Early Solid State Amps (1965-1975)

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MrShake
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Early Solid State Amps (1965-1975)

Post by MrShake » Thu Jul 28, 2022 5:42 pm

My recent dive into Kustom and Kasino has me fascinated with an increasingly distant era of amps.

With digital and modelling taking over and tubes maintaining their place atop Tone Tower, the era of analog solid state amps is finite. Other than low-end cheapos and specialist stuff like Quilter, the period of solid state is kinda over, though the more modern designs will always live on in high-gain corners of rock.

Now, this is a love thread, not a hate thread. I'm not here to compare them to tubes, I'm intrigued by the unique characteristics of early solid state amps, specifically the ones with discrete transistors instead of ICs. Basically the 1965-1975 era, once IC chips started gaining hold in amp design. So many of the early ones I've seen inside are built like the top of the line products they were positioned as. For instance, the Kustom and Kasino amps I've been in are maybe the most heartily-built PCB amps I've ever seen. They make even '70s Peavey look a little flimsy. Huge, high-quality parts, good layout, modular design.

It's hard to find much analysis and and history on this quirky branch of the gear tree, but it certainly seems like Fender's "built to self-destruct" first Solid State line really hurt the public image of anything tubeless. I've never seen a working one, how do they actually *sound*?

These solid state pioneers, they're not tube amps, so just don't look at them as such. They have a unique character all their own.

That said, what say you other fans of these relics? What is it about them that keep you coming back to stuff like this? I mean, a huge-wattage clean tube amp will always be my #1 sound, but something about the late-'60s/early-'70s solid state attack really suits a lot of the more aggressive punky stuff I play. And so many of my post-punk and '80s underground influences played this type of amp, I don't have the sonic aversion so many of our more traditional guitar playing brethren seem to have.

We're safe in here. Let's geek out.

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Re: Early Solid State Amps (1965-1975)

Post by Sweetfinger » Thu Jul 28, 2022 9:51 pm

MrShake wrote:
Thu Jul 28, 2022 5:42 pm
... the Kustom and Kasino amps I've been in are maybe the most heartily-built PCB amps I've ever seen. They make even '70s Peavey look a little flimsy. Huge, high-quality parts, good layout, modular design.

...It's hard to find much analysis and and history on this quirky branch of the gear tree, but it certainly seems like Fender's "built to self-destruct" first Solid State line really hurt the public image of anything tubeless. I've never seen a working one, how do they actually *sound*?
IDK about Kustoms being better built than 70s Peavey. I always thought those 70s Peaveys were very well done. They're certainly more robustly constructed than just about ANY current production amp, tube or solid state.

If you already like the old transistor designs, you'll like the Fenders. If you're not talking about the overdriven sound, they compare nicely to their tube counterparts. They're just a pain to service, not at all well though out from a repair or maintenance perspective.

Overall, I think my main beef with the early SS amps is that they came in two groups: 1. small, (usually Japan made) cheap-o practice amps with speaker way too small for the cabinet and cost savings being the primary driver, or...
2. quite large, HEAVY, feature laden amps. Multiple channels, giant combos, tone banks, built in tuning standards, and not usually "packages" lifted from classic Fender lineage.
There wasn't a lot of "middle ground", i.e. well constructed SS amps, medium powered, in small to medium size combos, say 1-10", 2-10", 1X12", with one channel, reverb, trem, vol. and a tone stack.
You either get a small particle board 3 watt "Global" practice amp using a 2" by 3" circuit board with a 5" speaker, OR
you get a Kustom 200, or Lectrolab 2-12" 3 channel monster, Haynes Jazz King 2-12" built like a home stereo, or a Baldwin that physically resembled a large old Samsonite suitcase filled with bricks, only larger, heavier, and topped with giant buttons molded in the Lego factory. Look up the Ovation "The Cat". It's like a refrigerator made of brushed aluminum, and filled with bad ideas that seemingly no gigging guitar player tried out as a test.
Most of those amps seemed like they weren't designed by guitar players, certainly not designed to be serviced easily (no user serviceable parts inside), and if you thought a Twin Reverb was large and heavy for a gig amp, get ready to have your paradigm shifted.

Even when you did find a smaller combo say, like a Kustom Challenger, it was made of thick particle board, and a LOT of it. They weigh a ton, and start to fall apart as the screws all wallow their way out of the compressed crappo cabinet.

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Re: Early Solid State Amps (1965-1975)

Post by UlricvonCatalyst » Fri Jul 29, 2022 4:03 am

MrShake wrote:
Thu Jul 28, 2022 5:42 pm
so many of my post-punk and '80s underground influences played this type of amp, I don't have the sonic aversion so many of our more traditional guitar playing brethren seem to have.
That right there is probably what accounts for my love of H/Hs (that and the fluorescent green backlit front panel). I remember plugging my Mustang into my VS Musician, hitting a chord, and thinking "Holy shit - isn't that the exact sound of Ever Fallen in Love With Someone You Shouldn't've?"

Image

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Re: Early Solid State Amps (1965-1975)

Post by MrShake » Fri Jul 29, 2022 4:10 am

Fair point on Peavey, my tongue may have been in my cheek a bit, but the guts of these Kustom's is at the very least equal to the robustness of those tank-era Peaveys. And the "no middle ground" point makes sense, too.

And those H/H are super lovely, always wanted one for that same reason. It's those type of tones - Buzzcocks, Cure, Gang of Four, Bauhaus, et al, and all the US "college rock" bands - not aiming for "Strat+tweed", so it's got it's own charm, if that's your bag. And they don't quite sound like the "price point" solid states of the '90s.

And double bonus points for that lovely Mustang.

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Re: Early Solid State Amps (1965-1975)

Post by Larry Mal » Fri Jul 29, 2022 4:31 am

MrShake wrote:
Fri Jul 29, 2022 4:10 am
...Gang of Four...
I can't actually add much to this conversation, but your comment did make me remember some years ago when Gang of Four re-recorded a bunch of their classic songs on their 2005 album Return the Gift (which is very good), and how they said that one of the reasons they wanted to re-record them was because on the original recordings they didn't even have tube amps.

Which I always thought was funny, because if you could point to any music as illustrating how one does not need tube amps, it would be those.
Back in those days, everyone knew that if you were talking about Destiny's Child, you were talking about Beyonce, LaTavia, LeToya, and Larry.

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Re: Early Solid State Amps (1965-1975)

Post by MrShake » Fri Jul 29, 2022 5:54 am

I really liked Return The Gift too, but you're right about those original-era guitar tones. I put H/H and Gill's Carlsbro in a similar category, in that the pair of them seem like UK equivalents to Peavey and Kustom of the era.

Now I'm gonna go listen to Entertainment!.

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Re: Early Solid State Amps (1965-1975)

Post by panoramic » Fri Jul 29, 2022 6:07 am

UlricvonCatalyst wrote:
Fri Jul 29, 2022 4:03 am
MrShake wrote:
Thu Jul 28, 2022 5:42 pm
so many of my post-punk and '80s underground influences played this type of amp, I don't have the sonic aversion so many of our more traditional guitar playing brethren seem to have.
That right there is probably what accounts for my love of H/Hs (that and the fluorescent green backlit front panel). I remember plugging my Mustang into my VS Musician, hitting a chord, and thinking "Holy shit - isn't that the exact sound of Ever Fallen in Love With Someone You Shouldn't've?"

Image
Hell yeah! I have had a few really killer late 60's solid state amps over the years. Univox made quite a few nice ones.
One was a big old westbury 2x12 that had to weigh like 100lbs, sounded like a twin reverb but the break up was fizzy like an 80's power pop record.
i used to be cool

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Re: Early Solid State Amps (1965-1975)

Post by MrShake » Fri Jul 29, 2022 6:18 am

panoramic wrote:
Fri Jul 29, 2022 6:07 am
Univox made quite a few nice ones.
My first guitar was a Univox Les Paul...
My favorite fuzz is the Superfuzz...

How have I never owned a Univox amp?

...God, the last thing I need is another amp.

But, still...

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Re: Early Solid State Amps (1965-1975)

Post by panoramic » Fri Jul 29, 2022 6:54 am

https://reverb.com/item/53422157-univox ... lack-tolex

these are cool and fun little amps, the trem is very nice to my recollection
i used to be cool

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Re: Early Solid State Amps (1965-1975)

Post by stevejamsecono » Fri Jul 29, 2022 7:28 am

Always happy to see H|H amps up here. Once of these days I'll nab a VS Musician Head with the international transformer so I can bust out my favorite Stuart Adamson riffs. I'd love to see a modern Quilter-esque builder revive those circuits with Class D power supplies so they could be teenier.

They still cheap as chips on the various UK Craigslist alternatives? I remember a few years ago they still couldn't be given away.
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Re: Early Solid State Amps (1965-1975)

Post by johnnysomersett » Fri Jul 29, 2022 7:45 am

stevejamsecono wrote:
Fri Jul 29, 2022 7:28 am
They still cheap as chips on the various UK Craigslist alternatives? I remember a few years ago they still couldn't be given away.
They're still used as doorstops in every rehearsal room across the land :D

I had to source one for Bob Weston (Shellac) a few years back and it took me all of a day to track one down less than 3 miles from my house, for £40.
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Re: Early Solid State Amps (1965-1975)

Post by MrShake » Fri Jul 29, 2022 8:12 am

If I could find H/H stuff here at UK market prices and a cheap solution for the voltage, I'd already have TWO.

I also always found it cool that the early SS innovators largely carried over the "geographical identity" of the tube forefathers. British solid state stuff had a distinctive feel, different than stuff from each region of the US' individual sounds.

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Re: Early Solid State Amps (1965-1975)

Post by UlricvonCatalyst » Fri Jul 29, 2022 11:08 am

johnnysomersett wrote:
Fri Jul 29, 2022 7:45 am
it took me all of a day to track one down less than 3 miles from my house, for £40.
Ah, the good old days! Post-pandemic I've seen ever-more ambitious pricing on these and old Carlsboros. Probably has more to do with "It's old, so I'm sitting on a goldmine here!" than people waking up to what wonderful amps these are.

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Re: Early Solid State Amps (1965-1975)

Post by UlricvonCatalyst » Fri Jul 29, 2022 11:12 am

panoramic wrote:
Fri Jul 29, 2022 6:07 am
UlricvonCatalyst wrote:
Fri Jul 29, 2022 4:03 am
MrShake wrote:
Thu Jul 28, 2022 5:42 pm
so many of my post-punk and '80s underground influences played this type of amp, I don't have the sonic aversion so many of our more traditional guitar playing brethren seem to have.
That right there is probably what accounts for my love of H/Hs (that and the fluorescent green backlit front panel). I remember plugging my Mustang into my VS Musician, hitting a chord, and thinking "Holy shit - isn't that the exact sound of Ever Fallen in Love With Someone You Shouldn't've?"

Image
Hell yeah! I have had a few really killer late 60's solid state amps over the years. Univox made quite a few nice ones.
One was a big old westbury 2x12 that had to weigh like 100lbs, sounded like a twin reverb but the break up was fizzy like an 80's power pop record.
Ironic that I just noticed my Mustang is in fact plugged into the Epi Valve Jr. :fp:

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Re: Early Solid State Amps (1965-1975)

Post by Larsongs » Sat Jul 30, 2022 6:57 am

Would love to hear some songs with some of the Amps you guys are talking about.. And hear this great tone from the early SS Amps..

Thanks

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