Australian guitarists heard these sounds on record too, of course, but being tucked in a much more remote patch of the globe, prohibitive costs kept these luxurious items out of reach of most aspiring Antipodean axemeisters. It's no surprise that Aussie companies started taking matters into their own hands quite early on, with some notable examples stretching back to the pre-WWII era. The golden age of the Australian tube amp came to an end in the '70s, when tariffs on imports were drastically reduced and it finally became economically viable to import British and American amps for the masses. Some these almost-forgotten Australian-made tube amps have now taken on near mythical status.
1960s Goldentone, photo by Neil Rote
"There was a bit of a connection between ham radio and these amplifiers back in the early days," says Roly Roper of OzValveAmps.org, one of Australia's leading authorities on classic homegrown tube amps. "Back then, radio hams used amplitude modulation, which required thumping great audio modulators—which were something similar to big guitar amps. So they tended to inform guitar amp design, which was happening during that transitional period of having an infatuation with all things British that came from Menzies and co. [monarchist Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies, who was in power from 1939-41, then again from '49-'66] to a swing of loyalty toward the United States. The '60s represented a transition period where we had a foot in both camps, so you'll find a British influence as well as an American influence, particularly in the valve types used. Very big amps tended to use KT88s which came from the UK, but small or medium sized amps tended to use 6L6s which came from the US, and those amps tended to imitate Fenders."
1959 Goldentone, photo by Neil Rote
The middle era for Goldentones was the start of the surf era. "The Goldies were pretty popular around that time," explains Roper, "especially the large combos, which were kind of like the Fender Twins." While Goldentone amps share certain tonal qualities with Fender's early offerings, they also tend to offer Vox-style tremolo circuits, and are often noteworthy for their ample bottom end.
Toward the end of the Australian tube amp era, names like Strauss, Eminar, and Trent dominated. "These guys built huge monstrosities that needed a removal van to carry around. Hundreds of watts," says Roper. "Probably the most outstanding one was the Strauss Warrior, built for Lobby Loyde (of Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs), which was 350 watts. But it was not without its expense—apparently that amp had to go back to the workshop just about every week!"