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Whack Job: 1968 Teisco Checkmate 30

March 21, 2013
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A LOT OF PLAYERS DIG TEISCO GUITARS, but few may realize that the company also made amplifiers, and they actually made a lot of them. There are tube amps and solid-state amps in many configurations—perhaps all made to be a “point of sale” companion when a potential buyer was trying out a Teisco guitar. I’ve had the opportunity to play through a few of them, and I have to say—not too impressed. But even I can’t deny the crazy coolness of the Checkmate 30.

WEIRDO FACTOR

As amps go, this one isn’t too terribly weird— except for the fact that it’s round, and has a cheap wood veneer that makes it look like it belongs in the Brady Bunch’s family room. The engineers at Teisco were not known for innovative amplifier design, but they surmised that pointing a speaker up at a cone might produce a 360-degree sonic spread. And guess what? The “surround” sound dispersion actually works so well that I wonder why few (if any) major amp makers have experimented with that approach.

PLAYABILITY & SOUND

The Checkmate 30 is a solid-state amp that cranks a whopping eight watts through a top-facing 6" speaker. The whole thing stands about a foot and a half high, and is about the diameter of a snare drum. It has two parallel inputs— one for you and one for your bass player—and two controls for the surprisingly nice tremolo unit. A footswitch jack lets you turn the tremolo on and off, and there’s also a speaker output, which would seem to belie the whole “360 sound” concept.

The Checkmate’s clean tone rules, and I embrace the amp’s unique sonic spread by miking it from two sides of the room to get a cool stereo delay. But, man, this is a very quiet amp. It can’t keep up with even an extremely soft group without breaking up, and the overdrive tone isn’t the cool, tube-amp grind—it just gets grainy and ugly. As a result, I use my Checkmate as a practice amp, as well as an end table in my studio. Double duty!

VALUE

An amp exactly like this one sold online recently for more than $700. That’s a tough one, when you can buy a used Vox Pathfinder or a Peavey Rage for 50 bucks and make a big sound. I love Teisco stuff from the ’60s and ’70s, but I still can’t understand the company’s mythical allure and the almost mystically inflated selling prices for its gear. But I’m glad the stuff is out there—and I mean out there!

WHY IT RULES

It’s functional art. But wait—there’s more! It’s also a drink holder, a storage surface for picks and slides, a nice amp for quiet rehearsal and songwriting sessions, and, best yet, it makes people laugh.

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