The wood-bodied Dan Armstrong offering from Ampeg delivers no-frills rock on a budget
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The AMG’s tone circuit switch in the upper position.
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The AMG’s tone circuit switch in the middle position, effectively removing the tone circuit from the signal path.
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The AMG’s tone circuit in the lowest position.
|All clips recorded with guitar Volume and Tone on full. Recorded with a modified Epiphone Valve Junior Stack (Volume set at 5) featuring an Eminence Red Coat 12”, through a Shure SM57 and into a ProSonus Audiobox interface. Guitar by Randall Davis|
It’s a lesson that we can find time and time again in history; even Dan Armstrong’s “see-through” guitar, made of Plexiglas, which has now reached an iconic, cult status among players, only survived a few years after its introduction in 1969. Even a tacit endorsement by rock god, Keith Richards, who used it on the Stones’ 1969 tour and a handful of albums, wasn’t enough to keep the see-through guitar alive; production of the Plexiglas guitar ceased in 1971. The world (and Keith) eventually all went back to wood.
Of course, even guitarists can be wrong sometimes. The Plexiglas used in these guitars was incredibly dense, lending the Dan Armstrongs a sustain and tone that couldn’t be found elsewhere. It was the rediscovery of these classic instruments by guitarists like Dave Grohl that brought these previously forgotten instruments back into the spotlight; Ampeg bowed to the growing demand with the reissue of the Dan Armstrong Plexiglas guitar as the ADA6 in 2006. Of course, Plexiglas is expensive and still not wood, so Ampeg has made the move to make the unique styling and features of the ADA6 more accessible to guitarists with the release of the AMG100 line. Billed as featuring, “nearly all the same specifications as the ultra-thin ADA6,” the AMG100 promises to expose some of those early innovations to more players with a friendlier price tag and a solid wood body.
We received the AMG100 BLD, which features a swamp ash body and a vintage blond finish. As the premium model in the AMG100 line, the BLD feels surprisingly insubstantial; to say the guitar is “lightweight” would be akin to saying that a 1958 LP “sounds good.” Everything about the AMG, from the ultra-thin design and the single-ply pickguard to the barely-there vintage finish—allowing plenty of the open ash grain to show through—feels airy and nimble. While perhaps not the most historically accurate—the classic Dan Armstrong plexi guitars were absurdly heavy affairs, requiring a strong frame and a stout disposition—players with bad backs, long sets or both will definitely enjoy this guitar. Think of the lightest Stratocaster you’ve ever owned, and you’ll get the idea.
Even though Ampeg has switched the AMG100 to a wood body, one idea that has remained is the swappable pickup system. The single pickup is housed in a channel carved out of the guitar’s top, and connected to the guitar’s circuitry by two metal prongs; by removing a thumbscrew in the back of the instrument, the pickup can be pulled out of the channel and replaced with another, all without having to remove strings or solder wires. It’s something that guitarists have always dreamed of and it works just fine, with the pickup snapping firmly into place, but it comes across more as a novelty than anything else. There are only two pickups available from Ampeg, and while only the “Sustain Treble” pickup shipped with our review guitar, the selection (or lack thereof) isn’t going to blow guitarists away. Furthermore, with the pickup removed, you could see the lessthan- impressive detail work inside the pickup channel, with the finish becoming somewhat sloppy and irregular. Granted, this is something you’ll rarely see, but it did distract from the presentation.
I actually found the neck to be the real treat on this guitar. The 24-fret, bolt-on maple neck felt both fast and stable at all points, which some might find surprising, considering the unique bolt-on design used here. Using four oversized bolts arranged in a square, the AMG100 neck is joined to the body at the 24th fret; while the connection doesn’t look to be the sturdiest, I can report no problems or complaints with it. In fact, it does such a great job staying out of the way that there is absolutely no hindrance of fret access on either side of the neck, providing you full use of two octaves.
The neck is slim and fits perfectly in the smallest of hands, moving from a gently curved C at the first position and gradually flattening out towards the 12th and beyond. The 24.75” scale drops this guitar firmly into Gibson territory, meaning that the AMG100 is wonderfully easy to play. It also helps give this guitar some warmth and depth, balancing out some of brightness of the tonewoods chosen here. The headstock retains the sharp, fluid style of the original, and even the truss rod cover looks appropriately hip. Nickel Grover die cast tuners keep things tuned up top, and according to Ampeg, are arranged in a tight pattern to minimize string tension differences. I can attest to the fact that the AMG100 did a great job of staying in tune, no matter what I threw at it. A chrome bridge/tailpiece, two retro knobs (Volume and Tone), dual strap buttons at the bottom of the guitar and a 3- way switch round out the package.
Everything about this guitar, from its weight to the swappable pickup system, says “rock.” That’s confirmed once you plug in; the dualcoil “Sustain Treble” pickup is pleasantly versatile, moving from solid, sparkling cleans to crunchy, bold and nasty with a twist of the Volume knob. There’s a significant amount of punch and pop in this guitar, and even with the use of lightweight woods, the AMG100 never became muddy or indistinct. While there’s a lot of clarity to be found, the Sustain Treble pickup also provides an impressive amount of body to overdriven chords. Unfortunately, in trading the Plexiglas for ash, it seems that AMG100 has lost some of that much-lauded sustain found in its predecessors, but there’s still plenty here to love. This guitar would be perfect for players interested in playing lots of loud, raucous, abusive rock—think of the Hives at full tilt.
The 3-way tone switch does a respectable job of providing a variety of tones from the AMG100’s single pickup, although there weren’t any revelations to be found. At the switch’s top position, the Tone knob is engaged as you might expect; switching it to the middle position removes the tone circuit completely from the guitar, and allows you to experience the feeling of an unencumbered pickup running straight into an amp. I found this setting to be my favorite, as it unleashed some extra bite from the “Sustain Treble” pickup without becoming too edgy. Flipping the switch into the lower position changes the frequency response of the Tone knob, giving single-note lines more of a notched sound, similar to a wah; if you’re a fan of subtle tonal shifts, you might dig this circuit, although I ultimately found it to be somewhat limited.
The Final Mojo
While the AMG100 is certainly no ADA6, our hats go off to Ampeg for doing a respectable impersonation. This guitar fits a lot of rock into a feather-light package, and offers some features you won’t find on more traditional axes, like incredible upper fret access and swappable pickups, which will definitely be a conversation piece at your next gig. Whether you’re looking for the perfect vintage-inspired companion for your garage punk band or you just dig anything Dan Armstrong does, you won’t find more fun than this.
you’ve always dug the unique style of the Dan Armstrong guitars, but don’t want the weight
you want the sustain of Plexiglas, and are willing to pay the price
MSRP $949.99 Street $729.99 - Ampeg - ampeg.com
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