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Ampeg Electric Bass and Guitar Amplifiers

Updated on February 17, 2013

Ampeg Amplifiers

Ampeg is a musical instrument amplifier manufacturer headquartered in Woodinville, Washington. Although the company specializes in the production of electric bass guitar amplification, Ampeg also manufactures electric guitar and double bass amplifiers.

Ampeg first existed under the name "Michaels-Hull Electronic Labs", as a partnership between Everett Hull, an accomplished pianist and bassist, and Stanley Michaels. The original goal of the company was to produce both a new microphone pickup that Hull designed, and to produce instrument amplifiers with a minimum of output distortion. In general, tube amplifiers will break up into a distorted sound when overdriven, an effect that Hull, a jazz musician, disliked. The pickup was intended to fit onto the end of an upright bass, and was dubbed the "Amplified Peg" or "Ampeg" for short. After gaining sole proprietorship of the company, Hull changed the company's name to "Ampeg Bassamp Company".

Ampeg was acquired by Magnavox in 1970 and held until MTI of Japan acquired Magnavox in 1980 Ampeg V Series. In the 1990s-00s Ampeg came under SLM (St Louis Music). SLM was subsequently bought by Loud Technologies in 2005

Ampeg B18 combo bass amp
Ampeg B18 combo bass amp

Innovations

Ampeg holds six U.S. patents under the Ampeg brand name. In 1960 Jess Oliver (real name: Oliver Jesperson) created 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 became known as the "Portaflex" and remained a popular choice through the 1960s. Also in the 1960s, 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.

Super Vacuum Tube

1969 Ampeg SVT bass amp head
1969 Ampeg SVT bass amp head

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 Vacuum Tube 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. After their Hiwatt amplifiers were delayed at U.S. Customs, the Rolling Stones decided to take SVTs on tour with them.

Many original '70s SVT's are still in use today. A bass speaker cabinet for use with the SVT was designed by Roger Cox. These large speaker cabinets used eight 10" loudspeakers in four rows of two speakers. These cabinets were designed as a sealed, infinite baffle enclosure. Originally issued with CTS speakers, from 1972 until the purchase of the company by SLM electronics, Ampeg used Eminence loudspeakers. The use of 10" speakers for a high-powered bass amplifier was a major departure from the prevailing wisdom of the era, which was that large diameter drivers were required for low-end sound reproduction. The SVT guitar amp and the companion 8 X 10" speaker cabinet have been reissued by Ampeg.

Ampeg V4 head
Ampeg V4 head

Collectability and playability

Compared to the major brands Fender and Marshall, the collectability and playability of the guitar amps is a mixed affair. While vintage Fender amps always command high prices, Ampeg guitar amps can most of the time be found for less money. In general, Ampeg guitar amps until 1964 are not very much wanted as they have a dark, moody sound and remain very clean, even when pushed hard. With the introduction of the Galaxy line (Gemini, Mercury, Reverberocket) in 1964, Ampeg's guitar amps became higher in wattage, reverbs were added and tubes that are easier to find nowadays began to be incorporated. Many of these models are underrated, take pedals well, and are the best buys for guitar amps from that time period. From 1969 until 1979 the SVT line was introduced, and these amps are more often sought after. Original SVT bass amps are very much sought-after for their fat, clear, punchy sound, and the V2 and V-4 heads along with the VT-40 and VT-22 combos are sought after for the classic 70s crunchy but clean sound.

Instruments and accessories

Ampeg Dan Armstrong bass
Ampeg Dan Armstrong bass

Ampeg also manufactured (or had manufactured for them) lines of quirky but distinctive instruments to complement their amplifiers. This began around 1962 with the Baby Bass, 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.

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.

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.

In 1969 the Horizontal Basses were replaced by the Dan Armstrong-designed and -built "see-through" guitars and basses. The guitars incorporated snap-in replaceable pickups to change the sound, 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 incredibly 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.

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. 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). In the 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.

Ampeg also produced effects pedals, including stand-alone reverb units in the 60s, the Scrambler from 1969 (a resurgence in interest resulted in an updated Scrambler being reissued in 2005), the Phazzer from the mid- to late-70s, and a line of nine stompboxes produced in Japan in the mid-80s. There were also Ampeg-branded picks, strings, straps, polish, as well as two practice amps, the Sound Cube and the Buster (a Pignose clone).

Ampeg SVT-2PRO
Ampeg SVT-2PRO

Ampeg now

The current Ampeg company is mainly successful in the field of bass amps. They also have a line of guitar amplifiers and a remake of the Dan Armstrong guitar and bass.

Lee Jackson designed the VL line of guitar amplifiers for Ampeg in the late 1980s, early 1990s. They were available in both 50W and 100W heads and a 50W 2x12 combo.

In 2005, Ampeg, and its parent company, St. Louis Music (also makers of Crate amps) were purchased by Loud Technologies (LTEC on the NYX). In March 2007, Loud ceased production of Ampeg and Crate at the manufacturing facility in Yellville, AR, outsourcing the manufacture of Ampeg and Crate to contract manufacturers in Asia. In May, 2007, Loud closed and sold the plant in Yellville, AR and also closed the Ampeg and Crate engineering department in St. Louis, MO, preferring to have new models designed by their own engineers, as well as an Asian engineering group. These moves have been strongly questioned 'on the streets', as it has raised concerns about the overall quality, especially among Ampeg users. A major selling point for Ampeg in the past was that it was designed and made in America.

Ampeg users

Steve Morse - Dixie Dregs ,V4

Mark Hoppus - Blink-182

Matthew Bellamy - Muse

Josh Homme - Queens of the Stone Age

Dave Grohl - Foo Fighters

James Jamerson - Funk Brothers, Motown recording band. Used B-15n in live performance.

Duck Dunn - Booker T. and the MG's, Stax recording band.

Victor Wooten - Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Solo Artist

Les Claypool - Primus

Cliff Burton - Metallica

Jason Newsted - Metallica, Rock Star Supernova, Voivod

Rick Danko - The Band

Keith Richards - Rolling Stones

Mick Taylor - Rolling Stones

Bill Wyman - Rolling Stones

Paul Simonon - The Clash

Billy Sheehan - Mr. Big

Gene Simmons - Kiss

Doug Pinnick - King's X

John McVie - Fleetwood Mac

Roger Waters - Pink Floyd

Nicky Wire - Manic Street Preachers

Jah Wobble - Public Image Ltd

Paul McCartney

Dee Dee Ramone

Greg Sage - The Wipers

Matthew Followill - Kings of Leon, Uses two Ampeg Reverberocket 212R's

Whats your favorite Ampeg amp? Tell us about it here.

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    • profile image

      anonymous 

      6 years ago

      I love the sound of Ampeg, it would be interesting to know how the Kemper profiling amp would copy the Ampeq sound.

      http://www.squidoo.com/kemper-profiling-amp

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      6 years ago

      I can remember a ampeg bass guitar with a violin head is there any information you might share about it?

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