In September of 1967 Unimusic Inc. purchased the Ampeg Company in Linden, New Jersey as well as the Grammer® Guitar Company, a
Nashville based acoustic guitar company named after the famous country-western singer Billy Grammer who was an
inductee into the Grand Ole Opry in 1959. Unfortunately the Grammer guitars, which were once very proud and well made
instruments, had become the victim of corporate cutbacks and the latest models of the Grammer guitars were rushed to
market with various quality issues that had greatly diminished their sound and hurt not only the Grammer name, but the
future sales of this guitar.
Ampeg came up to see Dan in 1968 as they wanted his advice as a consultant to improve the Grammer line of guitars.
After showing Dan one of the Grammer guitars and consulting with them about it, Dan's words were grim, saying "you
can't compete with the Yamaha®
line of guitars as they make good instruments for the money." Years later Dan told me "after hearing that they
were pacing all over the floor, scratching their heads and going nowhere awfully fast when all of a sudden one of them
turned to me and asked if there was anything at all that I could suggest, or do. It was then that I got a little
blunt with them and asked... why are you interested in acoustic guitars instead of electric? You're in the amp business,
so why not make an electric guitar to compliment your amplifiers?"
A good question, and apparently Ampeg thought so too, for it wasn't long before Dan Armstrong and Ampeg had reached a royalty agreement for a new line of electric guitars & basses that Dan
would design and build. Using Dan's own words, "From day one, I knew that I wanted something special, something new. I wanted to make
not only an artistic statement, but also an electric statement. I didn't just want to build a copy of something that was already out
there." In our very first conversation I can still remember Dan on the phone saying "I wanted the instruments
to be totally electric - an un-banjo so to speak, so as not to ever resemble any guitar or banjo of the past."
In one interview Dan clarified the term "un-banjo" as he spoke of how a banjo "has a short sustain but makes a very
loud sound." He then went on to say he wanted to build an instrument "that has a long sustain - and is not
particularly loud." Dan then added, "I wanted them to be classy, and feel good in a players hands."
Lastly, he went on to include "And if my name were going to be plastered on em, they were going to be made of the
highest quality materials and parts."
Leaving his shop in the hands of his employees, Dan took the next month off on vacation with his then pre-stardom girlfriend
Carly Simon (who would end up writing a song
about Dan on her first album called Dan My Fling) and on this vacation he worked out the
details for a totally new design of instrument. By the time he returned to New York, he had come up with the ideas for his
new line of guitars and basses. Dan felt that the time was right for a line of instruments to be manufactured of clear
acrylic, thus making a 'special, new & artistic' statement while at the same time fulfilling his dream of a totally
He would not be the first person to produce a clear acrylic solidbody instrument however. Fender® made
an all Lucite Stratocaster®
some years earlier, and while it made an impression at product shows it never became a production instrument that was
offered to the public. This was the mold that Dan decided to break. Also, while Dan envisioned a clear acrylic body -
the necks - unlike the aforementioned Stratocaster, were going to made of wood. As a result, it was a fusion of design and
function where the old world of wood worked alongside the modern world of acrylic. When asked more about it Dan replied
"Well, I just felt the market time was right and the technology available to be able to mass produce such a guitar for
the public. The real trick was to see if I could make it cost effective enough".
Everything from the body to the headstock had a totally new, and unique appearance, while being very functional.
Clearly this was not just another copy of what was already out there and musicians knew it. They immediately tagged
these instruments the "see-through" guitar. The phrase stuck, and became so well known that Ampeg actually patented
the product name "see-through", to further define these instruments.
But these "see-through" guitars went far beyond their dramatic appearance and high quality hardware. They were
innovative in almost every respect. Being a visionary designer who had surrounded himself with expert luthiers, Dan
had acquired a vast knowledge of guitar mechanics & engineering and maintains "I put every idea I've ever had about
guitars into that one guitar".
Names and images are TMand © Dan Armstrong / Ampeg. All rights reserved.
All other names and images are TMand © of their respective owners. All rights reserved.