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The Rockin' History of Magnatone Amps

The Rockin' History of Magnatone Amps

History of Magnatone Amps

Long before it was known as  Magnatone amps, the Dickerson Musical Instrument Company was founded in the 1930s and largely catered to the still-burning Hawaiian steel guitar boom that started around the turn of the century. In 1946, it was acquired by Art Duhamell who changed the name to the Magna Electronics Company, and began building Magnatone guitar amps. Magnatone bore witness to the birth of the solid-body electric guitar, and even employed Paul Bigsby, the originator of the concept, between 1955-1957. 

Although the Magna Electronics company produced a wide range of products, including guitars, it was their amplifiers that became popular amongst first wave Rock & Rollers. Buddy Holly played a Magnatone and so did Lonnie Mack. These amps were distinctive for their F.M. Vibrato effect, a so-called “real vibrato”, which actually pitch-shifted the guitar signal rather than just creating rhythmic volume fluctuations. Over the decades, the company faded in obscurity, but some veteran rockers, such as Neil Young, still retained Magnatones in their backline.

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Ownership Changes and Financial Insolvency 

The Magna Electronics Company changed ownership several times throughout the 1940s and 1950s. By the late 1950s, Magnatone had expanded into premium pro amplifiers, but more ownership changes caused the company to shift their focus to organs in the early 1960s. As a last ditch effort to save the brand and capitalize on the Beat music boom, Magna Electronics brought in guitarist Tony Jerome to consult on new amp designs as well as embark on a clinic tour to drum up sales.

Unfortunately the efforts of Tony Jerome didn’t pay off, and financial complications led to financial insolvency, forcing the company to cut costs and move from sunny California to substantially Minnesota. The company lost several key employees during this move, as they were understandably not excited about moving from California to the cold midwest. In 1969, Magna Electronics Company was bought out by a parent company, sealing the casket on the Magnatone name after years of innovation, success, and failure.

The Historic Brand Revived

After 44 years of silence, the Magnatone brand was revived in 2013 by Ted Kornblum.Born to a family of musical instrument suppliers, Ted Kornblum was always keen on historic gear. Looking to start a new chapter in his career in 2013, Kornblum discovered that the copyright on the Magnatone brand had expired. He quickly amassed an impressive collection of vintage Magnatone products for reference and took it upon himself to resurrect the line.

Magnatone Amps and ZZ Top

Naturally, the available technology had changed dramatically since the original Magnatone stopped producing amps around 1969, so Kornblum sought out experts to help him improve on the original models. Larry Cragg, amp tech to Neil Young, proved invaluable to Korblum’s quest, as did Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top.

After much consultation, it was decided that two designs were necessary to appease all the involved parties: Magnatone Amps with master volumes, and more traditional models without. In addition to this, Magnatone offers heads and combos powered by 6V6, EL-84, and EL-34 power-tubes. This line doesn’t just offer coveted, forgotten sounds, but a wide spectrum of tones drawn from the history of tube amplification. From jazz to hard rock, there’s certain to be a Magnatone to suit your fancy.

The Magnatone Sound

In one word, the Magnatone sound is “immersive.” These amps don’t just blow you away, they surround you. This is especially true of their stereo models, such as the Panoramic and the Twilighter, which take full advantage of the onboard F.M. Vibrato by making it individually accessible through each speaker. A wet/dry combination, for example, gives you that ethereal warble without compromising clarity. 

If you want gutsy, in-your-face power, check out the Super Fifty-Nine M80 head, a EL-34 driven beast that combines the MK1 and MK2 gain stages. If you want full, dimensional tone coupled with portability, dig into the Varsity Reverb. If you want to sail away on a wave of lush reverb and tremolo, the aforementioned Panoramic would make a great fit. Give us a call or make an appointment today and we can discuss which Magnatone is right for you.

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Jan 7th 2021 Robinson Earle

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