Old Brand Names

Looking over some of the photographs on SouthernGarageBands.com I was caught up in the equipment.  Being a gearhead that was natural.  I noticed some of the trends and styles of hardware that were popular and started trying to remember the company names of some of the manufacturers.

Early on, a lot of budding musicians got Silvertone instruments and amplifiers.  I figure that was mainly due to two things: 1.  Being sold by Sears they were probably the most widely available source of musical equipment (a lot of people lived near a Sears store and virtually everyone received a Sears mail order catalog in the mail); and 2.  Sears pricing was reasonable and financing was easy to obtain.  Interestingly, Sears sold a good selection of gear, from cheap introductory level, up to a pretty darn good quality line of tube amps.  A lot of moms and dads probably purchased Silvertone equipment for Birthday and Christmas presents.

Then I saw something that I hadn’t thought about in a while and it reminded me of experiences I had in the various bands I have played in: Speaker Columns.  Also known as P.A. Columns, they were the first innovation that was practical and within price for many bands to move away from singing through guitar amps.  P. A. Columns are tall cabinets with speakers arrayed vertically from bottom to top.  Most were free-standing but some smaller ones were made to stand up high on stands.  The idea was to project the sound of the vocals as far back into the crowd as possible, by shooting enough of the sound waves above the heads of the folks up close to the stage that the folks in back could hear too.  The narrow, columnar shape also allowed the sound wave to disburse widely from side to side and get optimal coverage of the entire venue.  Place one column on each side of the band and the overall mix of instruments and vocals was improved quite nicely.

One of the first brands of P. A. Columns that I knew about was Shure.  The ones we had were kind of small and were supposed to go on tripod stands.  They were metal enclosures and had probably 6 or 8 inch drivers (speakers).  I think they were really designed with the intention of use with a P. A. for a single person addressing a crowd from a podium.  They were an improvement over the high-frequency horns we started out with.

My next band didn’t have any P. A. equipment at first, so we tried to get the latest and best that we could afford.  At that time there was a brand that was hot and I found a P. A. system, with columns, at the music store in Brunswick, GA.  The brand was Coral.  They don’t  seem to be in business any more, at least I can’t find them any where in a Web search.  We got a Coral P. A. head and columns somehow.  I remember trading a bunch of other stuff but don’t know if we had to kick in any additional cash or not.  I also don’t recall how well we liked the Coral gear; I was in that band less than a year and left the area at that time.

My next band was in Atlanta, GA, and when I joined they had a Peavey P. A. and sound columns.  It was a pretty nice setup and Peavey builds quality gear at a good price and it is tough and road-worthy.  The only thing was, it was not up doing sound reinforcement with the rest of our gear. The lead was playing through a Fender Princeton Reverb for tone and running the signal from the pre-amp section directly to two Sunn Coliseum heads with four full Sunn Coliseum cabinets, two on each side.  I think each speaker cab had six 12’s?  The keyboard player had a Hammond B-3 and two Leslie Tone-Cabinets.  I was playing a Fender ’66 Precision through an Acoustic 370.  We decided we needed a beefy P. A.  So we went to the lead guitarist’s garage with a stack of plywood and built two huge loaded horn-type cabinets with bass reflex slots. Our copy of JBL Theatre sound cabinets.  We installed the speakers from the Peavey columns and they sounded great in the new cabinets!  The only trouble was we couldn’t get the wiring quite right so the impedance was a mismatch for the P. A. head and it kept overheating and shutting down, so we worked around that by setting the head up on a stool and directing two powerful fans over it at all times we were playing.

I wonder what happened to those monster-sized cabinets.

Coral seems to have disappeared from the planet.  Sunn was ultimately acquired by Fender, which discontinued production in 2002. Sunn was based in Tualatin, Oregon.

Do you know of any great brand names from back in those days that may or may not still be around?  Some have gone out of business only to return by having a new company pick up the rights to the name and produce products under that name; others have almost gone away but new blood / management / owners have revived them.  How about:

Mike Mathews Freedom Amps (the first battery powered amps);

PigNose amps – still in business;

Electro-Harmonix – stomp boxes – faded away but seem to be back, don’t know if it is the same company or not.

Danelectro – I think it came back as the same name but manufactured by a different company.  They built the original Sears Silvertone guitars, by the way.



Old Brand Names — 4 Comments

  1. I had a Silvertone Twin-Twelve which matches one of the revolving photos displayed on your website. Our band was getting to be pretty popular at the time so my dad paid cash for it at Sears. He told me that, after tax, he only got 50-cents back out of a “two-hundred dollar bill” (dad’s humor was legend). It was a great tube amp and I loved the thing even though it broke my back to haul it around. It had 2 very nice Jenson 12″ speakers and a killer tube head with an extremely long extension cord. The cord often got tangled so I cut it at both ends and installed Tip-Sleeve phone plugs and jacks. It was a breeze after that. Just roll up the 4,312 foot cable and tuck it into the sagging piece of stretch cloth provided in the back of the speaker cab.

    The cab was cheap particle board covered in a cheap, blackish silver cloth. Plywood would have been better and would have lasted longer. The cab was neither enclosed nor open. I think of it as “half-enclosed” because of the back covering the speakers only while leaving the bottom half open to provide storage space for the head. A couple thick, flat, nylon toggles, one on each side, were provided to keep the head from falling out.

    It was a 2-channel amp which I dearly loved because both me and the rhythm guitarist could practice out of the same amp. Each had it’s on volume and tone controls. To emulate the ever popular but more expensive Fender amps, they provided reverb and tremolo effects on the primary channel. I don’t recall what power tubes it used but the output tubes I think were 12AX7s. You could look it up, I’m sure. It also came with a handy foot switch. You couldn’t beat it for the price.

    The thing that breaks my heart is my guitar. We all do stupid things we later regret. I had a vintage ’59 ES-335 Tobacco burst with a Bigsby and original HSC that I let go in exchange for a ’60s model Country Gentleman. I’ve kicked myself a dozen times for that mistake but it’s dumb to cry over spilled milk. About all we can say is, “I wish I hadn’t done that.”

    Odd brands? Our band had a cheap Japanese P-bass knockoff that, as I recall, didn’t even have a manufacturers logo on the headstock. We also had a small 100 watt Vox bass amp to go with it. It wasn’t much but it was all we could afford. We weren’t making much money from gigs at the time. Maybe you could change the name of this website to “Broke Southern Garage Bands.” 🙂

  2. Oh man, yes! I had a similar Silvertone 1485 tube amp, but instead of 2-12 inch speakers it had 6-10 inch Jensens. I bought it from a friend who had been using it as an amp for an organ. He said it handled really deep lows very well and convinced me it would serve as a nice bass amp.
    I don’t remember how much I paid for it but I feel like it was a good deal. The amp did indeed work great as a bass amp. The only minor drawback was that I soon discovered that the speakers were held in place with little sheet-metal nuts instead of solid metal ones, and they tended to vibrate loose. Being thin metal they could not be tightened down really tight without crushing them with your pliers or vise-grips and wrenches tended to slip off because of their rounded shoulders.
    I did eventually get some lock washers and “real” nuts for them. I had to because the stock ones gradually got lost as they unscrewed themselves and fell off.
    The power tubes were 6L6’s. I don’t recall having to replace them very often.
    It was a very heavy beast but it had very good heavy duty rubber casters that saved the day and the aching back.
    It was definitely a guitar amp because it had reverb and tremelo. I did not ever even try them out. I figured playing bass through them might damage them.
    This is another of those dumb things, because I don’t even remember what I did with it. I think it is pretty desirable and rare these days. Oh well.

  3. Yep had one them still got it with usa harmoney built elec cherry sunburst guitar. 1965 vintage. Got for my graduation gift from mom and dad. Played lot of dances with tifton coachmen and on walb chanell 10 telethon in 66 or 67. We played three songs. Hulus key, perry key group thought it was fender strat. Remember them peeking in back door at american legion in tifton while playing there. Also ed branch told me he was watching us play their and we influencd him to start playing drums. Me vandell bennett played rythme with bradely hurst lead, buddy tomly drummer and ronnie chamblee base.we always put ads on radio stations around south ga. Sponsered our own teenage dances and had good turnouts and lots fun. We used old fluid clutch shriner desota to haul our equipment around. It was painted green and yellow. We took out seats in back and loaded our equipment in back and couter hull. Fun, fun, fun in old georgia moonlight. My dad and ronnie chambleys dad played securiety guards. Buddy tomleys mom usually worked our soda pop and snack bar. Good clean teenage fun.

    • Oh by way my 2×12 jensons with thunder reverb was silverton by sears and my usa harmoney built guitar was a silvertone. Brad had one them silvertone guitars with speaker and amp built into carry case. My Amp was also used as pa some times. We would hit on top of amp head to give a thunder effect from reverb. I think cost of comb new from sears was around $250 in 1965. I know my vintage usa harmony built silvertone is valued at $4000 alone without amp. Still have amp too.

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