Mark Schnoor 2006

     To the Dan Armstrong Web Site

"It's been a long road - getting from there to here" sang Russell Watson in the opening credits to the television series Enterprise®. It was enough to break my concentration one day when it came on TV while I was working on this update. The words rang through my mind and apparently struck a chord in me for it was at that moment that it dawned on me how hard I have worked, how much I have learned through my interviews, and how far I have come since I first decided to host this site back in 2001.

Unlike the Enterprise television series however, this site deals not in science fiction - but in non-fiction. It's emphasis is not about the future nor the exploration of outer space, but rather the past - and the exploration of inner space for its emphasis is on the journey of the life of Dan Armstrong and the products he designed which has enriched all our lives.

The roots of this site go back to 1970 when as a teenager growing up in the Midwest I received a musical catalogue in the mail that featured something so unusual, so cool, and so electric that it made me forget about every other guitar I had ever seen. There in the middle of the catalogue, as well as in the middle of one of the pages, was a photograph of a Dan Armstrong · Ampeg clear guitar and bass. Looking back, I must have gazed upon that catalogue, and that particular photograph for hours.

Naturally, as a teenager the price tag for such an instrument was out of my reach, and so I kept on playing the guitar I had. Eventually I raised enough money to acquire a clear guitar, but not a Dan Armstrong · Ampeg clear guitar. Instead, I ordered a Japanese copy much like the Electra® instrument seen at left only mine was a Ventura® model - though from what I could tell, with the exception of the name on the headstocks - the two brands looked the same to me - then and now.

My friend (Hi Elon) and I did alot of recording of our own material as he designed his own recording/sound boards and had several high quality tape recorders at his disposal, for his father ran an electronics shop - which also explains where he learned his designing skills for making recording boards. To this day, I still think he had a soldering iron, a roll of solder and a circuit board or two in his crib as a baby.

I had alot of fun with that Ventura copy, although I think I saw Elon grind his teeth a few times when I would get up on the 24th fret and bend the string, making the note even higher and often times pegging the Vu meters on his tape decks and other units. The concept of having two full octaves at my disposal opened up a whole new dimension of sound for me and ultimately altered my playing style.

Mark Schnoor 1975
As seen at left, a year or so later I had acquired a real Dan Armstrong · Ampeg clear guitar by trading a guy my 1972 SG® and a few other musical items. After the swap I immediately noticed something unusual. This guitar featured a pickup unlike any I had seen in the catalogue. I remember thinking how funky it looked with its two rows of metal squares going across it. I did like how it sounded though, and even more I liked the lack of virtually any hum given the distortion units I was using at the time for amplifiers did not employ master volume controls in them just yet. This was no matter though, for Elon had built several exceptional sounding distortion effects units over the years.

I also noticed that a section of the tailpiece was sandblasted, which was also something I had not seen in the catalogue that I had stared so long at, and I began to wonder if I had been 'taken'.

Resting on that sandblasted tailpiece was a rosewood bridge. This too, looked nothing like what was in the music catalogue, as it had a fret placed across it. If that weren't enough, I also noticed that the tuners were different. The catalogue showed these instruments with Schaller® tuners whereas my guitar was equipped with a set of Grover Rotomatic® tuners. This was a small matter however, as both brands of tuners were excellent, but together with all the other differences it made me wonder if I was the recipient of a modified guitar, though if it was, it had to have cost a fortune, as it was very well done.

Last, but not least, I noticed that the guitar was missing the thumbscrew that secured the pickup to the acrylic body and I realized in my haste to acquire this instrument, I wasn't watching close enough. It was 1974 and in his attempt to sweeten his side of the deal, the guy I did the swap with informed me that Ampeg was no longer making the clear guitars and basses, as they stopped production in 1971 and the instruments were now getting somewhat collectible.

With Ampeg no longer making these instruments, I knew it was a shot in the dark - but I nevertheless sent off a letter to them explaining that I had just gotten a clear guitar and was in need of a pickup screw as well as the other 'two' types of rosewood bridges - for my guitar only came with one bridge, and the catalogue had printed that these guitars came with a low, medium and high type bridge and I would like to have them all.

To their credit, Ampeg responded - stating that these instruments were no longer being manufactured, but they did send me a pickup screw with their letter as a courtesy. They also stated that while the instruments were no longer being made, the rosewood bridges could be ordered, though I forget what they cost. Needless to say I ordered all the extra bridges.

One day Elon also acquired a Dan Armstrong · Ampeg instrument - a bass guitar, and as we jammed and did recordings with them, we often talked about how cool it would be to meet Dan Armstrong and talk with him about these instruments. It was the kind of talk you would expect of a couple of teenage guys playing their clear instruments. Lots of questions and plenty of dreams.

Above left, a photo of me sitting on the couch in Elon's basement playing my Dan Armstrong clear guitar, while Elon stands playing the bass. Barely visible off to the right of him rests one of his first homemade instruments where he took a Danelectro® neck with Kluson® tuners and put it on a homemade Rickenbacker 4001® style guitar body made of mahogany that features Gibson® hardware, including an ABR-1 bridge and original Patent-Sticker humbuckers. It played pretty good and I sometimes used it when I was multi-tracking a lead solo.

At upper right, I one day asked Elon to just start playing as I was looking for just the right shot to take of both him, and his Dan Armstrong bass. Notice the late 1960's style chair behind him. Elon had owned several bass instruments over the years, and to this day what I remember the most about his Dan Armstrong bass when compared to others he had owned was that it had such a good, thick, solid, yet tight low end to it, while at the same time preserving a smooth sounding midrange and upper high end tone.

At upper left, an underside shot of one of Elon's home made recording/sound boards with parts sprawled out over his work bench (which was actually his bed). At upper right, and a few years later I used my Dan Armstrong guitar in a local garage band. As seen here after a sound check - our drummer can be seen kneeling by the floor toms talking to his girlfriend who is seated at his drum set. My Dan Armstrong clear guitar can barely be seen resting in a guitar stand at the far right in the photo, while our bass players original black Dan Armstrong bass can be seen at the far left.

Soon Elon & I ran across another Dan Armstrong · Ampeg guitar, though this one was quite unlike any that we had seen before. Although the body was the same, we immediately noticed that this model had a scratchplate that featured a different texture to it than ours. Although it featured the same artificial wood grain type look to it we noticed that it had a smooth, glossy type texture to it - whereas our scratchplates had a matte type finish to them that, in comparison, looked somewhat dull, with no shine to it at all. The tuners on the neck were Schallers instead of the Grovers like our Dan Armstrong's had, and the tailpiece was not sandblasted, it was all chrome. We then noticed that the rosewood bridge had no fret across it, which wasn't quite such a shock, for Elon's bass also had an all chrome tailpiece with no sandblasting - as well as a rosewood bridge without a fret. However, we were both quite amazed when we discovered the size of the maple neck on this guitar. It was much bigger, or thicker than the necks on our instruments.

Given the various different features this guitar had compared to ours made me dig out my old catalogue once again. It was amazing that I still had it, and after looking through it once again and refreshing my memory, it was with a bit of pain, a modest amount of humility, and a whole lot of confusion that I noticed this particular instrument, with it's shiny scratchplate and Schaller tuners- looked exactly like what was in the catalogue. Now I really had some questions.

Unfortunately, there was just nowhere to turn for answers. A few more years went by and any questions I had about these instruments were left unanswered. As time passed I just learned to accept things as they were. I was still curious, mind you, but with nowhere to turn I just let it all go and pretty much put everything on the back burner.

After several more years Elon had moved to the West Coast. I remained in the Midwest and continued to play in a local rock band. Today we are both still involved in music as I still play in a band, while Elon eventually relocated to Meridian, MS - where his talents are now put to good use working as a senior sound mixer designer for Peavey Electronics® while still making guitars in his free time.



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.

special thanks to the james gang for their music while creating this web site