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    

1969 Vintage Marshall Plexi Superbass 100w Valve Amp/amplifier Hendrix/kossoffMarshall Jtm 60 1 X 12 Combo Amp 1995 Model Made In England! Nice!Fender '68 Custom Princeton Reverb Guitar AmplifierVox Ac4hw1 Hand-wired Series Tube Guitar Amp Vintage Vega Model 120 Guitar AmplifierFender Silverface Twin Reverb Amp Chassis For Parts Repair Restoration ProjectVintage 60s Fender Brown Princeton Amp Model 6g2 TestedFender Blues Junior Tube Guitar Amp Made In Usa With CoverVintage Gretsch Electromatic Guitar Amp Early Model With 6l6's + Jensen P12pMarshall 9005 Tube Stereo Power Amp 9000 Series1948 Fender Deluxe Guitar Amp Amplifier Original Fender Vintage Reissue '65 Deluxe Reverb Combo Electric Guitar Amplifier, BlackFender Mustang Ii V.2 1x12" Guitar Amp AmplifierVintage Gretsch 6161 Guitar Amp Amplifier 1950's-1960's Ampeg Svt-cl Classic Bass Head Guitar Amplifier Svt AmpFender Vibrolux Tweed Guitar Amp Amplifier 1959 OriginalPeavey 6505+ Plus Guitar Amp And FootswitchEarly 80s Marshall Jcm800 4104 2x12 50w Guitar AmpVintage 1965 Fender Bassman Guitar Amp Head... Original Surviver Model Aa 1652 Vintage Altec 417-8c Guitar Bass Pa Tube Amp Matched 12" Speaker Pair - Fixers1968 ?? Fender Bassman Amp Head, Drip Edge Gibson Usa Gb 440 Bass Guitar Amplifier Amp Vintage Amp 420 ThunderfunkFender '65 Deluxe Reverb 1 X 12" Combo Amplifier Wine Red.excellent Condition.Silvertone 1482 AmpFender Vibro Champ Xd 5 Watt Guitar Amp 1976 *tested*Marshall Jcm 800 (series 2203) 100 Watt Amp HeadUsed Marshall Jcm800 Lead 1960a Slant Cab Speaker Cabinet Guitar Amp 4x12 16ohmsFender Blues Junior 15 Watt Guitar AmpVintage 1960's Ampeg Jet Model J-12 Guitar AmplifierFender 1961 Tweed Champ Guitar AmplifierFender Vibro Champ Xd 5 Watt Guitar Amp - Used Twice!! Mint Condition With BonusVintage Valco Harmony H420 Tube Amp Amplifier Valco Guitar HarpSilvertone Guitar And Amp In Case Super Condition, Works WellMarshall Super Bass 100w AmpPeavey Classic Vtx 2x12 Tube Guitar Amp Combo W/ Reverb And Phaser *****Sears Silvertone 1430 Meteor Guitar Amp Tube Combo AmplifierFender Twin Reverb Vintage Silverface Guitar Amp Wem Dominator Mki 18-watt El84 15" Combo Electric Bass Guitar Amplifier WatknsSovtek Mig-50 Vintage Tube Guitar Amplifier Serviced, W/line Selector !!!Marshall Jcm2000 Tsl 100 Triple Super Lead Head Guitar Tube Amp W/ Footswitch!!!Ampeg Gvt5h Guitar Amplifier Head All Tube Vox Orange Tiny TerrorVintage Magnavox Allen Organ Jensen P15n 15" Guitar Tube Amplifier Speaker PairSunn Beta Lead AmplifierPeavey Ultra Plus Guitar AmpAmpeg V-412bl 4x12 Electric Bass Guitar Amplifier Speaker Cabinet - UsaVintage Silvertone Guitar And Amp In One ComboMesa Boogie 20/20 Dyna-watt Power AmpPeavey Transtube Studio Pro 112 Electric Guitar Amplifier Amp Combo 65 WattVintage Peavey Triumph 120 Ultra Gain Electric Guitar Tube Amplifier - UsaMarshall Yngwie Malmsteen Signature Yjm100 100w 100 Watt Tube Guitar Amp Head1965 Fender Bassman Blackface Vintage Tube Amplifier Head Aa864/ab165Vintage Valco Guitar Amplifier-airline-supro Tube AmpMesa Boogie Studio Preamp Amplifier HeadVintage Sano Gs15 Tube Amp .Marshall As50d 50 Watt Guitar AmpVintage Bronson Tube AmpSears Silvertone 1481 Guitar Amp Tube Combo Amplifier Excellent ConditionVintage Ampeg V-4 Tube Guitar Head Amp AmplifierVox Ac15cc1 Tube Amp Awesome!!!Vintage Laney A100 Series Ii Tube Guitar Amp Head 100 Watt