Checkmate Guitar/Amp Combo

By the early 1960s, Japan’s Teisco company was churning out large numbers of guitars and amps to meet the burgeoning demand for electric instruments that was being spurred on by the British Invasion. In 1964, the Checkmate name began appearing on some of Teisco’s products, and by 1966 there were at least 11 Checkmate amplifier models listed in U.S.-issue Teisco Del Rey catalogs. The amp shown here is the Checkmate 50, which sports two channels, reverb, tremolo, and even a built-in E oscillator for tuning. The tube-powered head was paired with a matching white leatherette-covered 2x12 speaker cabinet, making it a sort of Pacific Rim equivalent of the blackface Fender Tremolux—which, of course, didn’t have reverb.
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The Checkmate guitar sports a pair of single-coils, a roller-style bridge, and a sproingy feeling vibrato that looks cheesy but actually works pretty well. The guitar’s crisp, twangy voice nicely complemented the husky sounding amp, and despite the 50’s weak sounding reverb and tremolo, this Asian marriage yielded thick, meaty clean tones and some respectable rock grind when the volume was turned up. You can still find one of these handwired tube rigs for under $700, which isn’t bad considering the Checkmate’s relative scarcity and the fact that it would cost a least $2,000 these days for a boutique head with the equivalent circuitry.