News From The Pit

This Old Guitar
By Jimmy Brown

One day last week, while out doing a little furniture shopping, I happened into a music store that had a vintage Kustom amplifier in stock. Now, being the Kustom amp enthusiast that I am, I just had to check it out. It was a really nice blue sparkle tuck-and-roll Naugy that was as clean as one could hope for. So, where is this story heading? Frankly, I am not quite sure, but I believe somewhere between listening to your heart verses listening to your head. You see, way back around 1969, I had saved up all of my grass cutting money, took possession of my brother's sax and went downtown to Durlauf's to get myself a bass amp. Actually, my mom and I went down to Durlauf's. (I was only 15 at the time.) So there I was, entrusting Ralph Lampton, the salesman, to help me make my choice. It came down to a Fender Bassman, or a Kustom 100. I believe the Bassman was a tad more expensive, but it had two 15's, while the Kustom 100 had two 12's. Anyway, inside the store the two amps seemed to be as loud as each other, and the Kustom amp won out. After all, how can you compare a boring Tolex and chrome Bassman, to a black Naugahyde tuck-and-roll beauty, cool black Plexi control panel, and casters to boot? Kind of like comparing a Ford to a push-button drop top Chrysler with wide whites. All you have to supply is the gangster lean. I mean, tuck and roll is so hotrod. Its American Graffiti and rock `n' roll all in one.

Did I stop to consider that the tube-powered Fender with bigger speakers actually might sound better? Well, maybe for a moment or two. But the Kustom had won over my emotions. So, $469 later I had myself a new Kustom amp. Oh, and the smell! New amps always had a distinct smell. Like new cars back then, each brand was truly unique, and the Kustom amp smelled great. Now, bear in mind, $469 in 1969 was a lot of money, particularly for a 15-year-old. I soon discovered something that would stick with me to this day. That Kustom 100 2x12 piggyback amp was not big enough to do the job! Never mind that the solid state tone was just so-so at best. The fact that it would not get loud enough without becoming too distorted was a hard pill to swallow. So, what does a determined young rocker do? He scrimps and saves, and goes out and buys a used amp this time. A Kustom 200 amp with two 15 inch speakers. Now we're cookin'. Another black tuck-and-roll amp, only this time bigger, plus it was just half the price, since it was used. This amp I continued to use for many years. I changed the speakers, and put in two 15" D-120 JBL speakers, and that amp served me well for many years. I worked my way through much of my college years with that bass amp. Though the solid state tone was never too hot, the Kustom amps were very reliable, and they looked so cool. Back in the early 70s, I collected lots of the different color combinations in the Kustom line. Red sparkle, blue sparkle, teal sparkle, and on and on. Part of the whole charm with all this was that the used Kustom stuff was so affordable. It did not maintain a high resale value, partly because it was probably overpriced when brand new. The company and dealerships could rely on people like me to be knocked out by it on the showroom floor. Once used, it became far more affordable.

Since they were such low maintenance amps, all you had to do was install high quality speakers, and you were not only ready to rock, but could look good doing it. And let's face it, rock and roll is definitely about looks and attitude. Throughout the years, decades for that matter, I continued to collect Kustom amps. I guess I remain a sentimental fool to some degree. Part of the reason was that they remained very inexpensive as used items. Now, in the past few years, I have noticed people starting to ask considerably more money for vintage Kustom amps, perhaps over-inflated amounts. For me, this has taken a lot of the fun out of these amps. I never did have to pay too much for any used Kustom amps, and in turn never sold any of mine for very much. They were great looking and such bargains I always thought. It is true that the sound has always been average at best.

However, a couple of years ago I heard John Fogerty at the Louisville Palace, and he rolled out his classic Kustom 200 amp and Rickenbacker guitar for a couple of numbers, and it sounded great. I guess there is something to be said for the person using the guitar and amp, right?! I will always remember that first instance with my Kustom amp and what I learned, and how the second one had such an impact on my destiny. During those formative years I went through many basses, but always hung on to that Kustom 200 amp with the JBLs. In fact, I still have one of those speakers to this day, loaded in a custom built 1x15 cabinet I use. So, we fast forward to 2003, and there I find myself sizing up a beautiful example of a vintage Kustom tuck and roll amp. It does not have a price on it, and the sales person told me that he does not think the store owner is too interested in selling it. So, there I am. Should I listen to my heart or should I listen to my head? My heart says go ahead and pursue this baby. My head says, remember, you're out shopping to replace some of your worn-out furniture. Even though the amp was nice and cushy, what with the Naugahyde covering and all, I guess it really would not go over so well as a couch!

This time my head won out. Was this the best move? I really don't know.

Ask me in a few years.

Well I guess that's all for now. Until next time,

Keep Rockin