Steel Trappings

More Magnatone

More Magnatone Part I-2

July 4, 2016 • John TeagleInstruments and Luthiers

The series of articles titled "More Magnatone" originally appeared in the March, 1998, and April, 1998, issues of Vintage Guitar and are reproduced here by permission from the publisher and the author. The first series of articles covers Magnatone MOTS amplifiers and the second series of articles covers Magnatone steel guitars. Article section identifications have been enhanced for clarity. © John Teagle and Vintage Guitar.

PART II: Non-MOTS Magnatones

By the mid '50s, MOTS had lost its appeal, as had Hawaiian music, so Magnatone discontinued its use on all the amplifiers and offered it only as an option for the new bottom-of-the-line "Steel" guitar. In the Feb. '98 VG (pg. 115), the five-tube, single 10" Melodier is described as possibly the largest MOTS amp known to man, with reference to the larger Troubadour and its covering as "unknown." However, a five-tube, single-12" speaker Troubadour Model M-192-5D has turned up in original alligator, as seen on the eight-tube, twin-12" 1948 Professional Model M-198-8D. Note the numeral in 5D and 8D, not to mention M-199-3T and M-197-3V, refers to the number of tubes in the circuit. As for the letters, your guess is as good as ours…

Unfortunately, too much has been changed on this M-192's insides to trust the 1951 pot codes or the 1953 speaker code, although the speaker looks original in brand and model, being similar to those in the '48 Professional. While lacking any official literature from the era, an educated guess suggests the Troubadour went from early-period Magnatone alligator to mid-period Magnatone light brown leatherette, along with with all the MOTS amps ca. 1955, and no other covering was used in between. It's possible light brown leatherette was used earlier for the then top-of-the-line Troubadour before becoming standard issue.

Besides the M-192 and M-198 mentioned above, other early Magnatones (VG, Feb. '98, pg. 114) included the Student Model M-199-3T and the slightly larger M-197-3V, as used by Gretsch for their Rex Royal. The smaller AC/DC model probably had an M-190 series number in company literature, although the bare bones construction lacked any markings on the amp itself. Perhaps there's a catalog or price list out there somewhere? The slant-front Magnatone inherited from Dickerson undoubtedly had an M-190 series number, as well. The 190 series was superceded by the 100 series by 1954 (probably earlier); here's a look at the transition.

The bottom-of-the-line AC/DC model became the Starlet Model 107 in MOTS, and the slightly more powerful three-tube M-199/M-197 became the Varsity Model 108 in MOTS. Gone was the graphically-enhanced windowscreen grillecloth, replaced with acoustically transperent cloth in brown, similar to what Fender would use on its tweed amps starting in '55. The midsized amp with the slant front was followed by the five-tube, single-10" Melodier Advanced Model 110 in MOTS, also with brown grille (it's possible an interim early-'50s version in MOTS exists). The 110 was joined or followed by the five-tube, twin-8" Model 109, with only the 109 being available by '57. Finishing out the amps, with direct ties to the original line, the alligator Troubadour M-192 became Troubadour Model 112, as mentioned above. Light brown leatherette became standard issue for all these amps ca. 1955 and lasted until ca. '59. The M-198 Professional probably (due to its rarity today) was discontinued well before the change to the 100 series.

Magnatone released its amazing 200 series amps (213, 260 and 280) with pitch bending vibrato in '57, but these are a story in themselves (next month!). The 200s were fitted with a new dark brown cabinet having the baffle board tipped in under the top of the cabinet 15 degrees; the non-vibrato 100 series was updated in '58 and '59 to match.

The lower-powered, three-tube 107 became the dark brown 111, the higher-powered three-tube 108 became the dark brown 118, the midsized five-tube 109 was squeezed out by the small, vibrato-equipped 210 and 213 amps, while the larger single-12" Troubadour 112 became the single-12" 250. A high-powered amp without vibrato, the 190, was suggested for use with bass guitars. The 190 used a single 12" plus a 5" tweeter and boasted 40 watts. Suffice it to say, the 260 and 280 were outrageously progressive and Hi-Fi, as the Professional had been in '48.

So, there you have the near-complete story of Magna Electronics Amplifiers from the '40s and '50s. However, the author recalls playing through more than one ca. '55-'57 light brown amp with AM tremolo (not the FM vibrato), but the old brain didn't think to chronicle the model number(s). Because of the hoopla at the time of the 200 series' release praising the superiority of vibrato, tremolo was bluntly discontinued. It seems safe to say no dark brown Magna Electronics amp had tremolo, no light brown amp had vibrato, and no MOTS amp had either. Again, more on the "V" (for vastness) vibrato next month.


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