The year was 1975 and it was a hot day in August at the racetrack in the Black Hills. Styx® had just left the stage and I anxiously waited in the fifth row for Steppenwolf® to come up next. When they did I was in for more of a treat than I bargained for. A few feet in front of me, and a bit to my right stood John Kay. As his welcomed "Hello" echoed through the grandstands I stood mesmerized for I noticed he had slung on a Dan Armstrong guitar. However, this was no regular Dan Armstrong, for the wood Formica® scratchplate and headstock veneer had been carefully replaced with chrome plated metal. It was obviously an expensive, high quality modification that looked just plain cool.

Although most of us probably do not have the expense account of John Kay, it has not stopped many from altering or modifying their clear guitars and basses. While I can sympathize with musicians desiring a better playing, more comfortable instrument, the value of any guitar or bass drops significantly once an alteration has been done to it. A good rule of thumb to remember is that a worthwhile modification is one which can be restored to original simply by removing it and putting the original parts back on. Unfortunately, this was, and still is seldom the case when it comes to the Dan Armstrong · Ampeg acrylic instruments - some of which can be seen here.

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Beginning with one of my own guitars so as not to appear to be sitting too high up in my ivory tower. As seen upper left, one of my Dan Armstrong guitars which has been modified with a Gibson Tuno-Matic® bridge. These bridges were commonly seen on their SG® guitars in the 1970's to accommodate longer travel distance as players were using lighter gauge strings. What is truly sad, is the screws used to secure the tailpiece to the acrylic body are straight headed screws - a strong indicator of a very early 1969 body.

At upper right, the original bridge/tailpiece has been cut in half with just enough mass left for the strings to hook into. In front of it, where the rosewood bridge used to rest the acrylic has been routed down enough to cradle the new bridge. Deep in the acrylic body, underneath this routing you will notice rounded yellow looking holes that had been drilled into the acrylic. These are the post anchors which were tapped in after the drilling and support the two adjustable posts seen sticking out of the acrylic that screw in or out of these anchors which in turn raises or lowers the string action.

However, if you look at the individual string saddle pieces, you will notice that they start up close, nearest the pickup on the high E string and move backward in a fairly orderly, even fashion. By the time you get to the saddle piece on the low E string the saddle placement is about in the middle of the bridge. Stated another way, if you were to draw a line from the high E string to the low E string, you would see that it is nearly a direct lineup on the saddlepieces - just moved back more on the lower strings. What this all means is that the modification was not necessary as a rosewood saddlepiece with a fret on it placed up close to the pickup on the high E string, and back about halfway on the low E string would have accomplished virtually the same results.

Granted, a Tuno-Matic type bridge will always out perform a rosewood bridge, and even the reissues address the intonation problems by using brass saddlepieces. In the not too distant future it appears that the acrylic instruments could very well employ a tunable bridge not too different from what is shown here. But to me, the real question is whether or not the modification was warranted or even worth it. Dan always said "More than anything else I built these guitars to be stage guitars which is one reason I went with the clear body." Given this mind-set, for stage use I just have to wonder if they weren't good enough as they were.

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At upper left, a bit more clever version of a Tuno-Matic type bridge - the owner cut the rosewood bridge into six small pieces - one piece per string - and slid them forward or back to get proper intonation. The beauty of this mod is by having or getting an extra bridge, one can easily put things back. At upper right, another permanent mod. This is very much like the mod on my guitar only they rounded out the edges and corners on the original tailpiece and added another Tuno-Matic style bridge like the type used on newer Les Paul® guitars.

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click to enlarge

More bridge modifications. At upper left, an original Dan Armstrong guitar sports a Gibson ABR-1® bridge. Interestingly the bridge seems to sitting on the top of the acrylic body with the only routing that was done was for the height adjustment posts. Notice how the original tailpiece is left intact which would make it somewhat easier to put this back to stock with only two post holes that would be left showing. Being the bridge is on top of the body seems to suggest a much higher string action, probably used for slide guitar. Notice a Kent Armstrong® pickup is used. Also a washer on the output jack as well as the addition of aluminum speed type knobs.

At upper right, The original tailpiece is cut, and another Gibson ABR-1 style bridge installed. This particular bridge features nylon saddlepieces. The acrylic body has been routed to cradle the bridge for low string action.

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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.