Magnatone Custom 280 Tube Amplifier (1961)

Magnatone  Custom 280 Tube Amplifier (1961)
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Item # 12063
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Magnatone Custom 280 Model Tube Amplifier (1961), made in Inglewood, California, brown fabric covering finish.

This is a wonderful example of Magnatone's iconic flagship amplifier, the Custom 280. Originally founded in the 1930s as the Dickerson Musical Instrument Company, the re-dubbed Magna Electronics Company began focusing primarily on guitar amplifier design after being acquired by Art Duhamell in 1946. Although also producing guitars, it was the amplifiers that became popular amidst the first Rock 'n' Rollers, most notably Buddy Holly and Lonnie Mack. Magnatone amps were distinctive for their pitch-shifting vibrato effect, which came in stereo form in flagship models like the 280, setting them apart from amps with the more common volume-varying tremolo.

The Model Custom 280 was one of the company's top models in the late 1950s, packing impressive features and a whopping 12 tube circuit to accomplish its signature stereo vibrato and dual power-amp format. All this cost a pretty penny with the amp listing for a whopping price of $395.00 in a 1957 catalog, even more than Fender's flagship Twin and Bassman amps at the time.

The amp features two channels, one vibrato and one normal, each with their independent two inputs, volume, treble and bass controls, as well as mellow-normal and normal-bright switches, respectively. In addition to the standard intensity and speed controls, the vibrato can be switched between stereo and mono operation and switchable by footswitch or instrument (via a TRS connection on the first channel one input).

Two independent output stages put out around 30-35 watts of power combined into the two 12" speakers and their respective 5" tweeters. The iconic vibrato effect alternates between the two stages to create a hypnotic stereo effect that is arguably the closest electrical approximation to a Leslie speaker effect ever built into a guitar amplifier. The two gold "V" letters in the lower right corner of the speaker grille stand for "Vibrato Vastness", which is what Magnatone dubbed their effect in their 1957 catalog: "a sound Big As All Outdoors - the Vastness of the sky combined with Magnatone's Big "V" Electronic True Vibrato".
Height is 21 in. (53.3 cm.), 26 1/4 in. (66.7 cm.) width, and 9 in. (22.9 cm.) deep.

Cosmetically this is a very nicely preserved amp overall, especially considering how prone to wear Magnatones from this era are. The fairly thin fabric covering is mostly intact, with the exception of some scuffing and minor tears around the corners and edges, mostly on the front and rear bottom. The rear-mounted control plate has some minor wear, but all the graphics are nicely preserved. One of the knobs is missing some plastic but all of the original knobs are present. The grille cloth is very clean and free of any tears or signs of fraying. Some of the plating on the dual V badge has worn off. The handle has been replaced but the hardware remains original. The bottom of the cabinet also has some random screw holes, presumably from having casters installed at one point.

Electrically, the amp is nicely original. Both the 12" Oxford 12L5N speakers are original to the amp and both bear the codes 465-046, dating them to the 46th week of 1960. One of the two 5" tweeters is a replacement Jensen, dating to '62, the other Oxford T5EC is original to the amp, dating to the 45th week of 1960. The Schumacher power and two output transformers are all original, coded 606-039, 606-034 and 606-037, dating them to the 39th, 34th and 37th week of 1960, respectively. The amp has received our typical maintenance and servicing, including a grounded 3-prong power cord, replacement of all electrolytic capacitors, any out-of-spec components replaced, cleaning of all sockets, pots and jacks and power tubes biased to spec.

Overall, this is a fantastic example of one of this great-sounding medium-size combo amps, excellent for both recording and gigging, and that pitch-shifting vibrato STILL can't be beat! Overall Excellent - Condition.