Brand Names and Blues Harp Amplifiers
The advantage of buying a Fender Amplifier is that the name is recognized and an immediate supposition about quality and value is made. I have 4 amps with no name on them. They are probably Sears or Wards or JC Penny amps made by Valco or some other OEM amp company. They have the same circuit as the name brand amps of the same period. I have a 1965 Fender vibro-champ and its value on eBay is worth the sum value of the no-name brand amps combined.
Buying brand name is a good thing, if you can afford it. Vintage Fender amps always go up in value. They are a wonderful investment item. They keep well and, although they take up some room, they are nice to own. In addition to their investment potential, they are good amps to play through. The parts for brand name amps are plentiful and information on the repair and restoration of brand name amps is easy to come by.
The name brands are names like Fender, Gibson, Marshall, Ampeg, Magnatone and Vox. These manufacturers typically made their own units although they may have farmed out the work from time to time. They are collectable because of the immediate name brand recognition.
Other Amplifier brands may not be as easily recognizable. They either did not have wide distribution or were not actually amplifier manufacturers and re-branded amps from other manufacturers. Some of these are collectable such as: Alamo, Airline, Supro, Sano, Masco, Silvertone, Harmony, Premier, National, Oahu and others. These amps have small groups of avid collectors that bid the price up on eBay, but usually these amps can be found cheap in junk stores and flea markets where the owners only know that they are not Fender amps.
Then there are amps out there with no name. Either the branding is lost or they have been painted or re-boxed. In any case, any collectable value is gone. These are the ones that I go for.
Any vintage tube amp is worth $50. Any working vintage tube amp in a clean cabinet is worth $100. Any vintage tube amp in a clean cabinet with a recognizable brand name is worth $150. Any vintage tube amp with in a clean cabinet and a major manufacturer brand is worth more than $200.
There are modern tube amps by Crate, Peavey, Electar, Pignose and even Fender. They cost too much. If you are going to spend more than $400 on a good quality tube amp, by the rules above you should be able to get a vintage one cheaper. The vintage amp will retain its value and maybe even go up. The new amp is worth half its sticker price when you walk out of the showroom. (I’ve got a rough condition (tweed is dirty and worn – plays good) Fender Blues Deluxe that I can’t get rid of at $300).
You can spend $3,000 on a hand wired beauty from Sonny Jr. or Holland and get a work of art. What you get is a 1959 Bassman circuit (tweaked, perhaps) that is very well made in a very good cabinet. Aside from high quality of craftsmanship and attention to detail there is not much difference between these amps and their vintage cousins. You sound about the same through a 1965 Silvertone as through a 2001 Sonny Jr.
Buying a vintage amp is a turkey shoot. Sometimes you get a turkey some times you get a ham. Sometimes you don’t get what you want. Buying a boutique amp guarantees that you will get the highest quality that money can buy, but the premium you pay may or may not be worth it. The particular amp that you buy might not be right for you. The advantage of buying cheap is that you are not gambling as much and you can try on different amps for size and fit.