Nineteen sixty-nine was a weird
year. No doubt about it. Confusion reigned: the cities were still smoking from
riots, boys were becoming indistinguishable from girls, and bell-bottom
corduroys were the height of fashion.
Ampeg was facing an identity crisis of its own. Their line of combo bass and
guitar amps couldn't compete with the high-output rock and roll animals that
competitors were offering. They needed a dose of modernization and they needed
it quick. So in an attempt to create an amplifier somebody other than bald,
pipe-smoking jazz cats would buy, Ampeg enlisted the expertise of respected
guitar and amp tech Dan Armstrong to consult on new amplifier development.
Sometime during this period of brainstorming, Armstrong posed a heavy question to
Ampeg: "Since you make amplifiers for guitar and bass, have you ever considered
making a line of guitars and basses?" In truth, Ampeg had imported some guitars
in the early '60s, as well as produced a line of electric upright "Baby Basses,"
but both efforts were about as popular as J. Edgar Hoover at a Black Panther
rally. Realizing the Socratic purity of Armstrong's logic, the Ampeg executives
took Armstrong's idea to heart, and set out to produce a line of instruments
that were cool, hip, and groovy.
Ampeg charged Armstrong to conceive and build a prototype bass and guitar
overflowing with a sense of "what's happenin' now." Armed with a head full of
ideas, and most likely an advance from Ampeg, Armstrong hit the road to put his
head in the proper space for the task at hand. Mescalito must have been
whispering the secrets of the Aztec gods into Dan's ear on that trip, because he
returned with a design so cool and advanced, it blew players' minds... and drove
the Japanese copycat manufacturers to the brink of seppuku.
When introduced at
the 1969 NAMM show in Chicago, the Ampeg Dan Armstrong guitar and bass caused
slack-jawed envy and admiration. With bodies made of clear Plexiglas, Armstrong
forever freed plastic from the bonds of having to imitate other materials, and
let people see it for the beautiful substance it is. The choice of Plexiglas
went deeper than mere visuals, however. Armstrong found Plexiglas incredibly
dense—a property that greatly enhanced the instrument's properties of
Another revolutionary concept incorporated in the now christened "see through"
instruments was their 24-frets clear-of-the-body design. This was inventive
stuff! Armstrong also anticipated the clear guitar's popularity as a slide
instrument by specially designing the lower bout with a unique cut-away,
enhancing the player's reach to the uppermost frets.
Electronically, the guitar was a marvel. Featuring a series of quick-change
pickups, players could pop in one of six pickups specially designed for varying
styles, such as jazz, rock, and country music. The tone circuit was equally
innovative, with the three-position switch featuring a full volume setting,
allowing for a quick volume boost for those 20-minute solos players were so
enamored of in those innocent days.
the Dan Armstrong guitars and basses were a big hit with rock stars of the day
(due in part to the fact that many of them got theirs for free). Keith Richards
and Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones tore it up with a see-through guitar and
bass on the band's landmark 1969 world tour, while other renowned Dan Armstrong
users of the time included Paul McCartney, Jack Bruce, Leslie West, and Geezer
Butler. Of course these instruments sounded incredible, but ego may have played
an ugly part in their rock star popularity—why spend all that money on
velvet trousers from Granny Takes A Trip, only to have your ample rock star
crotch covered by a plank of wood? With the Dan Armstrong, it was all visible
for the world to see.
Unfortunately, like many cool human endeavors, the Ampeg/Dan Armstrong
relationship was eventually doomed. Contractual disputes and production
difficulties resulted in the severing of relations between the two parties in
1971, making the original Dan Armstrong guitars and basses rare finds in these
But alas, all is not lost. For those seeking the iconic look and sound of the
original Dan Armstrong instruments, Ampeg has painstakingly re-created these
hard-to-find guitars from the ground up. Incredible sustain and supersonic style
are back... for those who just have to get their ya-ya's out the Plexiglass
» See the
current reissue Plexi Guitar here
» See the
upcoming reissue Plexi Bass here