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The British Amp Invasion: How Marshall, Hiwatt, VOX, and More Changed the Sound Of Music by Dave Hunter 

Speaking of great books ...

 

by Chris Loeffler

 

 

Prior the introduction of electronics into instruments, the guitar was out of favor with most ensemble musical formats due to its limited sonic output; drowned out by horns, brass winds, and even larger bodied stringed instruments like the cello. The United Stated led the charge to electrify and amplify guitars in the 30’s and 40’s and brought the guitar back as a viable instrument in popular band music, finally allowing the instrument to keep step with its louder brethren and growing audience sizes. Overseas, however, a confluence of events conspired against the guitar joining the popular music of big band music of Europe; from the growing political unrest of the 30’s to the warring 40’s whose accompanying drought of new music from the US led to little cross pollination in an already artistically strained setting, and ultimately the resource-scarce reality of a post-war Europe in the early 50's.

 

By the time most of Europe was rebuilding and could breath, the US music scene was dominated by brash guitar tones and a new genre of Rock and Roll by bands pushing tube-driven amplifiers to their limits. This rowdiness was, in part, defined by the technology that had been allowed to blossom in the relatively peaceful times stateside and fueled by artists who stayed out of the fight… technology that was sparse in reconstruction-era Europe and prohibitively expense to import from the US, resulting in a unique opportunity for European engineers to step in and fill.

 

Thus begins the story of one of the biggest shapers of rock and modern music created in the last 70 years. Dave Hunter's exhaustive The British Amp Invasion documents the British amp industry, from the rise of Selmer and JMI in the mid-50’s to the resurgence of Orange in the 90’s and its newest incarnation of heaver amplifiers.

 

The British Amp Invasion spans nine chapters and 168 pages with equal attention to text and photographs of vintage amps, circuits, advertisements, and more that focuses on builder intent, sonic trends, and the bands that made them famous.

 

What You Need to Know

 

Dave Hunter’s biggest strength is creating a logical, engaging narrative around how dozens of UK amp companies rose to prominence through correlating events of technology advancements, artistic and musical trends, and economic factors in a way that is as inspiring to read about as the music created with it and leads the reader to what feels like the inevitable conclusion of the modern state of amplifiers.

 

The amp specimens shot for the book are in fantastic condition, and the circuit close-ups are a pleasure to behold. For those familiar with Hunter's other books, his writing tone is equal parts conversational and informational and his concise working results in one of the easiest gear history reads around. Notable points in the story begin with how parts availability resulted in circuits that began the drift from what were meant to be US design knock-offs, address how the steadfast desire to maintain fidelity to the US designs in the UK resulted in an even further drift from the new voicing and approaches being implemented in the US and, ironically how that resulted in the iconic British sound. Intimate anecdotes reveal the emergence of artists like Clapton playing amps “hot” in the studio for the first time to the birth of the full stack, with delightful recounts of of crotchety interactions between artists and amp designers.

 

All major players are accounted for (both in the UK manufacturing side and the artists), and the story of US manufacturing and design growth persists in the narrative throughout if only to highlight the growing differences on opposite shores of the Atlantic.

 

Limitations

 

The narrative fizzles out by the time Hunter gets to the time period where boutique amp builders on both sides of the pond were emerging, and ends with little fanfare in the final chapter, reducing entire decades to a few sentences.

 

Conclusion

 

Amp geeks around the world with even a modicum of interest in amps from the UK are in for a rousing read of technology, artistic shifts, and are led to ground zero for what was the birth and maturity of the rock music scene through one of the most important gear signifiers in any lineup of the last fifty years. Techy enough to scratch the itch that speaks to the “whys” without ever requiring a background in engineering, Hunter knows how to walk the line between an entertaining and informative read and has a hell of a tale to share.  -HC-

 

Resources

 

The British Amp Invasion: How Marshall, Hiwatt, Vox, and More Changes the SOund of Music Product Page

 

Buy The British Amp Invastion (MSRP $29.99) at AmazonTargetBackwing Books

                                      

____________________________________________ 

 

Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer. 

 

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