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January 15
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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


Rex Mascot
Another key player, and one of the family businesses of the kind described by Neil Rote, was Lamberti Bros, who released amplifiers under the Rex and Eston brand names. The company was started in 1946, primarily to manufacture musical instruments, by two brothers, Frank and Tony. "They were manufacturing banjo-mandolins for the Australian market," Frank's son Joe Lamberti says. "They were asked by an American firm whether they wanted to export to the USA, but at the time they just couldn't keep up. They were producing enough for the Australian market and they just couldn't produce any more. At the time they were growing and they probably didn't have the funds. The amplifier side came from my dad, because dad was a radio tech. Before he started Lamberti Bros he worked at Astor Radio. He started there as an apprentice and he left there a foreman. He always had a love of radios, and eventually he wanted to make his own line of amplifiers. Before that they were making radiograms—huge things with a radio, television and record player."

"They started the Rex brand name with a three-watt, single-ended amp, and they had a few variations on that, but perhaps the one people know the most is the Rex Mascot," Lamberti continues. Rex also produced the Bassking in the mid-'60s with three models, 20, 50, and 100 watts, each looking identical from the front. "The 20 watts, with two EL84 power tubes, weren't that well regarded as a great amp at the time, but the second version is a much better sounding amp," says Lamberti. "The 50-watt had two EL34 power tubes and four 12AX7s. The 100-watt had 6L6s in it. Those amps, the 50s and 100s, are phenomenal. I've got a couple of them that are absolute monsters. The 100 is just unbearably loud. It's crazy!"

Other Lamberti models include the Super 20, a cathode biased amp with a tremolo circuit that Lamberti says was used in the studio by Joe Camilleri (The Black Sorrows). "It's not quite as punchy as the Bassking, but it's a sweeter tone," Lamberti says. In total, Lamberti Bros. produced three different three-watt amps, a six-watt amp with a tremolo, the Super 20, and the three Basskings.

Eston Super 20

Lamberti estimates that the company made around 3500 amps within a ten-year period, stopping around the early '70s. "All the amps were hand-wired, no circuit boards," he says. "They used to manufacture the cabinets themselves. They had a company winding the transformers for them and another that was bending the chassis. We had our own engineering workshop where we'd punch all the holes for them. The vinyls were basically whatever they could find. Most of the amps were black, but every now and then you'd see an orange one, a blue one, a grey one… I think sometimes maybe they just used what they found at auctions. We've still got mountains of it here."

While most of the classic Australian amp companies of the past are out of business, Lamberti Bros, who these days are known for distributing brands such as Cort, Electro Harmonix, Laney, DBZ Guitars, and Diamond Amplifiers in Australia, revived the Rex brand name in 2006 to bring the 20-watt Bassking back to life. This was no run-of-the-mill reissue, however: Lamberti Bros actually completed a batch of unfinished amps that had been sitting in storage since the 1970s, tweaking them to meet the needs of modern players. "One of the guys who worked with my father in the early '70s has been helping us do the amps," Joe Lamberti says. "We've replaced all the electrolytics because they're too old. They haven't been used, so they're all dried up. We replace some of the transistors. We bias the amps properly, and we've done a bit of work to make the amps more punchy. The things were left sitting in our amplifier workshop in a row of Victorian shops two blocks up from the Queen Victoria Markets in Melbourne. When dad decided to stop manufacturing the amps, he already had all the chassis punched out and he already had the transformers, so they planned to do a final run of 100 Basskings, but then they didn't sell them. They got left there from 1973 up until about ten years ago, when we moved all the chassis to our new location and started quietly working on them."


Rex Bassking combo

Just as the then-new US and UK amps of the early electric era influenced Australian companies to make their own unique models, the current boutique amp boom has led to renewed interest in these classic hand-wired Aussie amps. Their prices on the vintage market are beginning to reflect their revered status, but for now they remain a relatively accessible yet entirely unique chapter of guitar history.
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