a 1971 Acoustic catalog
ON A WARM SUNDAY MORNING LAST OCTOBER, A DOZEN OR
SO BASS GEEKS SAT IN A ROOM
AT SIR REHEARSAL STUDIOS IN LOS ANGELES WAITING FOR A BASS PLAYER LIVE! EVENT
BEGIN. IT WAS JUST BEFORE 11:00, AND ALTHOUGH MOST OF THEM WERE THERE TO ATTEND
HOUR-LONG CLINIC DUE TO START ANY MINUTE, A FEW FOLKS HAD ARRIVED EARLY TO
FRONT-ROW SEATS FOR THE 12 O’CLOCK BOOK SIGNING WITH DURAN
DURAN’S JOHN TAYLOR.
The online description of the clinic didn’t say
much, but it was a safe bet the attendees were at
least a little familiar with some of the highlights of
this particular clinician’s resumé—his gigs with
Stone, Booker T., Billy Preston, Santana, and Etta
James, perhaps, or the Tower Of Power tour in 2001
where he’d filled in for Rocco Prestia—as well as his
off -the-wall style and seriously funky pick grooves.
But the audience had a special surprise in store for
them that day.
Finishing his setup and standing in front of the
onstage mic, Bobby Vega pointed behind him to a
tall, wide, black amp with a light blue panel. It was
a far cry from the featherweight heads and chiropractor-
approved cabs that were the main attraction
down the hall. “This is where I started,” he began.
“This is what made me want to play. When I would
close my eyes and fantasize about bands, when I visited
Bay Area music stores as a 12-year-old, when
I saw movies like Woodstock, and when I would go
see bands at the Fillmore and Winterland, the guys
who got my attention usually had an Acoustic 360
Though rarely seen on stages today, the Acoustic
Control Corporation’s 360 stack—a 360 head and a
361 cab—was once the most desirable bass amp on
earth. Unleashed right at the end of 1967, just as the
first generation of electric guitar gods were learning
to turn their Marshall stacks up to 11, the 200-
watt, solid-state 360 was perfect for the new breed
of bassists, who had been forced to choose between
the Fender Dual Showman, which maxed out at 100
watts, and 300-watt Sunn Coliseum amps. The 360
might not have been as loud as the Coliseum, but
with its rear-firing horn, 1x18 speaker, proprietary
Variamp presets, and distinctive cabinet, it projected
all the way to the back of the room with a warmth
and a clarity that set it apart from every other amp.
catalog listing for its 360 stack. (Officially, “Model
361” was the name of the cabinet.)
Timely as it was, the new kid on the bass block
also benefited from an unexpected publicity boost
in early 1968. When Jim Morrison was arrested
onstage in New Haven, Connecticut in December
1967, the Doors and their Acoustic amps got a fullpage
spread in the April 12, 1968 issue of Life
the same one that featured recently slain
civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on the
cover. Word of the cool black and blue amps spread
like wildfire, and the brand took off . Santana bassist
David Brown rocked a couple 360 stacks at Woodstock.
Larry Graham thumped a 360 with Sly & the
Family Stone and later with Graham Central Station.
Rick Grech of Blind Faith and Traffic played through
one, as did Joe Cocker bassist Alan Spenner, Cold
Blood’s Rod Ellicot, Tim Bogert of Vanilla Fudge,
Buddy Miles bassist David Hull, War’s B.B. Dickerson,
Rick Laird of Mahavishnu Orchestra, Foghat’s
Tony Stevens, and Larry Taylor of Canned Heat. Carl
Radle backed up Eric Clapton and Leon Russell with
a 360, John McVie powered Fleetwood Mac with
two 360s, and John Paul Jones spent a big chunk
of his time with Led Zeppelin (1969–1975) running
a couple 360s onstage. And then, of course, there
was Jaco Pastorius, whose revolutionary pyrotechnics
would not have been the same without the twin
360 towers he bought in 1971 and used until the
last few years of his life.
Back in his clinic, Bobby Vega used a handful of
vintage Jazz Basses (with harmonics and an MXR
Digital Delay) to conjure Jaco, Larry Graham with
“Higher” and “Hair,” and John Paul
Jones with “Black
Dog,” thus paying homage to three very different
players who laid down their heaviest licks through
that fearsome Fender Jazz Bass/Acoustic 360 combination.
The room filled to capacity and then overflowed as Bobby made the 360 grunt,
coo, burp, and
bark, blowing away the crowd and proving just how
crucial that celebrated amp had been to the most
important grooves of those iconic players. When
it was over, even the boy-crazy Duran Duran fans
had to applaud.
The Acoustic 360 was the brainchild of Harvey Gerst and Russ Allee,
two engineers with different
backgrounds who shared a passion for innovation.
Gerst, a sound engineer and producer who had cowritten
hit songs for the Byrds, was a longhaired
guitarist who says that by 1967, he had picked up
just enough technical know-how to make him dangerous.
Allee was a clean-cut, UCLA-trained engineer
from the hi-fi stereo world. The combination of their perspectives and
strengths made the 360 the
highlight of the seven years they worked together
Gerst soundchecks several Acoustic 260s onstage.
Gerst left the company in 1974, a couple of years
after designing Acoustic’s fretless Black Widow
bass. He went on to work for Fender, Morley, and
Roland, eventually designing the ultra-collectible
Delta Concept 1 guitar amp in the late ’70s. Today, he runs Indian
Trail Recording Studios near Dallas
with his son Alex Gerst. After Allee left Acoustic
in 1980, he founded AMP bass amps, designed circuits
for Eden, and freelanced for companies such
as Alesis; his designs for Gibson gave birth to Thunderfunk
amps, and his influence on former Acoustic
and AMP employee Steve Rabe, founder of SWR
and Raven Labs, is undeniable.
Almost 45 years after their most famous creation
hit the streets, Gerst and Allee are proud to be
involved in a reboot of the Acoustic 360 by George
Grexa, a drummer, producer, and businessman
who has spent decades refurbishing original 360s
(see sidebar). The Acoustic USA 360, tweaked and
updated by Allee, gives a new generation a chance
to savor their legacy.
This, in their words, is the story.
Harvey, what did you do prior to joining
Gerst I had worked at JBL for eight
customer service, designing the F-series guitar speakers,
and working in quality control. I was also doing
session work, so I was hanging out at studios and
learning a lot about how frequencies shape sound.
What brought you to Acoustic
GERST A friend of mine was a sales
for Acoustic, so I went by to check out their amps in 1966. I thought they were
the worst amps I had
ever seen. I went back three or four weeks later,
and I told [Acoustic president] Steve Marks, “I don’t
think you understand just how bad these amps are.”
He asked me what I’d do, and that’s when I began
sketching out what would later become the 260 and
the 261 guitar amps.
ALLEE I worked for Robert Marks,
at Automata International Corporation in the early
’60s, where we played around with some guitar amp
ideas. When that company went belly up, Bob and
Steve started Acoustic, and I went to work for them
as a consultant. The first product I worked on with
Harvey Gerst was the 260.
What did you do at Acoustic?
GERST I did PR and advertising, I wrote
manuals, and I went around to clubs, hung out at
recording sessions, and flew around the country
helping people with their Acoustic amps.
ALLEE I held a lot of jobs; I was
president most of the time, and I did a lot of projects
over the years. My last job was president. Harvey
was more responsible for the company’s success
than anyone else, including the owners [laughs].
When you put out the 360 in 1967, who
was your competition?
GERST The biggest things around for bass
Fender’s Dual Showman, with a couple JBL speakers,
and the Sunn amps.
ALLEE Ampeg had begun working on the SVT,
but we weren’t aware of it.
You were coming from different worlds.
How was your working relationship?
We’d go back and forth on Harvey’s
ideas. Sometimes I hit it right on and sometimes
I wouldn’t, and I’d have to go look at other things
in the marketplace.
GERST Russ and I would sometimes have
battles. He was coming from a hi-fi background, and
I was coming from live and recorded music, two different
philosophies. But once we understood each
other, the magic happened.
What can you tell us about designing the
GERST A year after I started at Acoustic,
the 160 guitar amp, and then the 260 guitar amp.
We needed a bass amp, so I sketched out a preamp
design, and I was able to tell Russ what I wanted.
ALLEE Harvey defined the features of the
and then he and Steve worked out the appearance.
I did the circuitry for them. For the 360, we took
the 260 circuit boards, changed some of the features,
and lowered some of those frequency points.
Gene Czerwinski of Cerwin-Vega was involved
with designing the 361 cabinet, right?
left, Harvey Gerst and Russ Allee in 2009.
ALLEE Yes. I asked Gene, as a favor, to
up with something good for a bass guitar amp.
He gave me two raw plywood boxes, and one of
them was this W-shaped cabinet. There were a lot
of musicians in and out of the factory, so Steve
Marks loaned that cabinet to a small rock & roll
group, who took it out one weekend for a gig and
wouldn’t bring it back. We figured that was probably
a good sign [laughs].
Why do you think the 360 sounds so
GERST There’s a range from 200
to 300 cycles
that sounds like mud; if you crank up those frequencies,
it just muddies everything. The Variamp
was able to cut all that out.
ALLEE I attribute a lot of the magic to
and the cabinet, and Gene Czerwinski deserves a lot
of credit. It’s a unique tonality, and the amplifier
circuitry has its own character, of course. The final
result turns out to be very desirable.
How did you choose the color for the panel
across the front?
left, Steven Marks and Russ Allee in the early
GERST I made them light blue because most
cameras at the time were monochrome, and
white would just blossom. Most announcers wore
blue shirts that showed up white on black & white
TV, so I made the colors light blue.
It’s amazing how loud the 360 can be,
at a distance.
GERST It really allowed bass players to
with Marshall stacks. The 360 wasn’t that great for
clubs, but boy … If someone was playing an Acoustic
and you were driving down the street outside the
club, that’s all you’d hear. That front-loaded folded horn
to get louder the farther away you are. For the first time, people
were asking bass players to turn down.
ALLEE The horn-loading 18" speaker
provides an efficiency that is much
greater than direct-radiator loudspeakers, so although the original 360 put out
only about 200 watts, it could play much louder than most things. And then the
horn had a character of focusing the sound at a distance. Players would
tell us, “I was in this big auditorium, and the guys in the back were
pasted to the wall with bass.”
Some players used the Acoustic 370, introduced in 1972,
including Stanley Clarke, Bootsy Collins, and John Deacon.
How was it different from the 360?
ALLEE Over the years, musicians commented
that they liked the 370, but they loved the 360. It
wasn’t that the 370 was bad—in fact, it could carry
a two-ohm load. But the preamp was quite a bit different
from the 360.
How did you approach building a 360 for
ALLEE When George called and said he
to reintroduce the 360, it had been 40 years since
the original. We used more modern equipment and
integrated circuitry for most of the stages, and I’ve
learned a lot about what bass players like since we did
the original 360. So the new 360 has a much more
tailored response, and it’s easier to manipulate. Probably
the most important factor of a musical-sounding
bass amp is a dip in the mids anywhere between
250Hz and 350Hz, so we’ve built that into the amp.
What else did you change?
new and the old.
ALLEE When we were building the first
was a new era of rock & roll. Everyone wanted very
noticeable changes when they flipped switches, so
on the early model, some things are just too much.
There was a BRIGHT switch that boosted the upper
frequencies, and it went too far. This time, we also
incorporated a chip that does the compression and
sets the gain, and we eliminated the tuning mechanism.
The tone shaping is built in an internal, fixed
manner. The new 360 also has a more conventional
tone control that boosts and cuts treble and bass, which gives you more
versatility. The new Variamp has six positions instead of five and a better
of frequencies. And the other thing is that on
George’s amp, we incorporated a minor bit of controlled
distortion; on the faceplate, it’s referred to
as GROWL and GRIT.
Was there anything you had always wanted
GERST George has done something I would
done if I had continued with the company, which
is to add some top end. The 360 was never boomy,
but its top-end articulation could have been better.
ALLEE We decided to put in a
driver and a horn so that players would have something
above the muffled 18" speaker. Most musicians
don’t want to hear a harsh horn on their bass
amp, though, so I dropped the level substantially
and brought it in mildly. It’s switch-selectable, too.
Did players tell you how much they loved
GERST I was at either a NAMM show or AES
Los Angeles once, and Jaco came up and told me he
loved the Acoustic 360. I told him I loved his playing!
Another time, I saw Jeff Berlin at the Zon booth at
NAMM, and Jeff stopped everyone and said, “Here’s
the guy who designed the JBLF-series speakers that
got us heard for the first time, as well as the Acoustic
360. If it weren’t for him, we bass players would
still be in the dark.”
ALLEE I was looking at an online bass
and there was an ongoing conversation. I don’t
remember what it was about, but one of the guys
ended his post by saying, “We owe so much to Russ
Allee.” I came across that unexpectedly, and here’s a
guy on the other side of the world saying that. My
head swelled up to about three times the normal
bringin’ it back
|George Grexa. Below, the new Acoustic 360
THINKING OF RESURRECTING THAT ELUSIVE AMP
from the good old days? Get ready to drown in paperwork,
search the universe for just the right parts, and manage intense
anticipation from the your online community
As many Acoustic 360 fans know, George Grexa snagged
the rights to the Acoustic name nearly seven years ago, and he’s
spent the last few years telling folks that a new 360 is on the
way. What’s taken so long?
First, a bit of company history: Russ Allee left Acoustic Control in
1980, and the Marks
family sold the company a few years later; it wound up in the care of a Mexican distributor,
and when he died in a plane crash, the brand languished in the vaults. Global music-instrument giant Samick bought the Acoustic brand sometime around 2001, just as Grexa and
fellow Doors/Acoustic fanatic Mark Jamieson—already refurbishing old
to design their own versions. In 2006, after a three-year process, Grexa landed
rights to build and sell American-made Acoustics worldwide. Within a year,
had sold the Acoustic name (and Grexa’s contract) to Guitar Center.
Grexa’s company, GPG/
Acoustic USA (www.acousticbassusa.com),
owns the rights to produce Acoustic products,
and Guitar Center must approve anything GPG does with the name
“Acoustic” on it.
How hard was it to go from being hardcore fans to actually making
working versions of
the 360 preamp, the 361 cabinet, and its more compact brother, the 1x15 361M?
was like constructing a building from scratch with
just a screwdriver,” Jamieson says, chuckling. “But
we knew that if we didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get
done.” Most challenging were the two-year process
of UL certification and spending thousands
of hours finding the exact parts they needed. “We
tried to find the same parts used on the original
360, but unfortunately, it’s not always clear where
they came from or who made them. We spent
months sorting through 15,000 handles, for example,
to find the perfect one. We’d locate the
right part and it’d be like Christmas—and then
we’d remember that we still had 530 parts to go!”
Despite the difficulties, Grexa and Jamieson
did have several strokes of serendipitous luck and
lots of help from Gerst and Allee. “Those guys
have put a lot into this, and we couldn’t have done
it without them,” says Grexa. Jamieson concurs:
“We’ve had a working prototype since 2007, but
we’ve spent the last six years tweaking it and getting
the details right. It’s not worth doing if you
don’t do it right. Now we’re ready.”