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Getting the 1940s Amplifier Sound

The holy grail of electric guitar tone has was once the sound of a guitar played through a Fender amp. It is still a sought after tone, but judging by catalog listings, youtube videos, and online communities, the sound of higher gain amps, often British amps, have become more popular.

My previous post described some ways to get the tone of a 1950s or 60s Fender today, including buying a used or new Fender amp. But not everyone is looking for the 1950s and beyond for their tone. What if you want the sound of electric guitars back at the beginning of amplification?

I’m a big fan of early electric jazz guitar, jump blues, and even rock-a-billy and western swing. Charlie Christian, Oscar Moore (the guitarist with the Nat King Cole Trio in the 1940s), and Junior Barnard (guitarist with Bob Wills the the Texas Playboys) were some of the early pioneers of electric guitar. They played through Gibson, Epiphone, or other early amps made before the 12AX7 tube was invented. The preamp tubes at the time had 8-pins instead of nine and the amplifiers are now called octal tube amps.,0.116,0.935,0.491,0
from Library of Congress Gottlieb collection. [Portrait of Wesley Prince, Oscar Moore, and Nat King Cole, Zanzibar, New York, N.Y., ca. July 1946]
Oscar Moore on guitar with the Nat King Cole Trio, 1946

Those early amps had a distinct sound different from the 12AX7 Fender designs. Ironically, when these guitarists pushed their amps to breakup with mild overdrive they probably thought it was a problem instead of a feature. But if those players thought the sound was a defect, many today look back and want to replicate the sound of a 1940s and early 1950s overdriven amplifier.

There are some companies who are making recreations of classic octal amps. The Moonshine is based on the circuit of a Gibson EH-185 amplifier and is available from Nocturne

Carl’s Custom Amps makes recreations of early octal Fender amps. There is an Octal Princeton and an Octal Tweed Deluxe. (Warning: Carl’s website, as of 2022, doesn’t use https and visiting will likely give security warnings in your browser.) You can find Carl’s products on Reverb.

Of course you can also search for used originals on Reverb, eBay, Craigslist, or other sources. If you aren’t an expert on tube amplifier electronics you’ll probably need to find a technician who is knowledgable to make sure the old amp is safe to use and to restore it if necessary (which is probably). 

Instead of buying a recreation of a classic 1940s amp, or a used amp from that era, an easier solution is to get an effects pedal that recreates the sound though whatever amp you already use.

The pedal I want for myself is the Nocturne Jr Barnyard. It reproduces the pre-amp section of a Gibson EH-185 but uses FET based circuitry. 

Another company with the same idea makes the Combs JJ-150.

The DanDrive Tweedy pedal may be out of production or simply out of stock. Here’s a review from 2020. It is based on 1950s Fender 5B3 Deluxe with an octal preamp.

Carl’s Custom Amps 48′ Drive Overdrive is another pedal for 40s to 50s overdrive. This one doesn’t claim a specific model or even octal emulation but 1940s it had to be.

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