Magnatone Guitars!

New for Fall 2013, a complete guide to Magnatone guitars and the stories behind them!

1938-1960 Steel Guitars

1956-1963 Bigsby/Barth Era

1964-1966 Starstream Era


Dickerson Amplifers

Dickerson Musical Instrument Company  1  established a production line of steel guitars and amplifiers in the late 1930's. The sales strategy of the time was to steel guitars and amplifiers as a pair, but both were also available individually. The first production models appeared in 1938. Most of these early models were covered in plastic Processed Pearl Lumarith finish, although some were available for a short time in a rayon flock fabric covering.

A Dickerson brand logo was silk screened on the front bottom right of the amplifier. Dickerson also served as an OEM (orginal design manufacturer) for other music instrument companies. Instead of the Dickerson label, an "Oahu", or a "Bronson" emblem was installed in the lower right.

De Luxe Professional Model 12

This was the top of the line amplifier and guitar in the Dickerson line up in 1939. It was a 20 watt amp with a 12" curved cone speaker. Five metal jacketed tubes were used including, two beam power pentodes (probably 6L6's). There were two sets of inputs, one for two instruments and one for a microphone. The mic input had a single volume control and the instrument input had volume and tone controls.

De Luxe Professional Model 8

The next amplifier was the Model 8, a 4 tube, 10 watt amp with an 8" speaker. Although the amp came with two instrument jacks, the volume and tone controls came on the guitar, and there no control knobs on the amp itself. Besides a rectifer tube (a 83V, 5Y3, or a 5V4 type), the Model 8 came with 2 6V6s, and a single preamp tube. I'm not sure if there were push-pull or single ended circuits). These were introduced in 1939.

Output was bumped to 12 watts by 1941 or so. This model was probably the same model offered through Oahu as the No.385K Melody Master. (pictured at right).

Standard Student Model S6 and S8

The smallest and lowest price amplifier was the S6. The 3 tube circuit produced 3 watts and drove a 6" speaker. A few different preamp tubes were used in these including a 6SF5 and a 6C5. The power tube was a 6F6 and the rectifier was a full wave rectifier tube, like an 83V, 5V4, or a 5Y3. On some early models, a small battery bias cell was used to apply a negative bias to the preamp. The S8 was a larger, 4 tube amplifier that delivered 8 watts to an 8" speaker.

The S6 was available in the 1940s through Oahu as the No.345K and the S8 was available as the No.250K. (No.345K/S6 pictured at right).


I believe that this S6 is an early 1938 model, and that by 1940, the cabinet was squared off a bit (like the Oahu picture above).


Combo Case and Amplifier

A precursor to the Danelectro case amplifiers of the 1950s and 1960s was the Dickerson 1939 SP8 and SD6 case amplifiers. Dickerson applied for a patent for this design March 20, 1939 and added these two models to the catalog sometime that same year. The SP8 was the Model 8 circuit with an 8" speaker, and the SD6 was Student 6 circuit. The patent for this was awarded Dec 31 1940 and assigned patent No. 2,226,900.

One of these two amplifiers (and matching guitar) was available through the Oahu catalog in 1941 as a Oahu 369K. Although these are not common today, Dickerson did make them for at least three years, if not longer.


1940's Dickerson amps



Dickerson amps evolved in the 1940s to have volume and tone controls as seen above. The amp cabinet design, with the slanted front face would continue in production into the Magna years. The blue pearloid Dickerson was built in 1948 after the switch from Fators to Magna. It is a three tube model that would later evolve into the Varsity model Magnatones (photo of 1948 model courtesy of Steve Evans).

Other Delbert Dickerson Inventions

The combination amp/guitar case was not Delbert Dickerson's first patent, in fact, he had many patented inventions both before and after his stint in the musical instrument business:

  • carburetor design (1929. 1,733,367),
  • striping device (1933. 1,944,224),
  • paint striper (1933, 2,016,545),
  • electric pickup for stringed instruments (1938. 2,209,016),
  • a tuning device (1948. 2,514,153),
  • apparatus for tuning stringed musical instruments (1949. 2,514,315),
  • wheel structure (1952. 2,730,906 assigned to Ardell Mfg. Co.),
  • resin and glass fiber applicator gun (1962. 3,126,157),
  • furniture upholstering (1962, 3,126,229),
  • method of making a tubular high pressure resistant vessel (1967. 3,484,317),
  • automatic shutoff liquid dispensing valve (1978. 4,176,694),

Personel and Locations

Delbert's younger brother, Carl, worked with Delbert in the business. These two were the brothers in Dickerson Brothers. Another person involved in those days was A.B. McMahan. I'm not sure what McMahan did exactly, but I think he might have handled the business end of the company. In the forties, Dickerson was located at 611 East 55th Street.

Fators Mfg.

For the brief time when Gaston Fator owned the company, Dickerson amps carried the label FATORS MFG. CO. 3998 SO. VERMONT AVE. LOS ANGELES 37, CALIF. on the chassis. The Dickerson brand was already established and Fator elected not to change the name. These aren't very common because Fator didn't own the company but for a few years. The amp pictured at right is a Dickerson that was built during the Fator years.

Model 3HGA

The Model 3HGA name appeared on several amps build by Fators and Magna alike in the late forties. The designation did not apply to a specific circuit. Some 3HGA's were 4 tube designs, some were 5 tube designs. The model name was also used on some of the OEM brands like Kiesel and Oahu.

The above 3HGA is an Oahu or Leilani amp pictured with a Magnatone guitar. It is from about 1947 or maybe 1948, and has five tubes. Below is the same 3HGA chassis in a different shape cabinet. They both look to be 10" or 12" speakers (the above example measured 14x14x11"). This particular one doesn't t say "Fators", so its possible it is an early Magna (for which the store continues here ).



Above and below are two examples of 3HGA's that look indentical but one has four tubes and the other has five (obviously, quite differing circuits). The one above (owned by Steve Evans) was built by Fators sometime around mid-1947 and has a tube compliment of 5Y3, 6L6, 6SJ7, and a 6C5. The one below doesn't have the Fators sticker, so it might have been built following the switch to Magna.



Not much is known about the Dickerson to Fator change, or the change from Fator to Magna for that matter. These weren't publicly traded companies, so records are hard to come by. If anyone has information about this era of Dickerson/Fators/Magna amps, please contact me.


Degrees of Separation

A few interesting modern connections to these early Dickerson amplifiers are Ernie Ball and Carvin Guitars. Ernie Ball was born in 1930, so he was too young to have a connection, but his father Roland Ball was a Hawaiian guitar instructor, and for a short time operated Ball Music Publishing Co.. In 1939, Ball contracted with Dickerson to be the sole distributor for Dickerson Guitars (I'm not sure how long this arrangment lasted).

The Carvin connection comes from the late forties when Lowell Kiesel started the L.C. Kiesel Co. (he would later change the name to Carvin). Kiesel manufactured electric pickups for guitars and he contracted with Fators Mfg. to build the 3HGA as a Kiesel amplifier (pictured below). If you look at the pictures closely, This is a two part cabinet with the amplifier mounted in the back half and the speaker in the front half. The two cabinets latch together for safe transport, and then are separated when used. The earliest examples of these amps date to 1946 (the year Kiesel started his company). The amplifier at far right is a Kiesel and carries the "Model 3HGA" label discussed earlier.



1: The company name found in 1939 catalogs was Dickerson Musical Instrument Company, but may have changed its name to Dickerson Brothers or Dickerson Brothers Musical Instrument Company by 1941.




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