Do you like your guitar amp, the way it sounds, the way it makes you sound? Maybe you play one of those amps that gets a great sound, but only that one sound. Perhaps you play through a modeling amp, or an amp with lots of “bells and whistles” that can provide a multitude of sounds, some of them bad. Maybe you have an amp that gets “every sound but the right one.”
It’s my belief and my opinion that a guitar amp is not some stand-alone piece of hardware that exists to make you sound better. My thought is that a guitar amp is an extension of the electric guitar, and therefore, and extension of the electric guitar player, the artist, the musician. I’m not alone in that line of thinking. The most famous and sought after electric guitars and amps are models designed in the 1950s – the original Telecaster, Stratocaster and Les Paul guitars, and the tweed Fender Deluxe and Bassman amplifiers. These, along with a few electric guitars and amps made in the early-to-mid 1960s are considered the cream of the crop.
The creator of many of those models was Clarence Leo Fender, known as Leo Fender to the industry, or just Leo to his friends. He created the Telecaster and Stratocaster guitars, Precision and Jazz basses, and those wonderful tweed and black-faced amps. These products are so good and so revered that not only are updated versions of those those guitars still in production, but Fender makes re-issues of many of the originals, and those guitars and amps have been imitated and cloned by many builders in today’s marketplace.
Leo Fender considered the guitar amp to be an extension of the electric guitar. Fender was issued three original patents on his Telecaster guitar. The first, granted in 1951, was the invention of the combination bridge and pickup assembly that is still used today. The second, also from 1951, was for the design and style, the look, of the Telecaster electric Spanish guitar. The third, and the one most fundamental to the guitar/amp combo, was patent 2,784,631 for a Tone Control for Stringed Instruments. This is Leo Fender’s design for the volume and tone control of the Telecaster. His design drawing for a guitar tone control included the guitar amp- the amp was “Fig.3.” on his drawing. The amp section included the coupling capacitor and cathode bias resistor for a tube triode, and a speaker/driver.
Think about this for a moment. The guitar had a tone and volume control, but the amp had neither. The first electric guitars and amps designed and built by Leo Fender were the K&F models. Today we call them “lap steels”, but back in the 1940s they were just called electric guitars. The guitar and amp were sold as a set, and there were no tone or volume controls on the amp. Most of the smaller Fender tweed amps had only a volume control; set the volume on the amp, and then control the loudness and tone with the controls on your guitar. Even the larger Fender amps started life with only a volume control (which is really an amp sensitivity control) and one control marked “Tone” that would cut or emphasize either treble or bass frequencies in the preamp circuit. The idea was for the guitarist to control the sound from the guitar, and the amp would respond. This is why all of the Fender guitars of the 1950s had switches for fast and easy tone changes- from “take-off” leads to straight rhythm to deep rhythm. The 3-pickup Stratocaster, the 2-pickup Telecaster, even the 1-pickup Esquire were designed for easy switching between three tones. You could then fine-tune your sound from the volume, tone, blend, and presets on your Fender guitar.
Because of Leo Fender’s two pieces of the same instrument design philosophy, those old Fender amps were known for their responsiveness. Fender amps of that era, especially the tweed Champ, Deluxe, and Bassman models, are still considered among the finest amps ever made, and they’re much sought after, cloned, and duplicated. They’re known for touch-sensitivity and dynamics. They respond to the player’s touch. Set the volume of the amp on the verge of breakup, and you can go from squeaky clean to raunchy distortion merely by variations in your guitar’s controls and your picking and fingering techniques. The electric guitar and the electric guitar amplifier- two pieces of one instrument.
So, in essence, that’s my philosophy on guitar amps. The amp should respond to the player’s touch, the players style, the player’s technique. My amps are not copies or clones of an existing design, but are built on the same idea that the amp is not only an extension of the guitar, but along with the guitar, an extension of the player, the artist.
Let nothing come between you and good tone, especially not your amp!