The Contessa lives up to its name as sleeper amp royalty, with plenty of volume and clean headroom, excellent garage-rock tone, onboard tremolo and reverb, and quiet operation.
Hohner Contessa CA200About 10 years ago, I saw this Hohner amp in a music store in upstate New York and I was smitten. The swirly grill cloth … interesting. The little Hohner emblem guy playing an accordion … dig it. The “Contessa” name … never heard of that one! It turns out this amp was made by a New Jersey-based company called Sano. Sano amplification began shortly after WWII with a focus on amplifiers and electric pickups for accordions, but eventually branched out into guitar amps with all sorts of cool speaker configurations. Many people believe that Sano and Ampeg were in some way related companies, but the reality is that they were two separate entities with no real business relationship. Sano made amps primarily for their own brand, but did make amps under the Hohner and Excelsior names. One thing about Sano amps during this era: They were versatile and voiced to fit a wide range of different instruments, such as accordions and vocal microphones.
There are several legendary Sano amps out there, and this CA200 is one of the best. Sano also made this amp under its own name and called it the GS-20. Driven by a pair of 6BQ5 (EL84) power tubes, the CA200 has some truly milkshake-thick distortion. Combined with a large, well-built cabinet, the amp just projects like a cannon. When used with lower output pickups, there is some nice clean headroom to be found way up on the volume knob. But with hotter pickups, this amp is searing at about half-volume. This is a circuit that works well with pedals, but you really won’t need many because the onboard tremolo and long-pan reverb are outstanding.
The CA200 sat right in the middle of the Hohner guitar amp lineup, weighing around 33 pounds and sporting a 12" speaker. These have one channel, but it’s a really good one. Pumping out about 20 watts of power, these amps have a really cool vintage garage-rock tone. They somehow sound raw and refined at the same time. Also, I’ve found Sano amps in general to be some of the quietest operating amps on the vintage market. These make for excellent recording amps and every Sano I’ve owned or played has been very resistant to hum and noise.
After locating an old catalog, I found that in 1969 Hohner marketed four amp models: three for guitar and one large “general purpose” amplifier called the Orgaphon. The CA200 was priced at $230 in 1969, but for the money you were getting a fine guitar amp—then and now.