Johnson Amplifiers

Canadian Amplifiers – Johnson

I tracked down Mr. Johnson, still alive and kicking at age 90, in 1996. His ‘shop’ was a literal time warp, with half-built amplifiers scattered across workbenches. When I asked if he was still building amplifiers, his reply was that arthritis prevented him from doing much of anything since about 1967! I also discovered a plethora of solid pine cabinets shaped like cathedral radios. I enquired about these cabinets, and was told… “I couldn’t use them, because that Fender came out with amplifiers that looked like suitcases, and everybody was asking for amplifiers that looked like the Fender stuff. ” In other words, those pine cabinets had been sitting in his shop for some 50 years when I found them! Not caring about pine (and besides, I’d need a chassis that would fit exactly), I decided to bring out of my car one of the first amplifiers I had built (2X6L6, 2X10″, 40 watts) and asked his opinion. Mr. Johnson proceeded to attempt to pick up the amplifier (made of Poplar plywood) and I thought I had given the old man a hernia! He huffed… “What did you build this thing out of, bricks?” Picking up one of the many Johnson amplifiers sitting on the floor, I was surprised at how light they were. I guess pine has its benefits, after all. Keep in mind however, that Albert never built a really high powered amplifier, and used light-duty transformers, and low powered speakers.

The conversation switched over to vinyl covering, and I asked Mr. Johnson how he applied the vinyl to the wood. “Hide glue!” was the quick reply. “Although in the really old days, we tried applying the vinyl to the wood with wet paint.” Did that work well? “Sure. Have you ever noticed how everything sticks to paint?” There are many more stories of my weekend trips up to Brandon, where I would spend the whole day at the shop and listen to Albert Johnson reminisce about the good old days!

Johnson_JuniorThe Johnson Junior

This is a very old catalog advertisement for the Johnson Junior, the ‘student’ model. Your first clue to the ad’s age is the mention that the amplifier runs on AC power! To me, it has a very unusual tube complement (all 12 volt heater tubes except the rectifier), and is one of the very few amplifiers that I have seen using 12A6 output tubes. Also strange is Albert’s penchant for using the British Rola/Celestion speakers, rather than a Canadian make like Marsland or RSC. In retrospect, I have tried the Celestion speakers Mr. Johnson used, and they are an excellent sounding, highly efficient speaker. Unfortunately Johnson amplifiers, like many others, lost their popularity when distortion was a good thing to have in your guitar amplifier. Every ‘Johnson’ I have played was pretty clean sounding, with a lot of negative feedback and low gain preamplifier circuitry. They do sound very ‘full’ and are well suited to Country pickers and Jazz players. Rock players could always use the Johnson ‘Zizzer’, Albert’s solid-state fuzz box!

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