Volu-Tone Model 5 PP Tube Amplifier, c. 1934-5

Volu-Tone  Model 5 PP Tube Amplifier,  c. 1934-5

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Item # 4196
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Volu-Tone Model 5 PP Model Tube Amplifier, c. 1934-5, made in Los Angeles, California, black textured fabric finish.

This unusual Volu-Tone unit is one of the very earliest and most historically interesting of all musical instrument amplifiers. The Volu-Tone company of Los Angeles, California was operated by Shireson Brothers, who also created the Hollywood line of resonator instruments and some very Weissenborn-like acoustic Hawaiian guitars. The Volu-Tone system of electrification was very different from the contemporary Rickenbacker Electro instruments developed simultaneously in early 1930's Los Angeles.

While George Beauchamp's Electro String pickup used two large horse-shoe magnets to create the energy field for the coil to sense, the Volu-Tone design involved actually charging the strings with electrical energy from the amplifier prior to the initial use. This was obviously the more dangerous procedure (especially in the 1930's!) and likely the main reason that Volu-Tone proved to be a blind alley in the march to musical electrification! Volu-Tone marketed this fairly large and powerful (for the time) amplifier with a proprietary pickup unit (termed the "Translator") that could be added to any existing string instrument.

The company's advertising warned against using "outdated technology (like) permanent magnets"...in 1935! Volu-Tone WAS one of the earliest functional electric instrument concerns, contemporary with Lloyd Loar's Vivi-Tone operation and Electro String. For several years C. F. Martin referred customers seeking to amplify the company's instruments to Volu-Tone, and the large Oahu guitar teaching operation also sold the units for several years. All Volu-Tone products are now quite rare, and this is the earliest amp from the company we have seen.

This particular amplifier is the Model 5-PP, which listed around 1935 at a price of $96.00. It was the middle model in the line, but was still quite a powerful amp for the time. The black-fabric covered cabinet has an octagonal wooden insert over the speaker aperture with the company logo cut in -- still an eye-catching design. The back is equipped with an on/off switch, three inputs, and a single volume control, with a Volu-Tone logo plate. The rear upper panel has cutouts on either side and an inset instruction sheet in the center, describing the amp's operation. There is an old repair tag from a radio service shop dating to January 1949.

While designed to operate with the company's proprietary pickup, this amp also works fine with regular magnetic pickups as well. The earliest electric licks in country music were played on Volu-Tone-equipped Martin instruments by Bob Dunn and Leo Raley of Milton Brown's Musical Brownies. Raley is pictured in several photos of the band playing his mandolin through this exact model amplifier.
Height is 18 1/2 in. (47 cm.), 16 in. (40.6 cm.) width, and 8 in. (20.3 cm.) deep.

Well-worn overall but still very functional. The charging unit has been (reversibly) disabled for safety and the amp plays perfectly with a standard magnetic pickup input. The cabinet covering has quite a bit of wear in spots but is mostly intact, as is the instruction sheet (!) mounted under plastic in the center of the back panel. The back panel itself may have been partially re-painted at some point. The leather corners are mostly intact. The handle has been replaced with a section of a Western-style belt or guitar strap, held together with rawhide cord; we did not replace this as it seemed to be a big part of the amp's historic mojo! Overall Very Good Condition.