input to the reverb pan, and a 2N306 transistor takes care of the return. Phase inversion is acomplished with twin 12AU7's. Four 6973's drive the stereo transformers along with two 12" Oxfords. It had approximately 50 watts.

Anyway, I kept the Magnatone for awhile but didn't feel comfortable gigging with it. Plus, it was just too heavy to drag around. I eventually traded it in at a guitar store and now can't remember what I traded it for. I do remember getting $250 in value for it. Not bad for a $25 thrift store find. I'm sure Robert Cray would have wanted this one.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fender Princeton Reverb Silverface

I'm pretty sure everyone should own a Princeton Reverb. I've owned at least two and maybe three...I've lost count. There is a good and a bad side to these amps though...they're really not loud enough to gig with, but they sound absolutely fantastic. I'd love to have one again just for recording purposes and I'll probably keep hoping that one day I'll come across one at the Swap Meet or at a Pawn Shop somewhere and the owner won't know how much it's worth. "What? That old '70s amp in the corner? Heck, I'd take $30 for it I guess." We can all dream can't we?

And what's the deal with pawn shops these days?

Do they all think that they can charge more for a guitar than it's worth? What happened? Pawn shops used to be places that you could find a good deal on a guitar for the simple reason that when you go pawn a guitar in the first place they give you about four nickels and a couple of dimes for it and act like they've done you a favor. So, they could sell them for a good price and still come out way ahead. At some point in about the late '80s all pawn shops decided that they were retail shops and started jacking up prices on crappy Squiers and Johnsons and other weird brands from Pakistan or somewhere. They've all got those little Gorilla practice amps too, don't they? I digress.

The last Princeton Reverb that I had, I traded away exactly because it just wasn't loud enough. I was in a band that was rehearsing in a small little rehearsal spot and I could just never hear myself over the Carvin half stack our other guitarist cranked through. And by the way, while I'm digressing, why won't people admit that Carvin makes some pretty darn good sounding gear for the money? Their amps have always sounded really good...they make a tweed called (I think) the Bel Air that sounds nice and their stacks always sound very crunchy...I'd rather have a Carvin half stack than a lot of those other non-Marshall brands that try to pull it off. And I will go on the record that their PA gear is unbeatable for gigging folks like you and I and extremely cost effective. This sounds like one of those sneaky blog ads or something but it's not. I just believe that Carvin should get some credit and I don't think you're going to find many folks willing to say it. Especially when they're supposed to be writing about Fender Princetons.

Okay, no more digressing. Fender made the Princeton way back in the '40s, but the Silverface version I have owned were made from '68 to '82 when Paul Rivera released the Princeton Reverb II. From what I remember and have barely researched just now, these put out about 12 watts, which is perfect for recording and fine if you don't mind micing the amp and not being able to hear yourself, but not really practical for most guitarists on stage. Over the years of this model they had lots of different specs and small variations on features. The last one I owned had a pull pot, amazing clean tone and beautiful reverb. Man, I'm talking myself into wanting another one even more as I write this.

The best part of this story though is how I eventually ended up trading it. There is a fairly well known guy in vintage circles named J.R. who owns Sunset Music in Idaho. However, before he moved to Idaho he ran a small guitar store in Encinitas, CA called Blue Ridge Guitars. He was always fair with me, so one day I decided I really wanted a Gibson ES-125 Cutaway he had that had suffered the classic neck/headstock repair, which dropped it's value but didn't change the way it sounded...amazing. He had been sitting on this guitar for awhile and it was worth approximately the same as my Princeton Reverb. I walked in with my amp and just said, "Hey, no one is buying that 125 and I don't have any extra cash to sweeten the deal...why don't we just trade straight up fair and square and you'll have an amp you can more easily sell and I'll have a guitar I want." This kind of bargaining never works. But for some reason J.R. saw the logic in my deal and shook his head and said, "Okay, let's do it." He asked if the amp worked fine and I said it did. We didn't even write up a receipt...the whole thing took less than 5 minutes and I was out the door with a pretty cool guitar.

So, thanks J.R. for a cool deal. Wish I had that amp back though.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Lafayette Model U-750A Amplifier

Story Submitted by Alex Herrlein

This amp got its own story not so much because I miss it, but because it was an odd one. I don't know what I was searching for on eBay, but I found, bid on and won this 1968 Lafayette combo for probably less then $200. It was pretty obviously made by Univox, since they didn't do anything to change it from the equivalent Univox except make the logo read "Lafayette" in the same font. These were made in Japan and featured a circuit board with the words "muscal amplifier" printed on it (see the picture). That's not a typo, that's how they spelled it!

The amp had two 12" speakers mounted vertically, one of which was an original Jensen C12S, which must have been the bottom of the line for Jensen. I replaced the mismatched one with a reissue Jensen C12Q. The power tubes were weird--6973 I believe, which I found out were much more common in jukeboxes than in guitar amps. I think the amp put out around 15 watts. The rest of the amp was all tube, and it had just tone, volume, and tremolo controls. I remember the tone knob after a while working more as a midrange control than a treble roll-off.

The tremolo was pretty nice and I think made to sound more Vox than Fender. Since there were two channels with two inputs apiece, you could jumper the channels and get a little more gain. However, gain wasn't really the issue so much as headroom. The sound was pretty nice at low volumes; somewhat more jangly than a Silvertone, but not as lush as a more expensive amp. The headroom was stupidly low--when you got it past normal speaking volume it started to break up. I tried a Groove Tubes plug-in solid-state rectifier in place of the 6CA4 tube, but it was what it was. Ultimately, I realized that it was too much amp for too little wattage. It would have made a better 1x12" combo, but as a vertical 2x12", it was too tall for what was otherwise a cheap low-wattage amp.

I took it to a music store and pitched it as a poor man's AC30, but I don't think they were buying it.

I ended up putting it on consignment and eventually someone else got intrigued for $199. It's just as well that I don't have it anymore, since I might have tried to cut the cabinet down at some point and ruin what little collectibility it had.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

1984 Fender Flame

Story submitted by Alex Herrlein

Back when I was in high school, the place to buy guitars was the Starving Musican in Santa Clara, CA. I think it has changed some over the years, but, in the early and mid-'90s, it had a lot of used gear at good prices. I was ready to move up from my first guitar (an Ibanez Roadstar in white, with a black neck from another Ibanez) to a better one. I saw a 1984 Fender Flame and figured since it said "Fender" and was black (which was where my heavy-metal color preferences fell in those days) it had to be good.

The price tag was $250, and I got $75 in trade from the Ibanez. These guitars were supposedly made only in 1984 in Japan, around the time when Fender wasn't doing any American production. They made a very similar Esprit and eventually they became the Robben Ford model. I guess the idea was to compete more with Gibson, since this had humbuckers, a set neck, a quasi-Tune-o-matic bridge, and a slightly arched top like a Les Paul. From what I heard, the slightly smaller humbuckers were made by Schaller, and I think the tuners and bridge were too. I believe the body was alder with a maple top. It was gleaming black, with cream binding around the body, neck, and headstock.

Too nice for a high schooler's second guitar, but there you have it.

I didn't care for the stock humbucker, which I thought was kind of muddy, so I had Starving Musician replace the bridge pickup with a Seymour Duncan Hot Soapbar P-90, which I believe fit pretty closely. That was my main guitar in my high school band, but got less play afterwards when it became the backup to a 1979 Gibson "The SG," which I still have. Predictably, it played great and was well-made. I sold it for $300 a few years later to a friend and band mate who I believe still has it. I've considered contacting him to buy it back, but I decided to let it go.

this picture is not of mine, but looks just the same.


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Dixon Mandolin

I think this might be the first in a long line of mostly inexpensive (except for the Eastman) mandolins I have owned, then realized I don't really know how to play more than five chords, then eventually sold. Not a long story here...I decided to try to learn a few chords and started looking on eBay for a cheap, but cool mandolin. I came across this one by Dixon. I wanted something I could plug in and this met the requirements. It was made in Japan and I have seen at least five different brand names slapped onto this exact model mando over the last few years. They usually go for around $125-150, but somehow I snagged this one for $95.

It came with an old, original hardshell case that smelled like Charles Barkley's shoe closet.

No offense, Sir Charles. It actually had pretty good action and the electronics on it worked perfectly. Knobs mounted on the pickguard and some quality plastic in the pick-up. The acoustic sound was okay...nothing spectacular, but it did stay in tune. Plugged in sounded just about how you'd imagine it...somewhat cheap...but mess around with it a bit and it was acceptable. It would actually be good for the acoustic group I play with right now...again, nothing amazing, but very affordable and would add a nice little touch here and there without breaking the bank.

I hung onto this one for about a year and, when I decided that maybe I could use a slightly better mando (again, I'm delusional regularly), I sold it back on eBay for $135. Hey, nice little profit (and I do mean little) and someone else got a good deal as well. But, would I want it back? Well, if someone handed it to me and said, "Here you go doofus, it's all yours!"...I'd take it for sure. Might be fun to have lying around. Especially since I've long since sold the one I got to take it's place.