What makes one vintage tube amplifier worth more than another? Is it purely tone, or have some amp makers been favored due to more successful marketing and famous artist associations? While the appeal of a classic Marshall or Fender is undeniable, guitarists and bass players seeking more affordable vintage tones have many other options to consider. Often these “bargains” include offerings from highly respected amp builders.
One such brand is Traynor. The best known and largest Canadian producer of amplifiers since the mid-1960s, Traynor has never drawn the same interest as British imports among U.S. collectors, in part due to limited stateside distribution during the company’s early years. This lack of attention has left the used market with many examples of these hand-wired tube tone monsters priced well below contemporaries.
A Brief History of Traynor
Among Canadian musicians, Pete Traynor is a legend. After beginning his music career as a bass player (including a stint working with Robbie Robertson), Traynor landed a job as a repairman at the Toronto music shop Long & McQuade. Because the shop resided on Yorkville Avenue, the original products Traynor would begin to create shortly after being hired were sold under the Yorkville Sound brand, which continues to this day.
According to Jeff Cowling, Yorkville Sound’s current vice president of sales and marketing, “Traynor was something of a mad scientist and repairman of all things musical, who was already modifying existing amplifiers, and convinced Jack Long and Jack McQuade that he could fabricate products from scratch.”
Traynor’s first product was a column-style speaker that would allow bands to bring their own PA system to shows, an innovative concept at the time. Beginning in 1963, the company began producing guitar and bass amplifiers marketed with the Traynor badge. Under Traynor’s leadership, the firm went on to introduce many innovations to the market, including the first 8x10 bass speaker cabinet and the first wedge PA monitor.
Besides featuring a sought-after tone, Traynor models from the ‘60s and ‘70s are recognized as some of the most durable, bulletproof tube amplifiers ever built. Legend has it that Pete Traynor would test new models himself by throwing them from the two-story roof of the factory, replacing the tubes, and then testing if the amps still worked.
Traynors from the classic period also contained massive Hammond transformers as well as a unique design that incorporated a convenient circuit breaker on the back panel rather than relying on fuses. Beginning in the late ‘60s, both Traynor heads and combos featured a top panel that allowed for quick access to the amplifiers’ ultra-clean, point-to-point hand-wiring, making it easy to perform repairs or modifications.