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Tone Down Under: A Brief History of Vintage Australian Tube Amps

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Tone Down Under: A Brief History of Vintage Australian Tube Amps


1968 Eminar 100-watt stack, photo by Neil Rote
Australia's geographical isolation wasn't just restricted to the distance between the continent and the rest of the world. The vast expanse between the country's eastern states also influenced regional trends amongst amp makers. "There was a division between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane," Roper says. "There were a few good amps coming out of Brisbane, and a few good amps from Sydney, like the Moodys, which were in competition with Goldentone. As far as I'm concerned, Melbourne was probably the hottest place for amplifiers, just as it's the hottest place for the Australian music scene these days. Eminar came out of Northcote in Melbourne. Strauss had quite a penetration in the market at the time, but unfortunately the way they built their amplifiers meant they were a bit highly stressed, and not many of them survive at all today, whereas the Eminars were rather better engineered and lasted quite well." In the late '60s, Eminar was particularly adept at combining Marshall or Vox-influenced bridge-capable preamp sections with American-style 6L6 output stages. These amps were almost as legendary for their incredibly high output as they were for their tone.

Yet for all of the US and UK influence, Aussie amps always tended to do things a little differently. Another noted Australian amp guru, Neil Rote of Grouse Guitars (www.grouseguitars.com.au), says he is particularly interested in the individuality of Australian amp designs. "What really fascinates me about these amps is that most don't tend to really follow any Fender or Marshall pattern," Rote says. "You have a whole pile of what were basically little family businesses building these amps using Aussie-made speakers and everything, and looking back, probably half of them sound absolutely fantastic. Another thing worth noting is that they often use totally different valves to what other people were using, like the 6DQ6—Goldentone used those a lot. They were just a black and white television screen tube. They were absolutely cheap as chips, but they sound fantastic. The Aussie amps used these different valves often, which is part of the sound."


Moody BA40, photo by Neil Rote

In addition to Goldentone, Moody and Eminar, Rote names a few other influential companies: Vadis, Vase, and Maton. Today, the latter is known for its acoustic guitars as played by Tommy Emmanuel, as well as electrics favored by Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and Them Crooked Vultures. But Neville Kitchen, son-in-law of Maton founder Bill May, says the company made amplifiers in the '60s and '70s out of necessity. "We had a separate electronics department that did it, and we had lots of different models," Kitchen says. "The original ones were all-valve amps, and there were a few solid state ones when it became fashionable at the end of the period when we were making them." However, as the market opened up to imported US and UK amps, Maton's time as an amplifier manufacturer drew to a close. "The reason we got out of it was that amps became a specialized product, and all the big makers from overseas happened," Kitchen says. "Plus, when you were making electronics, you had to buy thousands of little components, even though you might have only wanted a hundred. It became an expensive operation where even if you weren't making thousands you still had to buy the parts."


1963 Maton Mastersound Hi-Mark Series 10, photo by Neil Rote

Maton valve amps I've played have had solid low end and a gloriously grainy upper midrange quality which partners especially well with single-coils, and compresses nicely at higher volume levels. The closest comparable modern amp tone-wise is the Fender Super Sonic.

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