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Lee Flier

Ampeg Dan Armstrong ADA6 See-Through Guitar

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Greetings fellow Harmony Central guitar geeks! Many of you already know me in my role as moderator of the Backstage with the Band forum, member of Atlanta based rock'n'roll band What The...?, and writer of "The Rock Files" in EQ magazine. I'm now offering up my first Pro Review here at HC, and it's a dandy - the reissue of the plexiglass-bodied Dan Armstrong ADA6.

 

http://www.ampeg.com/products/daplexi/adag/index.html

 

Plexiglass? Any self respecting guitarist might well ask. If you're familiar with my writing or music, you know I'm all about the classic vintage designs and don't suffer gimmicks gladly. For me to be reviewing a space-age looking see-through guitar might seem like a hopeless mismatch, and if you're a lover of fine vintage or vintage-style instruments, you might think this guitar is little more than a novelty, yourself. But think again! This guitar has an unusual design in every respect, even by today's standards, but a mere gimmick it ain't.

 

The original Dan Armstrongs had a short production period - 1969 through 1971. Then as now, many guitarists seemed to balk at such a non-traditional guitar and pickup design. Only about 1700 guitars and basses were made in the initial run, but they certainly made their mark - Keith Richards used them on arguably the Stones' most acclamed tour ever (1969), and it can be heard through the monstrous Ampeg V4 head/SVT cabinet all over the fabled Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out live album, as well as the Gimme Shelter DVD. It was likely to have been used on Sticky Fingers as well.

 

So as a young guitarist/certified Keith freak in the late 70's, my interest in these guitars was certainly piqued. I did have the opportunity back in the day to play original Dan Armstrongs on several occasions, as I had a friend and fellow guitarist who owned one. At the time I remember being extremely struck by its nasty, biting tone - solo notes seemed to be fairly spat out in a rage of trebly distortion, and chords were punchy and solid.

 

There was also the time I found this guitar so inspiring that when playing it at a gig, I was too lost in the music to be paying much attention to mechanics, and I sliced my right hand open on the strings and splattered blood all over the guitar body. With the lights shining through the plexiglass, those blood stains looked C-O-O-L. Like some kind of punk rock lava lamp. Even better considering it was a borrowed guitar, the blood wiped right off the plastic. :D

 

Over the years, this guitar has continued to enjoy a cult following among people who've played them. Like Ampeg guitar amps, they never seem to have caught on as huge collectors items, but are well loved and considered very underrated by those who use them, such as the Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl and the Psychedelic Furs' Richard Fortus. So needless to say, when Ampeg announced they were reissuing the Dan Armstrong, I was psyched! But how true would it be to the original? Were any concessions to modern players and technologies made in this reissue, and if so were they for better or worse? And was the original even in fact as cool as I remembered it?

 

Stay tuned and we'll cover all the bases - basic information, commentary from the manufacturers and designers, gig reports, sound clips, and comparisons to the original DA. Please feel free to chime in if you have any questions - that's what the interactive Pro Review is all about!

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FIRST IMPRESSIONS

 

My review guitar shipped in a very durable and classy looking hardshell case, with a plush red lining and the famous Ampeg blue checkered tolex covering. A big thumbs up on the case! It's doubtful this guitar would fit in standard aftermarket cases, so kudos to Ampeg for shipping it with a case.

 

At first glance, the guitar looks exactly like the original: clear lucite double cutaway, rosewood-look pickguard, maple neck with rosewood fretboard, flame point headstock, and single bridge pickup.

 

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The first question most people seem to ask about this guitar is: isn't it heavy? The answer: Well, yeah. As guitars go, it's heavy. It is heavier than the Les Pauls I normally play, and most people consider LP's heavy. However, I don't find LP's to be a problem because they are well balanced. I've noticed that how heavy a guitar really feels depends a lot on how its weight is distributed.

 

While the Armstrong doesn't have quite the perfection of balance that my LP's do, I was pleasantly surprised at my first impression of it when I first strapped it on and held it while standing. It balances very well. But yes, it's heavy. Whose idea was this whole plexiglass business anyway, and why would anybody make a guitar out of plastic other than to look weird? More on that later. For the time being I'll just say: yeah it's heavy - deal with it and be glad you're not a bass player. I can hang with it and I'm a girl. :p

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A BIT MORE ABOUT THAT LUCITE BODY

 

I spoke with Dan Armstrong's son, Kent, about the initial decision to make a guitar out of plexiglass. It was all about minimizing the vibrations as much as possible, to increase sustain.

 

While he was a teenager hanging out at his father's music store, Kent did a number of experiments in which he attempted to create the ultimate sustain. "At one point I strung up a brick wall in the basement of my father's store," he says laughing, "I put strings on it and put a pickup underneath the strings. The sustain was unreal."

 

He also had a stonemason friend who'd carved a guitar body out of granite, and put a metal neck on it. Kent provided a pickup. "That thing would resonate forever," he said, "Of course you had to sit with it on the ground - it weighed about 50 pounds!"

 

So, in an effort to create a guitar that would get as much of that "infinite sustain" as possible while still being portable and playable standing up, Dan Armstrong decided on acrylic plexiglass as the body material. Let's just be grateful they didn't choose granite. :)

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THE PICKUP SYSTEM

 

Interestingly enough, the most unusual thing about this guitar isn't even the plexiglass body - it's the pickups! There is only a single pickup slot at the bridge position, but the pickup is removable from the back of the guitar via a single thumbscrew, without unstringing it, so a different one can be dropped into the back cavity within seconds!

 

The original pickups were designed in 1967 by Bill Lawrence, and there were six interchangeable pickups available for the original Dan Armstrong! The reissue PU's were re-designed by Kent Armstrong, and the reissue guitar ships with two of them, but Kent will sell you any of the other original pickups by special order, or will even hand build custom ones to your specifications. The large pickup cavity and container means that pretty much any pickup can be made for this guitar without worrying whether the components will fit, and thicker gauge wire can be used than on many comparable pickups.

 

The two pickups included with the guitar are the "Rock Treble" single coil, which is basically identical to the original Bill Lawrence RT design, and the completely new "Sustain Treble," a humbucker similar to the original but with more modern high gain. Both pickups utilize ceramic magnets. Apart from the redesign of the humbucker, Kent Armstrong shielded the pickups (they were not shielded in the original design) and an improved epoxy is used (the original epoxy had a tendency to break down with age).

 

As mentioned, only one pickup can be installed at a time, but the two pickups can be swapped out easily through the back cavity. Additional tone shaping can be done via a nifty 3-way tone circuit. When the 3 position switch is in the center, the tone control is bypassed altogether and the volume control is routed directly to the output jack. In the forward position, the tone control acts in a conventional way, reducing the highs as you turn it counterclockwise. Switching to the rear position actually causes the tone control to act on different frequencies, almost like a wah effect. So quite a range of tones can be had, even though only one pickup can be active at a time and it's always in the bridge position!

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I heard that the original models are very susceptible to temperature extremes, causing the body to warp. That would be my main concern about this guitar, assuming what I heard is true. Did Ampeg address this problem with the RI, and if so, how?

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great review so far!!!


go on and please post some pictures of it!


hw des it compare tonewise to the original?

 

I'm getting to both of those next. ;)

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I heard that the original models are very susceptible to temperature extremes, causing the body to warp. That would be my main concern about this guitar, assuming what I heard is true. Did Ampeg address this problem with the RI, and if so, how?

 

Let me chime in here...first of all, welcome to the world of Pro Reviews, Lee!

 

I bought a Dan Armstrong guitar in 1969, which Dan himself worked on (he did a little extra setup and fret work). BTW Dan was a super-nice guy, and his passing was a great loss.

 

Anyway, I've lived in a lot of temperature extremes since then, including temperatures over 100 degrees in Northern California, the heat and humidity of Florida, and the cold winters and warm, dry summers of New Mexico. My guitar is as unwarped as the day I bought it, so I really can't imagine what kind of extremes it would have to endure in order to warp...no problems at this end.

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The original Ampeg-Dan Armstrong Guitar did not have the compensated bridge like the reissue has. I had one of the originals up till '88 or so. Some AH ripped me off :freak: Yes, the guitar was heavy. Excellent upper fret access.

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I had one, also. My (fading) memories of it are as follows:

 

The bridge was like an acoustic; just a wooden piece with a hunk of bone or something across it. It slid around in a groove so you had to position it for best intonation. Then it would sort of stay in place from string tension. Primitive, but effective. The intonation of barre chords above D or so was questionable.

 

It had more like a Gibson tone rather than Fender...that is, notes in a chord mushed together rather than standing out individually.

 

It was extremely playable..for me..and very forgiving. The neck was slim like an Ibanez and very free of the body.

 

I had several pickups. They slid in down a ramp in the guitar top rather than from the back. Two electrical posts poked into the pickups, providing the signal. A thumbwheel held them in.

 

I loved this guitar and wish I still had it. Of course that is my refrain concerning many other instruments. How were we supposed to know how much we would miss them? We were busy working.

 

Get your Ya-Yas Out is one of my favorite albums. No wonder I have a place in my heart for these weird axes! Would I get a new one? Sure!

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great review so far!!!


go on and please post some pictures of it!


hw des it compare tonewise to the original?

 

Of course it's a fantastic guitar!!!! Miles beyond the original!!!!

 

(The company is paying him to say all this.....) :rolleyes:

 

:blah: :blah: :blah:

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It'd be nice to know if Ampeg plans on selling that case separately. I have an Ampeg AMG1 that's pretty much the exact same shape and it needs a home!

 

I came extremely close to buying one of these more than once. I hear they have issues too (something about the neck pu being carved to close to the neck which affects intonation). I still want one. How do they play?

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I came extremely close to buying one of these more than once. I hear they have issues too (something about the neck pu being carved to close to the neck which affects intonation). I still want one. How do they play?

 

Mine plays, looks and sounds great. I'm currently looking at swapping out the stock bridge, since the adjustable G/B string saddle has a habit of moving, which was something I was aware of before I pulled the trigger on it on eBay. That's my only problem with the guitar (that and not having a dang case for it). Currently looking at getting one of these, with TonePros locking studs. Hopefully that'll take care of it.

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Awesome review, especially as im about to pull the trigger on one, just gotta sell my mesa boogie really. :thu:

 

Loving the look of that case too :eek:

 

Do you what sort of productiont theyre running? Is it limited edition?

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I saw a used one back in a store in the mid 80's, I played it for while an thought buying for a few seconds. Your right about them weighing a ton. I would serious hate to have that thing hanging on my shoulder for 3 hours a night.

 

I'm glad they are bringing back some cool vintage stuff, but here's the real deal. The new one I bet will sell of around 2 grand or there abouts, and maybe more. With that kind of money a working musician could grab 2 guitars. Maybe a stripped down LP, and the altumate working mans guitar a Fender tele.

 

Great if you are a collector and or just might want one, buy why not find a vintage one instead.

 

The Dan Armstrongs also came in wood ( ash I do believe), they weighed a lot too. and were much prettier IMO. I talked to the guys at Ampeg and there was no plans to release a woodbody one at the time of our conversation

 

 

All I can say, is I'm glad on not the sales rep trying to make a living on the Ampeg line. Good thing The also have Create too so I could eat at the end of the week.

 

I do love Ampeg Amps and if your serious about you bass tone and don't mind a bit of weight training from you car the the stage, or have some cool friend too to give you hand the SVT classic series is the bass amp all other bass amplification is measured by. The 45 year old design B15 has a cool vibe to it too, but also weighs a ton and a half.

 

If I am not mistaken the Dan Armstrongs were reisussed in the late 90's too, both lexan and wood bodies were available, and I remember them having 2 P90 like pups. I say P90 like cause the real P90 is a gibson thing, but there some great knock offs of that pick up too.

 

 

Tone clips are gonna be really welcome and I look forward to hearing them.

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Dear Mr. Lee,

 

I appreciate your review on the Dan Armstrong, I live in Dubai & would like to get one, but it's just not available & the one i saw on Ampeg differs from the picture you have posted? could you plaese guide me on where & how i can get one shipped here at Dubai? I'd appreciate your reply on this.

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Hey aqeel80

 

If you seriously want a plexi.

 

I live in the UK but visited New York last week, I went to 30th St. Guitars in NYC - cool shop. They have 2 DA Plexi Glass guitars in the shop right now. One original, one new. They look terrific. I was tempted. They ship worldwide and should be able to provide photos for you to view. Both looked in excellent condition. For information, the original Plexi is listed at $3000. Not sure what they want for the re-issue.

 

They seemed nice guys. Here is their web address.

 

http://www.30thstreetguitars.com

 

Please contact me(or them) if you require any further info - and good luck.

 

Graymo

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Hey Graymo,

 

Thx a lot for your reply, really appreciated, you seem to have pretty decent knowledge about these guitars,, lemme ask you this,, and as you have seen the original one,, i really like my guitars to be new, & free of any scratches & stuff ,, now the original one (1969) could you describe it as you have seen it ? & about price i'll defnately be negotiating (or at least would try).. i mean i don't have a lot of idea with this, i just need clarification

 

I'd really appreciate a reply.

Thx

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