Whack Job: 1969 Yamaha TA-30 Guitar Amplifier - GuitarPlayer.com

Whack Job: 1969 Yamaha TA-30 Guitar Amplifier

Stoned hippy customer asks a music-store clerk, “Uh, yeah, Daddy-O, I’m looking for a guitar amp that looks like a cross between a sandwich board and the monolith from the movie 2001.
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Stoned hippy customer asks a music-store clerk, “Uh, yeah, Daddy-O, I’m looking for a guitar amp that looks like a cross between a sandwich board and the monolith from the movie 2001. And, of course, it has to sound, like, totally cool, okay?”

I often write about weird-looking guitars from the ’60s and ’70s, but the designers at Yamaha back then weren’t just challenging what a guitar could look like, but what a guitar amp might look like, as well. The Yamaha TA-30 is a fine example of what happens when artistic design meets functionality.

WEIRDO FACTOR

We all know that guitar amps need to be squares or rectangles, and—duh—speakers have to be round. But not in this Twilight Zone! This trapezoidal guitar amp doesn’t just look unusual, the speaker looks like it’s made from recycled Styrofoam take-out containers. But, man, this trippy amp and speaker design really come together to make one very musical statement.

PLAYABILITY & SOUND

The 1969 Yamaha catalog says the TA-30 has 50 undistorted watts of music power. This amp does get pretty loud—although it’s nothing like my 50-watt Marshall. But, whatever the actual wattage, this little weirdo sounds sweet. Naturally, I tested it first with my Yamaha SGV, and what I got was a very full sound with lots of lows and highs. The SGV is not known to be a full-sounding guitar, but through this amp, it almost sounded like a Gibson hollowbody. I also plugged in Fenders and Gibsons with my pedalboard inline, and the TA-30 could easily keep up with a medium-loud band.

The amp offers two channels, each with high and low inputs. Channel One provides three EQ knobs, Reverb Depth, and Tremolo Depth (with frequency-speed control). Channel Two offers three knobs for EQ and a Volume knob. The reverb tank is tiny, but it rivals any surf-y ’verb out there. The tremolo effect can be dialed from subtle all the way up to “I’m gonna get sick.” (For you early rock-instrumental fans, that’s from “Apache” to “Rumble.”) There are separate jacks for effects on/off footswitches, and if you need a place to plug in your lava lamp, there is even a two-prong electrical outlet.

Speaking of power cables, the TA-30’s had no ground pin, and I got a lot of 60-cycle hum. But wait! The amp’s Power switch has a ground flip. Voila! The noise went away. The non-directional speaker—which Yamaha called a “Natural Sound Speaker”—is shaped like Mr. Spock’s ear, but it really sounds good.

VALUE

I lucked out on this one. I snagged it as you see it—complete with the original black leatherette cover—for $150. Probably because they sound so good, they are rarely seen for sale, and from what I could tell online, they typically sell for between $600 and $1,000. I would hate to have to replace the speaker, but, from what I understand, they are quite durable. Mine is almost 50 years old, and not only is there no sign of decay, it sounds very solid.

WHY IT RULES

The TA-30 is almost twice the height of a 45-lb Fender Deluxe, but as it utilizes solid-state circuitry (29 transistors and ten diodes) it’s only 35 lbs. It also rules because its looks weird and delivers a very usable sound.

Thanks to Ronni Dinette for spotting the TA-30 on Craigslist and helping me get it, and to Starving Dave Stein for scoring the 1969 Yam aha catalog. Feel free to contact me at rtcarleton@gmail.comwith photos of your rare weirdos.

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