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 for 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    

Jaw Dropping Nr Mint Original 1967 Blackface Fender Vibrolux Reverb Amp Combo NrVintage Fender Vibro Champ Blackface. Oct 1964 Pre Cbs Class A Amp - Nice!Vintage C.1965 Supro Tremo-verb S6422tr Red Guitar Amp Very Nice Shape WorkingMarshall - All Tube - 5 Watt - Emerald - Class 5 Valve Guitar Amplifier1966 Fender Dual Showman And 2x15 Cab Vintage Guitar Amp Amplfiier Ab763 Works Fender Deluxe Reverb Blackface Vintage Tube AmplifierSuperb Original Mesa Boogie Dc5 Dc-5 Dual Calibre Caliber Amp Combo Eq Reverb NrVintage Ampeg B-12n Portaflex Tube Bass/guitar Amp 1960's Original OwnerVintage 68 Fender Silverface Drip Edge Bassman Amp Head Marshall 9200 100w Power Amp- Marshall Jmp-1 Preamp -marathon Road Case- PedalVintage Fender Blackface Super Reverb 1967 Tube Amp **no Reserve**1965 Fender Vibro Champ Guitar Amplifier €1950/60's Silvertone 1430 Vintage Guitar Harp Amp AmplifierSunn Beta Lead Guitar Amplifier Head OnlyVintage!!! Fender (cfa7110) Silverface Bassman Ten Combo Tube AmplifierVintage National Dobro Tube Amp Amplifier - Usa - No ReserveMusic Man 112 Rd 50 Guitar AmpAmpeg Jet J12 A Vintage Tube Amplifier 1x12 Combo UsaFender Deluxe Reverb Amp, 1969, 1 - 12" Jensen, Sounds Great, Clean1968 Fender Super Reverb AmplifierFender Bassman 135 Silverface Head Amp Vintage 1978! Int'l Bids Ok! No Reserve!!Fender Excelsior Guitar Tube Amp Amplifier Pawn Shop Series 1x15 Combo 15in Nr !Vintage 1971 Usa Fender Vibrolux Reverb Tube Guitar Amp L@@kMesa Boogie V-twin Tube Pre Amp Amplifier Guitar Overdrive Pedal For PartsMesa Boogie Mark Iv Amp No Reserve!Fender '59 Bassman Ltd Amp 4x10" 2-channel Tube Combo AmpSunn - Beta Bass AmplifierVtg Sears Robuck Silvertone Tube Amp Electric Guitar Amplifier Model 1481 P&rFender Hot Rod Deluxe Iii 40-watt 1x12-inch Guitar Combo AmplifierPeavey Mx Flite Case Tube AmpOriginal Fender 5f1 Tweed Champ Tube Amp Parts/repair, Powers Up, Termite DamageMarshall Dsl100 H Tube Amp HeadFender Blackface Deluxe Reverb Tube 1x12 Combo Amp 1980's 1963 Reverberocket Ampeg AmplifierFender Blues Junior 15 Watt Guitar AmpMarshall Jtm30 Combo AmpAmpeg B~100r Bass Anp Classic Vintage Tone Works Great Rocket AmplifierAll Original Vintage 1967 Fender Vibro Champ Black Face Amp Amplifier Aa764Ampeg Svt-cl 300w All Tube Classic Bass Amplifier Head UsedHand Wired Hemp Guitar Tube Amplifier Tweed Champ 5f1 Usa Vintage Fender Marshall Jmp1c 50th Anniversary 1w Combo Guitar AmpFender Blues Deville 212 Tube Amp 1950's Tweed Bassman Circuit 1993Marshall 1959hw Handwired Jmp Super Lead 100 Watt Plexi Amp Head - Exc+Marshall Micro Mini Guitar Amp Ms-4Vintage 1966 Gretsch / Valco 6162 Duel Twin Reverb 2 X 10 Tube Amplifier Sears Silvertone Vintage Tube Guitar Amplifier Model 1484 W/tremolo Reverb 6l6cFender G-dec 3 Thirty Guitar Digital Entertainment Center AmplifierMesa Boogie Triaxis Guitar Pre AmpReissue Fender Champion 600 5 Watt Guitar AmpFender Hot Rod Deville Blonde 4x10 410 60 Watt Amp Amplifier No Reserve! Vintage Ampeg V2 Guitar Amplifier1978 All Original Vintage Fender Princeton Reverb Guitar Blue Face Amplifier Mint Marshall Dsl15h All Tube Dual Super Lead Guitar Amplifier HeadSilvertone 1448 Amp In CaseOriginal Fender Deluxe Tweed Era Amp Chassis $88.00 No Reserve!!Fender Frontman 65r 65 Watt Electric Guitar Combo Amplifier 2%36171Fender Super-sonic 112 Combo 60 Watt Guitar AmpOrange Rocker 30 Head Guitar Amplifier / Amp W/matching Flight Case Mint!!!Marshall Model 3540 Bass Guitar Amplifier - Rack Mount Amp Head - 400 Watts -2007 Marshall Vintage Modern Model 2466 100w Tube Amp Head