Magnatone Amps

More Magnatone!

Introduction Part I
What started out as a one-time pictorial on mother of toilet seat (MOTS) covered amplifiers has turned into a running Dickerson/Magnatone history, covering both the amps and the Hawaiian guitars. Last month, the alligator-attired Professional amp was allowed space, due to its close association with the MOTS Hawaiian guitars. This month, the MOTS requirement has been totally thrown out the window to make way for more amps from this important (and often ignored) company.

Note: the section on “Dating your MOTS Hawaiian” slated to run this month has been expanded to include all the Hawaiian/steels and will be in a future issue, along with closeups of the remaining six-string, eight-string, doubleneck, tripleneck and quadrupleneck sliders, not only in MOTS, but metal, wood, and lucite!

PART I: More MOTS Amplifiers
The author’s three-tube, 8″ permanent-magnet speaker 1946 Dickerson amp (discussed last month) that was lost in the mail ended up safe with a neighbor (over 10 days for priority mail, Merry Christmas!). This is an early post-WWII amp, with a speaker dated 1945 and the more rounded-edge shape and generic black handle of the small pre-WWII models. However, the grille “cloth” is not the heavy wire mesh expected, as seen on the Dickerson amp pictured in Richie Fliegler’s Amps, The Other Half Of Rock ‘N’ Roll (pg. 109, top right of group shot). It’s possible that amp is a leftover Delbert Dickerson model, but the logo decal points to post-WWII, as seen on all the ’46 to ’48 Hawaiians with the Dickerson brand name. Unfortunately, attempts to track the amp down have been futile.

A similar (but earlier) version is pictured in the Feb. ’98 issue of Guitar Player magazine (pg. 90) with the original stencilled Dickerson logo, first seen in ’38. While the earliest models (e.g. serial # 0010 from the cover of VG, Jan. ’98) had three stripes (call these Style 1), the amp in GP has only two stripes (Style 2), pointing to early ’40s. The stripeless example pictured in Fliegler’s Amps still has the original-type grille (Style 3), which was updated for the model pictured here in VG (Style 4).

Following this amp came the final pre-Magna version, having a new chrome “kitchen cabinet” handle, graphics that cover the entire grillecloth and a less-rounded cabinet with back panel ca. ’47. These were available with the Dickerson brand name, as well.

Both post-WWII Dickerson and early Magnatone used an interesting material to cover their speaker openings; window screen, just like on your back porch door. The majority of these grilles were covered in two-tone “fuzz” (black or purple on greyish brown). Unfortunately, the mohair-like base coat apparently blocks the passage of air, as in sound pressure, and gets literally blown out if the amp is played at “high” volume.

Visible deterioration around the speaker opening on many of the grillecloth scenes supports this theory, although normal wear and tear from the outside is also a major contributor. The monochromatic logo used for the introductory example left air spaces in the unfinished areas for sound to escape.

One of the absolute coolest versions of the two-tone grille was applied to the K&H amp, yet another brandname for that same old ’47-’48 pre-Magna MOTS amp. Compare it to the palm tree/coconut climber, musical staff, and purple Leilani amps on pg. 109 of Amps. Even the control panel is the same, save for the missing “Mfg. By Gourley” sticker. The pot code dates this three-tube, single 8″ permanent-magnet speaker beauty to late 1948.

PART II: Non-MOTS Magnatones
By the mid ’50s, MOTS had lost its appeal, as had Hawaiian music, so Magnatone discontinued its use on all the amplifiers and offered it only as an option for the new bottom-of-the-line “Steel” guitar. In the Feb. ’98 VG (pg. 115), the five-tube, single 10″ Melodier is described as possibly the largest MOTS amp known to man, with reference to the larger Troubadour and its covering as “unknown.” However, a five-tube, single-12″ speaker Troubadour Model M-192-5D has turned up in original alligator, as seen on the eight-tube, twin-12″ 1948 Professional Model M-198-8D. Note the numeral in 5D and 8D, not to mention M-199-3T and M-197-3V, refers to the number of tubes in the circuit. As for the letters, your guess is as good as ours…

Unfortunately, too much has been changed on this M-192’s insides to trust the 1951 pot codes or the 1953 speaker code, although the speaker looks original in brand and model, being similar to those in the ’48 Professional. While lacking any official literature from the era, an educated guess suggests the Troubadour went from early-period Magnatone alligator to mid-period Magnatone light brown leatherette, along with with all the MOTS amps ca. 1955, and no other covering was used in between. It’s possible light brown leatherette was used earlier for the then top-of-the-line Troubadour before becoming standard issue.

Besides the M-192 and M-198 mentioned above, other early Magnatones (VG, Feb. ’98, pg. 114) included the Student Model M-199-3T and the slightly larger M-197-3V, as used by Gretsch for their Rex Royal. The smaller AC/DC model probably had an M-190 series number in company literature, although the bare bones construction lacked any markings on the amp itself. Perhaps there’s a catalog or price list out there somewhere? The slant-front Magnatone inherited from Dickerson undoubtedly had an M-190 series number, as well.

The 190 series was superceded by the 100 series by 1954 (probably earlier); here’s a look at the transition.

The bottom-of-the-line AC/DC model became the Starlet Model 107 in MOTS, and the slightly more powerful three-tube M-199/M-197 became the Varsity Model 108 in MOTS. Gone was the graphically-enhanced windowscreen grillecloth, replaced with acoustically transperent cloth in brown, similar to what Fender would use on its tweed amps starting in ’55. The midsized amp with the slant front was followed by the five-tube, single-10″ Melodier Advanced Model 110 in MOTS, also with brown grille (it’s possible an interim early-’50s version in MOTS exists). The 110 was joined or followed by the five-tube, twin-8″ Model 109, with only the 109 being available by ’57. Finishing out the amps, with direct ties to the original line, the alligator Troubadour M-192 became Troubadour Model 112, as mentioned above. Light brown leatherette became standard issue for all these amps ca. 1955 and lasted until ca. ’59. The M-198 Professional probably (due to its rarity today) was discontinued well before the change to the 100 series.

Magnatone released its amazing 200 series amps (213, 260 and 280) with pitch bending vibrato in ’57, but these are a story in themselves (next month!). The 200s were fitted with a new dark brown cabinet having the baffle board tipped in under the top of the cabinet 15 degrees; the non-vibrato 100 series was updated in ’58 and ’59 to match.

The lower-powered, three-tube 107 became the dark brown 111, the higher-powered three-tube 108 became the dark brown 118, the midsized five-tube 109 was squeezed out by the small, vibrato-equipped 210 and 213 amps, while the larger single-12″ Troubadour 112 became the single-12″ 250. A high-powered amp without vibrato, the 190, was suggested for use with bass guitars. The 190 used a single 12″ plus a 5″ tweeter and boasted 40 watts. Suffice it to say, the 260 and 280 were outrageously progressive and Hi-Fi, as the Professional had been in ’48.

So, there you have the near-complete story of Magna Electronics Amplifiers from the ’40s and ’50s. However, the author recalls playing through more than one ca. ’55-’57 light brown amp with AM tremolo (not the FM vibrato), but the old brain didn’t think to chronicle the model number(s). Because of the hoopla at the time of the 200 series’ release praising the superiority of vibrato, tremolo was bluntly discontinued. It seems safe to say no dark brown Magna Electronics amp had tremolo, no light brown amp had vibrato, and no MOTS amp had either. Again, more on the “V” (for vastness) vibrato next month.

Introduction Part II
While the focus of this series (see Jan., Feb., and March ’98 VG) has been MOTS amplifiers and their matching MOTS Hawaiian guitars, these comprised only the bottom portion of a progressive Magnatone line. To get a feel for the importance of this company in the early-’50s electric market (an era dismissed by many today simply as, “They made some lap steels…”), we need to go all the way to the top of their instrument line before returning next month to amplifiers (in particular, the fabulous vibrato-equipped models of the ’50s and ’60s). Included this issue are a number of extremely exotic/deluxe/groundbreaking Hawaiian and steel guitars, some with wood bodies, some with Lucite, and some with metal…some with six strings, some with eight, plus 12, 16, 24 and 32-string multi-necks, and a pair of six-stringers without tuner buttons!

Part I: MOTS Finale
In the early ’50s, the Magnatone line included economy, standard and deluxe-model MOTS Hawaiians. The short-lived Starlet was added ca. ’51 at the bottom of the line and, like the teardrop late-’40s Dickerson Student model, its body lacked a traditional guitar shape.

Straight sides made for ease of construction, but the price difference was minimal between the Starlet and the guitar-shaped standard model (Magnatone’s Student model). Both instruments had volume and tone controls, the hidden pickup and “Seamless Pearl Plastic covering in Grey, Blue or Black.”

While Dickerson had referred to their guitar-shaped MOTS Hawaiian as the Standard, Magnatone used the name Student for their version. In the first few years, it was paired with the M-199 Student amp, as well as the larger M-197 Varsity and smaller AC/DC Starlet amp. These guitars were examined in VG in Feb. ’98, but a few missing links have turned up recently…

A transition-era purple Leilani (ca. ’49 serial #1139) has the new Magnatone body and nut while retaining the Fator-era knobs and bridge. The old LEILANI, MFG. BY GOURLEY label was still used on the headstock, along with a Magnatone serial number plate on the back to confuse future generations.

Emblazoned with an American flag on its headstock, an Amerloha, ca. ’53-’54 (serial no. 44519, pot codes 140308), was one of the last guitar shaped Magnatone-made Hawaiians. The features are similar to the ca. ’52 Trick Bros. in the Feb. ’98 VG. A new shape for Magnatone shows up on a ca. ’54 model (serial no. 47877, pot codes 304423). This body shape would be standard for the remainder of the MOTS era, the guitar shape gone for good. The headstock, nut, fingerboard, pickup cover, bridge, jackplate and covering are all similar to the Amerloha. The tuners have the clear buttons of the more deluxe models but are of the era and appear to be original (knobs probably have been changed). These would be the last of the hidden-pickup Hawaiians.

A new steel guitar evolved ca. ’55-’56 from the last hidden-pickup Hawaiian guitars, but without MOTS, and called the Varsity. Natural wood was now the standard finish, although a Black Pearl option ($5 extra) was available in the ’57 catalog. This was about all that was left of the original model, along with the body shape of the very last version.

Borrowing its peghead from the more expensive Troubadour, the G-70 featured the new chrome all-in-one bridge/tailpiece/pickup/controls/jackplate that wrapped around the end of the body, as seen on all the late-’50s Magnatone steels. Having everything attached to the plate before assembly allowed for more efficient mass production,

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