photo courtesy of Bill Richardson
1998 began a new chapter for the Dan Armstrong acrylic guitars and basses as on August 26, 1998 Ampeg announced that it is reissuing the Dan Armstrong · Ampeg line of instruments made famous in the late 1960's and early 1970's.

As seen at left, and after 30 years, Dan Armstrong once again graced the Ampeg booth at the 1998 NAMM show in Nashville. Standing next to him is guitar luthier Bill Richardson who was not only a good friend of Dan's, but also tutored under him. Here Bill can be seen holding the very first reissue Dan Armstrong guitar produced.

It all began at a NAMM show back in 1997 when Kent Armstrong®, while at his own products booth was visited by representatives of St. Louis Music - then the owner of the Ampeg franchise which was going to be celebrating their 50th Anniversary the next year. As part of this celebration Ampeg was once again producing their old product lines. Along with an entire line of amplifiers made to look and sound like the amps of yesteryear, Ampeg also wanted to include the Dan Armstrong · Ampeg clear guitars & basses in this 'updated reissue' project.

Although St. Louis Music had worked with Dan throughout the 1980's selling guitars and pickups that Dan made for them it was always under the SLM name & not the Ampeg name - at least not directly. This project was going to be different however, for although Ampeg had changed ownership many times over the years, and none of the present management even involved, they nevertheless knew that they were standing on thin ice with Dan given the history of how he parted company with Ampeg back in 1971.

The situation was explosive, and demanded a delicate pair of diplomatic gloves, for while Ampeg owned the rights to the acrylic guitars & basses, they did not own the rights to the Dan Armstrong name - which they desperately wanted to use. "It just wouldn't be a Dan Armstrong clear guitar without Dan's name on it." said a former Ampeg employee who finished by adding "but it was such a hot potato that none of us really wanted to approach him about it."

Enter Kent Armstrong, who was not only Dan's son but also a well known and highly regarded pickup designer who was approached by representatives of Ampeg and who asked if he would check with his father as to whether or not Dan would be interested in reissuing these instruments. At the same time, they asked Kent if he would consider making the pickups for the instruments as nobody else in the business even wanted to try it.

Kent had their contact information so he told them he would check with Dan, then check his own molding system to see if he could mass produce the pickups for these instruments. Shortly after the NAMM show he contacted Dan about the project. Not surprisingly, Dan wasn't interested. According to Kent, Dan replied "I don't do retro......" Kent went on to add "but then changed his mind shortly thereafter." Why the change of heart, we will never know. Perhaps it was simply a matter of finances, for Dan eventually settled on a flat rate from Ampeg vs. a percentage of every sale. Dan had recently finished up his affairs with Cerwin-Vega® as the Hot Cabs® project had come to an end, so maybe he decided that it was the logical move to make at this point in his life.

After looking over his lab processes Kent figured that he would be able to mass produce the pickups for these instruments. Although the pickups were not going to be cheap, they were not out of reach, and so after contacting Ampeg with news of a 'green light' - the project was quickly underway.

Unlike the original Dan Armstrong · Ampeg instruments which were made in Linden, NJ these instruments were made in Japan by FujiGen-Gakki, which is a musical instrument manufacturer based in Matsumoto which is a city located in Nagano Prefecture of Japan. For those of us living in the US, think of Matsumoto as the city and Nagano Prefecture as the state. It's location - highlighted in green, can be seen at left on the map of Japan.

Fujigen is an OEM for several musical instrument brands in the marketplace with one of the most prominent probably being Ibanez®. According to Wikipedia, FujiGen has 3 factories in the Matsumoto area, the Omachi factory, the Hirooka factory and the main FujiGen factory.

      photo courtesy of Fujigen
      photo courtesy of Fujigen

Above left, the FujiGen Headquarters in Matsumoto. Notice the name written in what appears to be English on the roof. At right, one of the Fujigen factories, this one in Omachi. Notice the tall stack, perhaps where the wood is dried.

      click to enlarge
      click to enlarge

Above left and right, the 1998 Dan Armstrong reissue guitars and basses. The clear instrument models seen at left are the ADAB-1 and ADAG-1 models. The ADAB being 'Ampeg Dan Armstrong Bass' as well as 'Ampeg Dan Armstrong Guitar' while the numerical number '1' represents the clear acrylic. At upper right, the ADAG-2 and ADAB-2 with the numerical number '2' representing the smoked acrylic.

These units were produced until 2001 and as mentioned above - offered in both clear and smoked versions. Rumor has it that the smoked versions were added because of the black plastic prototypes that Dan had experimented with many years prior. Although these smoked versions were transparent when compared to the black plastic models it was still a matter of keeping with history that they were included, though these reissue smoke models were made of acrylic, not plastic. However the effect - as well as the historical references, and significance's are still there. True or not.

click to enlarge
click to enlarge

As seen above left & right these instruments were made to Ampeg's exact specifications, though there were changes that were designed in as improvements over the original design. Many things remained the same however, for example, notice how the clear instrument has a washer placed around the output jack on the scratchplate. Musicians were still stepping on their guitar cords and cracking the scratchplate in and around the input jack.

One of the biggest changes to the instrument was the bridge. The bridges on the original instruments were simply a piece of rosewood, while later models had a fret across the bridge to enhance the treble.

As seen at left, the reissue instruments also feature a rosewood bridge. However, the bridge has been redesigned to alleviate an age old problem - intonation. The rosewood bridge now features brass insert type saddle pieces to perfect intonation. These brass inserts are preset for the bass instrument, but are adjustable for the guitar model. Strangely, the tailpiece is not sandblasted.

At upper right, and seen from the bottom side, a shallow, round hole is machined into the body where the small pin on the bottom of the bridge resides. At first glance this may seem like a bit of a hinderance, however - it should be remembered that the new bridge utilizes the adjustable brass saddle pieces, and even then, the center of the bridge (where this hole is located) is where the least amount of travel is needed. Usually it's towards one of the outer 'E' strings where the bridge might need to be positioned more forward or back and the center of the bridge will not interfere with this travel.

As seen upper left & right - another significant change is that the bass models now feature the sweeping scoop, or well in the acrylic body to accomodiate interchangable pickups. Whereas the original models had the pickups screwed down onto the acrylic body, these models employ the banana plugs like the original guitar model does. However, being a bass model, three such plugs are required vs. the two that the guitar models employ. According to Kent Armstrong "additional cost is incurred in the manufacturing of the newer basses as a result of the well in the body but it opens the door to all sorts of possibilities for different sounds."



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