News From The Pit

This Old Guitar
By Jimmy Brown

Hey, everybody. By now you have recovered from the holidays, the Super Bowl and have your sights set on groundhog's day and the coming of spring. You may ask "what does this have to do with this old guitar?" Nothing, I suppose, but I have to get started somewhere. I did speak with our illustrious chief, Paul Moffett, the other day, and he suggested I write about modern-day classics, Items that have quickly proven themselves to be good investments. Kind of a Part Two to a column I did a few months ago. This one could be on amplifiers, he said. I thought that could work, but when I began to work on it, I could only come up with one item, the Matchless amps, and since I had counted them in my first installment, that left me with a blank space. So I did what I sometimes do: I asked my wife, Mary Jane, if she had any ideas.

She said, why don't you write about those funny looking Kustom amps you keep piling up. You know, the ones like that country music star bought from us the other day. Boing! Now that's an idea. So, for this column, with Paul's initial amp idea, and Mary Jane's follow up, let's take a look at a most unusual item that turned the amp world on its side in the late '60's and has been experiencing quite a revival in today's modern music world.

What started out as a customizing job for someone back in Kansas in the mid-60's turned into a newfangled idea in amp expression that still has people fascinated today. What Ed "Big Daddy" Roth (Rat Fink, custom car models) was to the custom car world of the early '60's, I guess Bud Ross was to the music world of the late '60's.

Inspired by the tuck-and-roll customizing in the cool car craze, Bud Ross set out to do a little amp customizing for a friend, and, next thing you know, a new guitar amp was born. Bud took a friend's Fender Bassman cabinet and did a Naugahyde tuck-and-roll job to the covering. It was very well appreciated, and then came the next order, and so on and on until in Chanute, Kansas, came the Kustom Amplifier Company. What they may have arguably lacked in tone, they sure made up for in style and pizzazz. Bud Ross developed this whole line of solid state amps, all done up in the Naugahyde tuck-and-roll covering. Unlike Henry Ford, black was not the only available cover: you could get red sparkle, blue sparkle, gold sparkle, white sparkle and any other sparkle you wanted.

Like Big Daddy Roth's `Rat Fink,' Bud Ross came up with his own mascot, `Naughy.' `Naughy' was this Naugahyde-covered stuffed animal creature. Many years later, I had the pleasure of meeting Bud Ross, and I can say that if he never made amps, he surely could have made it as a stand-up comedian. What a funny guy!

When he introduced these amps in the late '60's, they made such an in-your-face, likeable impression, that all sorts of people took to them. I, at the most impressionable age of 15, was one of them. (we will get to that later). Soon, you could find the Kustom amps in sorts of acts: soul, show, rock, lounge, psychedelic and so on. Like I said, though they may have been lacking in tone, they sure had the look. What with the tuck-and-roll choose-your-color Naugahyde covering and glossy black Plexiglas control panel, illuminated by a bluish purple pilot light, these amps demanded your attention. The guitar amps - especially the models with ten- and twelve-inch Jensen speakers - weren't half bad. And if you loaded up the bass cabinets with some 15" JBL speakers, they became pretty decent.

Oh, and the smell. Like new cars, new amps all have a distinct smell. For me, there was something about this Naugahyde stuff that was not only cool to look at, but also good to smell. Any impressionable fifteen-year-old - as I was - was bound to be totally taken by these amps. I remember my Mom driving me down to Durlauf's Music Shop on 4th street to buy my first one. I had saved up my grass-cutting money, and let Ralph Lampton, the salesman, put me in a black Kustom 100 2x12 piggyback model.

A valuable lesson was about to be learned. In the shop, the amp was so loud I thought I was going to blow the plate glass windows right out onto 4th street. I remember I paid $469 for it. At roughly $3 a yard for cutting grass, that amounted to a lot of yards mowed. If I would have had more money, I would have perhaps opted for the bigger Kustom 200 2x15 bass amp, which at the time was the equivalent to the late '60's Fender Bassman. But $469 was all I could scrape up, so that was it.