A couple of weeks ago I ran into another vintage amp, without the benefit of a camera, a Estey T12. It’s not quite as obscure as the Orpheum 700, but there isn’t a lot of reference material on this little gem. I did return to the shop later that month, but it was closed and the best I could do was snap this grainy shot through the front door. Hopefully it will still be there in the near future and I can photograph it properly.
From what I did dig up, it was made by Estey of Torrance, California from a 1964 design that didn’t see manufacture until late 1966. There is no association to be seen with “Magnatone”, the company that Estey purchased in the early-mid 60′s.
While it’s listed as putting out 18 watts, it’s more likely to pump out about six and the one I played out of probably managed one or two at best as it definitely needs internal attention. There are two inputs, hi and low, and three nobs: volume, tone and tremelo. A black horizonal rocker switch turns it on and off. There is an orange “Estey” logo on the left of the brushed metallic faceplate.
It’s warm sounding with a sweet tremelo but is very quiet even when cranked and manages little tube distortion through a single six-inch, 3.2 ohm speaker. Reading up on user experiences with the larger T22 and T32 Estey amps, this anemic power production isn’t typical and, again, points to this example needing repair. I don’t know how much the shop wanted for the amp as it was a consignment and those details hadn’t been worked out yet.
Coming across a schematic of the T12, the preamp valve is a 9 pin dual triode, the 20EZ7, initially designed for low cost phonographer players. It’s reportedly similar to the standard 12AX7 but obviously, with some differences. A 45B5, a 9 pin beam tetrode known as a UL84 in Europe, carries out the power tube duties while the tube rectifier is a 36AM3A. You won’t run across these tubes very often in guitar amp applications but the benefit of this obscurity is that NOS versions are inexpensive and plentiful.
Earlier this Winter I saw and played through a real old split-chassis combo amp in a small shop. It didn’t look outrageously gaudy or borderline bizarre (clearly, I’m not a fan of the era) like some of the left field finds from the 1940′s but carried the more sober stylings of what looked to me to be the early 1950′s, but that’s just a guess on my part.
The name on this two-toned cream and brown beauty was “Orpheum 700″. The nobs were on the back of the amp with lots of inputs and tremelo controls mounted on an oxblood-brownish panel. The only other thing I can remember about the appearance is that it was labeled as being ”Manufactured by H. Wilensky, NY, NY”.
I don’t think this was one of those amps that was made for accordion playing because the tubes, which were really old and just a dusty as the rest of the inside of the amp, were three 12AX7′s, two 6V6′s and a 5Y3 rectifier. Also, it really sounded great with guitar plugged straight into it and absolutely smoked when I pegged all the controls.
The only thing worse than not having $400 on me to walk out with the old dame was that I also didn’t have a camera. Since then, I haven’t been able to find out a single thing about the amp or it’s presumably long gone manufacturer.
Orpheum 700 Revisited!
Six months later I went back to the place where I saw the Orpheum and damn if it still wasn’t there! And this time, I had my camera with me. While some of my initial recollections about the amp, see above, turned out to be wrong, a few things were dead on. Here’s what she looks like.
It turns out not to be a split-chassis amp after all, as can be seen below, and it’s a bit more orange-y than brown but it still looks like early 1950′s vintage.
Two “instrument” channels with a pair of inputs each. Each channel has nobs for volume and tone along with a “strength” nob for the tremelo. There’s a tremelo foot switch input and a nice black vintage chickenhead on-off switch nob.
Obviously, I couldn’t pull the amp apart in the store and the photo below is the best that could be done to show the 12AX7, 6V6 and 5Y3 tubes of the Orpheum 700.
One thing that I was definitely wrong about initially was the manufacturer. It’s not “H. Wilensky” that made the amp but the “Maurice Lipsky Music Co. N.Y., N.Y.” that put this baby together.
The Official Vintage Guitar Magazine price guide says that Maurice Lipsky Music Co. bought the name Orpheum in 1944 and commissioned stringed instruments to be manufactured by Regal, Kay, United Guitar and maybe others prior to the 1960′s. As far as amps go, it says that they date from the “late 1950′s-1960′s. Student to medium level amps.”