NAMM 2013: Legendary amp brand Magnatone returns

NAMM 2013: Given the world's current obsession with all things vintage, it's perhaps an appropriate time for mythical US amp brand Magnatone to make its tube-powered return.

Originally manufactured between 1937 (initially under the name of Dickerson, after amp builder Delbert J. Dickerson) and 1969, Magnatone amps are now scarce, but were once seen in the back lines of many notable guitarists, among them Buddy Holly, David Gilmour and Neil Young.

The reborn Magnatone brand is helmed by Ted Kornblum, formerly of St. Louis Music (Crate, Ampeg) and is launching with a range of US-built, point-to-point wired tube amps. Importantly, they'll all feature the 'pitch-shifting' vibrato circuit that gave the amps their 'golden voice' tag in the late 50s.

As you'll see from the press release below, the firm is keen to distinguish the effect from the wavering volume of tremolo - often mislabelled as vibrato - pointing out that true vibrato is pitch-based. That said, the amps will also be include a tremolo effect.

Not much is known about them spec-wise yet, but the eagle-eyed among you may have spotted a prototype of one of the new models, a Super Fifty-Nine, in ourBilly Gibbons rig tourfrom last summer. We now know that this model is a 45 watt output valve amp, powered by a pair of EL-34 power tubes, through twin 12" speakers.

Also pictured above is our first glimpse at a new Twilighter model. The original Twilighter amp was a spin off of the 1957 Custom 213 Troubadour and featured a single 12" speaker and an 18-watt output. Finally, judging by the shot of Ted Kornblum (complete with dog), it also looks as if the firm might be reviving its short-lived guitar range.

There's no solid price or availability info just yet, but Magnatone is aiming for "high-end retailers", so expect them to be on the pricey side. Check out the gallery above for early pictures of some of the other amps in the range and expect further details as we have them.

PRESS RELEASE: The rebirth of the legendary Magnatone brand is certain to be one of the true highlights of the forthcoming "NAMM Show," (International Association of Music Merchants') on January 24 - 27th, 2013 at the Anaheim Convention Center in Orange County, CA.

Magnatone will be launching a full line of high-end, vacuum tube amplifiers featuring its famous "pitch-shifting" vibrato effect, all of which are made in the USA. The occasion marks the return of a famous brand that has been dormant for more then 40 years yet its stellar reputation remains untarnished by time.

In addition, Magnatone will be exhibiting a line of solid body electric guitars. Magnatone will be exhibiting at NAMM Booth #4794 located in Hall C of the Anaheim Convention Center.

Ted Kornblum is President and CEO of Magnatone. His music industry career began at the age of 16, when he was captivated by the legacy of his grandfather's and father's business, St. Louis Music (Crate, Ampeg, Alvarez, etc.) which was founded in 1922.

As the company's Artist Relation's Director, he formed relationships with such notable talents as Crosby, Stills & Nash, Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead, Sting, Keith Richards and Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones, The Who, Black Sabbath, Metallica, Ani DiFranco and many others.

With Magnatone, Kornblum's focus is on making high end, American-made products that the artist will want to keep and use for a lifetime. The new Magnatone line of amplifiers is 100% tube-powered, crafted using point-to-point wiring and exceptional workmanship. Kornblum explained,

"I've always been inspired by creative people; behind Magnatone is an experienced group of folks with various talents that all compliment each other most brilliantly. This makes it very exciting for all of us to be involved with Magnatone."

The Magna Electronics team includes such talents as, Obeid Khan, George McKale, Greg Geerling, Gregg Hopkins, Chris Villani, Dave Hinson, and Dan Ryterski.

One of Kornblum's closest bonds is with ZZ Top's Billy F Gibbons. In numerous conversations with Kornblum, Gibbons expressed great respect and affection for Magnatone products.

"Magnatone is again a reality," Gibbons remarked. "We're pleasantly amazed that the mythic Magnatone has resurfaced in such a big way. This is nothing short of a rockin' resurrection, and the sound is every bit as great as the look. No two ways - The Mag is back!"

For the past two years, Gibbons has been touring and in the studio using a prototype Magnatone Super Fifty-Nine, with 45 watts provided by a pair of EL-34 power tubes, with two 12" speakers in a luxurious yet very 'rock 'n' roll' looking combo amplifier. His input, along with that of his long-standing guitar tech, Elwood Francis, has been incorporated in the design of many Magnatone models.

Gibbons is not alone in his loyalty to Magnatone. In point of fact, many other exemplary players, such as Buddy Holly, Hubert Sumlin, Lonnie Mack, Robert Ward, Jimmie Vaughan, Tommy Tedesco, Mike Campbell, Doyle Bramhall II, David Gilmour, Nels Cline and Neil Young share a rich history with Magnatone.

Neil Young is one of the most visible current users of vintage Magnatone gear, specifically the Model 280 guitar amplifier that features the Magnatone stereo vibrato effect, an integral part of both his studio and live guitar sound. Kornblum has been working closely with Larry Cragg, Young's longtime guitar tech who has years of experience repairing and maintaining vintage guitar amps, to capture as well as upgrade the Magnatone sound.

Magnatone's roots in Southern California date back to 1937 when the company began producing coin-operated radios and record players, all powered by vacuum tubes and self-contained speakers. In addition, Magnatone manufactured lap steel guitars with matching guitar amps that are noted for their finishes such as pearloid ("Mother of Toilet Seat"/"M.O.T.S.") or 100% woven cotton/faux crocodile, covering the exterior of the speaker cabinet.

Magnatone also manufactured electric guitars in 1958 and 1959 when they hired Paul Bigsby to design a line of solid body electric guitars. Additionally, former Rickenbacker engineer Paul Barth designed certain guitar models for the company.

Magnatone's invention of the electrical vibrato amplifier circuit in 1958 was, and remains, a standard for true pitch-shifting effects. Today's line of Magnatone models incorporates that same vibrato circuitry which, as aficionados know, includes silicone carbide varistors, as well as vacuum tubes, to achieve the "true dimensional sound" for which Magnatone is so renowned.

Magnatone's invention of the electric vibrato effect, using non-moving parts to achieve true pitch-shifting sound was called "the golden voice" when they introduced this effect to the amplifier market in 1958.

The difference between vibrato and tremolo is commonly misunderstood. Many amp manufacturers in the early days mislabeled one of the instrument inputs as "vibrato" when, in reality it was not vibrato, but rather "tremolo". Tremolo is described as an effect that increases and decreases the amplitude (volume) of a given signal. Vibrato is described as the "rising and falling" of a note's pitch. Not the same thing.

Today's Magnatone engineers have faithfully recreated their patented vibrato circuit from 1958. They have designed the models to include the vibrato effect as well as tremolo, as both effects are applicable to musical instrument performance.

Kornblum says, "I plan to distribute through selective high-end retailers to ensure the brand story is told. And who better to tell this story then these quality retailers! Besides, the Magnatone brand has been frozen in time for forty-four years, it needs to be allowed time to "thaw" and for the market to get to know it as it was and as it is today."

The Mag Is Back!

Matthew Parker

Matt is a freelance journalist who has spent the last decade interviewing musicians for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar,, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.