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


The History of the Magnatone Amplifier

By Douglas Ahern , 2011, and 2013.

My research of this company started with a simple curiosity of who were the people behind these very cool, unique amplifiers. Its turned out to be an interesting example of the course that some businesses chart for themselves, or otherwise find themselves attempting to navigate. Magnatone's history also proved to be a sad example of what can happen when acquisitions follow success, and when a small company division is neglected or otherwise lead down the wrong path.

At the core of the Magnatone story, though, are the stories of the creative engineers and savvy businessmen that were responsible for these cool amps. Some were at the heart of the operation, while for others, the story only brushes nearby.

As of Feb. 2013, a tremendous amount updates have been applied to this story, which was originally published in 2011. A lot of blanks have been filled in and a lot of errors have been corrected.

Hawaiian Guitar Beginnings

The story of Magnatone begins with a young guitar student, Belva Dickerson, in 1930's Los Angeles, and her father Delbert J. Dickerson. Rather than buy an expensive Rickenbacker or National, Dickerson chose to build both the guitar and amplifier for his daughter.

Dickerson was raised in Utah in a family of instrument makers. His father was an inventor and stringed instrument maker. As a young man, Delbert worked as a machinist in a Salt Lake City radio factory before relocating to southern California around 1930. Delbert and his younger brother, Carl, were mechanics about the time Delbert built his first electric steel guitar and amplifier.  1 

Belva's guitar instructor, Sol Ho'opi'i, was so impressed that he asked if an amplifier could be constructed for his own use. In the hands of the instructor, word of the quality of the guitar spread and Dickerson found himself manufacturing guitars and amplifiers for many of the southern California Hawaiian guitar illuminare. In addition to professional musicians, Dickerson built student guitars and amplifiers for initiates of Hawaiian guitar. By 1939, the Dickerson Musical Instrument Manufacturing Company  2  had a line of several steel guitars and matching amplifiers. Dickerson applied for a few patents, including a magnetic pickup (2,209,016, applied March 26, 1938) and a combination amplifier and guitar case (2,226,900, applied March 20, 1939). The styling motif use on these early guitars and amps was a plastic faux Mother of Pearl (AKA "MOTS" or "Mother of Toilet Seat" ). Dickerson also built similar guitars and amplifiers for other brands such as Oahu. Some early catalog suggest that the Dickerson had contracted a sole distributorship agreement with Ball Music Publishing Co. to distribute the Dickerson branded amplifiers and guitars.  [1] 

In those days, guitars were often sold by music studios. These were places where guitar lessons were given. Today, when we associate guitars with studios, we think of modern recording studios, but in the forties, a guitar studio was similar to a dance studio, it was a place to enroll and study guitar. One such studio/retailer was Gaston Fator Guitar Studios in Los Angeles. Around 1944, Fator bought the business from Dickerson. Fator owned it for a few years, and then sold it to Art Duhamell around 1946. During the years Fator ran the business, there was little engineering or innovation, he basically continued the product lines Dickerson had established and continued to build amps and guitars for other manufacturers as well.


→ More info about
the Dickerson/Fator years!



Art Duhamell and Magna

In the hands of it's new owner, Art Duhamell, the amplifier and guitar brand name was changed to Magnatone, and the company name was Magna Electronics Company. Duhamell built Magnatone's along side record players, radios, and speakers. By 1950, Magna expanded from their Jefferson Boulevard, Los Angeles location with three new buildings at 9749 S. Freeman Ave. and employed more that twenty-five employees, including Duhamell's brother, Estel, as sales director. Around 1950, Duhamell hired Louis G. MacKenzie as Chief Engineer. This coincides with some improved engineering and higher quality circuit designs that Magna was releasing around this time. Considering the amplifiers up to this point were based on the early Dickerson's 1930's circuits, MacKenzie might have been the first licensed engineer to design amplifiers for Magna. MacKenzie invented a tape loop sound repeater while working at Magna, and soon left to start his own company building the MacKenzie Repeater. The patent was granted in 1955 with assignor rights to Magna.  3 

Besides circuit advancements, Magnatone amps were treated to very attractive, modern, Art-Deco design cabinets. It is likely that Duhamell employed a designer. The line of steel guitars was expanded to 8-string guitars, and dual neck steel guitars. Magna also expanded the catalog with amplifiers decorated to suit the tastes of country-western musicians (tooled saddle trimming instead of surf and coconuts).

By 1955, Magna had again expanded, moving its headquarters to Anza Blvd in Inglewood. Magna also began to introduce more powerful amplifiers with advanced circuits, like the Model 160 Music Maker and the Model 180 Triplex. At some point, Duhamell took on a second investor and Vice-President, Nate Hellman. Hellman was an audio engineer who had come from a New Jersey company that manufactured coin-op radios. I'm not sure when he joined Magna. In 1956, Hellman hired engineer Jack Bartholomew, and it's likely that the advance circuit designs of the 160 and the 180 were Bartholomew and Hellman's work.

With the growing popularity of the Fender Telecaster and Gibson solid-body guitars, Magnatone was beginning to miss the mark by not offering a Spanish style guitar. In 1955, Art Duhamell commissioned Paul Bigsby to design a solid body six string Spanish style guitar. The Mark III guitar was first production guitar to come from this relationship. The earliest ones appeared in 1956. The Mark IV and Mark V were later added to the catalog, but production didn't continue much past 1957. Bigsby's own business was focusing on manufacturing Bigsby vibratos and his interest in designing and building solid body guitars was beginning to wane.

In early 1957, Duhamell and Hellman sold Magna and opened Dow Radio Inc., a wholesale radio and sound equipment supply shop in Los Angeles. Dow Radio supplied Southern California area manufacturers with all kinds of components.


→ More info about
the early Magna years!


Vibrato and Organs

The new owners of Magna were a group of businessmen who left their jobs at the Pacific-Mercury Television Corp. in Van Nuys to own and operate Magna. Pacific-Mercury was Joe Benaron's radio and television company. Benaron was a depression era transplant from Canada who started with $8 in his pocket and ended up with several furniture companies before moving into radio, and then television. In 1955, Benaron teamed up with Thomas George to build George's electric organs under the name Thomas Organ. The development of the organ was carried out at Pacific-Mercury's Van Nuys facilities under the supervision of F. Roy Chilton, president of the newly founded company. Within a year of the product launch, Thomas ranked No.2 in terms of gross sales in the home organ market.

To raise the necessary funds for the purchase, Chilton teamed up with two other Pacific-Mercury executives, secretary-treasurer, Ted Horwith, and production facilities manager, Arnold R. "Buck" Buckles. In early 1957, the deal with Duhammell and Hellman was struck, and Chilton, Horwith, and Buckles became the new owners of Magna.

Buckles was elected VP of Operations, and Chilton, President and general manager. Ted Horwith was more of a silent partner and had actually recently left Pacific-Mercury to become director of finance for the Mattel toy company. There was an additional investor, Joseph Walsh, who was named VP for Sales, but whether Walsh came from Pacific-Mercury is unclear. Also coming over from Pacific-Mercury was Dick Stuber, an inventory and purchasing guy, and a creative audio engineer, Don L. Bonham, was named Chief Engineer in March of 1957. One of Bonham's first engineering efforts at Magnatone was to integrate his vibrato designs into the new line of Magnatone guitar amps.

While student amplifiers were still in Magnatone's line-up, the 1957 catalog was expanding with a new line of premium priced professional amplifiers. These new Custom 200 Series were bigger, more powerful, and came with a more "up scale" look and finish. Both the management and engineering staff had great experience and knowledge of organs from the time spent at Thomas. This was immediately put to good use with the development of a new organ tone cabinet that was released in 1958. Bonham's FM vibrato circuit was applied to the high end amps and the tone cabinets. This was a big selling feature of these amps over what the competitors were offering and Magnatone marketing efforts promoted this fact.

To pick up the solid body guitar line for 1958, Magna execs hired Paul Barth to design the next series of "Mark" guitars to replace the earlier Bigsby designs. The next Artist Series was launched sometime in the spring of 1959 and included three double-cutaway guitars with model designations of Mark VII,VIII, and IX, as well as a Mark VI bass, and a high end Mark X Deluxe Stereo guitar. Priced in the $140-$200 range (with the exception of the stereo Mark X which was a pricey $350), these guitars were set for head to head competition with Gibson electrics (the Les Paul Jr was $130, the Les Paul was $250, and the Les Paul Custom was $375). the early attempts at production of these guitars by Magna employees was a failure. They had to scrap more guitars then they were able to actually assemble. Eventually, Barth was bought in to fix the manufacturing problems, and his solution was to offer to build the guitars offsite, at his shop, and deliver them to Magna. This was agreed to, and quality of the guitars was excellent. Around 1960, Barth moved on to other projects and if his sub-contractor relationship with Estey existed at all, it was only to supply small batches of guitars.

For the tone cabinet and guitar amp production, the quality of the finished product was excellent. "Buck" Buckles, VP of operations, managed all production and assembly lines. By fall of 1958, there were 100 people employed by Magna, and they had outgrown their small three building facility in Inglewood (really 2 buildings, and a small 3rd building). Chilton moved Magnatone operations to a new 40,000 square foot facility at 2133 Dominguez Street in nearby Torrance, California. The new facilities were a necessity to handle an increased product line including the new stereo vibrato amplifiers, a three-stage "trebleplus" 190 Professional amplifier, as well as the line of tone cabinets.  [2] 

This factory expansion and move was an expensive undertaking. Profits from sales alone could not fund it, so Chilton and the other directors took in another investor. In exchange for capital contributions, 42% share of Magna was given to Four Corners Uranium Corp. of Denver, Colorado. Four Corners installed a few of their directors on the Magna board of directors in addition to Chilton, Walsh, Buckles, and Horwith.  4 


→ More info about
the 200 series



Arnold Bernard and Estey

In just a few short years, Chilton had been at the helm of two music instrument manufacturers, both with excellent growth figures. This pattern of success in the music instrument industry caught the attention of an east coast financial investor, Arnold Bernhard.

Bernhard had a bit of a problem. A few years earlier, he had rescued The Estey Organ Company from bankruptcy with cash infusions from his two investment companies, The Value Line Fund, Inc. and Arnold Bernhard & Co. Bernhard was not a engineer or musician, he was strictly a finance guy. Estey had traditionally been a big name in pipe organs, but that market had all but dried up. What Bernhard wanted a piece of, and where he saw promise in Estey, was the exploding home electric organ market.  [3] 

This is where Magna Electronics comes into the picture. Bernhard saw Chilton's success at Magna to be the fix for his struggling organ company. Bernhard and the directors of Magna struck a deal and the results were big changes for both Magna and Estey. In 1959, Estey acquired Magna Electronics and made Chilton the president of the Estey Corporation.  [4]  Headquarters moved from the east coast to the Torrance where a line organs would be added to what was already in production under the Magnatone name. Some vague words were spoken in regard to keeping the Brattleboro operation going, but it seemed unlikely. Within a year or two, the 100 year legacy of Estey organ manufacturing finally came to an end, and the doors were closed for good.  [5] 

Arnold Buckles sold his stake (perhaps coincident with the Estey purchase) and started his own business making printed circuit boards called ARBCO.
Chief mechanical engineer Charles Daniels was promoted to Buck's old position, VP of Production. Fred Krueger, inventor of the "Krueger String Bass" for organs, was hired as an organ engineer and brought with him several years of experience working with transistors.  [6] 

The engineering team at the Torrance plant set about redeveloping and building electric organs, continuing the Magnatone production, and rolling out a new $199 console chord organ with full size diapason reeds! Although the original Estey engineers in Brattleboro, Harald Bode and Les Nicholas, had some advanced electric organ designs, neither of them wanted to wanted to work for the new company. Furthermore, Bode's design was vacuum tube based (48+ tubes in the model S), making it an expensive and heavy organ to produce and sell. More than likely, Chilton's engineering staff had to start at square one with a new electric organ design.


The Long Island Shake-up

Sadly, great fortunes were not in the future of this new venture, and Bernhard, who still have a significant stake in Estey, was soon looking to get out the music instrument business altogether. In May of 1961, he worked up a deal with Stanley Green and Saul Knazick the Organ Corporation of America (ORCOA). ORCOA was a small Long Island company that imported cheap table top reed organs from Italy, but more importantly for Arnold Bernhard, ORCOA had ties to some financial investors in New York that would provide a way out his poor investment decision that had continually failed to pay off. The result of this merger was Estey Electronics, Inc.

It is unclear what became of Chilton at Estey. It seems likely that he was the president up to the point of the ORCOA merger. Regardless, the entire executive management team from ORCOA took over and corporate offices were moved from Torrance to West Hempstead, New York, with only the engineering and manufacturing operations remaining in Torrance. Stanley Green became the president of Estey, and with him came vice-presidents Saul Knazick and Bill Souweine (VP for marketing and sales). ORCOA had really been little more than an importer of cheap $100 Italian "play-by-numbers" organs, so engineering, design and production continued with the remaining Chilton-era engineers and maybe a few new hires.

Following the 1961 Chicago NAMM show, Green aggressively took orders for a new electronic organ called the Georgian, his cheap ORCOA import chord and reed organs, and a hastily reappointed line of Magnatone amplifiers known as the 400 Series. From an engineering perspective, the 400 Series was a slightly expanded line of amplifiers based off of the Magna era 200 Series amps with new Reverberation effects added to several of the premium models. All in all, Green touted $1.5M in orders in a press release and hired assembly workers at the Torrance plant to handle the increased production.


→ More info about
the 400 series


Engineer Jack Bartholomew was promoted to Chief Engineer in summer of 1961 (Bonham was gone by this time),  [7]  and soon there after a new Director of Engineering was hired, Fred Heyden. Green and Knazick weren't musicians or engineers, and they really didn't have very much experience in operations or manufacturing. In late 1961, they hired Rual Cogswell to be the Director of Operations and run everything at the Torrance facility. Prior to this post, Cogswell was the manager of television and radio manufacturing at the nearby Magnavox plant.  [8] 

With Cogswell installed to run day to day operations in Torrance, Green and Knazick busied themselves on the east coast. Green acquired the assets a tape recorder manufacturer, General Magnetics and put his friend Irv Kappy in charge of it. Green also started a new business division under Estey called Cine-Box, a video jukebox type of device that he started importing through one of his manufacturing connections in Italy. There is no evidence that either of these new Estey divisions ever had any success.

Back in Torrance, organ production was somewhat plagued with quality control and assembly issues. There were production line halts, stacks of failed sub-assemblies awaiting repairs and general confusion among engineers and management as to why they couldn't consistently make organs that worked.
To make matters worse, Estey was once again in terrible financial condition.
Between 1962 and 1963, Cogswell cut the engineering staff by two thirds, including dismissals for engineers Jack Bartholomew and Ralph Greer, and eventually the director of engineering, Fred Heyden.

A Focus on Guitars

Since the ORCOA take over in 1961, Green and the New York execs' focus had been on organs. The amplifier line, though it had been treated to a motif update and a bit of engineering, was in need of some attention by 1963. The amplifiers were not selling to guitar players like they had in the fifties. For amplifier market direction, Estey relied upon the feedback of their major sales distributors and sales consultant Roy Hunt. Hunt was a kindly old fellow, an organ and accordion guy in his seventies. Distributors like Imperial Accordion Co., and Ernest Deffner in NYC were deep in the accordion markets that were being sidelined by the exploding youth guitar market. Hunt and those major distributors simply did not know how to get the attention of guitar players.

The first measure to reach that market was to hire professional guitar player Tony Jerome as national director of music for the Magnatone division. Jerome toured the country holding clinics and showcasing Magnatone products. The distributors for a particular region worked with local music stores and provided local advertising for the events.

While Jerome was on the road, Estey engineers began the development of a new line of amplifiers called the Custom Series in early 1963. They contracted Demaree Industrial Design Group  [9]  to design the exciting new aesthetics in which the chassis was a reversible top that let the musician decide if controls would be rear facing, as they had been in amplifiers traditionally, or in a more modern front facing configuration.

Tony Price was promoted to Chief Engineer and headed up the electrical and sound engineering aspects of the new amplifiers. In a design departure from the 400 series amplifiers, the Custom Series sealed the speaker cabinet in a closed-back design in what sales brochures called a "compression chamber". The new Demaree design allowed for the tubes and circuitry to be completely sealed inside the cabinet, but easily accessed by removing two allen screws.

Production of the Custom Series began around September of 1963. Green and his exec's excitedly took orders for what exceeded $1M in retail value.  [10]  After the Custom Series launch, Estey added a line of inexpensive student amplifiers called the Magnatone Starlite series. These were made of press board and used smaller transformers and speakers than their premium Custom Series amplifiers. This was attempt to recapture a piece of the student amplifier market, which had been their bread and butter in the early fifties.

Also in 1964, Estey also brought back Paul Barth to help design a new line of guitars called the Starstream series. While the previous Barth guitar arrangement ended up with Barth building the guitars at his shop, it was agreed that the new series would have to be built at the Torrance facility. To assist, Larry Ludwick was hired to engineer the production tooling to allow consistent, high quality construction of the necks and the contoured bodies. Design work and engineering was carried out by Price and Barth. Barth designed the aesthetics of the guitars, along with the pickups. Price contributed to other engineering aspects including the locking vibrato bridge.

The contemporary looks came in bright opaque finishes and even some sparkle paint colors. The guitar model names Typhoon, Zephyr, Tornado, and Hurricane were pointed in a youthful, fun direction (especially considering two years before, Estey named its premier organ "The Georgian").

Bringing Barth and Ludwick on board was a great move for Estey, but unfortunately it was only afforded by cuts in engineering positions. Besides Ludwick and Barth, an accountant, René García, was brought it to straighten out the books.


→ More info about
the Custom Series


The Textile Banking Company

The company continued to struggle with debtors and filed Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in January of 1964. This allowed Estey to continue to operate while debt was re-organized. What arose from the insolvent ashes was a new entity called Estey Musical Instrument Corporation in May 1966. Cash infusion, this time, came from the Textile Banking Company of New York, a division of Commercial Credit Company (what is today, Citigroup).

Ties to Textile Banking Co. actually came over with Stanley Green in 1961. By mid 1963 (and quite possibly earlier), Estey was being factored by Textile. "Factoring" is the business practice of buying a company's accounts receivables for cash at a discount. This type of financing wasn't uncommon, and it was, in fact, Textile Banking's primary business. Estey's portfolio was terrible, and they certainly couldn't get straight bank loans, but through factoring, they could obtain funds on the basis of its customer's assets rather than its own.  [11]  Also, Textile's financial analysis of prospective "factorees" relied heavily on their assessment of the leadership of the man in charge and the ability to create more accounts receivable in the future. Whether or not Textile conducted a honest assessment of Green's ability to hold the rudder is unknown, but seems unlikely. Textile wagered success based on Green's many years in the organ business as the head of Estey, but it truth he had only been in that position for two years at most.

Textile might have even stepped outside of their normal practices when they advanced Estey $1.5 million around the end of 1962, of which Estey paid an outstanding bank loan of $900,000. Estey agreed to repay it on a revolving basis of future receivables.  [12]  What this would mean for Estey was in exchange for a pile of cash (of which, most went straight to creditors), they'd have to turn over all income from distributors for at least a year or two! This financial mismanagement led to Estey's financial condition that led them into bankruptcy in 1964.

With Estey filing chapter 11, Textile Banking began to take special interest in what was going at Estey and the mess Green and Knazick had made. Textile took control of Estey and installed Textile Vice President John F. Doran on the Board of Directors. Oddly enough, Textile's poor assessment of investments wasn't confined to the Estey account. At the same time in 1965, Textile Banking lost $25 million due to weak businesses it had bought earlier.  5  Commercial Credit Co. came in and revamped Textile, selling off unprofitable businesses, and reorganizing ones that showed promise. All of a sudden, Estey had a new principle owner, Commercial Credit, who wasn't going to put up with the absent leadership of Stan Green and Sonny Knazick.

The first order of housecleaning Commercial Credit undertook was to pull Stan Green and Sonny Knazick out of the front office. They also cut the fruitless Cine-Box division loose, which Stan and Sonny sort of took with them and formed a new business, Color-Sonics. The absence of these two execs was welcome at Torrance. In the four years they had been at Estey, they had done little to garner respect of the staff, and were generally thought of as destructive. The impression was that while the company continually had cash flow problems, laid off engineers, and struggled to make payroll, Green and Knazick got rich. Stan and Sonny weren't gone for good, though, they were still part of owners of the company, and unfortunately, they'd come back into play at a later date.

With the Long Island execs pulled away from the controls, Commercial Credit appointed Jack McClintock, a professional executive, to determine what to do with Estey and Magnatone. McClintock was an intelligent, reasonable man and genuinely wanted to find a way to save the struggling company, however he knew nothing of the music instrument business. McClintock brought in an experienced manufacturing consultant, Al Hamel, to help find efficiencies in plant operations. Hamel was a positive influence and made quick progress. Soon thereafter, Rual Cogswell, who had somewhat developed a reputation of a hatchet-man, was identified as a problem, and to the delight of the remaining staff, was fired by McClintock. In his place, manufacturing consultant Al Hamel was brought on full-time and named Director of Operations.

The Harmony Years

McClintock quickly identified another problem: geographic location. He suggested that the operation needed to be more centrally located as it had many mid-west and east coast distributors, but in truth McClintock wanted a shorter commute. McClintock was from the western Pennsylvania area, and that's where his wife and children lived. He was flying back and forth to Torrance on weekends when he decided to bring the office closer to home. He began searching for a new home for Estey in 1965. His search included eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.

McClintock announced plans to move operations to a more central area of the country. Many of the key people in Torrance agreed to make the move to the new location, although a final location had not yet been named. On February 23, 1966, when it was announced that Estey's new location would be a former Weyerhauser plant thirty miles north of Pittsburgh in a small community called Harmony,  [13]  the staff's excitement was somewhat dampened (Commercial Credit's inexpensive long term lease for the plant was probably leftover from one of the poor Textile Banking investments they had just scraped).

Harmony and the nearby town of Zelienople was a far cry different setting than what Estey families were used to in sunny southern California. Nonetheless, McClintock was able to convince about 15 key people to move their families, including engineers Tony Price, Don Bergstrom, and Al Hamel. Several declined including engineers James Evans and Larry Ludwick. Paul Barth initially declined, but later, maybe in 1966 was persuaded to give Harmony a chance.

Production of amplifiers cranked up as did the production of all kinds of organs, including large home organs for retailers like Bradford, and Montgomery Ward, as well as a few models of small portable student reed organs that had little motorized fans to blow air across reeds. Also introduced about this time to the organ line up was the M-101 Rock-n-Roll travelorgan. The unique solid-state organ had been primarily engineered in Torrance. Larry Ludwick had designed and shaped the plastic shell, which was made of the same Royalite plastic as the M-series amplifier tops.

At the height of the Harmony operation, there were four hundred employees, and several production lines in operation, including a separate lines for multiple organs as well the guitar amplifier lines. Most of the people who came over from California didn't stay very long as they found Harmony to be too dreary and isolated.

Tony Price was promoted to National Sales Manager, a position that required a lot of travel with visits to various distributors and trade events.. A job offer soon came in that gave Price an opportunity to move his family to a warmer climate, and he took it. McClintock hired engineers to replace Price and the others that didn't move to Harmony, most notably Bill Layton and Paul Bossert.

On the service side of the business, Estey named Al Allen as National Service Manager and opened west coast and east coast service offices. Al Rosenberg was named eastern regional manager, and headed up the east coast office in located Westbury, NY. On the west coast, James Evans, an engineer who refused the offer to move to Harmony was rehired as western regional service manager.

The Last of the Tube Amps

For 1966, Magnatone came out with a new guitar amplifier line called the Pro Series. These amplifiers were designed with hopes of competing directly with Fender. They even resembled Fender's line complete with black tolex, silver accents, and a long thin control panel at the top front of the amp. This line of amplifiers were sold along side the Custom Amplifiers (M7,M10,M12,M15) and the small budget Starlite amplifiers. Production of these amplifiers ended around 1968.

A new line of solid state amplifiers replaced all the tube models in either late 1967 or early 1968. The cabinet designs of these amps moved away from the Fender-clone style of the Pro Series, and more in the direction of the organ side of the operation. The cabinets looked like furniture with wood finished sides and black trim (organ companies actually attended furniture shows as much as they did music industry shows!!). A solid state "true vibrato" was engineered without the use of the varistors by engineer Bill Layton, and Paul Bossert designed the power transformers and power supplies.

Relative to the Customs and Pro Series amplifiers, few of these amps were built and not many survive today. There were build quality issues, and lots of amplifiers were returned.


→ More info about the Solid State years!


Green and Knazick Come Back

On July 14, 1967 Stan Green and Sonny Knazick purchased a substantial part of Estey from Consumer Credit. The new company was incorporated using the same name, and as far as the Estey and Magnatone operations, Consumer Credit and McClintock were out of the picture (a nitpick detail here is that Green and Knazick bought the name and operations, but accounts receivable stayed with the prior corporation, which changed its name to J.H.S. Corporation).

During this time, amplifier sales continued, but a lion share of the business was manufacturing home electric organs and small reed organs built around an Italian reed and key operation assembly (Green's original 1961 ORCOA contribution to Estey).

In January 1969, the trade-name of Magnatone would yet again be part of an asset list in the acquisition (or merger) of Estey by The Programmed Learning Corporation. The parent corporation would take a new name, the Electro-Learner Corporation, and Estey Musical Inst. Corp. kept its name and was a "division of Electro-Learner, Corp.". Major individual shareholders were Arthur Schmoyer (21%), Jay Levine (17%), and both Stan Green and Knazick each with 14% of the newly formed parent corporation. Commercial Credit managed to get themselves out of owning enough interest in Estey to really care about it, and that left Levine, Green, and Knazick the freedom to reinstall Stan and Sonny as president and vice-president, just like the old days. The merger seemed to have been a deal of trading shares between the two companies, which means that no cash exchanged hands (because there wasn't any!), and this was probably just a way for to keep the ball rolling to set the stage for a stock offering, which occurred in March 1969.  [14] 

Schmoyer was an instructional music inventor who had just patented a couple music instruction and learning inventions. He had been involved in this industry for many years, some spent in southern California where it seems likely that he knew, or collaborated, with F. Roy Chilton. Electro-Learner set about putting Schmoyer's inventions into commercial products, but it is unclear if anything really ever got to market.

Electro-Learner would go on to produce various organs under the Estey name, but soon after the merger the production and sale of Magnatone guitar and amplifiers was discontinued. Estey continued to make organs in Harmony until 1972, when toy manufacturer Miner Industries bought the company and moved the operations to an old ALCOA plant in New Kensington, PA.


Magnatone's path through the first twenty five years of the guitar amplifier is an interesting study of the business of music. On one end of the spectrum there were moments of great innovation and sound design, and on the other end there were the effects of business dealings, bad investments, and poor business decisions. No doubt, all of those decisions were made in hopes of growing the business and fostering more innovation and better products, but, that's not always how it goes.

Another tough aspect of the amplifier market in those years was the path popular music was taking, a path nearly impossible to predict. From 1939 to 1969, the electric guitar went from a big band instrument backing the Andrews Sisters on Beer Barrell Polka for a radio broadcast to Jimi Hendrix playing Message of Love live to 450,000 people on a New York dairy farm.

Its easy to look back now, at the 1960s and identify who the innovators were, and what kind of music would shake out as "timeless" and what would go by the wayside. At the time however, it was impossible. The bands that the Estey PR department was working with at the time were mostly pop rock outfits that were more or less in the same line with what was happening with the Billboard top hits (think Gary Puckett, the Rascals, and Tommy James). See 1960's public relations for some fun examples.

Sources and Footnotes

Much of this research is based on Torrance City Archives of the Torrance Press (1958-1966); Billboard Magazine (1955-1970); Securities and Exchange Commission filings; original sales brochures, the Internet community, and last but not least, VibroWorld. In addition to these sources, several other references are listed below the following footnotes:

1: Arthur Dickerson (1874-1949) of Utah was an "inventor, building contractor and musician," according to his obituary. In addition to designing and constructing buildings, he also made violins and guitars. Arthur Dickerson, obituary, Salt Lake Tribune, October 16,1949: B-13., also see 1920, 1930 US census data.

2: At some point, the company name might have been changed to the Dickerson Brothers, Delbert Dickerson's brother might have been one of his real brothers, Harold Dickerson, who had also moved from Utah and was working as a a Los Angeles area auto mechanic.

3: MacKenzie won a Technical Achievement Award at the 1963 Academy Awards. For details on MacKenzie's sound repeater, see this article The patent is 2,699,332.

4: It is unclear (and maybe unimportant) but the ownership of Four Corners and Magna might have been a little intermixed. Magna VP Joseph Walsh was on the board of directors for Four Corners, and Chilton actually bought a house in Denver around this time. Four Corners later changed its name to "Four Corners Mineral and Oil Corp." President of Four Corners at the time of the Magna purchase was Eugene H. (Gene) Sanders. It is possible that some connection between Four Corners and Miner, Industries exists, but that is a matter for more research.

4: "Fresh Start With Million". North Adams Mass Transcript Apr 4, 1959. "Torrance Executive Elected Head of Organ Company". Torrance Herald Apr 19, 1959. Financial details of acquisition of Magna by Estey are unknown, but during the merger/acquisition, Estey was released from bankruptcy in April 1959, following a deposit in a Vermont bank of $177,000 cash.

5: Riverside records (the jazz label) was acquired around this time by The Textile Banking Company, from whom Riverside had borrowed a lot of money. The Textile Banking Co. in hopes of rescuing some of their investments, gave new life to the label with a new company, Orpheum Productions, Inc. They named John F. Doran, a Textile Banking Co. VP and a director of Estey Musical Inst. Corp. as president (June 1965).


[1]: "The Hawaiian steel guitar and its great Hawaiian musicians". Lorene Ruymar. Hawaiian Steel Guitar Association

[2]: "Seven Industries Locate in City". Torrance Herald Nov 13, 1958. "Music Manufacturing Firm Opens New Torrance Plant." Torrance Herald Jan 29, 1959.

[3]: "Investment Company Act Release No. 2511" SEC NEWS Digest. Apr 19, 1957.

[5]: "Mason Buys Estey Organ Shop" North Adams Mass Transcript Nov 3 1961.

[6]: "Name Electronics Engineer to Estey Company's Staff". Aug 02, 1961.

[7]: "Estey Appoints Chief Engineer" Torrance Herald Jul 7, 1961.

[8]: "Electronics Company Names General Operations Head." Torrance Herald, Dec 27, 1961.

[9]: Demaree, South Pasadena, CA, assignor to Estey Electronics, Inc. Patent 199,622 Portable Musical Instrument Amplifier, filed Feb.10 1964, Patented Nov.24, 1964.

[10]: "Estey, Inc. Holds Three Day Meeting". Torrance Herald. July 28, 1963.

[11]: "Behind the Scenes Look at Factoring Operations". Arthur Behrstock. Burroughs Clearing House, XLVIII (Dec. 1963). p.47.

[12]: Edward Addision, "Factoring: A Case History," Financial Executive, XXXI. November, 1963.

[13]: "Music Co. Plans Move" Somerset Daily American. Feb. 23, 1966.

[14]: SEC New Digest, March 18, 1969.




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