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History of Vintage Gibson Amplifiers

History of Vintage Gibson Amplifiers
Justin Brockie: Flickr.com

Gibson was one of the first manufacturers of electric guitar amplifiers, with the first model hitting their catalog in 1935. The electric guitar was developed shortly before this time by Gibson and a handful of other manufacturers, and the company saw the new trend as a potential marketing opportunity for amplification. Gibson amplifiers were constructed in their Kalamazoo plant in Michigan, featured all tube construction, and early examples sported few controls-if any at all.


The EH100 and EH150 were Gibson's fledgling amplifier models from 1935 to 1942, featuring 8 and 15 watts, respectively, with 10-inch speakers and no volume or tone controls. Volume controls were added to both models around 1937, with a single tone control added to the EH150, as well as a larger 12-inch speaker, for the model year. In 1941, the 15-watt, 12-inch speaker EH185 and EH125 were added, with an additional control for bass on the EH185. Although all amps featured similar power amp circuitry through the model years, preamp tube configuration changed almost from year to year.

Post WWII Gibson Amplifiers

War-time restrictions of components and hardware forced Gibson to halt manufacturing of electric guitars and amplifiers during World War II. Gibson began production again in 1946, employing Chicago-based electronic design company Barnes & Reinecke to design a new amplifier line. The new amps included the Ultratone BR-1, BR-3, BR-4, BR-6 and BR-9 models, with 10 to 18 watts of power. Volume and tone controls were featured on all models, except the smaller BR-6 and BR-9 amplifiers. The BR amplifiers were produced until 1954 and were discontinued to take advantage of more popular features and newer technology.

The 1950s

Shortly after development of the BR amplifiers, Gibson marketed its new GA series, starting in 1948, and continued with variations on the line until 1967. The GA series amplifiers made use of growing amplifier technology, and many early units began to feature volume, tone and bass controls, as well as tremolo and reverb effects. With the introduction of Gibson's famous Les Paul guitar in 1952 came Les Paul amplifiers as a special edition GA series, produced until 1961.

GA Series Amplifiers in the 1960s

The GA Series underwent numerous model and configuration changes through the late '50s through 1967, when manufacturing ceased. Names were also added to early '60s GA amps, including the Raider, Invader, Gibsonette, Skylark, Discoverer, Lancer, Rhythm King, several variations of Maestro and the Les Paul Junior. The mid-to late '60s saw Vanguard, Hawk, Scout, Titan, Mercury, Atlas, Apollo, Ranger, Saturn, Explorer and Minuteman model names.

Amplifier Speakers

Earlier Gibson amplifiers used Utah speakers, with Rola used on some later models in the '40s and early '50s. Gibson specified the use of Jensen speakers in the 1950s, switching to CTS speakers in the '60s, particularly in its budget amplifiers. Gibson offered JBL speakers as an option for certain models in the 1960s. Since speakers from this period used paper voice coils, which limited power handling, many older amplifiers may not feature original speakers.

Collector's Market

It is interesting to note that Gibson went head-to-head with Fender and other major manufacturers during the 1960s but never quite held market share. It is widely known to collectors that Gibson did not market amplifiers as heavily as Fender and other brands, and introduced new models without fanfare as a matter of course. Many Gibson amplifiers feature similar power, speaker arrays and electronic circuitry to other amps of the era, and are considered bargains on the vintage amplifier block because of their lack of popularity.

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