LEFT: A mid-’50s Supro Brentwood: Manufactured by Valco, this compact combo was marketed as Supro’s top-of-the-line amp at the time. RIGHT: This collectible, tweed-wrapped Brentwood includes a footswitchable tremolo with speed control, three input jacks, and a pair of 11" x 6" oval-shaped speakers.
I have a Supro Brentwood amp that I picked up at a guitar show over 20 years ago for a few hundred bucks. I find myself using it often because it’s a small, compact amplifier with tremolo (my favorite effect). I was wondering what it’s worth today and what ever happened to Supro.
Robert in Virginia
I’ve always thought that these old Supros were so cool. I think they were retro as soon as they left the factory! The story behind Supro is interesting, and as much as I dislike using the term, Supro was a “budget brand” in its day. I’ll go over a little history about Supro and your amp.
Supro began life in the mid-1930s as a budget brand for National Dobro’s lowest-priced resonators. In the late 1930s, National expanded the Supro trademark to woodbodied lap steels, amplifiers, and Spanish electric archtops. It was in 1942 when Victor Smith, Al Frost, and Louis Dopyera bought National—including Supro—and changed the company name to Valco (a combination of their first name initials and “co” for company). Soon after, Valco halted resonator production in the early to mid-1940s due to metal rationing during World War II, placing their focus on amplifiers and Spanishand Hawaiian-style guitars.
Valco became a huge manufacturer and supplier of guitars and amplifiers during the 1950s and 1960s, though very few actually carried the Valco name. The company’s focus was on producing gear for other brand names. Over the years, Valco produced amps for Supro, Gretsch, Oahu, National, and Airline. While each one of these brands was used for a specific situation or retailer (Airline was a brand made specifically for Montgomery Ward for example), many of these amplifiers were basically the same model with only slightly different cosmetics and a different badge. It wouldn’t be surprising to find the exact same amplifier with five different brand names!
Even though Valco expanded rapidly during the guitar boom of the 1960s, the company merged with Kay in an attempt to stay afloat as the end of the decade neared. Filing for bankruptcy in 1968, Valco went out of business altogether in 1969. Between 1969 and 2004, Supro was essentially mothballed, except for a time in the early 1980s when Archer’s Music bought the Supro rights and made some guitars out of new-old-stock parts. And in 2004, Bruce Zinky of Zinky Electronics began producing guitars and amps under the Supro name that are available today.
Your Supro Brentwood (Model 1650T) was produced in the mid-1950s and according to the 1955 Supro catalog, the Brentwood was “Supro’s finest amplifier with powerful-range tremolo.” Specifications of the Brentwood include a pair of 11" x 6" oval speakers, two channels (normal and high gain), footswitchable tremolo with speed control, three input jacks, and a split-chassis design that “ensures the quiet, super-power performance of the 7-tube, push-pull construction.” The covering is tweed and leatherette with modern, twotone black and white stripes.
Though Supro amps were originally designed for use with accordions and Hawaiian lap steels, the amps became multi-purpose units as the guitar became more popular and dominant in the 1950s. Many guitarists love these Supro amps from the early 1950s because of their simple design, great guitar tones, and cool styles that seem to have changed every few years. In fact, it is reported that Jimmy Page recorded most of his guitar parts on the first two Led Zeppelin albums through a Supro Thunderbolt.
Today, these 1950s Supro amps are very collectible even though they were considered entry-level units when produced. Your amp is really clean for its age and its value is between $800 and $1,000, assuming that it’s completely original and in good working order. For a historical perspective, this amp retailed for $167.50 in 1955 and the optional footswitch was $5.50. Combined, that would cost more than $1,450 in today’s world! I’m afraid to say that the days of picking up an amp like this for a few hundred dollars at a guitar show are behind us now. Just about any vintage Supro amp would be considered a treasure—it’s just a matter of how clean it is, if it works, and how much you have to pay for it.
Zachary R. Fjestad is author of Blue Book of Acoustic Guitars, Blue Book of Electric Guitars, and Blue Book of Guitar Amplifiers. For more information, visit bluebookinc.com or email Zach at firstname.lastname@example.org.