By 1971 and still with no form of compensation for his ideas and design work on the SVT or other V series amplifiers,
Dan felt that he had 'had enough', and decided that it was time to break his ties with Ampeg, and left that
year, refusing to renew his acrylic guitar and bass contracts as he departed. Looking back over the years Dan had no
regrets leaving, but he sounded like he may have had some regrets about not renewing the guitar contracts as in 2000
when we talked about it Dan said to me "yeah.... I probably shouldn't have done that."
It was worse for Ampeg. Troubled times soon followed as with a changing economy, and with innovators and visionaries
such as Dan Armstrong no longer on-board, Ampeg didn't last long and in November of 1971 Ampeg found itself under new
ownership. It had been acquired by the Magnavox
corporation, and became part of the Selmer division.
It would change hands several more times over the years.
After his departure from Ampeg in 1971 Dan decided to close his shop and he and the boys picked up and moved to England
where he first began working with Orange
amplifiers. This collaboration only lasted a few months however, and soon afterwards Dan ended up working with
Boosey & Hawkes. As early as late 1971 he got busy developing Dan Armstrong amplifiers, a unique new
line of amps that employed the use of sliders, vs. the usual tone and volume type control pots/knobs found on most other
amplifiers. Dan felt that more flexibility over the sound could be accomplished using these sliders, much like using a graphic equalizer.
As Dan went to work the boys attended college. Money dried up fast however, and the boys soon had to find work to be able to afford to stay in school.
Not long afterwards Dan found himself in another joint venture. From approximately 1972 to 1975 he, along with jazz
guitarist Tony Pitt designed guitars & basses somewhat similar to the Ampeg acrylic line. While the instruments were
shaped like the Ampeg acrylic guitars & basses, they were made of wood and had set-in necks. Although they lacked the
interchangable pickup design of the acrylic models, they are capable of numerous tonal combinations as they employ a
unique sliding pickup design that allows one to slid the pickup on the instrument anywhere from the end of the
fingerboard to back by the bridge. These instruments are referred to as the Dan Armstrong 'London' series
instruments, as the word 'London' can sometimes be seen on the headstock underneath Dan's name.
In 1973 and while still making guitars & amps, Dan met up with George Merriman and together they produced a series of
effects devices for guitar and bass. These devices all sported a different name and color, and each had a different
sound effect to it. These units were physically small enough to plug directly into a guitar where a player could
quickly reach down and enable or disable the effect at will. Literature on the Dan Armstrong 'London' instruments
that was released some time later depict these devices along with the instruments. While the photographs shown were
basically just prototypes, Dan forged ahead with their development and produced a set of 8 color coded effects devices.
In 1974 at a music show Dan & George were visited by representatives of the
Musitronics company, which was already well
known for their Mutron pedals. However, and,
according to their web site, while Musitronics had many popular products, the company was not making much profit
because the products were costly to build. To compensate, they proposed a royalty arrangement to team up with Dan and
George to make their effects devices in the US in order to help offset the costs of their other products.
Around this time Dan met Vicki O'Casey, whom he would eventually marry. They were occasionally visited by John Dalton,
a feature writer from Beat Instrumental magazine out of London who used to stop by Dan's place to jam, and talk guitars and music.
John relates his experiences with Dan as follows "I used to visit him [Dan] and Vicki at their ground-floor apartment
in North London, Crouch End I think, and we'd sit and play guitars together, usually his mahogany electrics (I don't recall any
plexiglass instruments there). Dan was always very interested in scales and chord progressions, in getting into the structural elements of music."
"We'd play chord progressions and swap improvisations over changes that usually require changes of scales, i. e. not
remaining in one key. It was more interesting that way, i. e. four bars of A major 7th and then to B7, and
back again, and changes to unrelated keys. It was during these evening visits that he mentioned to me the all-fourths
tuning. He liked it, certainly, and I recall him saying that he thought it was much better because it was more logical,
and he showed me the benefits of all the chords and scales therefore being transposable anywhere on the fingerboard,
because with the eadgbe tuning you have that 'notch' between the G and B strings."
John continued in his letter, stating "So he praised all fourths but told me he had reluctantly given up on it because
he had played so many years in standard tuning. He emphasized, as I have many times told other guitarists, that 'you
know four-sixths of it already' - as four strings are unchanged. Well, I had been playing about 8-9 years by that
stage, and I decided to try it. It made sense and I especially liked the new chords that appeared and the scale
possibilities. I've stayed with it ever since. It suits, as Dan said, jazz and rock guitarists who don't play lots of
open chords, or who don't bar chords a lot (I always played with the thumb wrapped round). Another thing was that I
played a lot of jazz walking bass on my bottom 'E' string and Dan suggested I put a bass string there. In fact, I think,
we put a bass guitar 'A' string on mahogany model, tuned down to 'E' and the result was very good, a very smooth
combination of bass and chords."
"Dan was very inspiring in many ways, always searching for something new. He let me play his Green Ringer and Orange Squeezer
and maybe other devices, but I've never been much into effects as much as a good string sound, so he and I were more
into the improvisational ideas. He certainly convinced me of the benefits of the sliding pickup too. (I wish I still
had that guitar.) I always enjoyed his and Vicki's company, and at that time, working as a young journalist, I was a bit
strung out in some ways. He and Vicki listened patiently to some of my stuff, and were always helpful and encouraging."
John closed his letter stating "I always picture him as one of a special and quite rare breed of Americans (you may have many
types over there). Dan was a pioneer, one of the American free thinkers, and if he'd been interested in other things, say
pistols, a century earlier, he'd have been working like Colt on making a revolver, or in the car industry on new types of
engine and gearbox. That's how I, an Englishman, saw him, always trying new things, certainly unafraid of changing the
As time marched on, in 1976 or 77 Dan's business making guitars and amps expired. Not long afterward, he and Vicki relocated back to America,
in Santa Monica with his friend Craig Buzzart who had been the North American distributor of the Dan Armstrong 'London' guitars and basses as
well as virtually every other product that Dan produced while in England. Craig helped Dan and George to secure a deal with Musitronics by
introducing them to Aaron Newman - head of Musitronics and a total of six effects were eventually produced. Once these were in production Dan
stayed busy as he developed two guitar amps for Fender Musical Instruments a little while later.
In late 1978 Dan hooked up with Shel Horlick, president of Schecter Guitar Research as Dan had a new type of pickup design that he wanted
Known as the Z-Plus, Dan eventually convinced SGR to produce it. These pickups were made in an all solid black cast with black
allen screw type pole pieces.
Seen at left, Dan is testing a pair of Z-Plus pickups on a Fender Stratocaster style guitar at Schecter Guitar Research.
By the 1980s Dan made limited
numbers of custom made guitars as well as instrument pickups. Some were humbucking pickups and some were single coil.
He eventually began selling them through St. Louis Music.
Dan also designed the very popular wiring for Fender's 'The Strat' which allows various combinations of the
guitars pickups to be used in conjunction with each other. He kept working and building on this wiring project until
he mastered what became known throughout the industry as
the 'Dan Armstrong
Super Strat' and by the late 80's he was writing columns in various guitar magazines about it, and more.
As the 1980's rolled into the 1990's Dan was living in Sylmar, California. Steve DeAro - an LA guitarist/songwriter
who has recorded with Harry Nilsson & Eric Carmen writes in to say "I was fortunate enough to meet & hang out with
Dan back in the late 80's when he was living in a cool little cabin behind the Groove Tube
guy Aspen Pittman's house in Sylmar, California. He was a nice guy, and as a young guitarist I was fascinated with
his stories of Jimi Hendrix when I asked him about Jimi's secret switch that Dan had wired up for him. I eventually
bought some pickups from him, a humbucker and two single coils, all wired up in the Super Strat configuration that
Dan did himself."
By this time Dan was working with Westone
designing and building guitars, as he and other designers tried to save the Westone line of guitars with what is called
the Westone 'Signature Series'.
Unfortunately, by the time Dan and others got involved, it was already too late to save Westone from virtual extinction.
At left, Vicki and Dan Armstrong in 1990.
By 1994 the Westone brand name used on electric guitars and basses had been replaced by the Alvarez
brand. Still owned and distributed by St. Louis Music, many of them were designed by Dan Armstrong, while others were
designed by Dan Sutcliffe in that year. Known as the Classic I, Classic II and Classic III guitars, they would be
marketed until sometime in 1999.
The mid 1990's found Dan marketing the Dan Armstrong 'Super Squeezer' - a compressor/sustainer unit that was the 1990's
version of the Orange Squeezer that Dan marketed in the early 1970's. However, unlike the 70's unit, this was an
on-board effects unit that one installs in the guitar and employs a 9 volt battery. The unit can be switched on with a
mini toggle switch or a push-pull style potentiometer and was distributed through the Starr Switch Company.
Dan then found work designing a line of light weight guitar speaker cabinets that, despite their light weight,
can handle tremendous amounts of power. Various combinations were available, from a single 12" or 15" speaker to a
full 4x12 cabinet. These were distributed through Cerwin Vega
and are best known as the Dan Armstrong Hot Cabs.
Ironically, the late 1990's found Dan working once again with Ampeg. It had changed ownership several times over the
years and in 1985 it had been acquired by St. Louis Music in St. Louis, MO. In 1998 and with the music scene changing,
they decided to reissue the Dan Armstrong guitars and basses once again. These reissues were built overseas, and were
available in both clear, or a smoke tinted shade. The pickups for these guitars and basses were made by
Dan's son Kent Armstrong,
who is a renown manufacturer of guitar and bass pickups. These reissues, though made overseas, were immediately popular
with the public as the originals were getting harder to find and expensive to purchase as they had by this time, become
As a new century rolled in Dan kept busy. His last project was to reissue one of his earlier effects devices made in the
70's by Musitronics and to do so he found himself working with a company called the Vintage Tone Project.
More than just a reissue of the old model, this was more of an upgrade of his previous effect unit. Using modern technology
and components, he was able to improve on his earlier device that would provide players with a better working and sounding
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