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    

Fender Blues Jr Usa Guitar Amp Ex Cond-no ReserveDavinci 413 Vintage Tube Guitar Amplifier Amp Working Etsey Magnatone '61 Rare!Vintage Fender Early "champ-amp" Guitar Amplifier Tube Type Fender Blues Junior 15 Watt Guitar AmpFender Blues Junior Amp Weber Speaker No ReserveVintage 1967 Fenderbandmaster Blackface Amp HeadFender '68 Custom Twin Reverb 85w 2x12 Tube Guitar Combo Amplifier BlackFender Super Champ Xd Tube AmpMarshall Jvm Series Jvm205c 50w 2x12 Tube Combo Amplifier BlackVox Custom Ac30c2 30w 2x12 Tube Guitar Combo Amplifier BlackMarshall Dsl40c Limited Edition Vintage 40w 1x12 Tube Guitar Combo AmplifierMarshall Dsl40c Tube Guitar Amp1966 Vintage Fender Vibrolux Reverb Guitar Amp....xlnt ConditionRare 67 Original Fender Blackface Circ Bassman Drip Edge Amp Cab Head No Reserve**works Great** Fender Champ 12 - Late 80's Early 90's Tube AmpI Have A Vintage Seepro Guitar Amp Valco Chicago Ill.1960 Fender Harvard Tweed Tube Amp Amplifier Pristine W Original CoverVintage 1964 Gibson Ga19rvt Falcon Tube Amp Reverb Tremolo Footswitch Jensen SpkFender Princeton Amp 1966 Clean And OriginalVintage Fender Bandmaster Blackface Amp Head With Footswitch And CoverMarshall As50d 2x8 Acoustic Guitar Combo Amplifier1967 Vintage Fender Princeton Reverb Guitar Amp..near MintFender Standard Stratocaster Electric Guitar Brown Sunburst And Roland AmpSilvertone Model 1448..electric Guitar/amp Built-in CaseTom Scholz (scholz R&d/rockman) Vintage Power Soak Guitar Amplifier Attenuator Vox Hand-wired Ac30hw2x 30w 2x12 Tube Guitar Combo Amplifier FawnVintage 1960s Vega A-49 Tube Guitar Amplifier - Tested And Works Great! -rare!Vintage Fender Champ Electric Guitar Tube Amplifier Silverface Upgraded SpeakerVintage 47 Amp NationalMint Vintage Midland Guitar Tube Amp 5 Watts 8 Ohms Amplifier Japan Portable Fender Deluxe Reverb Ii AmplifierFender Champ Tube AmpMarshall Jcm800 Series 2203 Vintage Guitar AmpBugera Infinium 55w 1x12" Tube Guitar Combo Amplifier1970's Fender Musicmaster Bass AmplifierVintage Jensen P10r Loud Speaker Ca 1959 Fender Tweed Amp !1967 Fender Vibro Champ Guitar Amp Amplifier Original!!! VibrochampWow! Vintage Gibson Multi Stereo Rtv Ga79rvi Rare—excellent Guitar AmpVintage Premier Twin 8 Amplifier Guitar AmpVintage Sunn Beta Lead Amplifier, "digital C-mos Technology"!Sunn Bass Sonaro Keyboard Tube Combo Amp VtgMarshall Superlead 100watt Amp. Canadian Version 1959 Slp . Low Reserve! El-34'sFender Blues Jr. Iii 15 Amp With Cannabis Rex Speaker & Fromel / Billm Mods NrAmpeg Svt Cl Winged C Tubes Blue Label Usa Bass AmpVintage Fender Super Reverb 1966 Amp Original Speakers And Amazing Tone!Sears Silvertone Model 1484 Twin Twelve Tube Amp Guitar Amplifier1974 Versatone Pan-o-flex Vintage Tube Bass Combo Amp Amplifier By Audio GuildOrange Dark Terror 15 Watt Guitar AmpSears Silver Tone Model 1485 "the Jack White" AmplifierFender Rumble Bass Amplifier 100 Watt 1x15 Amp ComboVox Ac15c1 Top Boost Amplifier W/celestion GreenbackAmpeg B2r Rackmount Bass Head 350 Watt AmpVox Ac4c1-bl Tube Combo Guitar AmplifierVox Ac4tv Mini 4 Watt Tube Guitar AmpMarshall Jtm45 30 Watt Guitar Amp1964 Fender Champ Guitar Amplifier Rare Black Tolex Transition Tweed Amp Pre-cbsVox Ac4hw1 - Handwired 4w 1x12" Guitar Combo Amp-used-excellent ConditionMid 60's Vox Buckingham Amp Head - Vintage - Model V1121Peavey 6505 Mh Mini Guitar Amplifier Head And 112-6 Guitar Enclosure & CableVintage Supro 60 Lap Steel Electric Guitar With Amp Amplifier