Tony Pitt is one of England's finest exponents of banjo and guitar. His credits are many and has had lengthy spells
with all the top jazz bands including Kenny Ball, Acker Bilk, Terry Lightfoot and Alan Elsdon. He's done countless TV
and radio sessions as well.
Tony is not only an accomplished musician, he is also an engineering draftsman, and from 1972 to 1975 he had joined up
with Dan & Kent Armstrong to produce a unique line of electric guitars and basses known as the Dan Armstrong London
It was while demonstrating a custom guitar amplifier in London that Tony was approached by Dan Armstrong and his son Kent.
Tony relates their meeting, stating "Dan approached me during that demonstration and said that he had just designed a new line of guitars and basses
and needed someone with my background skills - so the instruments, or prototypes were already made."
Tony continues, adding "He had all the investors lined up and the project was pretty much already geared up. I
was playing in a very successful band at the time and really didn't want to leave, but Dan was very convincing and so
I decided to join in with his project as a company draftsman." As time went on - Tony's talents as draftsman
ultimately led to him becoming the general product manager.
The instruments were produced in a factory in St. Albans which is an urban area in southern Hertfordshire, England. It's
location can be seen by the flashing dot at left.
Hertfordshire itself can be seen in the smaller map in the lower right
corner and is marked in red. St. Albans lies around 22 miles (35km) north of central London.
Not surprisingly, these instruments were called the Dan Armstrong 'London' series instruments - not only
because of the close proximity to London - but also to help differentiate them from the clear acrylic Dan Armstrong
instruments made by Ampeg some years earlier.
As can be seen at left - A supply of raw lumber (probably mahogany) lies at the St. Albans factory and makes for a
unique backdrop for three Dan Armstrong 'London' series instruments in 1972. Seen from left to right is a model 342
short scale bass, a model 341 guitar, and a model 343 long scale bass. Notice how far down the combination
bridge/tailpiece is on the long scale bass on the right compared to the short scale bass seen at left. Photo is courtesy of Tony Pitt
These instruments feature solid mahogany bodies and necks. Honduras mahogany was used throughout as it is relatively
free of voids or pockets that some say can matche oak in terms of strength. It's capable of withstanding moisture and
remains stable in use. It normally has a straight grain but sometimes can treat one to a nice swirl. It has a fine even.
texture to it, which makes it one of the best woods known for machining, cutting, and planing and it readily accepts a
wide range of common stains and finishes.
Honduras mahogany has a reddish brown to medium red color which darkens to a deep reddish-brown with time so
no stains were needed. These instruments were then treated to an epoxy resin finish.
The bodies and necks were built by Ian Halsey, a carpenter & cabinet maker by trade that Dan had contracted to build
these instruments. Many parts were contracted out for these instruments.
"We had all kinds of factories or specialty type job-shops making parts for us." said Tony Pitt, who went on
to say "we had a factory doing the etched aluminum, another one doing injection molding for the pickups while
others made the bridge and tailpiece units and much more."
The body shapes are remarkably similar to the clear acrylic models Dan produced with Ampeg some years earlier, as is
the scratchplate and the volume/tone knob placement. The scratchplate is anodized aluminum which is very durable, easy
to remove for servicing and does an excellent service shielding the electronics.
Other features are a combination bridge and tailpiece with a cast aluminum bridge, which is fully adjustable and
visually, is somewhat reminscent of the 50's style Gibson 'wrap-around' tailpiece. But this is where the
similarity ends, for the bridge on these instruments are connected to an aluminum ramp that runs from the front of the
bridge - to the end of the neck/fingerboard.
As can be seen at left - the ramp is attached to the bottom of the bridge and raises or lowers with the bridge height.
Notice how the pickup is located in the neck position in this photo and notice too, how much it is elevated - just
like the bridge/tailpiece.
Notice how the pickup is now positioned midway between the neck and the bridge in the photo at right. The pickup is
able to glide along on this ramp and be positioned anywhere between the end of the neck and the beginning of the bridge.
The ramp & sliding pickup were both designed by Kent Armstrong.
With this viewing angle, and with the bridge drastically raised, one can easily see the ramp, particularly in the
enlarged view. The bridge appears to be tilted forward, perhaps due to added string pressue if it was raised while the guitar was tuned up to pitch.
Above left, machine type bolts with allen heads are turned in or out for adjustments in bridge height. The wrap around bridge/tailpiece
unit sets on these bolts and is held in place by string pressure. Two grub screws on the backside of the unit allows for intonation adjustments.
Because this is a two pickup model a switch was installed between the control pots. The knobs have been replaced with Tele styled ones. Notice the
double row of pole pieces on the pickup, and in particular the two center screws as they secure the pickup to the ramp.
According to Kent Armstrong "the screws secure to a nylon plate underneath the ramp which allows the pickup to slide."
The pickups that glided along this ramp were not only designed by Kent Armstrong, but also hand built by him. According to literature these pickups
are dual coil humbucking pickups that employ adjustable pole pieces on both coils. They are low impedence pickups that utilize a transformer that resides
within the control cavity of the instrument to adapt the signal to high impedence for use with the input stage of a guitar amplifier.
When asked the question why low impedence pickups? - Kent replied "Size. We needed to keep the size down to a minimum so one would have more travel back and
forth between the bridge and the neck. Also I needed to keep the height to a minimum for those cases when the ramp would be raised up high. I wound these pickups
using 38 guage wire which is very small and it helped keep the pickup down in size."
Craig Buzzart, who was the North American west coast distributor of the Dan Armstrong 'London' series instruments said "When the pickup is slid all the way
foward - toward the neck, its pole pieces lie right where the 24th fret would be located - if the neck had 24 frets. Dan knew this, and he knew that this
would make for excellent harmonics. Playing beyond the 12th fret area often sounds like I am playing on a 12 string guitar."
Klaus Heyne became the German importer of Dan Armstrong London guitars & basses. Most famously known for making the Brauner VM1 KHE - the crown jewel of one of the
most coveted microphones in existance. His path crossed Dan Armstrong's during the Frankfurt music show, in í72 or í73 and Klaus goes on to say "I wandered through
the aisles and saw this Ď53 Goldtop leaning against an amp. There was nobody [in the booth], so I walked in and started doodling. I donít know what happened but
[inventor and luthier] Dan Armstrong walked in and grabbed a bass. Maybe an hour later, I looked outside of this window and thereís a wall of people watching us play.
It was one of those key experiences in life. We instantly became friends. We recognized many similarities in our loves and dislikes of music and instruments, and he
offered me the opportunity to be the importer for his instruments in Germany. At the time he was still issuing those Boosey & Hawkes amps where you supposedly could
model any kind of different amp with some kind of bogus graphic EQ thing. I said, 'You know that still has the Boosey & Hawkes tone, no matter what you do.' He said,
'I like what youíre saying. Come to England with me. Iím starting a new project.' And in walks Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood . . . everybody who was anybody walked in
and out of his place. They were all friends. He was in the middle of finalizing his new Dan Armstrong London Instruments guitar and bass line. So I helped with a few
things, because I had always been interested in the principles and mechanics of sustain. I went back to Frankfurt and became the exclusive importer for his instruments
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.