photo courtesy of jazzeddie website
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 instruments.

It was while demonstrating a Kustom® 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.

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     photo courtesy of Tony Pitt
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.

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These instruments feature solid mahogany bodies and necks. Honduras mahogany was used throughout as it is relatively free of voids or pockets and matches oak in strength. It withstands moisture and remains stable in use. It normally has a straight grain but sometimes can treat one to a nice swirl, and it has a fine even texture 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.

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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.

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Notice how the pickup is now positioned midway between the neck and the bridge in the photo at left. The pickup is able 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.

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With this viewing angle, and with the bridge drastically raised, one can easily see the ramp, particularly in the enlarged view. The wood used to makes these guitars is absolutely beautiful.

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photo courtesy of Paul Q. Kolderie
As can be seen here at left, machine bolts with allen type heads were turned in or out for bridge height. The wrap around bridge/tailpiece unit just sets on these machine bolts and is held in place by string pressure. Notice the two set screws on the backside of the unit which allows for minor corrections in intonation, plus when tightened down it also helps secure the unit in place too.

Notice the double row of pole pieces on the pickup, and in particular the two corroded looking ones in the center that secure the pickup to the ramp. According to Kent Armstrong "the screws secure to a nylon plate under the ramp which allows the pickup to slide."

photo courtesy of Paul Q. Kolderie
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."

According to Craig Buzzart who was the North American west coast distributor of the Dan Armstrong 'London' series instruments, when the pickup was slid all the way foward - toward the neck, "the pickups' pole pieces lie right in the spot that the 24th fret would be located. Dan knew this would make for excellent harmonics and as such, playing beyond the 12th fret area often sounds like I am playing on a 12 string 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.