The first question a reader might ask upon picking up Wallace Marx Jr’s exhaustive new book Gibson Amplifiers 1933-2008: 75 Years of the Gold Tone (Blue Book Publications, Inc. 2009, $29.95) is, “Why hasn’t this been done before?” As hallowed a place as Gibson amplifiers hold in the annals of tone, it’s almost incomprehensible that no one has produced a comprehensive survey of them before now. The answer, as the author himself undoubtedly knows better than anyone, is that the history of Gibson amps is scant and scattered, and pulling it all together represents a massive undertaking. You could sum it up as a catch 22 of sorts: Why has so little been written about Gibson amps? Because so little has been written about Gibson amps.
All the more reason, then, to applaud this release from Blue Book Publications , Inc., and Marx in particular, who have done the extensive groundwork required to bring us the Gibson amp history that so many fans of these great creations have craved for so long. Over the course of 192 pages, including a 16-page full-color pictorial section, Marx charts the evolution of Gibson’s amplifiers from the early offerings of the 1930s to the rejuvenated GA series produced today by Gibson Pro Audio. In addition to Gibson amps, the book also documents other brands covered by the Gibson stable, including Maestro amps of the ’50s and ’60s, Epiphone and Kalamazoo amps, and Lab Series solid state amps of the late ’70s to early ’80s.
The chronological specs section that forms the second portion of the book (its two halves delineated by the color photo section) is a godsend for everyone from players to techs to collectors, but the history section at the front is what really nailed this book for me as a gripping read. Rather than merely romping through the rolling out of the models year to year, Marx has taken time to root out the back stories, anecdotes, and romance of evolution of a legendary amplification line through the better part of a century, and in the course of doing so brings the reader to an understanding of Gibson amps that simply wasn’t possible prior to the publication of this tome. Some of the real gems, for me, include the numerous revelations of who actually manufactured some long-under-documented Gibson amp lines, and the spotlight shone on much of the thinking behind the R&D that gave birth to certain legendary series (the design changes required, for example, to help the amps make the most of Gibson guitars’ move to humbucking pickups in the mid ’50s). Also, while the eye candy might lie in the central color section, the extensive illustrations in the history section— from amp and chassis photos, to vintage advertisements, to factory and promotional shots—also comprise an invaluable visual resource.
On the strength of all of the above, Gibson Amplifiers 1933-2008: 75 Years of the Gold Tone is already an utterly worthy addition to the bookshelf, but the addition of a back-cover-mounted CD-ROM reprint of the Gibson Amplifier Master Service Book pushes this package right over the top. First published in the mid-’60s, this manual contains a wealth of information that is otherwise difficult to access in one place, including schematics for every Gibson amp made from 1936 to 1966, and owners manuals for many models. All in all, Gibson Amplifiers 1933-2008: 75 Years of the Gold Tone is not only the first full history of the Gibson amplifier, but an authoritative and informative one at that, and sets the benchmark for journalism on this subject for all who will follow.
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