japan made

A local shop got it to pass signal and technically function, but with four power tubes, some big-bruiser transformers, and a rating of 105 watts, I was expecting more.

A well-worn U1040 out of its cabinet.

The U1040’s back panel includes jacks for both reverb and tremolo footswitches.

Hi Jeff,
It’s probably a lingering artifact from some emotional turbulence years ago, but I’m fond of the goofy, early-’70s, two-tone blue Univox amps with the orange logos. I bought a weary, nonworking U1040 project off Craigslist and have been trying to nurse it back to health. A local shop got it to pass signal and technically function, but with four power tubes, some big-bruiser transformers, and a rating of 105 watts, I was expecting more. The amp’s volume seems weak and muted, its tone is nothing special, and the whole thing just seems sonically constipated. I’ve been told this amp has an unusual design. What remedy might the amp doctor prescribe for this lackluster combo?
Best regards,
Tom Shaw

Hi Tom,
Although I’ve never owned one, I absolutely remember these cool and unusual-looking amps. According to the Univox site, your 1040 Quad Reverb was one of a large contingent of models designed and marketed in 1971. Although Univox was originally a Japanese company, around the time your 1040 was produced, these amps would have probably been assembled in Westbury, New York, using Japanese-built chassis. This model was also available with a 4x10 speaker configuration (U1044). These amps sold for $480 at the time, which was a pretty decent chunk of change considering that a Volkswagen Beetle was selling for under $2,000.

Although this 1040 model exists, apparently its schematic does not—at least online. So as a reference, I chose a schematic for another model with the same basic specs, the 2-channel 1010. It has 10 tubes, a solid-state power supply, reverb, tremolo, presence, and a 105-watt RMS output. My guess is this will be almost identical to your model.

When troubleshooting older amps with no known history, it makes sense to start with the tubes. Used or abused output tubes can certainly leave an amp with lackluster performance. Install another set of 6L6s and see if this makes a substantial difference. If so, have the new tubes biased properly for optimal performance. I’d also substitute each preamp tube and listen for an improvement. This may be a case where each tube replacement brings the amp another step towards proper performance.

While there are a few atypical design elements, there’s really nothing too “unusual” about it. The most noticeable difference is that the unit uses a 6AN8 triode/pentode tube in the reverb circuit. The pentode half of this tube feeds the triode half, which is basically a 12AU7, and the triode side drives the reverb tank. A little out of the ordinary, but certainly not an area that should be causing amp anemia. The following design differences, however, could be possible suspects.

The power supply differs from what’s normally found in the majority of guitar amps. In most guitar amplifiers, the power-supply voltages that are fed to different stages of the amplifier are all derived, in one way or another, from the main supply voltage, traditionally called B+. But in this design, the power supply is actually split into two discrete sections. The full power supply (650V DC) is feeding the plates of the output tubes, while the rest of the amplifier is fed with exactly one half of that voltage (325V DC), which is sourced at the center of the power-supply filter stack.

Most Music Man amps used a very similar design, but since the preamp stages of the Music Man were all solid-state, the half power-supply voltage was only used to supply the screen grid voltage to the output tubes, and here is where a potential problem could exist in your amp. The half voltage is derived at the center point of two series capacitors. If these capacitors are worn, dried out, and out of balance, the half voltage could be substantially low and cause weak output from the output tubes, as well as lower gain in the preamp stages.

Check the half voltage. If it’s substantially low, replacing these two 100 μF 450V capacitors could bring the amp back to life. And while you’re at it, I’d replace all of the filter caps, as their performance could be questionable as well.

Next, I’d look at the output stage. In most designs, the plates of each pair of output tubes on either side of the output transformer are connected together. In this design however, the plates are separated by a 100 Ω resistor. If those resistors have failed, you may only be getting output from two of the four output tubes. Replacing those resistors should enable all four tubes to operate again.

If none of the above potential causes are the source of the lackluster performance, I’d finally suggest looking at the speakers. Over the years I’ve seen many instances where the original speakers in vintage amps can become weak and worn out, and the amp sounds and feels completely underwhelming. Disconnect the internal speakers and play the amp through a good extension cabinet. New speakers can make all the difference in the world.

Warning: All tube amplifiers contain lethal voltages. The most dangerous voltages are stored in electrolytic capacitors, even after the amp has been unplugged from the wall. Before you touch anything inside the amp chassis, it’s imperative that these capacitors are discharged. If you are unsure of this procedure, consult your local amp tech.

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The history of Samick and a budget acoustic find

Hey Zach,
I’m just learning how to play guitar, and I picked up this Samick acoustic from a buddy for $60. It has the following information inked on the label inside: Model LW-025G, Serial No. 96122756, Made in Indonesia. I really don’t know much about guitars, including this one, and I simply bought it for something to learn on. Can you tell me a little about the guitar and if it is worth anything—although I suspect not.

Minnetonka, Minnesota

Hey John,
The beauty of the guitar industry today is that with so many price points available, just about anyone can afford a guitar. Many players consider Samick to be a budget brand because of their low price points, but the company offers much more than cheap guitars. I’ll discuss Samick’s history a bit and tell you more about your acoustic guitar.

Samick was founded in 1958 by Hyo Ick Lee in Korea as an upright piano manufacturer, and by 1964, they were the first Korean piano exporter. In 1965, they began building guitars, and in the early 1970s they had added grand pianos and harmonicas to the line. In 1973, the company incorporated as Samick Musical Instruments Mfg. Co. Ltd., and in 1978, they opened a branch office in Los Angeles. In 1992, they built a factory in Indonesia to produce a majority of their instruments.

What many people may not realize is that Samick actually builds guitars for many other trademarks and have been doing so for many years. It may come as a surprise to many, but several Epiphones, Fenders, and other American-trademarked guitars are actually built by Samick in one of their factories. Many manufacturers in the US do not actually own an overseas production facility, so they outsource the construction to companies such as Samick. Because of this, Samick is one of the highest-producing instrument manufacturers in the world, if not the top. In a sense, Samick is a current day “house brand.”

The LW-025G is a dreadnought-styled guitar that was part of Samick’s “Standard Series” offered in the 1990s. Introduced around 1994, it features a laminated spruce top, nato back and sides with black binding, a 20-fret rosewood fretboard, a black pickguard, and gloss finish. In terms of features, this guitar is exactly what the series describes it as: standard. The serial number, starting with “96” means the guitar was built in 1996. The LW-025G was produced through the late 1990s until Samick discontinued their entire line of guitars for a new series.

Samick doesn’t use traditional retail pricing for their guitars, but instead list a “dealer net” amount in their price lists, which basically is the amount a dealer pays for an instrument. Samick also enforces a strict minimum advertised price (MAP) policy to guarantee top margins for their dealers without having an arbitrary retail price. Not many guitar companies operate with a pricing structure such as this, but it has proved to be very successful for Samick. The dealer net price for this guitar in 1997 was $105 (I don’t have a price list from 1996). Today, the guitar is worth between $135 and $175 in excellent condition and between $70 and $90 in average condition.

The owner of this guitar actually brought it into our office, so I had a chance to physically inspect it and play it. The guitar has noticeable wear, but is structurally intact, putting it in average condition. The action is set evenly, the guitar played on all strings up and down the fingerboard, and the intonation is spot-on. Most collectors will consider this guitar to be trash, but for entry-level players, it’s a treasure—especially considering how hard it can be to find an inexpensive guitar that plays this easily with correct intonation. Part of the process when it comes to determining if a guitar is “trash or treasure” is to see how well the guitar plays, which is difficult to do by simply looking at pictures.

After Samick discontinued this line, they introduced a new line of guitars in their 2000 catalog. Designed by Greg Bennett, these were called the “Signature Series.” Since 2000, all Samick guitars are actually branded Greg Bennett and have a stylized “S” logo with “Greg Bennett Design” on the headstock. Samick continues to produce a wide variety of guitars from entry-level models to higher-end production models. To offer more high-end instruments, Samick opened their USA Custom Shop outside of Nashville, where they are also now headquartered. Samick also only sells their instruments to independent music stores to give them competition against the big-box stores—a treasure in today’s market for sure!

Zachary R. Fjestad
Zachary is the author of the Blue Book of Acoustic Guitars, Blue Book of Electric Guitars, and the Blue Book of Guitar Amplifiers.
Questions can be submitted to:
Blue Book Publications
Attn: Guitar Trash or Treasure
8009 34th Ave. S. Ste #175
Minneapolis, MN 55425

An Aria Pro II Herb Ellis model shows up with serial #1. Is it a prototype or first model?

Hey Zach,

I recently received a guitar that appears to be a Gibson copy Aria Pro II “Herb Ellis” model. The label inside the guitar indicates that it is a model TE 175 and the serial number is “1.” I’ve seen other Herb Ellis guitars with his name inlaid in the fingerboard and with different scrollwork on the head. I am interested in its value and any information you may have about this guitar.

Very truly yours,
Dave Miliotis, Roseville, MN

Hi Dave,

It’s not every day that I evaluate a guitar with a serial number of 1! Your Aria Pro II model is unique and I’ll explain why, but first let’s look at the history of Aria and Herb Ellis. Aria is the trademark of the Arai (note spelling) Company of Japan, which began producing guitars in the mid-1950s. At first, Aria focused on original guitar designs, but by the 1970s, they were doing what many other Japanese guitar companies were doing: copying popular American designs. In the mid-1970s, the trademark changed to Aria Pro II, which appeared mostly on electric guitars. After the “lawsuit era” of copied guitars ended in the late 1970s, Aria went back to offering original designs, and they continue to produce a variety of musical instruments in numerous countries. Aria guitars can be found with the trademarks of Aria, Aria Diamond, and Aria Pro II almost interchangeably, but since the early 2000s, all guitars are simply branded Aria.

Herb Ellis is a jazz guitarist who rose to fame in the 1950s, especially when he replaced Barney Kessel in the Oscar Peterson Trio. In 1953, Ellis bought a single-pickup Gibson ES-175 that became his main guitar for many years. While he was never a Gibson endorser during the 1950s and 1960s, he did help bring the ES-175 to stardom. In the late 1970s, Aria began offering a Herb Ellis hollowbody guitar that featured two humbucker pickups and a sharp Florentine cutaway—a sharp contrast to the single-pickup, smooth Florentine cutaway ES-175. It was called the PE 175, and it first appeared in Aria’s catalog circa 1978. Aria continued to produce the Herb Ellis signature model through the late 1980s, until he returned to his Gibson roots and they began producing the new ES-165 Herb Ellis model in 1991, which features his signature on the headstock.

The label from your guitar has the model TE 175 stamped on it instead of PE 175, which is more than likely a misprint. The prefix TE is used for Aria’s Telecaster copies in the late 1970s, while PE stands for the “Professional Electric” Series that encompasses several Aria models from the late 1970s and 1980s. Also, the stamped serial number of “1” is very interesting. This is a Matsumoku-produced guitar, and they were fairly consistent in using a six-digit serial number where the first one or two digits indicated the year of manufacture. I believe that this guitar is one of the first Aria Herb Ellis models produced and is likely a prototype. It is also missing the 19th fret Herb Ellis pearl block inlay signature, likely added to production models.

The Aria Pro II PE 175 “Herb Ellis” model features a laminated maple body, crème body binding, two bound f-holes, mahogany neck, 20-fret bound ebony fingerboard with split square inlays, three-per-side tuners, rosewood-based adjustable bridge, engraved “Pro II” tailpiece, layered black pickguard with “H.E.” initials, two covered AL7 humbucker pickups, four knobs (two Volume, two Tone), three-way pickup switch, gold hardware and Sunburst finish.

Without Matsumoku’s factory records, and the fact that Aria’s presence in the US is simply distribution, we may never know the truth about the odd label in your guitar. When determining value, I always remind people that just because it is rare doesn’t necessarily mean it is collectible or worth more than a run-of-the-mill PE 175. Today, this guitar is worth between $800 and $1000, but would any collector or player pay a premium because this guitar is a possible prototype or the first one produced? Without trying to sell it and see what it will fetch in the used guitar marketplace, you may never discover the true collector value, but it is certainly a treasure nonetheless.

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