THIS SEE-THROUGH WONDER CAME about after Ampeg hired guitar and amplifier expert Dan Armstrong to revamp its basses and guitars, and was first introduced at the Chicago NAMM Show in 1969. One of the most innovative and eye-catching bass guitars in history, the Dan Armstrong bass used materials that not only looked extremely cool, but also worked really well.
Armstrong’s jumping-off point was the use of clear plastic Plexiglas. This synthetic material could be shaped and carved like wood, but its density and rigidity increased sustain and eliminated the dead spots that often appeared in bass guitars of the day. The slim neck on this 30.5"-scale bass is very accessible, and is somewhat reminiscent of a Rickenbacker. The faux wood pickguard is made of Formica, and perhaps afforded the otherworldly clear body some familiarity to traditionalists, who no doubt were picking their jaws off the floor.
The Armstrong bass also had unique electronics—its single pickup, designed in collaboration with Bill Lawrence, was interchangeable; available pickup models included “Deep Bass” and “Bright Bass.” This particular model has a twoway switch that offers additional bass response. Its tone is very distinctive, with more midrange than a typical short-scale bass, but still with a nice thump and clarity, depending on the tone control setting.
In 1969, Ampeg was cultivating a relationship with the Rolling Stones. Since the company’s groundbreaking SVT and V-series amplifiers had helped get the Stones to higher levels, it was natural that the Dan Armstrong bass would find its way into the hands of Bill Wyman. Bass icon Jack Bruce also used a fretless Dan Armstrong in the mid ’70s.
Unfortunately, the relationship between Armstrong and Ampeg did not last long, and the famous “see thru” bass was only in production until 1971. Since then it has been reissued a number of times, with the latest revision, a 40th Anniversary model, coming out in 2009. Armstrong died in 2004, but his contributions—which include a famous line of effect pedals that plug directly into an instrument’s output jack—live on. This bass was ahead of its time in many ways, and its cool factor is undeniable. Hats off to Dan Armstrong for thinking outside the box and extending the Ampeg legacy in his own unique fashion.