Fascinating also-rans, C-list classics, or both, the amps manufactured by London-based Dallas Music Ltd beginning in 1959 tie directly to legendary British gear. All but unheard of stateside, they were also a springboard to bigger things.
As the ’50s skiffle craze in Britain segued into rock and roll, a handful of instrument manufacturers were jockeying for position, and it became clear that amplified instruments were the way forward. Several brands were well-established at the time – Selmer, Watkins, Bird, Grampian, Elpico. But some of the more-interesting guitar amps were coming from a company that had almost a century under its belt, and which would evolve into one of the major players of the rock era.
The company called John E. Dallas and Son was formed in 1875 and enjoyed decades drums, and other instruments before the electric-guitar craze threw it sideways into a heady new market. Some of the drum and banjo lines of the early/mid 20th century carried the Jedson brand (a contraction of the full company name) used later on imported guitars, but by the mid ’50s, the company was known simply as Dallas Music Ltd. – the name that appeared on its first guitar amplifiers circa 1959. Models like the Scala, Shaftsbury, and Rangemaster carried basic textbook circuits, but looked nifty and have attained a certain desirability. Which is not to say these “basic” circuits couldn’t sound great when played with some attitude, and many latter-day guitarists have discovered that charm.
The Rangemaster, seen here in its earlier cosmetic incarnation, was the flagship and attracts the most attention today. It’s hard to beat the design in the looks department – if retro and rather twee are your thing, at least – given its white and pinkish-red covering with tiny polka dots, stair-stepped upper deck, and fawn grillecloth. It can also deliver plenty of classically Brit-voiced chime when played clean, and crispy, harmonically saturated overdrive when pushed into distortion.
The Rangemasters in this cabinet used a dual-chassis layout, with the preamp circuit coupled to the controls in the upper section and the output stage with transformers in the lower. The very first renditions, featured in magazine ads of the time, had a dual-6V6 output stage, unusual among British amps of the day, along with a tube rectifier. Despite appearing exactly the same externally, the version featured here is the more common, with an output stage using two ECL82 tubes and a solid-state rectifier. Known in the U.S. as the 6BM8, this tube (which outwardly looks much like an EL84) carries a triode and a pentode in the same glass envelope. In the Rangemaster, the two tubes’ two triodes are used for the phase inverter, and the pentodes provide the push/pull output power.
The upper chassis in both renditions carries three EF86s and one ECC83/12AX7. These are sufficient to provide a gain stage for each of the two channels, gain make-up for the shared Treble and Bass controls, and a Tremolo effect (with speed control only). There’s plenty of front-end girth to be had from the EF86 pentode preamp tubes, which were also a feature of the Vox AC15 of the time and some of the very first AC30s, along with several Selmer amps, but they’re limited by the constrained output of the ECL82s. And if you’re looking for toothsome tones at lower volumes, this can be a good thing. These tubes have a balanced, musical tonality, but are limited to 10 or 12 watts maximum per pair, and can be easily pushed into overdrive as a result. These were also used in some Watkins/WEM amps (notably the Westminster), the single-ended Gibson GA-8T, and others. Contemporary builder Steve Carr uses them in his Super Bee model specifically for their ability to emulate a bigger push/pull amp.
The Scala is far more a student amp, with a single-ended output stage in the mold of the Fender Champ or Vox AC4. Available with or without tremolo (the latter a la carte), this early example shows the effect added-on using a separate circuit with its own preamp tube and speed knob, all mounted in a hole cut in the side of the cab (not dissimilar to how JMI began adding Top Boost to the Vox AC30). Otherwise, it’s a simple circuit using one ECC83/12AX7, one EL84 preamp tube, and an EZ80 rectifier tube.
If it reads as “just another beginner’s amp,” though, the Scala exudes a major quirk factor; there’s no “control panel” as such, and the Volume controls for each of its two channels are placed at inset cut-outs at opposite sides of the handle, their recesses inlaid with a square of the dotted white covering that forms the two-tone aesthetic alongside the dotted black that wraps the top, bottom, and front. Inside, a 10″ Elac Alnico speaker does the honors. Tone-wise, it excels at the edge of breakup, where it’s still clean through most playing, but tips into overdrive when you hit the guitar hard to generate more output from the pickup. Pushed further, it can get raw and raspy, but its chime and articulation are surprisingly appealing when reined in.
A year or two after this lineup ruled the roost, the Scala gained a proper control panel (mounted on the side), which also included a Tone control, though it lost the two-tone cabinet. The Rangemaster became the Rangemaster Popular, with a simplified circuit and two elliptical speakers in a more-traditional rectangular cab (still with a striking two-tone covering in blue and white). From there, it briefly evolved into a black rectangular 2×10″ combo with a PCB rendition of much the same circuit. After this amp’s brief reign in early ’66, amps under the Dallas umbrella were shaken up in a big way.
Circa 1965, Dallas Music Ltd. bought out Arbiter Electronics and gradually expanded and updated its lineup as a result. If you’ve been hearing bells ringing since the Rangemaster amp was first mentioned here, it’s because the company conscripted the model name in ’66 for its Dallas Rangemaster Treble Booster. Soon after, the merger was recognized on the Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face, reflecting the official name around the time of the pedal’s release. Meanwhile, our quaint Dallas-branded combos faded from the scene after ’66, thanks to the company’s absorption of Sound City and the more rock-worthy amps that came with it.
Arbiter was further desirable thanks to founder Ivor Arbitor’s acquisition of the Fender distributorship for the U.K. in the mid ’60s, though this progressed to CBS’ majority share ownership in Dallas-Arbiter by around ’69. The Dallas side of the effort waned through the early ’70s, and Dallas-Arbiter closed shop in ’75. For fans of the pre-Marshall age of British amplification, though, these primitive combos are among the most-appealing creations of the Dallas company’s relatively brief foray into the electric guitar revolution, if not the most famous.
This article originally appeared in VG’s September 2022 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.