Anyone who’s spent time researching, collecting or just plain fawning over vintage guitars knows the value of “case candy” — the extra “stuff” that came in the original case with the guitar when it was originally purchased. I don’t think there’s an equivalent for vintage amplifiers, so the next best option might be Amped, a gorgeous new piece of eye-candy that documents some of the most legendary, collectible, beautiful and just plain weird amps ever produced.
The full title, Amped: The Illustrated History of the World's Greatest Amplifers succinctly sums up the book — the keyword, however, is “illustrated." The cover design of this hardcover book smartly replicates a blackface Fender, the title prominently displayed with a gloss varnish; I couldn’t wait to get inside.
It starts with a 1937 Rickenbacher M11, a funky little thing dubbed “the electronic suitcase," and winds up 200+ pages later with the 2011 Dr. Z Carmen Ghia. The book is very well laid out and chock full of detail on every amp: each entry has a box of technical info featuring specs on the tubes, rectifiers, control knobs, speaker and output. Aside from the amps themselves, the real star is the photography throughout. If you haven’t seen the circuit board of the classic late ‘50s Fender Bassman, look no further; it’s all here in stunning detail and clarity. The text is equally enlightening, with background info, comparative analysis and plenty of tech speak for the hardcore. One of the things I love about this book is its ability to speak to all levels of vintage equipment lovers.
Stalwarts like Fender's Champ, Vibrolux, Twin Reverb, as well as the Vox AC family (don’t miss the white-finished "tone goddess” AC 30) and Marshall stacks are, as expected, all here. But I loved the funky “ugly sisters” such as the Ampeg Jet 12, the Danelectro Twin Twelve and the ’55 Gretsch Electromatic Twin Western — you just gotta see this thing to believe it. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Most entries also include period advertising and marketing ephemera and vintage live or studio shots of musicians using their favorite amp(s). The only thing that would have put this book over the top would have been a companion CD or “listening guide” that highlighted the amp in question; I was simply dying to hear what the Ray Butts Echosonic or the Dumble Overdrive Special sounds like. There are artists featured, such as Keith Richards and his Mesa Boogie, which we learn he used for The “El Mocambo" side of Love You Live and Jimmy Page’s use of the closely-miked Supro for Led Zeppelin’s debut album. Keith, in particular, used a lot of these amps and it would have been neat to have a reference guide for his different tones and the amps that produced them.
Still, that’s a minor quibble for what is a beauty of a book that should be considered “must own” for gear-heads, tone-connoisseurs and just plain fans of the electric guitar and good ol’ rock’n’roll. I find myself thumbing through this book whenever I have a few minutes to spare, getting Amped again each and every time.
Follow me on Twitter @stevejreviews