Vintage Guitar - July 2016 - Open - 71
ow's this for a paradox? One of the most eyecatching instruments to hit the market during
the fabled '60s guitar boom was actually
colorless! ■ Ampeg was known primarily for
its amplifiers, including the unique Portaflex flip-top models
introduced in 1961. Earlier, though, the company got into the
electric guitar and bass market with instruments imported
from England's Burns, as well as their own fretted and fretless solidbody basses with scrolled headstocks.
However, nothing in the Americanmade market compared with the Ampeg
Dan Armstrong guitar and bass introduced
at the June '69 National Association of
Music Merchandisers (NAMM) show with
bodies made of transparent plexiglas.
True, Fender made a one-off plexiglas
Strat in '57 as an educational model, but
the Dan Armstrong models were production instruments that were immediately
adopted by rock stars like Keith Richards
and Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones (the
band also played through a wall of new
Ampeg SVT amplifiers introduced at that
Other noted bassists who used Armstrong plexiglas instruments included
Cream's Jack Bruce, and Rick Laird with
the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Their bridge/tailpiece was a sliding piece
of wood on a simple metal plate inspired by
the no-frills, barely intonatable Danelectro
parts on Sears "amp-in-case" guitars in
the '60s; strings anchored in the notched
end of the bridge/tailpiece.
The bodies sported two strap buttons
that allowed a player to balance it in two
ways but also provided a stable rest when
leaned against a speaker cabinet.
Necks were maple with rosewood fretboards and tiny dot markers. The truss
rod adjusted at the headstock, which
was capped with a rosewood-colored
plastic laminate - the same is used on the
pickguard, on which the controls and jack
There were basic differences in the
guitar and bass; the six-string offered
interchangeable pickups, while the pickup
on the bass was a stacked humbucker with
a low-impedance treble coil on top and a
high-impedance bass coil on the bottom.
The bass had a (301 ⁄2") scale and, like the
guitar, its neck had 24 frets, all "clear" of
The first 1,000 or so offered a simple
Volume and Tone knob configuration;
the Tone also functioned as a type of
mixer between the two pickup coils.
Subsequent examples offered a twoway toggle to bypass the treble coil
on top of the pickup, and a capacitor
for even-bassier tone. Though they
looked cool, Armstrong basses weren't
without sonic deficiencies; in early '71,
a notice was distributed by the factory
addressing modifications (capacitors,
rewiring, etc.) to improve their sound.
In terms of playability, they fit the
stereotype of short-scale basses in
that they're easy to plunk and
are fine for converted guitarists.
While a bass with a shorter scale
is often sonically challenged,
the Armstrong's controls and
dense body evoke a sound more
vibrant and resonant than almost any
other 301 ⁄ 2"-scale (or shorter) instrument. However, the body is heavy.
Sequential serial numbers beginning with a D and ending with an A
were stamped on the side of the neck
near the heel, facing toward the player
(guitar serial numbers begin with A
and end with D).
Produced until '71, their collectibility rose such that Ampeg, under
the ownership of distributor St. Louis
Music, reissued the models in the
late '90s, imported and with a better
bridge/tailpiece. The reissues were
available in tinted as well as fully
The introduction of a "retro"
instrument implies the original had
something to offer. Such was the case
for the Ampeg Dan Armstrong series.
Utter the phrase "cool and clear," and
most guitar buffs will immediately
know which brand and models you're