Re: amps - vintage vs reissue vs boutique

I'll second Mike's opinion that there are plenty of honest-to-goodness
vintage amps available at prices near or below most of the reissues, and
well below the boutiques.  I have two (both Gibsons, of quite different
sizes) that I bought from different sources (one mail-order, one a
personal word-of-mouth arrangement) with a total investment of less
than $600, including clean-up and minor repairs by an amp tech.  (Yes, I
added a grounded plug.  I guess that makes it less "vintage", less
collectable - but much safer!)  And they sound great.  Before entering the
market, however, I would suggest a few precautions:

1.  Gather information on amps.  There is plenty in the HARP-L archives,
also various books exist, and you may have friends who can provide
info.  Some of the guitar magazines review old amps, odd as that
sounds, or compare new amps to vintage ones.  (Perhaps this is why
guitarists often seem to be up on these things, however not all good
guitar amps are good harp amps, and vice versa.)

2. Shop around extensively.  You need to get your personal price meter
calibrated.  Mail order is often cheaper than shops, but you are dealing
with "sight unseen" merchandise.  I've been to some shops which were
pretty aggravating: "How much is that old Gibson you have on display?"
"Oh that's not for sale - what were you thinking of offering?"  Yuck.  But
there are probably some honest ones out there: a big town like LA may
have a few.  It also pays to figure out what sound YOU like and what
size you want or need before making an investment.  You can do some
of this "testing" equipment at shops, but it also pays to observe what
other people are playing.

3.  Find a good amp tech.  Most of us are better off not working on this
equipment, although if you have the training, and feel you can do it you
could save yourself $$ in the long run.  However, a good tech can tell
you if there are serious problems with an amp's electronics and do a lot
to make it sound better.  (Plus that grounded plug!  Most old amps have
what appear to be seriously inadequate cords and plugs.)  If you are
new to this, even if you are an electrical engineer, the tech has a big
experience advantage.  (If you make really good friends with your tech,
he may let you play through the stuff he currently is working on - a great
way to test stuff out with no pressure to buy, buy, buy.)  Also, some
older amps use tubes that are no longer in production and hard to get. 
This usually drops the price, since the amp can't be used as a working
amp, right?  But a good tech can often modify the circuit to take similar
tubes that are in production!  A friend of mine had this done for an
Ampeg he bought extremely cheap - now it looks cool in that checked
blue covering and still sounds great.

Many people think the "deals" on these vintage amps may not last much
longer.  The market price for Fender stuff has been increasing rapidly
(as my guitar playing friends mourn) : you pay extra for older stuff, for
tweed vs "blackface", for blackface vs silverface.  (I've seen early 70's
silverface Fender Champs - a decent harp amp - listed for under $200,
however.)  A lot of people blame the price increases on "collectors", but
recent trends in pop music have a lot to do with this as well - I don't
know much about "grunge", but I've heard the grunge guitarists like old
Fender stuff.  Gibson's are usually cheaper (they also sound different - I
don't want to take the time to describe it, but if you play through
equivalent Fender and Gibson products you'll hear it).  However, I was
recently told that an interview with Dickey Betts (sp?) [guitarist from the
Allman Bros.] just came out where he raves about his Gibson amp.  So
the prices may increase for these as well - they're just so TRENDY.

Of course, if the pop music world spins toward clean, solid state
amplifiers (back to disco?) the prices could all crash down again.  I don't
know if we should wish for that or not.....????


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