My First Was a Marshall Amp (in disguise)
A Marshall amp to me was the pinnacle for any guitarist when I was 18. I was getting into Hendrix and I wanted to play a Strat and a Marshall amp! I have had many guitar amps since I started playing electric guitar, which is pretty much the norm for any guitarist. What this means is that I’ve got an excuse to post about all the gear I’ve had over the years, which is cool because I look for any excuse to talk about guitars and amps, Fender or otherwise!
And my amp history is not exclusively Fender of course.
My first guitar amp was actually before I had a guitar. In 1988 my auntie had a Westone Thunder 1A Bass, which she kindly gave to me for my 18th birthday (I am forever grateful for that life-changing moment) together with a combo amp, which at the time I assumed was a bass amp. I had no idea about such things at the time. I wanted an electric guitar, but a bass was good enough at that time for me to be “Electric”!
I played around with that bass for a while and a few months later, after starting my first job I decided to get an electric guitar. I chose a Fender USA Standard Strat, which I will talk about in another post.
The first thing I thought I needed to do after getting the Strat was to get an actual guitar amp, which at the time was a Peavey Bandit as far as I was concerned because I knew somebody who had one! I’m so glad I spent all my paycheck on the guitar because I couldn’t get the amp right away and I decided I could make do with the “bass amp” I already had for now. This proved to be a significant decision in my education of all things guitar.
Here is an indication of just how little I knew about guitars and amps compared to what I know now. After having played around with my new strat for about a week, trying to learn by ear to my record collection I was thinking that this bass amp sounded pretty good with my Strat, although I couldn’t turn it up very loud without facing the wrath of parents! For some reason, I still can’t recall why, I remember putting my hand round the back of the amp and getting the surprise of my life!
My hand grasped something so hot that it started to cook my fingers! I thought there was a fault with the amp, so I turned it off, then had a look at what I had touched. I realized that what was in this amp was something I had heard about before, a vacuum tube, or as we call it in England, a valve. Wow I had heard about valve amps being proper amps, so I was really excited. I also came to the conclusion that I did in fact have a guitar amp, not a bass amp.
What was this amp? It was a Park 20w combo, single 12″ Fane speaker and three controls, volume, bass, treble. A proper amp! After some research I found out just what I had. The Park brand was made my Jim Marshall during the period when, for licensing reasons lost control as to how a Marshall amp was marketed and sold. Effectively, he was unable to do what he wanted with his amps under his own name.
What he had to do was create an amp range under a different name. Yes I had a Marshall amp, but not only that I had also read that these amps had to compete with the established and dominant Marshall amp name and many guitarists believe they are better sounding as a result. This amp was comparable to the 18watt combo Marshall amp, which appeared as a hand-wired reissue not too long ago too.
I had that amp for about 10 years and I still miss it to this day. It was the amp I learned to play through and it sang with me through my first gig, got me into my first band and my first experience recording in a studio too. It helped shape me as a guitarist today! I learned a lot about tone from that amp.
I was often asked by the more established guitarists I played on the same bill with in my town, to let them use it for their set after hearing my soundcheck.
It was great. I always said yes because I was always so amazed at what that little amp sounded like when someone else played through it. It sounded so fantastic. These guys were much better than me and had years of playing under their belt. One of these guys had a Mesa Boogie combo. I think it was one of those famous, coveted MkII C+ models and he loved the Park. After the gig he told me that it sounded better than his Boogie! Funny really seeing as his amp cost thousands and mine I got given to me without even knowing what it was!
That amp helped make me a bit of a local celebrity at the time, but I have to give all the credit to the fact that it was such a cool and rare amp!