Sometimes it takes just the slightest aesthetic twist to get an amp nut all worked up. This 1960 Premier Twin 12 is a case in point; over the years, Premier also made these amps with a straight-edged front fascia, but somehow we’re much more excited to dive into this one, with the “widow’s peak” front panel, right?
Any such unique stylistic touch, when it worked visually, was a clever move back then, and it’s still a clever move now.
Even if it was a sonic dud we’d probably still want it lounging in the corner of our amp room; that it actually packs some nifty and original tone just makes its looks seem all the hipper.
Consider that Link Wray used an earlier Premier Model 71 to record “Rumble” and you’re starting to hint at the sonic lineage of this Twin 12. This later combo arguably has a lot more going for it, though, and is a more-advanced, more-versatile amplifier, while still packing as much vintage tube-amp mystique as you’re likely to want from any alternative to the “big four” (call ’em Fender, Vox, Gibson and Marshall, if that isn’t obvious by now). And if any “widows peak” Premier Twin 12 is going to be a pretty groovy amp, this one – owned by Duke Kelso – is just ungodly clean on top of it all. In addition to being one of the most pristine exteriors we’ve ever seen on a 50-plus-year-old amplifier (our editor’s first comment: “This is a reissue, right?” Wrong!), the control panel is gleaming, the knobs unsullied, and the interior entirely spotless. The speakers look like they just came out of a box marked “Jensen Vintage Reissue,” and even the two-prong AC plug looks like it has rarely seen a socket. In addition to all this, the tubes remain the same bottles the amp shipped with – three Telefunken 12AX7s, a Telefunken 12AT7, two GE “black-plate” 6L6GCs (one of the ultimate 6L6s), and a Multivox-branded GE 5U4 rectifier tube.
Condition anywhere close to this is a real bonus with a Premier amp, because, while they look great and can sound extremely cool in a “gnarly vintage alternative” kind of way, they weren’t robustly built amps to begin with, to say the least. Chassis were, if not entirely flimsy, rather thin-gauged; cabinetry was lightweight (as you can see by the narrow cross-section in the rear), and the covering was of the easily-shredded stickum-type paper used to adorn cheap furniture or line kitchen drawers in the ’50s. With that in mind, it really takes some babying to keep one in new condition like this, making this sweetie all the more of a rarity. But if the box isn’t entirely roadworthy, build quality isn’t bad at all. Manufactured in New York by the Multivox company, it is B-grade circuitry, really, but not badly put together – arranged on two narrow terminal boards that will look familiar to anyone with much knowledge of Valco-made amplifiers from Chicago, or other makes of the ilk. Components are all standard-grade, with cheaper ceramic-disc capacitors in most signal-coupling positions, and generally fairly routine circa-1960 consumer-grade-electronics wiring, too; all the stuff you might also find in your mid-level 1960 entertainment center.
Add it all up, though, and guitarists who dig this kind of thing know that B-grade product can yield A-grade tone, if you’re fond of the less-familiar flavors. “This amp has a clear upper-midrange focus, cutting through the mix – it stands its ground,” Kelso tells us. “Rolling back the Tone control brings smooth, buttery rhythm and jazz tones with rich fundamentals… Yet, when pushed, it delivers the raunch and edge that bring it to a level all its own.”
In addition to the two individual channels with independent Volume and Tone controls, the Twin 12 has a really tasty tremolo with a speed range that takes you from hypnotically slow to wrenchingly fast. As a clever bonus to all this, its “Two Channel Input” jumpers both preamps together to bring on the grind even faster. And again, damn, it really is such a stylish thing on the outside, however it’s built – from the subtly sparkling zig-zag grillecloth, to the golden-brown hammer-finish chassis and matching footswitch, to the multi-colored control knobs and textured gold control panel… mmm-hmmm. On top of that, while Multivox clearly had to bring these Premier builds in on a budget, they didn’t just sling the things together, and little signs of an effort at quality are posted all around the Twin 12. Daubs of reddish-brown lacquer indicate build completion or quality-check points on all nut/bolt connections throughout the amp (none of which appear to ever have been broken), several of the tube sockets are shock-insulated with rubber mounting grommets, and perhaps most obvious of all, the amp carries a pair of tasty Jensen P12RL Alnico speakers (the “L” denoting a lower-frequency variant of the standard P12R, but what the heck).
Aside from Link Wray’s logging of a legendary early performance on a Premier, these amps have often had a bigger buzz in the harp world. Something about basic designs and cheap circuits seems to go hand-in-hand with the raw, reed-like tone that many blues harmonica players are looking for when they plug in their Hi-Z dynamic mic, and plenty of Premier models deliver that in spades. The Twin 8 has probably been the most popular in this category – its two little 8″ speakers connecting with another harp-certified touch point – but this 2×12″ combo will get your green bullet smokin’, too. Then again, just plug in your late-’50s or early-’60s catalog guitar, jumper the channels, set tremolo to throb, and go at it six-string style, and there’s a good chance the resultant tone will get your guitar work noticed, too.
This article originally appeared in VG February 2014 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.