As of June 27th of this year, I have had a brick and mortar store (OK, it’s a wooden train car) for two years. In that time, perhaps a dozen cool guitars have walked in the door that I’ve bought. It’s one of the best reasons to have an actual store. Nobody has walked in with a ‘burst that’s been under a bed since Grandpa died in 1978 but there have been some very nice guitars. But not as many as I would have expected. That might be because guitars are pretty easy to sell and pretty easy to ship. But amps? Not so much. In that same time frame, I’ve had at least 35 amps walk in the door and I’ve bought (or taken as consignments) nearly all of them. It’s very hard to resist great old amps.
Interestingly and not surprisingly, most have been Fenders and all of them have been tube amps. After all, that’s what most of us used back in the day. Yeah, we had our little flings with solid state. I had a Vox Royal Guardsman for a while when I was a teenager and later, when I was gigging regularly, I had an Acoustic Control amp (solid state) which was a pretty great amp but I think the speakers had something to do with that. My Acoustic amp had 2-15″ JBL’s and a horn the size of a Buick. It weighed about 1000 lbs. That brings me to the point of this post.
Recently I wrote about how well multiple 10″ speakers seem to pair with 335’s. Cases in point being a 3-10 tweed Bandmaster, a couple of 4-10 Bassmans, a BF Tremolux and a silver face Vibrolux all of which I had in my shop at the time. At the same time, I had no amps with 15″ speakers. 15’s just seem to be out of fashion and that seems odd considering just how popular they have been in the past. I had a 64 Showman with a 15″ JBL that I used all through high school and the aforementioned Acoustic with the 15’s that I used through college and after. There was a period in the late 90’s when I had a pretty wonderful 63 BF Pro with a single 15. Then years went by without any 15″ speaker amps at all. Decades really. Then, in the past couple of weeks, a bunch of amps with 15’s came in and I gave them another listen.
Once you get used to a bit of mud in your neck pickup at high volume, you barely notice it. That is, until you play the same guitar through a 15. The bottom seems to clean right up to the point where the bottom strings take on a truly musical tone instead of a dullish thud. I have three 15″ amps right now, each with it’s own signature tone. The blackface Vibroverb is a long time favorite with massive clean tones in all pickup positions right up to “8” on the dial. The wide panel tweed Pro breaks up like a tweed at fairly low volume but the bass notes don’t get totally lost in the dirt like they can on a tweed Deluxe or even a Super or Bandmaster. Finally, there’s a Gibson GA-80 “Varitone” with its five preset tones, 25 watts and a 15″ speaker. Interesting amp. Probably be great for country as it shows a lot of highs and honk. The presets depend on various value capacitors which act as notch filters and give the guitar a range of tones from scooped mids to out of phase Strat honk straight up twang. Cool amp that is as rare as it is unusual.
So don’t just dismiss amps with a single 15 as archaic or out of vogue. I think the big Marshall cabinets of the 60’s and 70’s probably killed the 15″ speaker as much as anything but nowadays folks want to carry less and still get big tone. maybe it’s time to take a look backward and see just why these were all the rage back in 67.