The electric guitar may be the icon of American popular music in the 20th century, but rock ’n’ roll as we know it today would not have been possible without the amplifier. With the emergence of the now-familiar rock line-up of guitar, bass, drums, and vocals in the 1950s and 1960s, guitarists needed a way to be heard over the noise of their fellow musicians.

Clarence Leonidas "Leo" Fender was the first to address this need. Along with Clayton Orr “Doc” Kaufman, Fender began making amps in 1945 under the brand name K&F. After Doc left K&F in 1946, Fender founded the Fender Electric Instrument Company. Ever since, Fender has been one of the leading names in amplifiers, and its products from this period consistently rank among the most valuable and collectible.

The company released the first true Fender amp in 1947: the Model 26. More models soon followed, including the Super, the Princeton, the Deluxe, and the Professional. The amps from this period are known today as “woodies” for their main material.

Fender's design changed rapidly over the years. Amps made from 1948 to 1953 are commonly known as “TV amps” due to their shape—square, with a rounded cutout for the speaker, which made it resemble the televisions of the time. Because the required woodwork and carpentry were fairly unattractive, Fender covered these amps in tweed, which became a distinctive look until the early 1960s. In 1953, the company switched to the “wide panel” design, which featured a slightly more rectangular shape and a square cutout for the speaker.

The most collectible Fender amps were produced from 1955 to 1960, though amps from the early and mid-1960s are also quite prized. These amps were more powerful than their predecessors and have a better sound. In fact, many guitarists consider the Tweed Bassman produced during this period to be the best rock guitar amp ever made.

The amps made from 1955 to 1960 feature a “narrow panel” shape, which has less space above and below the speaker, making for a slicker look. In 1959, Fender switched to the “browns,” named for the color of the control panel, knobs, and a vinyl covering called Tolex. Fender produced these amps alongside white or “blond” Tolex amps.

In 1963, Fender switched designs yet again to the “blackface” look, which sported black Tolex and the now-familiar silver sparkle cover over the speaker. These amps also had buil...

Fender was acquired by CBS in 1965, and many guitarists and collectors mark that year as the start of a drastic decline in quality. Some of the flaws were small but embarrassing—the rear panels of amplifiers made in late 1965 and early 1966, for example, are stamped with the words “Division of Colombia Records Division,” even though the name of the record label was actually spelled Columbia.

By the time Fender had come under the auspices of CBS, it already had major competition from overseas. In 1962, Jim Marshall made his first amplifier with the help of his chief technician, Ken Bran, in Hanwell, England, where imported Fender amplifiers were prohibitively expensive. As rock drummers became louder and increasingly aggressive in the 1960s, guitarists needed something that could push their work through the noise.

A drummer himself, Marshall began with the Fender Bassman as an inspirational model. The very first amp he built had four inputs and two volume controls, in addition to treble, bass, middle, and presence knobs—just like the Bassman. From the start, the tone of the Marshall amplifier was different from that of the Fender, thanks largely to the British, postwar leftover parts he used.

The first amplifier Marshall produced on a large scale was the JTM45; the JTM stands for Jim and Terry Marshall (Terry was Jim’s son). The first 100 of these amplifiers are particularly rare and collectible—they sport enameled metal name plates embossed with the word “MARSHALL” in block letters.

Unfortunately, the pair of 12-inch speakers Marshall used in the JTM45 kept overloading and blowing out, so he modified the design to power four 12-inch speakers. Thus the modern Marshall speaker cabinet was born. Marshall began producing 50- and 100-watt models, which had become extremely popular by 1964.

Fender and Marshall remain the most recognized brands of guitar amps today, but they are far from the only ones. The British brand Vox, founded in 1958 by Jennings Musical Instruments, had a particularly influential impact on rock ’n’ roll, especially in England—their AC-15 and AC-30 amplifiers were used by bands like The Shadows and The Beatles.

Although Gibson is known more for its guitars, it also produced a few amplifiers. Originally, each amplifier was conceived as being tied to a specific guitar, rather than a stand-alone piece of equipment that could be used with an array of instruments. So when Gibson released its first electric guitar—the E-150—in the late 1930s, it decided to release an amplifier to go with it, the EH series. From World War II to 1967, Gibson built its amps in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and those from the late 1940s and 1950s are considered fairly collectible, though generally less so than their Fender counterparts.

Epiphone also produced amplifiers during this period. One of note is the Professional, which took the then-common concept of the integrated guitar-amplifier to its logical conclusion—the Professional was packaged and sold with a guitar, and all of the controls for the amplifier itself were located on the body of the guitar! The two were connected via a multi-pin cable so the guitarist could control the volume and tone of the amplifier from the instrument.

Other noteworthy brands include Ampeg, Gretsch, Magnatone, and Danelectro (the Montgomery Ward brand).

Beyond their manufacturer, amps can be considered valuable or collectible based on their association with specific artists. The Fender Dual Showman is closely associated with surf guitarist Dick Dale, while the words Marshall and Hendrix are often lumped together. More recently, Jack White of the White Stripes frequently played a Danelectro Silvertone 1485 when his band was becoming popular, which launched the amplifier from relative obscurity into the spotlight.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Vintage Danelectro

Vintage Danelectro

This site is as cool as the Nat Daniels’s designed Danelectro guitars and amplifiers that grace its easy-to-navig… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Guitars Info

Vintage Guitars Info

This great reference site features detailed sections on vintage guitar makers, including Gibson, Fender, Martin, Gr… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Guitar and Bass

Vintage Guitar and Bass

Want to see all the old brochures and ads for your favorite vintage axe? Check out this great site, which showcases… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage 1960's Silvertone Model 1448 Electric Guitar W/ Tube Amp In CaseVintage 1966 Fender Bassman Blackface Amplifier Head! Classic Tone! No Reserve!!1966 Fender Pro Reverb Blackface Vintage Tube Amplifier 2x12 Oxford 12t6 Aa165Vtg 1960's Original Sunn S 200 Amplifier Head Tube Amp Guitar Bass 200s1974 Fender Super Reverb Amp Amplifier Chassis With Tubes1950's ? Guild Masteramp AmplifierExcellent Danelectro Silvertone Guitar & 1457 Amp-in-case Footswitch All Tube1971 Marshall Major 200 Watts Amp Mint For It Age BlackmoreRare Vintage 1976 Marshall 50 Watt Jmp Mk2 Guitar Amp Never Modified1967 Fender Twin Reverb Amp Blackface Vintage Tube Amp Amplifier W/ Flight CaseMesa/boogie Mark-five V 90-watt 1x12" All-tube Guitar Combo Amp - BlackMagnatone 480 Vintage Stereo Vibrato Guitar Amplifier With Reverb Amp Very CleanFender - Deluxe Reverb - Silverface - Vintage (early 70s) - Guitar AmplifierMarshall Mkii Super Lead 100w Tube Guitar Amp Reissue1990 Mesa Boogie Mark Iv Combo 85 Watt Guitar AmpFender '68 Custom Deluxe Reverb Guitar Combo Amplifier, Used - Mint ConditionFender Vintage Reissue '65 Twin Reverb 85 Watt Guitar AmpFender 65 Deluxe Reverb 22 Watt Guitar Amp Used ExcellentFender 57 Custom Champ 5 Watt Guitar Amp Tweed, Made In Usa! 9/10 Condition!Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier Tremoverb 100 Watt Combo Amp **excellent Condition**Fender Ab763 Amp - Vintage Sound/mercury Magnetics/weber Vintage Marshall 100w Amp "as-is" No PowerMarshall Jcm800 2204 50 Watt Guitar AmpFender Twin Reverb AmpSilvertone Model 1300 Vintage Guitar Amplifier - Restored - Excellent Condition!1966 Fender Champ Amp Black FaceFender Super-sonic 22 Watt Amp - Perfect Condition!Fender Princeton Reverb 15 Watt Guitar AmpGreat Binson P.o. 601 100 Watts Amp-head For EchorechOrange Amplifier Head Or15 Guitar Amp Head With Padded CoverMesa/boogie Mini Rectifier Twenty-five 25-watt Tube Amp For Parts. Not WorkingOrange Or15 All Tube Guitar Amplifier HeadOrange Or15 Guitar Amplifier Magnatone Vintage Guitar Amp Amplifier Extension Speaker W Oxford Speaker 50'sPeavey 6505 Mh 20w Tube Amp Head Fender Blues Deluxe Reissue 40 Watt 1x12" Tube Combo Guitar Amplifier Foot SwitcFender Blues Junior Tube Guitar Amplifier UpgradedCarvin Belair 212 Vintage Tube Amplifier W/cover Free Shipping!!Marshall Class V AmplifierHilo Watt Plexi Marshall Amp Head Styling By Mahaffay Fender Blues Junior 15 Watt Tube AmpMarshall As50d Acoustic Combo Guitar Amplifier 50w 2x8" Amp Free ShippingFender Mustang Iii V.2 100w 1x12 Guitar Combo Amp With 4 Button Foot Switch Avatar 18 Watt Tube Amp 1974 Marshall Clone1969 Fender Bassman Guitar Amp Head Bass SilverfaceKustom Defender 112 50 Watt Tube AmpPeavey Delta Blues 115-tweed 30 Watt Guitar AmpVintage 1970s Traynor Yba-1 Bassmaster Amp Head Project As IsCrate Vc3112 Tube Amp El84Mesa Boogie Tube Guitar AmpMarshall Jpm1 Valve Midi Pre-ampFender Cyber-twin Se 65 Watt Guitar AmpFender Blues Junior 15-watt 1x12" Tweed AmpAmpeg B2r Bass Amp HeadThe Ampeg Co. Ampeg B-25 Tube Guitar AmplifierVintage Vox Westminster Guitar-bass Amplifier. 1960's-70's. Project Piece. Usa.Peavey T-15 Electric Guitar With Amp In Case Made In Usa No ReservePeavey Deca 1200 2 Channel AmpOrange Micro Dark Mini Tube Hybrid 20 Watt Electric Guitar Amplifier Amp HeadFender Deluxe 112 Plus Guitar Amplifier Combo W/foot Switch Free Shipping!!